This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 9.6.
Lasting from 2732 to 2736, the Siege of Tiber is remembered today for the UEE military’s heroic struggle to keep Vanduul from overrunning the system, and as the longest unbroken combat engagement between the two forces up to that point. Though Tiber would eventually fall to the Vanduul invaders, the UEE military doesn’t consider the campaign a complete loss. A lot of Humanity’s collected knowledge of Vanduul military strategies and tactics were first learned during those four long, bloody years of battle.
Many consider Humanity’s first contact with the Vanduul to have occurred in 2681 when the settlement of Armitage in the Orion system was attacked, a prelude to the sporadic attacks that ensued over the following decades. The combined brevity and ferocity of these attacks often prevented the UEE from collecting definitive intelligence about the Vanduul but, in 2688, renowned anthropologist Dr. Arlow Gellis released a groundbreaking study about Vanduul social dynamics titled Clan Theory. Dr. Gellis posited that Vanduul forces weren’t organized under a conventional government but consisted of clans of various sizes and strengths that could be identified by the markings on their ships. These clans usually operated independently of each other, but would occasionally join forces, like during the coordinated attack on Orion in 2712 that ultimately pushed Humanity from the system. After the defeat, UEE forces fell back to Tiber to prepare a secondary defensive line, but the Vanduul didn’t follow. Instead, they stayed in Orion, harvesting the system for resources.
The UEE Navy strengthened forces in Tiber and anxiously watched the jump to Orion, certain that an attack was imminent. Some military historians have even claimed the Navy conducted several classified experiments that failed to collapse the Tiber-Orion jump. Then on February 4, 2726, a Vanduul light fighter (military-designation ‘Blade’) was spotted in the system. Navy forces scrambled to contain the fighter, but it ultimately disappeared. Soon after, Vanduul appeared in increasing numbers and, by the end of the year, small clan raids were happening with erratic frequency similar to the attacks on Orion. Often months passed without incident. This pattern of engagement lasted until April 19, 2732, when a large Vanduul clan entered Tiber and attacked UEE forces monitoring the immediate area around the jump. When smaller clans followed closely behind and joined the fight, UEE forces fled and ceded control of the Tiber-Orion jump point to the Vanduul. The Siege of Tiber had officially begun.
FLEET IN BEING
High-Command assigned Grand Admiral Tesca Halimeade the unenviable task of evicting the Vanduul from Tiber. While Halimeade knew as much, if not more, about the Vanduul than anyone else in the Navy thanks to his in-depth study of academic papers and after-action reports, he was still considered a controversial choice to lead the campaign. His extensive knowledge was widely respected, but critics characterized Grand Admiral Halimeade as a “classroom” commander who hadn’t gleaned any of this knowledge through combat experience.
Grand Admiral Halimeade first tripled the number of troops guarding the jumps to Virgil and Oberon. Then he docked his ship, UEES Aquilon, at the system’s largest shipyard, INS Aniene, to defend the jump to Virgil. He kept capital ships docked at strategic space stations across Tiber while smaller fleets patrolled as loose guerilla units. These patrols were given specific instructions on when to engage and when to flee Vanduul forces. Rules of engagement varied greatly depending on force size and objective, but in practice, the policy usually only advised attacking if the Naval force had superior numbers. Ridiculed as a “run, don’t gun” strategy, Grand Admiral Halimeade defended his position by claiming he saved pilots by pushing them toward engagements they could win.
This cautious engagement strategy allowed the Vanduul to slowly expand their foothold in the system. By mid-2733, Tiber II had become a fierce battleground with various clans vying to control space stations and established outposts. Yet, most UEE capital ships remained docked in well-defended space stations, drawing intense criticism from other generals who felt that the Vanduul were entrenching in the system. Only in private did Grand Admiral Halimeade disclose to his advisors the real reason why he wouldn’t commit his full forces against the Vanduul: he maintained a hope that diplomacy was the way to end the war. “What I need is intelligence and time to figure out how to reach them (Vanduul),” he wrote a confidant. “If we fully commit to war, then total war is the only path forward.”
In early 2734, the Vanduul began pushing more aggressively on Tiber II. Vids of Vanduul Harvesters chewing through Tiber II made it to spectrum and caused a stir across the empire. Sensing that their overall grasp of the system was slipping, Grand Admiral Halimeade responded by finally deploying UEES Aquilon and a large contingent of UEE forces near the planet. Vanduul clans, clamoring for a fight, eagerly launched to clash with the large fleet. This left Vanduul encampments lightly guarded and allowed UEE strike teams to carry out aerial bombardments that devastated most of them. Though this was a victory, it also turned out to be a provocation that would not go unanswered.
The clans that were devastated by the aerial bombardments fled the system, while others arrived to claim what was abandoned. Declassified Naval reports indicate that Vanduul numbers actually increased after the aerial bombardments of Tiber II. Grand Admiral Halimeade dispersed his capital ships to try and repeat the success. He would use ships as decoys to bait clans into chasing them around the system, while strike teams hit targets exposed by the distraction. Intelligence gathered and battle tactics first tested during this time greatly advanced the military’s understanding of the Vanduul. The Navy even reclaimed several lost space stations, though it would prove to be too little, too late.
In November of 2735, Naval Intelligence received word of a large Vanduul clan amassing in an unexpected part of the system. Grand Admiral Halimeade gathered a small force around UEES Aquilon and went to assess the situation personally. He discovered the Vanduul pouring through a previously unknown jump point to the system designated Vector, right around the same area the initial Vanduul scout ship had disappeared years ago. Moments after arriving, the recon team was discovered and ambushed. Vanduul forces destroyed UEES Aquilon, killing all aboard including Halimeade. The few surviving ships limped back to INS Aniene.
The loss of Grand Admiral Halimeade sent the Navy scrambling and High-Command appointed Admiral Mira Triolo, a staunch critic of Halimeade’s measured engagement strategy, as the new commander in Tiber. The new admiral consolidated her forces into a huge fleet meant to directly challenge the Vanduul. Her first major encounter resulted in the loss of thousands of starmen and three capital-class ships. Undeterred, Admiral Triolo continued to confront the Vanduul directly and, in a move that would later draw much scrutiny, ordered the redeployment of reinforcements from Virgil to bolster her offense.
In 2736, the war for Tiber would reach a fever pitch. Imperator Galor Messer IX personally ordered a massive campaign of aerial bombardment on Tiber II, convinced that controlling the planet would limit the Vanduul’s ability to resupply their war machines. Instead, it turned the planet into a wasteland and earned it the epitaph ‘Tomb.’ Then, on December 29, 2736, a Vanduul capital-class ‘Kingship’ arrived from Orion. Identified as one of the largest and oldest clans that had been documented by the military, the kingship led an attack on the INS Aniene. Despite a valiant resistance, half of all Navy forces in-system were lost during the battle. With the Naval line broken and their ships routed, Admiral Triolo ordered forces to fall back to Virgil. Admiral Triolo assumed the Vanduul would remain in Tiber to rip apart the system, as they did in Orion, but the Vanduul followed instead. They took control of the Tiber-Virgil jump point and sent scouts across the system. Only a few days later on January 2, 2737, a vast Vanduul fleet pushed into Virgil. Admiral Triolo managed to slow its advance, buying precious time to cover the retreat of over one million refugees, but Virgil soon fell.
The Siege of Tiber may be best remembered as a failed military campaign to save the system, yet many consider it an invaluable time in the war against the Vanduul thanks to the lessons learned during the siege that are still being put to use today.