The fate of the Neo-Colonial Commonwealth mission on Gordon's Gamble remains in doubt tonight following Sunday's DropShip crash at Olbuck Reach.
Despite earlier denials, the commander of Task Force JUNIPER today confirmed that a DropShip had crashed, but refused to comment further on whether this was due to enemy action and how many casualties were involved. Whatever the true story, this incident has already led to renewed calls for NCC troops to withdraw from operations.
As more details surfaced during Sunday evening, it became clear that this is a major propaganda victory for the Rebel forces on Gordon's Gamble.
Questions are being raised about the decisions made by the commander on the ground, the implication being that his orders somehow resulted in this huge loss of life. "Lt. Airey was just doing his job," commented one Marine who wishes to remain anonymous, "he was killed before the DropShip even arrived. Yes, he called it in, but the Rebels hadn't taken the SAM site at that stage. If that ship had landed OK then they'd be hailing him a hero for his dealing with the ambush, but even though it went down after he was dead, they're still trying to make him a scapegoat. The whole thing stinks."
The events of Sunday afternoon started as a simple resupply mission for a small Marine missile station in the arid equatorial desert region of Gordon's Gamble. Located on the regular approach descent path for vessels de-orbiting towards the spacefield at Bailey's Beacon, this post was the outermost of a chain of such sites. A small garrison is based at the site but on this occasion it was severely under strength. Replacement garrisons are usually brought in with an overlap to allow a clean handover or responsibility. In this instance, the advance party of the new garrison came in and replaced the existing troops, but a delay meant that the rest of the garrison were a day late leaving Bailey's Beacon. The replacement garrison's 2 Badger patrol vehicles were accompanying a civilian lorry full of supplies for the missile post. Lt Airey rode at the head of the column in a scout car.
Rebel forces had been planning a strike for some time, carefully gathering their best fighters in the area. Previous engagements with the Task Force marines had ended in failure, mainly due to the Rebel's lack of support weapons. Armaments smuggled in since then included both shoulder-launched missiles and a few larger anti-tank missile pods, and the Rebels sent these along with their best troops to ambush the supply convoy. They infiltrated the buildings to either side of the road and waited.
Back at the missile post, the 4 marines emerged to welcome their comrades. Though there was no reason to expect trouble, their training meant that they were still scanning the surroundings for anything suspicious, and the marines spotted a group of rebels behind the building on which their missile post was mounted. They dashed back inside the building and engaged the rebels, who were lucky enough to avoid any casualties. Their return fire wiped out the entire marine unit.
The noise of small-arms fire was audible above the engines of the convoy, and they immediately prepared for combat. The supply lorry braked to a halt and the Badgers moved up along either side. As the Lieutenant's scout car accelerated down the road, the rebel unit hiding in the building to the north opened fire. Their small arms riddled the scout car, bursting a couple of tyres and incapacitating both occupants. A ball of flame and smoke rolled into the sky as the missile launcher took care of the nearby Badger.
Fortunately Airey had merely been stunned, though his driver was dead. He clambered out of the Scout car and dashed to the cover of a nearby building. The Badger just behind him was completely wrecked, and although the driver of that too was dead, all 8 troopers in the back had survived the blast, though 2 were severely wounded and another 2 lightly wounded. The uninjured dragged the casualties to the cover of a small pick-up truck beside the building where Airey had taken cover.
Back at the missile post, the 4 marines thanked the incredible luck by which they had all been lightly stunned rather than seriously injured. Dusting themselves off, they started trading fire with the rebels in the building opposite.
Gathering themselves, Airey and half of the first Badger squad managed to wipe out the rebels manning the missile launcher that had taken out their vehicles. They swiftly occupied the building to ensure no more rebels were able to use the weapon. The other half of the Badger squad moved out of sight behind the sandy hills framing the village entrance, keeping close to the lorry as it manoeuvred off the road.
On the other side of the road, the second Badger swerved down the side of a building to get off the killing ground of the open main street. The rebels manning the second missile launcher were too slow reacting to the Badger's movement, the vehicle successfully slipping out of sight while they were still trying to bring the launcher to bear.
More rebels were appearing round the outskirts of the village now that the ambush had been sprung. As the 4 marines at the missile post continued to trade fire with the ever increasing number of enemy surrounding them, an ancient wheeled APC trundled into view. Though invulnerable to their small arms, the pintle machine gun on the vehicle was unable to cause casualties amongst the marines.
Back at the other end of the road, the second Badger disgorged its complement of marines, who swiftly moved through the village hall next to their vehicle and through efficient use of fire cleared the rebels from the nearby building housing the enemy missile pod.
Airey took up station in the corner of the building where he had taken cover, using the excellent visibility to provide overwatch across the entire street. Taking advantage of the sudden lull in firing, he called in a DropShip. Fortunately there was one in the air already. They were carrying a squad of marines plus two autocannon armed walking patrol robots. Although the tempted to extract his forces, Airey decided that the reinforcements being carried could well turn the battle in their favour. He ordered the DropShip to air-drop the reinforcements onto the roof of the building he was in.
The missile post marines decided to mount a counter-attack to try and clear the small building opposite their position. Rebels on the roof fired at them as they moved out, as did 3 other enemy units. Airey's overwatch fire killed some rebels, while the marines' return fire killed others. Somehow, incredibly, none of the rebel fire hit the marines, but they had been unable to reach their target building and now found themselves stranded in the middle of the alley.
Rebels attempted to re-occupy the building containing the second missile pod, but the marines were able to wipe them out at the cost of one casualty of their own.
Airey was firing once more on overwatch, having spotted more rebels moving in from the North East. His fire caused casualties, but the rest of the rebels piled into a light armoured scout car which had also just arrived on the scene. He changed his instructions to the DropShip, re-directing them to touch down close to the lorry behind the hills to the West. It was time to take close command of the battle, and he decided to move out onto the roof of the building to get a better overview of the situation.
Rather than press their attack, the missile post unit decided to double back from their exposed position in the street. They had obviously used up all their luck, as this time the enemy fire cut them down as they tried to climb the steps to the roof. Seeing that the launcher was now undefended, rebels swiftly closed in.
Although the DropShip was still inbound, a two-man patrol in the hills nearby contacted the convoy marines. Taking up sniper positions, they managed to kill several rebels who had climbed up alongside the SAM launcher.
Things now went from bad to worse for the marines. Out on the roof, Lt Airey took a hit which killed him outright, despite the best efforts of his powered armour's medical systems. Another rebel unit managed to clamber onto the roof of the SAM launcher building and were able to activate the system. As the DropShip manoeuvred for landing, the combination of the SAM launcher, shoulder mounted missiles and small arms fire resulted in a huge explosion.As flaming wreckage rained down on the surviving marines, the rebels melted back into the desert. Though they hadn't managed to seize the supply truck, the destruction of the DropShip was more than they had ever hoped for. Militarily the battle was probably a draw, but psychologically and in the view of the public, this was a clear victory for the rebels.
To be continued...