The Vilous Incident
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In 2524, the USDF commissioned the Pathfinder among many other vessels to discover unknown worlds and alien races beyond the Orion Spur. During the next four years, the Pathfinder was intended to discover and chart numerous star systems with frequent check-ins near the end of each year to archive any discoveries as well as to make plans for the next expedition.
Under the command of ONI Director Hoshino Kayami, the Pathfinder crew's last voyage would take them to the Vilous star system in 2526, wherein the expedition discovered a habitable arid world later known as Tal.
Upon arrival at Tal, the Pathfinder landed in a region called the Astna Plains, wherein they were discovered by hunters of the Shigu Clan, a group of Northern Sergals who worship a Sergal mythological figure known as General Rain. Suffering from economic hardship and widespread famine, the Sergals of the Shigu Clan attacked the unarmed expedition personnel, killing or kidnapping all aboard the Pathfinder. Director Kayami managed to activate a distress beacon before she was captured and eaten. Sergals of the Shigu Clan then proceeded to dismantle and vandalize the Pathfinder to salvage it for valuable parts that could be sold to other clans who would have use for the technology. Security surveillance recorded the incident. It is not known what became of those who were taken alive, but they have never been seen again.
Because there were no survivors, the USDF would not learn about the Sergal race until a second expedition could be organized. During that time, the Shigu Clan inhabited the abandoned vessel as a hunting outpost.
Humanity learns of Vilous
When the Pathfinder did not report in at the end of the year, then Lower Rear Admiral Glenn Pink dispatched a Prowler-class corvette from his squadron, the USDF Hoenir, with a crew of 90 personnel to investigate the last known flight path of the Pathfinder. In February of 2527, Hoenir discovered the Pathfinder's distress beacon, but found no signs of life aboard the derelict vessel during a fly-over. This was due to a malfunction with the on-board bioscanner, which incorrectly returned a false negative to life signs aboard the vessel. Upon discovery of the malfunction, the choice was made to instead land and dispatch 30 armed soldiers who would board the Pathfinder and attempt to locate surviving USDF personnel (or their remains).
Hoenir's ground team made contact with the Sergal clan approximately 30 minutes after landing by way of a Durasteel spear thrust into the chest of the team's Lieutenant, which penetrated his light armor and killed him instantly. The search and rescue team had been ambushed, and were engaged in close quarters combat. 5 out of the original 30 personnel were killed or eaten, but the rest were able to respond in force. The survivors summoned the aid of the Hoenir, which hastily rescued them before retreating into space.
Sol Central's reaction
When word reached back to Sol Central, Admiral Pink immediately sought to dispatch a USDF battlecruiser and five escort frigates to Vilous. However, it was election year, and then-president James Harvard had caught wind of Admiral Pink's plans, and publicly decried his actions as "wasteful spending" of SolGov's resources. In what was a very popular decision at the time, Admiral Pink was ordered under threat of discharge to stand down, and instead the operation's command was given to a rival colleague, Admiral Antoine Fontaine. The operation was reduced from 5 frigates and a battlecruiser to only a single Phoenix-class colony ship called the USDF Column of Spring, and a modest compliment of 2,000 marine infantry, plus an additional 7,000 civilian personnel.
No armed vehicles, military aircraft, special forces (such as ODT), or other assets were deployed due to budget constraints set in place by President James Harvard.
Battle of Astna Plains
In late 2527, the USDF Column of Spring arrived in orbit over Tal and deployed three colony starter units, which were essentially a gigantic drop ship with supplies and manufacturing facilities on board that could be used to produce mining equipment, farming equipment, construction materials, and most notably, military hardware if necessary. During what would become known as one of the most costly military disasters in human history, and the USDF's worst military blunder ever, all 2,000 marine infantry landed with the three colony ships. Colony starter units Alpha and Bravo accompanied 600 personnel each, while Colony Charlie took 800 marines and 100 civilian personnel to start construction of a forward operating base.
During the initial landing, Sergal hunters had seen the vessels coming down, and reported back to the Shigu clan's chieftain, General Snow, who for the next fifteen days started gathering her forces for an all out assault against the invading alien race. On July 4th, 2528, General Snow of the Shigu clan initiated her assault against the USDF's positions with a force of 500 Sergals, 50 of whom had been equipped with Durasteel body armor salvaged and refined into Sergal body armor. Knowing their enemy possessed firearms however, most Sergals (approximately 300) were at least equipped with 6mm steel body armor over their vital areas, with the remaining force having only light armor, using their speed to be a form of cavalry.
Despite 15 days passing since arrival, Alpha and Charlie bases had not been fortified due to the absence of any serious threats. Despite being armed with modern military firearms, marines stationed at the Alpha and Bravo colonies were routed from their positions with heavy fatalities during a surprise attack. Having already lost some 300-400 personnel in the first wave, survivors attempted to fall back to the Charlie outpost, which had been the most fortified position due to the assistance of extra personnel and civilian workers.
The Marines pressed Admiral Fontaine for an evacuation, but upon hearing that the local alien life was armed only with spears, swords, and primitive body armor, Fontaine denied this request and refused to send evacuation ships. Consequently, the Charlie base soon came under attack, and was forced into lockdown until it could organize a counter attack.
Once finally regrouped within Charlie base, and the lockdown lifted, the marines retaliated with devastating effect. In the final skirmish when the doors were opened again, only 32 marines were killed, compared to the hundreds of personnel who were slain previously. Although it is not known how many hostiles were killed at any given point in the battle, it is known that out of 500 Sergals who assaulted the USDF positions, 472 bodies were later recovered at various points across the battlefield, the bulk of which were around Charlie base, with an additional 9 captured wounded but alive for interrogation by experienced xeno linguists.
During the opening stages of the battle, roughly a thousand marines were killed, most of whom were slain during the retreat to Charlie base. Because of the general lack of ground vehicles, many marines were left unarmed and outrun by the Sergals. Those who had to flee on foot were only able to reach Charlie base by pure luck. During the counter attack however, casualties were relatively light. The final USDF losses were tallied at 1,057 dead, including the five killed months earlier in the Hoenir's expedition.
Admiral Pink's Redemption
When word reached back to Sol Central, Admiral Fontaine was soon relieved of duty by President Harvard, possibly in a last ditch effort to save his image which had been tarnished by the loss of so many USDF lives. Admiral Pink was reassigned back to the campaign, and this time made the decision to send only two escort frigates, as well as his own flagship, a battlecruiser called the USDF Jörmungandr. Admiral Glenn Pink later stated that he changed his original strategy, because the purpose of such a heavy handed approach with five frigates and a battlecruiser was to account for any eventuality that might result from meeting an unknown alien race. Instead, the USDF Column of Spring had already done that, though the results were at the great cost of human life. Now that Admiral Pink knew what he was dealing with, he also took with him 70 Orbital Drop Ship Troopers (ODST), as well as some close air support assets just in case they were necessary.
As Admiral Glenn Pink was preparing for his mission, President Harvard lost the Sol Central Presidential Election of 2528 to his opponent Rolland Requiem. President Requiem gave her approval for the mission in former President Harvard's absence.
Operation Cheese Grater
USDF forces were evacuated off of the planet to regroup until Admiral Glenn Pink arrived. However, upon Pink's arrival in May of 2528, the first order of business was to commence orbital bombardment of the area that formerly held colonies Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Some 5,000-10,000 Sergals who had begun to inhabit the area were killed by high energy impacts from Rail Cannons as a result. The actions of Admiral Pink have been criticized by sentient rights organizations as a "senseless genocide" of the Sergal people. However, both SolGov courts and USDF public statements declared the use of orbital bombardment to be legal and necessary in the protection of USDF assets, including military hardware, which was destroyed by the bombardment to prevent hostile forces from commandeering that hardware. It is not known whether Admiral Pink knew of the Sergal colony that had come to live at the former bases, or if he did not know until after the conflict had ended.
Operation Cheese Grater soon began. Named after the derogatory name for Sergals, which had been called 'Cheeseheads' by USDF Marines, Admiral Glenn Pink launched all 70 of his Orbital Drop Shop Troopers to land in the area surrounding what air reconnaissance had determined to be the home city of General Snow. Under cover of darkness, ODST infiltrated the castle-like fortress city, and assassinated General Snow in her sleep. The next morning, ODST troops were to evacuate aboard drop ships, and made their way toward the city center. During the evacuation, local fighters put up some resistance, including a handful of Nevareans operating domestic bolt-action firearms. Although some casualties were sustained, no fatalities were taken among the ODST thanks to the vigilant efforts of experienced medics. Having been both equipped and trained for close quarters urban combat, the ODST were able to dominate opposition forces on terrain where the speed and agility of Sergals was rendered moot. It is not known how many hostile fighters were killed, but aftermath reports range between one to six kills per trooper during the evacuation; most of whom were city guards.
The body of General Snow was intentionally left behind "as a warning" by Admiral Pink. No further Sergal hostilities by the Shigu clan were recorded, although scattered resistance did continue in the north up until 2552.
Sergal militant forces scattered upon learning of their chieftain's death. The USDF Column of Spring reestablished bases on the surface and began a military occupation of the planet that continues to this day. The USDF Pathfinder was also later repaired and recovered to continue exploratory missions into the unknown regions.
This would later lead to Operation Dominion, wherein the USDF secure their military holding of Vilous and begin construction of schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure to promote a mutually beneficial relationship between the human race and the inhabitants of Vilous. Lower Rear Admiral Glenn Pink would be promoted after the incident, then again a few years later during Operation Dominion.
A SolGov embassy was later established in 2552, and Vilous was formally annexed into SolGov's territory as of 2558. As a result, naturalized Sergals have been allowed to move freely within human space, and are now often employed by human-owned companies, such as NanoTrasen. Furthermore, because of the presence of USDF on Tal, other alien races such as Nevareans and the Southern Sergals were also soon be discovered, though on far more peaceful terms. Nevareans would also benefit from the annexation, though their home world of Eltus maintains its sovereignty.
The events of the Vilous Incident are now studied in military colleges as a means for a technologically inferior opponent to deal heavy casualties to an invading military. Several key factors went very wrong with the USDF's first contact, up until Admiral Pink intervened. These have resulted in numerous policy changes for the USDF.
For starters, the initial exploration crew was poorly armed. Though hired by the military, weapons were considered unnecessary as the expeditions are usually taken out to uninhabited worlds. Only a handful of times in the history of humanity have there been sentient beings encountered, and even with species that later became hostile (such as the Unathi), all first contact scenarios prior to the Vilous Incident had been peaceful. The Sergals existed somewhere in the middle. Though the Shigu clan appeared to be tribals, they were in fact some remnants of an ancient civilization called the Shigu Kingdom, and the majority of Vilous, so there was far more sense of nationality than what is usual with tribals, and thus, far greater numbers working in collaboration.
Second, the technological advancement of Tal's population was grossly underestimated by Admiral Fontaine. By the time of USDF arrival, space travel was not a foreign concept or some mythos of the gods to Sergal culture. Sergals themselves were also far more intelligent than Fontaine had given credit. For instance, the Durasteel body armor and weapons used by a handful of Sergals during the assault were made from salvage collected from the USDF Pathfinder. The armor could stop small caliber weapons at point blank range, which most Marines were equipped with at the time, and it could also stop direct hits from rifle caliber munitions up to fifty meters, and due to sloping, the armor could often still block glancing shots in up to five meters. As for technology, it is a common misconception even today that Sergals at the time of the incident were at a technologically equivalent level of humans in the middle ages. This is simply not true, as Nevareans by this point had already managed to thoroughly accomplish chemical rocket powered space flight, while both Nevareans and Sergals had already built cities in other parts of Tal which had technology at least as capable as what humans had in the mid 20th century. Sergals understood what firearms were, but normally preferred not to use them, as their natural speed and durability made guns less useful in hunting. Why use a ranged weapon that can run out of ammo when you can hunt with a spear that never does? However, the Shigu clan still made deliberate use of stolen USDF firearms in subsequent attacks. After the assault on Alpha base, the attacks on Bravo and Charlie base were made with both melee weapons and stolen firearms. Furthermore, General Snow was already an experienced strategist, and had been carrying out frequent reconnaissance against the USDF's positions. She had intentionally waited for the USDF to slip into a false sense of security. The attack its self had been thoroughly rehearsed for a week prior, including both a likely scenario in which firearms would be stolen and used, and a less likely scenario wherein the enemy's firearms would be too complicated for Sergals to understand. Considering that the layout of most guns are fairly universal across alien species, it ended up being the former tactic that was used, which resulted in even more USDF casualties.
On the matter of Marine weapons, to quote Admiral Glenn Pink after the incident, "Marines are to be used as marines!" During the first search and rescue operation, the group of 30 marines from the Hoenir were all armed, but were ambushed in dense foliage. The team was also heavily outnumbered by their opponent, and in close quarters, they had little time to react with firearms. However, despite the physical superiority of Sergals in close combat, marines were able to inflict severe casualties. It is estimated by eye witness accounts that for every USDF soldier killed, at least five Sergals were neutralized before the marines were routed.
Written in the USDF Xeno Survival handbook, page 67, it says the following: "In the event that contact is established with any seemingly intelligent species, every fireteam will carry at least one magazine of armor-piercing ammunition per member. Exceptions may be determined on a case-by-case basis in the event of extenuating circumstances by the commanding officer. If local species are determined to be hostile, all personnel are ordered to maintain a minimum distance of 100 yards from hostile entities. Exceptions may be granted to individuals for research purposes on a case-by-case basis by the commanding officer." Failure to follow this protocol is the most major reason that the USDF suffered such heavy losses. Upon the third landing at Tal, the USDF did not encounter sergals for nearly two weeks after arrival, and positions previously reconned by the USDF Hoenir were now empty and abandoned. Believing that the enemy had scattered after being bloodied by the Hoenir's expedition, commanders including Admiral Fontaine, instead ordered their men to aid in colony construction efforts. Due to hot weather and tight deadlines, many marines were not carrying their service rifles at the time of the attack. Those who had firearms at all had only sidearms, which were incapable of the stopping power needed to effectively stop even unarmored Sergal infantry. There were also reportedly communication issues between each of the colony starter unit landing sites due to an ion storm at the time of the assault. A force of 500 Sergals was therefore able to overwhelm two unprepared USDF positions, and nearly overtake a third.
Today, the need to carry weapons is more strictly enforced, and colony landings are no longer conducted three at a time. Each colony must be secure and fortified with automated turrets at the ready before the next base can be built. Furthermore, vehicles are considered much more vital wherein the terrain or weather does not prevent their use. In such scenarios, mechanized units such as the Durand and Ripley are deployed instead.
The USDF was heavily criticized for the incident, especially over the huge loss of life. Many questions were presented about why so many things went as wrong as they did.
Most notable is why the USDF underestimated the technological advancement of the races present so badly. The Nevareans had already thoroughly achieved at least interplanetary space travel to the point where they had begun commercial flights across their own star system. However, these flights were not frequent, nor of any noticeable density. Had first contact occurred on the planet Eltus instead of Tal, it is believed that first contact would have gone very differently, because numerous communications satellites would have been picked up by USDF sensors. Instead, because the landing was at Tal, the few satellites that were in orbit were ignored as anomalies or natural space debris. The USDF at the time still had the firm belief that they were dealing with a primitive tribal race who would likely think of guns as magic tools that could kill people without touching them. In reality, the Sergals were already thoroughly familiar with firearms technology, despite such weapons not being popular among Sergals themselves, and space travel was not an unknown concept to them, it was just one that wasn't necessary to the species.
The next major point is why a planetary survey was not conducted in advance of the USDF Column of Spring launching its vessels. This is because of a human error. The USDF Hoenir had already conducted a light planetary survey in order to find the lost USDF Pathfinder, but its objective was not to survey the entire planet. As such, the most major city on Tal, the Golden Ring City, was not seen or known by the Hoenir's crew. Upon return to SolGov controlled space to report their findings, the data was misinterpreted as being a complete survey of the planet, and due to the coming election year, the schedule of colonization was rushed far more than it would normally be. Under normal circumstances, two additional surveys would have been conducted prior to any colony ship's arrival.
The most publicly criticized point of the disaster is the lack of ground vehicles present, which could have saved lives among retreating USDF. Although vehicles would have worked on the ground, the preferred method of moving goods was via USDF supply ships which would travel between the colonies and the mother ship. Military ground vehicles were not used due to attempted cost cuts by President Harvard at the time. Thus, ground vehicles were seen as largely redundant and wasteful.
Many other precautions were also skipped or circumvented during the attempted colonization by the USDF due to budget constraints and deadlines explicitly set by President Harvard, and the disaster largely contributed to the failure of his bid for second term.