2947-09-29 – Editor's Loudspeaker: Berkant Action Report
We are all alive, and we have little but the heavy armor-hull of Saint-Lô to thank for that. The Incarnation force must have rigged the system’s HyperCast Relay with explosives; as soon as we’d committed to the fight, it exploded spectacularly, cutting us off from Fifth Fleet headquarters and causing quite a stir there. Saint-Lô’s logistics train fortunately included a relay constructor ship, and after the battle, it hurried forward to restore our connection (and that of the rest of the system) to the HyperCast network.
Nojus and I spoke with Captain Liao shortly after the Incarnation force retreated toward the jump limit. I’ll admit I was still quite shaken by what occurred, and Nojus took the lead in this conference, at which the ship’s Naval Intelligence representative was also present. The pair of Navy officers were clear – they wanted us to make sure that we had a message for our audience ready the moment we were reconnected to the rest of the Reach, and they wanted to make sure that message was direct and did not try to conceal the outcome.
The Battle of Berkant – Overview
Note: I am not a military writer. Nojus sat with two volunteers from the junior command staff on Saint-Lô to draft this account; I merely edited it to meet Cosmic Background’s editorial standards.
As Captain Liao suspected (see Tales from the Service: The Siege of Berkant), the Incarnation ships in the system had set up a trap for the superior Saint-Lô squadron. One of their Tyrant cruisers sat in the open at the planet’s Lagrange 3 with its drive idling, while the other four stealthily moved to get between us and that ship, invisible to our SDD instruments and too far from the solar primary to reflect much light. Several strike wings deployed on our probable approach vectors, though the analysts are still not quite sure why; they played no part in the action.
As the squadron accelerated toward the bait ship, it maneuvered to flee, encouraging the fast destroyers and light cruisers in the Navy van to race ahead of the main formation. The distance between them and Saint-Lô had become so wide by the time these ships passed the ambushers that when the other four Tyrants opened fire on the passing van at close range, the battleship’s big guns were too far away to be much help. By the time Liao’s first shots thundered past the four ships, two destroyers (Elioud Jackson and Roswitha Van Barle) and the light cruiser Notaro Sentinel were already lost.
As the remaining light ships scattered to escape the close-range fire of the Tyrants, Saint-Lô formed up in close order with the heavy cruisers Razorwing and Ellistown Kite. One battleship and two heavy cruisers still outgunning the four heavy cruisers in the enemy force, Captain Liao maneuvered to bring the Tyrants into ideal heavy-gunnery and missile salvo range.
The Incarnation ships formed up, too. The four ships adopted a close-order tetrahedral formation and moved toward us, shrugging off several accurate salvos from the kinetic batteries of the Navy heavies to make a close-range, high delta-V pass. Previous encounters with this type of warship have (as mentioned in his space) revealed comparatively ineffective screening systems, but in this case their screening fields shrugged off heavy weapons with ease, allowing them to approach the Navy core formation without suffering any major damage.
The Tyrants’ relatively light long-range fire did little to the Navy’s big warships, but their numerous short-range energy weapons quickly overwhelmed the screening fields on Ellistown Kite when they came into range. The cruiser faltered and fell out of the action, bleeding atmosphere from a hundred hull breaches, and the Incarnation ships switched their fire to Saint-Lô as they came within two thousand kilometers of the battlewagon. Though the remaining Navy ships managed to punch their concentrated fire trough the lead Tyrant’s screens and land shred its armored hull with point-blank gunnery, Saint-Lô endured a full minute under murderous beam and plasma fire from the other three. Screens overwhelmed, the battleship lost most of its sensor clusters, fire control instruments, and comms antenna spines, making it all but impossible to fire accurately at the departing Incarnation cruisers.
The three undamaged ships and the bait ship made for the jump limit at full speed, leaving their one damaged compatriot to fend for itself. The crippled Tyrant focused its fire on the crippled Ellistown Kite, carving the helpless ship to pieces even as Razorwing and the surviving lighter ships did the same to it.
The battle in this system was an unmitigated disaster. For the loss of one heavy-cruiser analogue, a relatively modest Incarnation force that came to Berkant destroyed a heavy cruiser, a light cruiser and two destroyers, in addition to causing severe but not fatal damage to Saint-Lô and another destroyer. Two fire support frigates and the heavy cruiser Razorwing suffered light damage. All told, Confederated Navy fatalities exceed 450, with nearly a thousand non-fatal injuries.
The behavior of the screening fields of the Incarnation ships is still being analyzed, but Captain Liao thinks this is the tactic for which their parabolic, outward-facing screening projectors were designed; the tight equidistant formation essentially allowed each of the four Tyrants to be screened heavily by the other three ships. Operating in groups, Tyrant-type cruisers have demonstrated the ability to close with Confederated Navy battlewagons and engage these much bigger ships effectively.
Incarnation Coronach strike-craft played little part in the battle, but the Navy's Magpies were almost equally irrelevant; some enemy strike ships were used as pickets and a few small strike engagements took place as Fifth Fleet gunships tried to break through to the Tyrants as they closed with Saint-Lô, but the Incarnation force largely won a battle against a superior force using only eighty percent of its heavy ships and none of its highly capable - indeed, probably far superior - strike assets. Captian Liao is convinced this is because the enemy commander was toying with him, but the other analysts I’ve asked suggest that the enemy commander had more practical reasons for this decision.
To be sure, the Confederated Worlds retains control of the Berkant system, but the Incarnation didn’t bring support forces to hold the system. They attacked Berkant – a system barely twelve ly from Maribel - to draw Fifth Fleet ships into a battle. They got the battle they were looking for on their own terms, and the result should be sobering to anyone on the Coreward Frontier.