The Imperium assault on the system of 9-4RP2 in Cloud Ring lasted from the 15th to the 24th of January. A great deal of hot air and ISK was expended, but the results were deeply – and to some, disappointingly – inconclusive.
Prelude to Conflict
The Imperium has had a long-standing strategic confrontation with the Northern Bloc since their eviction from the north in early 2016. In 2017, they had launched three major operations northwards. It is within this context that 9-4 must be viewed.
Fire Over Hakonen (late summer 2017)
The first was the Hakonen Campaign. Mounted from the 2nd to 20th of August 2017, this involved a subcapital and capital deployment to the system of Hakonen, Lonetrek. This effort put NCdot territory in Tribute under threat. The Mittani explained in a State of the Goonion that the intent of the war was to force the Northern Bloc to consolidate and abandon one of two wars they had been fighting at the time. Another goal was to train Imperium commanders – and, naturally, wreak havoc on the enemy.
The campaign began well. Apparently, operational surprise was achieved with the enemy not knowing the final destination of the Imperium fleets until they arrived in Hakonen. Mercenary Coalition abandoned their fighting with The Initiative (a more independent member of the Imperium) in Syndicate. GOTG abandoned their deployment in Venal. In short, the strategic goal was won within a few days of the Imperium deploying.
However, this presented the Imperium with a new challenge. The enemy had consolidated, giving them parity in their defensive efforts. The Imperium had come equipped to harass and third-party ongoing battles – not fight the fully assembled Northern Bloc. In particular, the Imperium had not brought supercapitals northwards. This left them critically outgunned.
Some tactical successes were achieved, with a few Northern citadels and titans destroyed. However, in a string of battles in Hakonen, the Imperium repeatedly failed to anchor a fortizar citadel. A particularly sharp defeat came on August 10th, with the Imperium losing 274bn ISK to the Northern 124bn. The Imperium also tried to entosis the region of Tribute, owned by NCdot. However, effective Northern Bloc coordination and a lack of Imperium momentum stopped this effort.
After a few weeks of relatively inconclusive tactical scrimmage, the Imperium withdrew in good order. They had achieved a degree of strategic success from the outset. The fighting also indicated that their Typhoon doctrine was ineffective, and that strategic operations failed from a lack of momentum. However, despite these learning successes, they did not inflict significant operational or tactical defeat on the Northern Bloc.
Fountain Fractures (early autumn 2017)
The region of Fountain connects Delve to Cloud Ring – from the Imperium to the Northern Bloc. In September 2017, it was owned by The-Culture (T-C), a Northern Bloc friendly alliance. This posed a logistical challenge to the Imperium, as any deployment north would have to go around T-C space.
However, by the end of July, T-C was experiencing a significant problem – it was living in a content desert. Its member base was mainly comprised of combat pilots who wanted PVP action. However, they lacked the capacity to threaten Delve, and the inclination to attack Northern Bloc territories. Much of the content they had was in “relatively small scale…local conflicts.” (Harvey Skywarker, EN24, 12-10-17). This led to boredom.
Over the course of August, over 500 pilots left the alliance. This was capped off on the 27th when the corporation Superfluous Wanderlust left T-C for Triumvirate. With them went much of the alliance’s US timezone supercapital fighting power. Something had to be done.
On September 6th, Harvey Skywarker, the alliance lead, announced that T-C would leave Fountain at the latest by the 24th of October. The Imperium responded with a limited offensive into Fountain, particularly against the T-C capital of C-N4OD. This was not massively successful, though T-C’s departure timetable was moved up, with convoys out beginning on the 4th of October rather than the 10th of October as initially scheduled.
In the process of departure, T-C sold a number of key structures to the Imperium for an undisclosed sum. Imperium alliance The Initiative moved into the region and secured it.
The Imperium now had a direct route from Delve to Cloud Ring.
The SIGs Go North (late autumn 2017)
The Imperium has a highly developed corps of Special Interest Groups (SIGs), best described as a combination of drinking club and marine brigade. Two particularly effective units are the Reavers – specialising in long-term destructive raids – and Black Ops, who carry out individual harassment.
With Fountain in Imperium hands, the road northwards was clear. In late October, the Reavers and Black Ops went on a joint offensive, staging in NPC Pure Blind. Their area of operations was “Pure Blind, Fade, and some of Deklein,” (Wilhelm Arcturus, TAGN, 12-10-18). The primary targets were Pandemic Horde and Mordus Angels, with some forays against other groups.
Despite assistance from Imperium alliance Tactical Narcotics Team, this expeditionary force was significantly outnumbered. Nevertheless, they achieved some tactical success, innovating with the deployment of Vexor Navy Issues as a key fleet composition. These operations, while small in scale, arguably set the stage for later SIG success in 2018.
In mid-December, the SIGs mostly went home to Delve. They had inflicted local reverses on the Northern Bloc and blooded themselves. However, the Imperium would have to deploy more firepower to achieve a substantive result.
The Siege Begins (mid-winter 2018)
On the 15th of January, around 2000 EVE, the Imperium did just that. A capital fleet with subcapital support attacked the Pandemic Horde keepstar in 9-4RP2. The Mittani requested on Jabber at 2024 that, “ALL THE CAPS ALL THE TITANS ALL THE SUPERS GET THE FUCK IN,” continuing that, “THIS WEEK IS GONNA BE A WILD RIDE.”
Pandemic Horde sortied a small cruiser fleet to respond, but this proved ineffective, and at 2209 the keepstar’s shields were reinforced. The Imperium also anchored a number of their own structures a few thousand kilometres from the keepstar. This would provide them with forward operating bases for supply and repair.
Due to the mechanics of reinforcement timers, the keepstar would become vulnerable the next day. Both sides mobilised their supercapital fleets and deployed them to the combat zone. Rhetoric was rife that this would be the next B-R5RB.
The next day saw the armour timer come out. The Imperium massed their forces around a fleet of carriers and supercarriers, standing well off the keepstar. The plan was for these ships to send their remotely piloted fighter squadrons to attack the keepstar without exposing themselves to risk. Imperium fortizars which had been anchored on grid were also vulnerable at the time, so this fleet served to protect them as well.
However, before the Imperium vessels could engage the keepstar, NCdot threw a wrench in the works. Three of their titans jumped in on the Imperium carrier fleet and unleashed Bosons – devastating area of effect weapons. If all three hit, many carriers would be destroyed and the attack blunted. They did not hit, and little damage was done.
The titans, fitted for mobility, attempted to escape. The Imperium scrambled to engage. Two titans, both Ragnaroks, exploded under a storm of fire. The last, a Leviathan, managed to get away. This retargeting meant that the keepstar’s armour repaired successfully. However, later that night, the Imperium reinforced the keepstar’s shield, starting the cycle again.
At the same time, the Imperium’s structures on grid all successfully onlined – providing a secure toehold in the system. The next night, the Imperium reinforced the keepstar’s armour without incident. On the 23rd of January, the structure would be vulnerable for annihilation.
‘The Million Dollar Battle’
Both sides prepared assiduously for the action. The Northern Bloc, formally blued up, dropped a keepstar in 7X-VKB, Pure Blind. This gave them a staging post for supercapitals one jump from 9-4. Fleets and war resources were concentrated on the structure. Irregular northern forces also put pressure on Imperium non-combatants in Delve, killing hundreds of billions of ISK.
The Imperium continued to move supercapitals and other materiel toward the front lines. They also carried out an internal propaganda campaign to fire up players and get them ready for combat.
One intervention came from Progodlegend, TEST Alliance. On the eve of battle, he made a post in /r/gaming explaining the coming conflict, which he dubbed ‘The Million Dollar Battle’. At the end of it, he called both sides fundamentally cowardly. This post drew the attention of English-language news, and PGL took part in an interview on US national television. While the impact on the EVE community proper was limited, it ensured that gaming news outlets had an eye on 9-4.
Undeterred by media scrutiny, both sides drew up their battle plans. The Imperium, as the attackers, had the initiative. They planned to hold their supercarriers and carriers off the keepstar, tethered to a structure on grid. These ships would release swarms of fighters to destroy the keepstar. Titans and dreadnoughts would hold out of system, ready to jump in to defend the carrier force.
The Northern Bloc followed suit, deploying carriers. They were loaded with space superiority fighters, to cut down the incoming Imperial waves. Escorting these carriers were subcapitals, many of them fitted with jamming equipment to disrupt Imperium target acquisition. Titans stood ready out of system to jump in and defend against any Imperium escalation.
The first shots were fired around 2055 on the 23rd as Imperium fleets jumped into the system. A Northern Bloc spy in Goonswarm Federation lit a cynosural field on the keepstar. 4 Imperium supercarriers accidentally jumped to it, rather than the safety of their fortizar. These vessels were shattered by the defending fleets, giving first blood to the north.
By 2138 – 17 minutes from the battle starting formally – all ships were in position. Over 5000 people were in system, causing crushing time dilation and lag. Flocks of fighters took flight from the Imperium carriers and inched their way towards the keepstar. At 2153, Northern Bloc carriers launched their own fighters.
The timer started at 2155. Ten minutes later, the Imperium fighter squadrons finally reached and began engaging the keepstar, pausing its repair timer. This was supplemented by Imperium subcapitals, particularly Machariel battleships, warping in. At 2212, some Northern Bloc titans were put on the field to counter the subcapital attacks.
Time dilation was now recorded as particularly crushing, with between 15- and 30-minute lag times between fighters being given orders and action. In particular, Imperium carriers struggled to launch fighters to replace losses. This, among other factors, led to the action slowly swinging to the defender’s side.
At around 0150 on the 24th, the Imperium admitted defeat. Remaining subcapitals were extracted from combat, and fighters were abandoned. The next day, the Imperium began convoys southwards. The total losses stand at around 300 billion ISK lost by the Imperium vs 40 billion ISK lost by the Northern Bloc.
Some fighting continued afterwards, as stragglers attempted to reunite with friendly forces. Both sides maintained subcapital forces in system for a few days afterwards, before turning for home.
One key event in the aftermath was that Pandemic Horde moved from Fade to Geminate – from north-west to north-east – over the course of February. This was not purely to do with Imperium offensive efforts; Fade is a very small region, and Horde a very large alliance. It is understandable that a move would be sought on economic grounds. However, the presence of an openly belligerent Imperium on its direct border likely played some role.
This move opened a power vacuum in the north-west. Groups like Banderlogs and French ConneXion were encouraged to settle in the space by the Northern Bloc. However, they lacked supercapital throw-weight – leaving GOTG in the position of security guarantor of Cloud Ring, Pure Blind and Fade; along with their home of Deklein and Branch. This was an unenviable task, and one which GOTG lacked the military capacity to perform.
In the immediate aftermath of 9-4, this challenge was not publicly apparent. However, Imperium commanders saw the opportunity – and by early March, began to exploit it.