It's a long way to Dromand Kaas,
It's a long way to go
It's a long way to Dromand Kaas,
To the sweetest girl I know!
Farewell, Kastenda Square!
It's a long long way to Dromand Kaas,
But my heart's right there
I've been trained not to keep journals, but I see men drawing. Surely they won't mind. I've been told the front is just over the next hill, some fifty miles or so. We'll be there by morning. I cannot keep myself from smiling, those filthy Republic dogs will finally get what's coming to them!
We couldn't land directly, since air superiority is heavily contested. Infantry carriers have to be used carefully. Same with walkers, and armored assault vehicles. Even though they're powerful, our commanders tell us that they wouldn't stand a chance under concentrated artillery bombardment. It's fascinating just how many trees are here. I thought this was a warzone?
Of course I jest.
I shouldn't be this happy, but I cannot wait. I get to kill my first Republic trooper tomorrow! Ma and pa will be so proud, and maybe I can tell Tisha how I feel when I get home.
I hope we'll be back by holiday. Last Empire Day was spent in quiet memorial for my brother. This year, it'll be in loud celebration - Jhen spilled Republic blood to avenge Ghander! I'll try and sleep now, we have a long march ahead of us. There are walkers and grav tanks in support, but they'll peel off and reinforce those incoming Infantry Armies that are sorely needed at the Front.
I'm told they'll be there at the next great push. That's when all the killing will start, I reckon.
But I digress, I need to sleep.
With its subterranean oceans of oil, owed to some great apocalypse millennia before, it soon became the object of both Sith and Republic desire. Federation forces - and Alliance - were too sparse in this part of the galaxy, and had other ventures to pursue. Thus, the stage was set for the Radhast Front - a colossal 1,600-mile series of trenches, barbed wire forests, artillery emplacements, and killing fields fully dividing a land mass below which sat the largest oil deposit on Radhast. Size estimates ranged from 55 billion barrels of oil to 65 billion, according to rudimentary geological scans. Control of that oil meant dominance on Radhast, and one more planet for either faction.
Supplies for both Imperial and Republic forces had to be airdropped in, meaning air superiority had to be maintained - but also that it changed hands constantly. Imperial artillery bombardments had continued to rock the Republic trenches for six weeks prior to the first shipment of fresh troops. This would open up the first day of fighting, with Imperial troops hungering and eager for a quick victory.
In their minds, the Republic lines were at their breaking point after constant artillery fire. The 886th, 415th, 961st, 773rd, 303rd, 787th, and 117th Infantry Armies were sent to finally break their resolve and force them off-planet.
These combined armies made up over 3 million soldiers, all intent on overtaking Republic positions and claiming Radhast for the Empire.
Commanders, too, were eager for a quick victory. One, in-particular, had been hunting for a commendation from his superior officers. Namely, Lord-Commander Garrod Heslok - overall commander-in-chief for the operation. He made it his personal mission to destroy the Republic forces present on Radhast down to the last man, no matter the cost.
If a million Republic soldiers died and he lost 999,999 Imperial soldiers, then it would be a victory in every sense of the word to him.
The Hell at Radhast, therefore, had no opportunity to be overruled at the time.
There are no trees here anymore. Even thirty miles into the march, there is a distinct change in atmosphere and color. We would hear the artillery crawl before. The winding roar of the turbolaser batteries, they were victory in our ears. Radhast had been a beautiful planet once, I can see.
Damn the Republic. Damn them all!
I would spend my life a million times over to see a Darth cut down the last Jedi!
Conditions waiting for the soldiers were bleak, to say the least. The infantry already present were remnants of the various artillery support regiments sent prior to those soldiers trained as actual infantrymen. They were quite formal about it all, however. The Infantry Armies were all greeted with open arms, some blockades had soup ready. It was like going on vacation, almost. Exotic planet, new friends, but that was when the briefing started.
Widespread commlink usage allowed the battleline to be informed simultaneously, but even such a technology was limited. Considering the general decay of technology at the time, as well, breakdowns across such a wide range of battle were bound to happen.
The battle waged at the fork of the River Larrast was named after that foreboding body of water. A season of rain had begun just days prior, leaving the trenches a wet and muddy affair. The water ditches carved beneath the wooden footboards overflowed easily, leaving many soldiers to contract "trench foot", requiring either substantial supply of rare antibiotics and bacta treatment or amputation. Poor management of biological waste also led to widespread infection, as did the resulting rats and flies nesting inside of uncollected corpses.
It was not the fault of the soldiers, but rather the complete lack of safety. Putting one's head over the trenchline for even a split second risked sniper fire. Scavenged wood or even the rare plasteel used to maintain waste removal were honestly better to help fortify gun nests or mortar positions. Material was rare, save for ammunition, bodies, and mud.
The imagined glories of the Infantry Armies sent here to die for oil would soon fade away to the grim reality of war. Constant, unrelenting, and ultimately empty.
Private Brego leaned against the dirt palisade. It was cold, wet. The material between him and the mud served only as a temporary escape. It was the mud he had seen many of his comrades die on already. Snipers were everywhere. The lighthearted mannerisms of his platoon had disappeared only a few days ago, but it felt like years. Jhen didn't sleep ever since he saw Alger's brains splattered across the backside of the trench.
Laserfire didn't seem so dangerous before, but the concussive blast tore straight through his plasteel armor and out the other side. His blood boiled for a split second, simmering there. There where his mouth used to be. Faint scatterings of teeth, a jawbone. Burned flesh and skin. Traces of fat. It clung to Jhen's nose, his throat. He could taste it, and vomited. Not because of the sensation of death invading his very senses.
Alger was looking right at him when he died, and he still was. The cracks in his helmet formed from the laser blast, that last lingering sense of consciousness left in Alger as he died, was focused on Jhen. Private Brego had knelt in place at that moment of uncertainty. He vomited and the water carried it around his ankles. Instinct put his helmet on. He didn't. Nothing in his body wanted to do anything but stay there and cry. But he got his rifle in that split second of anger and confusion, his entire body twitching. His blood curdling. His muscles and bones and marrow all locked in that one position.
Standing, behind the earthworks. Finger squeezing the trigger, firing back at something - anything. Across the field, across that empty grey and brown and black. Across the wire. Across the craters, where spent shells slept.
His comrades pulled him back down.
"Why are you wasting ammo?" they roared.
"They killed Alger!" he stammered back, but they pulled him back up.
It was 0453.
"Then kill them later. Keep on patrol, soldier. Zero Hour is in about two and a half."
He just nodded. Slowly, weakly, and kept his head down. He stayed there. Helmet off. Instinct had faded. Emotion took over again, and he looked at Alger. Poor Alger, young Alger. Like a brother, Alger. Staring back at him. Empty now, Alger. Why did you have to go? He had signed up for the 117th on the same day as Jhen. A farmhand from a neighboring village back on Syton. He knew his way around a rifle, but wanted to use a gatling one. Though it would be a 'hoot'. Gatling gunners were always on duty, always on call. He had one little sliver of uncovered post - so he could see through.
And then gone. Jhen picked up an arm, and hoisted the weight of a torso onto his shoulders.
Snivelling, choking. Alger was a good friend, a good man. He had a girl he was going to propose to back home. Beautiful, strawberry blonde hair. Eyes blue like the sky, like how the sky was supposed to be. Here it was always grey.
Jhen had to move Alger away, take him someplace. The artillery support had a place to bury the dead, that was good as any. But it was just mud, a hold full of mud and water.
Jhen just set Alger down on the ground.
"I'll set you right when the water's down, old boy. I'll... I'll do you right, for Jorey back home yeah?"
He had the decency to at least clean Alger's face a bit, what was left of it. Closed his eyes for the long sleep, then went back to the trenches.
Zero Hour was just three and a half away. All clocks were set for 0730 at the trenches of the Larrast.
Lord-Commander Heslok had gambled a great many things with his strategies on Radhast, but by far the most extensive risk was posed by his interest in tunneling under the Republic line.
Miles of tunnels were interwoven beneath the No Man's Land, and warfare in those closed quarters environments was not uncommon. Yet Heslok wanted something more. Something different than just outflanking the foe. He ordered a truly gargantuan amount of explosives to be placed along the Republic line at Larrast, the idea being that there would be no resistance left at the Larrast and the stalemate could be broken with a massive infantry charge.
Over 60,000 tons of high-yield laser-charges, directly imported from the adjoined naval deployment, were put inside several of these tunnels in complete secret to Republic forces. These explosives were meant to bombard planets, but the naval battle above Radhast necessitated those munitions being poured into enemy ships and not into enemy fortifications. But, Heslok's word was law and the bombs went off without a hitch - save for one, the nineteenth out of twenty, which failed to detonate until ten minutes into the infantry charge.
The largest of these explosions was said to heave dust so high into the atmosphere that it was visible to neighboring Imperial ships - dust, because all moisture had been instantly evaporated in the blast. It was roughly equivalent to a week's worth of concentrated bombardment all released in one, colossal burst. Electrical storms persisted for an hour afterwards, sending rolling torrents of thunder persisting throughout the battlefield. Most of all, however, it created rain.
Blankets of it, sheets of it, so much rain that the No Man's Land turned into a quagmire, nothing but mud and puddles and small lakes of grey and brown water. But the charge was ordered all the same.
At the behest of the whistles and the officers, 100,000 men fixed bayonets and surged forward into the gap. Private Jhen Brego, among them.
First came the whistles. Then the cheering, and the shouting. Jhen didn't move at first. He was third in line. Then the men beside him did, and instinct too over. That feeling - 'instinct'. More, he was caught in the tide of bodies. The wave of momentum. The moving, breathing ocean of plasteel uniforms.
He still didn't believe it - the explosion in front of him shook the water in his flesh, the marrow of his bones. Every part of his body, still recovering from the earth-shaking noise. Yet, men beside him were moving - nay, shouting! Officers, whistles in hand, making that ear-piercing sound, strength still left in their lungs. Strength still left in their legs, their arms, backs, and stomachs. This must have been the power of the Empire!
Was there a Darth nearby? Were they watching? Surely they were! This was a blessed battle, being looked upon by the Sith themselves! Jhen's lungs expelled their energy into a cacophonous noise, joining the ranks of the others. The mud swallowed his boots, but he took them back. Nothing on this planet was going to stop him from winning - WINNING!
By the Darths, they were going to WIN! A great victory, a great battle! What a tale to tell! What a life to live! To hear the sound of IMPERIAL artillery at their backs, to see the power of IMPERIAL munitions in front of them! To see the pain, to hear the howls of fear from the Republic lines... it was simply intoxicating! He felt a shock like no other, he was going to avenge Alger! Avenge his fiance! Avenge all those artillery support men who died before the Infantry Armies got here! Those damn snipers. That damn rain, concealing them, keeping them safe.
NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE, COWARDS! YOUR RAIN HAS GONE, AND WITH IT THE CERTAINTY OF DEATH!
Then! Then... what is happening?
Koric, why are you in the mud? Why have you fallen? Tripped, eh? In your fervor? Get up, come on, we're not even halfway there. The crater is still open, they're still in the dirt and coughing in the smoke. Come on Koric.
Jhen looked from that man he knew since training camp, and back against the horrid grey, that horrid empty death of the Republic line. The rain was falling again.
The death was falling.
He ducked into one of the many holes carved out by turbo-laser fire. Barbed wire clinging to his uniform. Officer Braldt was behind him, and whistled, waving for more infantry to come. More men. More bodies.
Jhen dragged himself out of the hole, stood once more, but the gatling lasers started to open fire on the other side.
The Republic hadn't been crushed, not even by the bombs. They were filling into the gap now, guns blazing. Laser bolts ripping into his comrades. Laser fire on both sides now, tearing and emptying. Then, rage. An overwhelming energy in his limbs, prying him out of the muck, racing forward, bayonet charged.
He surged behind one of his comrades, Hauk, but only for a second. A las-mortar round burst in front of both of them, sending Jhen into a spiraling black. He could feel himself moving, only barely, but life existed in his limbs yet. He reached for Hauk, lunging in his blindness for that friendly shoulder to grasp and pull down into safety. He felt like he had to spit, and so he did, but a taste emerged. Meat? Had he died... and gone to heaven for a taste of fresh, cooked meat?
Holiday at the farm, an ugrog on the fire, sizzling in its porcine fats and juices.
He spat, undercooked. Mother, what are you doing? You never... undercook...
Jhen's eyesight returned. Hauk was there.
Half of him stretched out of the crater, reeled in by entrails and by flecks of blood and bile. Jhen's helmet had been compromised by the blast. The frontal plates of his armor were no longer that ashen-white of the chosen camouflage, but splattered in a grounded meat color. Pink, and red, and white - the pale emptiness of what was once Hauk. In his mouth, perhaps pieces of kidney, perhaps more entrail. Liver. He spat again, screaming, shouting, howling, in both pain and panic.
Vomit, a horrendous retching came next. Two men, a medic Thadon and a fellow infantryman Lorandis, pulled him away. Away, from the promise line. Away, from the certain victory. He was kicking at the mud, reduced to childish yowling and the tantrums of a reduced intellect. At that moment, there was no logic, only raw emotion. He didn't express anything besides that oppressive, empty noise.
It was something being used across the No Man's Land. A form of communication only the deepest parts of their brains could understand. No language existed for it, could exist.
The charge had failed.
72,000 casualties were inflicted.
33,902 men would die in less than an hour on the first day of the Battle of the Larrast.
Over two million would follow in the months to come. Months of grueling, endless, miserable trench warfare.
The price of Radhast's oil had been chosen.