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Author Topic: Analysis: Operations SOVEREIGN JUSTICE and CELESTIAL VENGEANCE  (Read 1899 times)


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In this article I'll be looking at Operation SOVEREIGN JUSTICE and Operation CELESTIAL VENGEANCE, two halves of a single conflict fought between the Capellan Confederation and the Capellan March forces of the Federated Suns from mid 3068 to early 3070. SOVEREIGN JUSTICE was a major assault on the CapCon by Capellan March forces, and CELESTIAL VENGEANCE (sometimes also called Operation Thunderstrike) was the Capellan counterattack. I'll be looking at some key areas in the conflict and seeing what lay behind them.

Anyone hoping for "George Hasek eats stupid pills, attacks the entire CapCon and is instantly crushed by a deluge of stealth-armoured fiat" is going to be disappointed. That myth doesn't bear up under scrutiny.

Conflict origins:

The Capellan Confederation and Federated Suns have had a bitter relationship for centuries and wars between them are common. Typically they are rather limited in scope, with one side aiming to annex single systems or a swathe of systems close to their border. I believe SOVEREIGN JUSTICE was a fairly typical offensive in that vein, but there were two extra political aspects: the fact that the St Ives Commonality had only recently been annexed by the Capellans, and the fact that George Hasek launched his attacks without approval or support from the Commander of the Armies or the Princess Regent.

Duke George Hasek was the lord of the Capellan March and overall architect of the FedSuns' offensive. In a statement to the media shortly after SOVEREIGN JUSTICE started, he claimed his war aims were "providing support to the freedom-loving people of the St Ives Compact as they once again fight for independence from the tyrannical Capellan Confederation". To buttress this claim he pointed to the Mandrinn of St Ives, the legendary Kai Allard-Liao. The official line from New Syrtis was that Allard-Liao had defected to the Federated Suns and had requested military support from Hasek's Capellan March forces. In fact Kai Allard-Liao had been abducted and taken into Federated Suns space by the equally legendary Bounty Hunter, paid handsomely by George Hasek, so we can see here that Hasek was being less than honest. By using Kai Allard-Liao as a figurehead Hasek was able to sell his war to his own people and to the people of St Ives as being a just war. By making out that he acted on his own initiative because he had been asked to help directly by Allard-Liao, he gave himself a degree of political cover against the Princess Regent's displeasure.

It's certain that Hasek's real goals were almost entirely pragmatic and not the purely idealistic ones he claimed. I think his war aims can be summed up thus: 1) recreate an independent pro-FedSuns St Ives Compact as a buffer state to weaken the CapCon's strategic position on its border with the FedSuns, and 2) annex a few systems for the FedSuns at the same time. While the FedSuns propaganda did later blow the bugle with its "Onwards to Sian!" sloganizing after their early military successes, I don't think this was an objective that Hasek had seriously planned for beforehand.

Were the actual war aims realistic? First let's look at liberating the St Ives Commonality. It had recently lost a bitter struggle to maintain its independence against the CapCon which ended in 3063, just 5 years before the start of Operation SOVEREIGN JUSTICE. There were still pro-independence forces active and the civilian populations were generally ambivalent about the CapCon, with many being deeply mistrustful of it. It is certainly not unreasonable for Hasek to have expected enthusiasm for independence and support for his forces from the St Ives population. His capture and manipulation of Kai Allard-Liao can only make sense in this context. He was probably overoptimistic, but not stupid.

Let's also look at what resistance Hasek could have expected from the CCAF. For this we should examine two major conflicts in which the CapCon had recently been involved. First we have Operation Guerrero in 3057, a partially successful campaign fought alongside the FWL to retake worlds lost in the 4th Succession War. While they did achieve many of the objectives, the Capellans hadn't been able to reclaim all of their former systems. A large chunk of them became the independent worlds and micro-states that made up the Chaos March. The second conflict we should look at is the St Ives War. At first the Capellans manipulated the situation using SLDF peacekeepers, and then when war broke out in earnest in 3059 the CapCon brought in their Periphery allies. The war ground on for four years until the St Ives capital fell and peace accords were signed.

If Hasek was looking for signs of weakness in the CCAF here then he could certainly find them. While Guerrero had brought some successes the CCAF hadn't fought alone, they'd fought alongside the FWL and large numbers of mercenaries. Eleven years after Guerrero the Capellans still hadn't managed to conquer the Chaos March, most of which had only very modest defensive forces. In the war with the St Ives Compact, a smaller and weaker state than the CapCon, the Capellans took a long time to defeat them and relied on political shenanigans and allied Periphery forces. The latter in particular would be striking to a proud military aristocrat like Hasek: a Great House actually lowering itself to using dregs from the Periphery to fight its battles. Hasek would certainly interpret this as weakness.

Nevertheless, Hasek was no fool and he would have known that the CCAF was not a rotten door just waiting to be kicked in. He would have known about recent Capellan technological and doctrinal developments and wouldn't have taken them lightly. He would have known that units like the Warrior Houses and the Big Mac were highly capable. But he would have weighed all that in the balance against the CCAF's track record over the past decade. It's clear that based on past performance Hasek found the Capellans wanting.

Overall I think Hasek did have rational grounds for calculating that he could achieve his limited objectives against the CCAF using the AFFS forces available to him. Things didn't go his way but that's not because he was stupid or ignorant. Even if he was overoptimistic, as we shall see it took an unpredictable extraordinary event to completely derail Hasek's plans.


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« Reply #1 on: 09 March 2016, 21:06:17 »
Operation SOVEREIGN JUSTICE: 25th June 3068 to early October 3068

This operation is described in detail in Jihad Secrets: The Blake Documents and I'll summarize the salient points for this article. SOVEREIGN JUSTICE was a major assault by the AFFS forces under Hasek against the rimward half of the Capellan border with the FedSuns. The operation consisted of four waves, each lasting roughly a month each. Waves One and Two saw the AFFS enjoy easy successes, taking all objectives with light casualties. Wave Three faced stiffer resistance but still achieved its objectives. Wave Four also took most of its objectives while placing the AFFS close to Sian, but progress bogged down as the CCAF began to resist more strongly and mount minor counterattacks. AFFS losses grew markedly in the border meat-grinders and they were starting to suffer supply and transport issues.

Civilian resistance against the occupiers on their conquered worlds had steadily increased since Wave One, whipped up by Maskirova agents. This ranged from riots and civil unrest to terrorist attacks and guerilla movements. Support for the FedSuns in the St Ives worlds appears to have been lower than expected, with most former St Ives Compact units in the CCAF resisting AFFS forces. Candace Liao, the Mandrissa of St Ives, also played a part by appearing on state media to denounce the FedSuns offensive, though how willingly she did this is a matter of conjecture. (On this last point I am honestly uncertain - Candace Liao had little love for the greater Capellan state, but I can also imagine that she wouldn't have wanted war brought to St Ives worlds once again. I think it's entirely possible she was conflicted herself, wanting freedom but not at the price of more devastation.)

Let's examine the state of play here at the war's halfway mark:

- All St Ives worlds are liberated, though not all are pacified
- Major FedSuns gains made elsewhere
- AFFS forces positioned for a possible strike on the Capellan capital Sian
- CCAF counterattacks are causing losses but are being held off
- Supply and transport issues are mounting but are being tackled by commandeering civilian vessels
- Some insurgencies among conquered populations
- Pro-FedSuns and pro-independence sentiment in St Ives is lower than expected

Things are not looking bad for Hasek at this point. He has achieved his territorial objectives in the short space of four months. The problems he's facing can be attributed to the friction of war: nothing ever goes exactly as planned. They don't look like insurmountable issues.
If it weren't for the orbital bombardment of Sian, events would probably have played out broadly in Hasek's favour. His forces were a bit battered but they were intact and combat effective, and Hasek still had reserves in hand. He might have lost some conquered systems either to Capellan counterattacks or from voluntarily withdrawing to tighten his defence lines, but would still have ended up with a net gain. A puppet independent St Ives government could have been established, local militia raised to free up AFFS units, and the border stablized. If we assume the Word of Blake still chose to attack the Capellans to expand its Protectorate, which I think likely, then the CCAF would quickly have had a new enemy to deal with and most likely moved onto a defensive posture to prevent further losses. The conquered Capellan worlds would have been a pain for the AFFS to deal with and there would be terrorist cells causing trouble for decades to come, but the worlds by and large would be held as new FedSuns worlds.

However that was not to be and we're already past the high water mark for Hasek's fortunes.


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« Reply #2 on: 09 March 2016, 21:07:25 »
Operation CELESTIAL VENGEANCE: 7th October 3068 to January 3070 (formal ceasefire April 3070)

Operation CELESTIAL VENGEANCE (aka Thunderstrike) was the Capellan counterattack launched against the invading AFFS and carried over into FedSuns space. Jihad Secrets: The Blake Documents covers the combat in detail. This was basically a 16 month stretch of fighting, or 19 months if you include the minor skirmishes up until the official ceasefire. It consisted of five main waves using the bulk of the CCAF. The fighting lasted over four times as long as SOVEREIGN JUSTICE which I think is in part testament to the defensive skills of the AFFS, and possibly to mistakes caused by the recklessness of the counterattacking CCAF. The counterattack was indeed reckless, sometimes at a tactical level but especially at the strategic level, as we shall see later.

The single key turning point in this war came just before CELESTIAL VENGEANCE launched. This turning point was the orbital bombardment of Sian on 7th October which destroyed the Forbidden City, killing Mandrissa Candace Liao and (or so was thought at the time) Chancellor Sun Tzu Liao. The attack was blamed on Davion warships. The effect of this on Capellan soldiers and citizens must not be underestimated: for them this was like the assassination of JFK, the WTC attacks and Pearl Harbor all rolled into one. Capellan state media further whipped up the outrage by covering the event using the most inflamatory language they could muster. The Capellan military became fanatical, and unrest on the worlds conquered by the AFFS increased dramatically, including on St Ives worlds. Some pro-independence St Ives forces (most notably the Blackwind Lancers) even changed sides to support the CCAF in the wake of Candace Liao's death. The Free Capella movement was officially disbanded two years later as a direct result.

As an aside, it's a curious fact about humanity that even in repressive regimes with clunking, corrupt bureaucracies, you will still find that many citizens can be intensely patriotic. We need look no further than the old USSR for a sterling example. The CapCon is no different. Citizens dislike the Maskirova, are cynical about state news channels, resent the nobles and their corruption, grind their teeth over protection rackets and arbitrary emergency taxes... but huge numbers of Capellans still have loyalty to the Confederation itself. They idolize it as a concept even if the reality is grim. To them, some of the people in charge might be corrupt and fallible but that's not the fault of the Confederation itself, because the Confederation is good. Being Capellan is part of their identity, it's their tribe, the motherland. This can often go hand in hand with xenophobia (it certainly does in the CapCon) and repressive governments take advantage of this because it's a good way to keep people more or less loyal even when they don't like what you're doing. So life in the CapCon might be consistently tough and occasionally brutal, but the majority of citizens will still support their Great House, especially against outsiders. If those outsiders also liberally used WMDs against your ancestors only a couple of centuries ago, well that's all the more reason to hate them. Is this a smart life philosophy? Well no, probably not. But lots of people do see things that way, and that's what matters. This is why the oppressed Capellan people genuinely reacted so strongly to the attack on Sian.

So back to CELESTIAL VENGEANCE. Given the swiftness with which the Capellan counterattacks were launched by Talon Zahn after the orbital strikes on Sian, it must be the case that the units involved were in position beforehand. This makes the timing of the orbital bombardment suspiciously convenient to say the least. I think nearly everyone reading this already believes Sun Tzu ordered the bombardment himself and then retreated to a safe bunker, and I'm right with you. It bears all his hallmarks: a ruthless, resourceful and unconventional strategy.

Waves One, Two and Three together lasted about 9 months and were mostly focussed on retaking worlds captured by the AFFS. Driven by fanatical fury the CCAF units were willing to suffer huge losses in the pursuit of victory. Several regiments on both sides were completely destroyed. The CCAF weren't fussy about collateral damage to the people they were supposed to be liberating either. Brutal street-fighting was commonplace.

Wave Four continued the drive into FedSuns space that started in the last wave, and Wave Five largely consisted of the intense fighting on New Syrtis, Duke Hasek's seat of power. These last two waves differ from Hasek's invasion in that the Capellan strategy was more like a sustained, large-scale deep raid than an invasion intended to expand the Confederation's borders. The fighting in Davion space lasted around 10 months up to the ceasefire. The Capellans fought dirty, including deliberately attacking civilian targets and using orbital bombardments. The Black Lancers used nuclear weapons on Talon to wipe out two cities along with the AFFS defenders and two million FedSuns civilians (the Lancers' commander Walter Doles was a rather unhinged admirer of Candace Liao, and clearly took her death hard. His article in this forum is well worth reading.).

CELESTIAL VENGEANCE came to an end when Chancellor Sun Tzu Liao "miraculously" appeared alive and well in January 3070, apparently pulled from the ruins of the Forbidden City and sustained by the overwhelming wholesome power of Xin Sheng, if you believe Capellan propaganda. The reality is likely more prosaic, involving hidden bunkers with only a few trusted people in the loop (who were probably killed off later just to be sure the secret was safe). Sun Tzu called for a general withdrawal and ceasefire. The fighting actually carried on until April 3070, with AFFS forces hotly pursuing the withdrawing Capellans. Hasek himself was assassinated on March 19th of that year, supposedly by Blakist agents.

Let's take a look at how the CCAF was able to turn the tables on the AFFS. The vengeful fanatacism and ruthless tactics of the CCAF were crucial in giving impetus to their counterattacks, but there were some other factors as well:

- The FedSuns were already somewhat stretched by earlier CCAF harrying attacks when Wave One of CELESTIAL VENGEANCE hit them.
- The Capellans used unexpectedly strong forces, funnelling most of their best units into the counterattack task forces.
- The WoB 'White Out' disruption of HPGs occurred midway through the Capellan counterattack; HPG blackouts nearly always favour the attacker and make coordinating multi-system defenses very difficult
- Civil unrest after the orbital strikes on Sian was making conquered planets ungovernable for the AFFS
- When the Word of Blake unexpectedly took Kittery, the FedSuns supply issues suddenly got a lot worse and caused several regiments to withdraw for logistical reasons
- The FedSuns as a whole was pressured on other fronts and couldn't divert forces to the Capellan March for a crushing counterattack.
- Unlike Hasek's land-grab invasion, the Capellan counteroffensive inside FedSuns space was more like a series of deep raids with New Syrtis as an end point, rather similar to the Jade Falcons' Coventry campaign in 3058. While CELESTIAL VENGEANCE did push fairly deep into the Capellan March, many of the FedSuns systems on the way were raided and then soon abandoned or else bypassed entirely.
« Last Edit: 15 March 2016, 19:32:33 by Frogfoot »


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« Reply #3 on: 09 March 2016, 21:08:03 »
Aftermath and Summing Up:

The conflict overall resulted in a Capellan victory, but it's far from the complete victory that it's sometimes made out to be. There are important caveats to consider.

The first caveat is that the Capellans didn't really gain anything. After the ceasefire the borders were the same as they had been before SOVEREIGN JUSTICE. The Capellans caused a lot of damage to the FedSuns' Capellan March but the St Ives Commonality was also devastated by the fighting. Both sides paid a lot for nothing better than the old status quo.

The second caveat is that the reckless strategy employed by Talon Zahn and Sun Tzu Liao left the coreward border underdefended and allowed the WoB to capture Capellan systems there. This was a serious threat and Sun Tzu was playing a dangerous juggling game. In the end the CCAF had to wage a long and exceptionally bloody campaign through the 3070s to retake these worlds from the Blakists. By the 3080s the battered CCAF was beaten by the new Republic of the Sphere when they clashed over the remainder of the disputed systems. This had long term implications that stretch out as far as the Capellan Crusades in 3111. Therefore we can at least partly blame Sun Tzu's strategy in CELESTIAL VENGEANCE for two future defeats against the RotS.

In light of this I think CELESTIAL VENGEANCE proved a Pyrrhic victory for the Capellans. I think the wisdom of carrying the fight so deep into FedSuns space is highly dubious. After CELESTIAL VENGEANCE's Wave 3, with the St Ives Commonality retaken and now actually more loyal to the Confederation than before, Hasek's main war aim was now impossible. It seems to me like it would have been smarter for the CCAF to just liberate the systems that Hasek took and then move to deal with the Blakist threat. They didn't have to grind down Hasek's forces, a second major assault from the AFFS wasn't on the cards. People have accused Hasek of being stupid - I think I've already refuted that, and in fact I'd say the CapCon leadership are the ones with questions to answer here. I can only think that Sun Tzu miscalculated Blakist intentions and overestimated the need to deal a crushing blow to Hasek's forces. Sun Tzu's defensive strategy against Hasek was bold, inspired and ultimately successful, but he overcomitted and paid too much for it. Perhaps it's understandable when we remember that the spectre of the 4th Succession War was still hanging over the nation.

George Hasek underestimated how far Sun Tzu Liao was willing to go. Could Hasek really have predicted that Sun Tzu would bombard his own palace from orbit, and then recklessly push the bulk of the CCAF through to New Syrtis? To call Hasek stupid for not expecting that is unfair. However he was overconfident. He expected more support from St Ives than he got and he assumed that an unlikely worst case scenario wouldn't happen. Because he assumed that, Hasek was willing to launch his attack both without approval from New Avalon and at a time when the FedSuns were heavily beset. This meant that if things went bad there would be little or nothing in the way of reinforcements. I think Hasek gambled with good odds, but didn't insure himself enough against a loss. Sometimes you will roll snake-eyes. Hasek did, and then had no back-up.

On Hasek's assassination: I have no idea if it was the Blakists, or if it was done on the orders of the Princess Regent or Tancred Sandoval. I will say his death suited the Davion leadership more than it did the WoB, which makes them the more likely suspects in my eyes. There's a chance it was the Capellans too, since Sun Tzu was still calling for unity against the Blakists at that time and Hasek was a major barrier to that. Killing Hasek and framing the WoB would be right up Sun Tzu's alley, being both an act of vengeance and fitting his agenda.

On the performance of the AFFS: people sometimes give the impression that Hasek's army was utterly shattered by a rampant CCAF. This is not the case, and they were not pushovers. As previously mentioned, the AFFS must have fought hard on defence given that Operation CELESTIAL VENGEANCE dragged on for 19 months and ended in a general withdrawal by the CCAF. Several sources in Blake Ascending, some of them even Capellan (take p244 for example), attest to stalwart Davion defences. When the AFFS harried the retreating Capellans for three months in 3070, it's clear that Hasek's forces had not only not been utterly shattered but were still combat effective with strong fighting spirit. The AFFS were beaten but they weren't jobbers, and in fact most probably fought pretty well. It is worth emphasizing again that Sun Tzu ordered his forces to withdraw from FedSuns space; it's plain that he didn't think he could hold any of the Davion systems that the CCAF had hit on their way to New Syrtis. While Sun Tzu was now focussed on the Blakist threat, if he could have held a few Davion systems here or there without having to worry about counterattacks then he would have done so.

And that's about all I've got to say. This ugly little war has always interested me and I hope you found something worthwhile here.


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« Reply #4 on: 09 March 2016, 22:26:34 »
Good article! A period I didn't know much about before, but now I know more. (Insert obligatory "red and blue lasers" joke here ;) )

Sounds like both sides listened just a little too much to their own advice. "Yes, we have a realistic assessment of their potential, so I'll base my plans on them doing exactly what I need them to do!" This worked for a while, but ...

Did we ever get an official word on who bombarded Sian? I had always hoped it was WoB, or the Kali/St Jamais axis.

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« Reply #5 on: 09 March 2016, 23:07:08 »
Nice analysis

worktroll I don't think it was ever revealed but reading that it actually makes sense it could have been Sun-Tzu which I did not suspect before


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« Reply #6 on: 10 March 2016, 05:45:52 »
Very good article, I enjoyed reading that.

I agree Hasek wasn't stupid. Overreaching, overly optimistic, miscalculating, but that's not uncommon in Battletech, particularly among leaders. I would also say that he fell afoul of the logistics element that doesn't translate well in the game but commonly crops up in the background material.


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« Reply #7 on: 10 March 2016, 10:52:06 »
A really good article!

Makes me want to crack out Jihad Secrets to read it all again  :)
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« Reply #8 on: 10 March 2016, 19:57:29 »
Thank you for the compliments, I'm glad you liked it.

Did we ever get an official word on who bombarded Sian?

Nothing definitive that I know of. The speculation about Sun Tzu ordering the bombardment himself is actually in Jihad Secrets. In ISP 3 a former WoB ROM member working in the RotS also claims the Word had nothing to do with it.

The Capellans first blamed it on the FedSuns and then later the WoB. It's possible that the Capellans were always being earnest, but the timing involved, and the fact that Candace Liao died while Sun Tzu lived, makes it highly suspicious to me.

The Word of Blake did actually attack Sian at least twice, once in 3070 and later in 3074, so the bombardment could just have been one more for them. That said, it doesn't really fit their M.O on other capitals. On Luthien, Tharkad and New Avalon they used naval forces and ground forces together. A drive-by with warships doesn't fit that pattern.

So my money is on the Capellans having done it themselves, but it's far from being a closed case.

I would also say that he fell afoul of the logistics element that doesn't translate well in the game but commonly crops up in the background material.

This is very true, logistics is unfashionable compared to the business end of autocannons and battlefists. Sometimes we as a fandom concentrate just on the fighting and overlook the pipelines pumping in the bullets and butter that fuel it.


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« Reply #9 on: 10 March 2016, 20:12:07 »
do we know the types of warships involved?

i'm wondering if maybe Kali came up with the idea and St.Jamais arranged it. the wider WoB might not have known about it in such case.


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« Reply #10 on: 10 March 2016, 20:23:44 »
do we know the types of warships involved?

Not currently known. "Something in space with lotsa dakka" is all we've got at the moment.