In the wake of the Yawata Strike and the League’s reaction to it, along with other flashpoints, a defacto state of war existed between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Solarian League, though no official declarations had been made. The League’s complex and murky bureaucracy and its sense of entitlement, not to mention its huge size and population, meant it remained a potentially very challenging opponent, despite the huge disparity in military capabilities, and the newly-formed Grand Alliance of Manticore, the Protectorate of Grayson, the Republic of Haven and the Andermani Empire still had to worry about the Mesan Alignment, that was slowly unravelling the League whilst pointing its navy at the allies.
A direct war with the League, which comprised of over 1,700 inhabited worlds and an industrial output equal to the rest of humanity’s holdings combined, was a frightening prospect. However the League’s rulers, the foursome of undersecretaries known as the Mandarins, were equally frightened. Word of their navy’s crushing losses at Manticore had reached them, and the Navy’s commander, Admiral Rajampet, committed suicide (it would later transpire this was yet another example of Mesan nanotech compulsion) upon hearing of the defeat. The League’s leaders began to understand that a direct fight was not in their interests, but they were equally concerned at the League fracturing, for it would undermine their personal power and influence. The League also had to respond in some manner, for allowing ‘neobarbs’ to humiliate them was not acceptable, and they had to demonstrate to wavering member worlds (Beowulf had already announced its plans to leave the League) that their authority was absolute.
The League also had to respond to the Manticoran blockade of wormhole junctions (not merely ones Manticore controlled), something that would have a devastating impact on the League’s economy. To accomplish their goals, in the middle of 1922 PD they sanctioned Operation Buccaneer.
Buccaneer was a warning to member worlds that were considering leaving the League, and a reminder to non-aligned worlds (particularly ones that had close ties to Manticore) that the League remained a force to be reckoned with, though the methods were in direct defiance of everything the League had previously stood for. Once, the League had strongly upheld the Eridani Edicts (internationally recognised laws regarding minimising civilian deaths in planetary and orbital attacks). Now the League skirted with violating the Edicts in strikes at orbital industries and facilities. Buccaneer included a ‘Parthian Shot’ clause; if the League taskforce encountered an enemy taskforce too strong to take on, they were to launch their missiles at their targets from extreme ranges, without giving civilians time to evacuate their facilities.
The first move of Buccaneer took place in August 1922 PD. A Solarian taskforce, commanded by Admiral Vincent Capriotti, arrived in the Cachalot system and gave the locals 72 hours to evacuate their orbital stations before firing upon them. Nearly two thousand years of development and the livelihoods of 1.7 billion people were destroyed. In the same month, League Admiral Jane Isotalo was en-route to the Ajay system (which had been highly critical of the League), but her taskforce was intercepted at the Prime terminus of the Prime-Ajay Bridge, and destroyed by Commodore Sir Martin Lessem’s Cruiser Squadron and LACs.
The most significant action of Buccaneer also came in August, in the Hypatia system. Hypatia’s citizens were preparing to vote to leave the League, something that in principle the League’s Constitution permitted. Solarian League Taskforce 1030, led by Admiral Hajdu Gyozo, was dispatched to the system to ‘dissuade’ the Hypatians of their course of action – or face the consequences in an attack on their industry. Gyozo was unaware that a small Manticoran taskgroup was already in the system, and he remained unaware when he gave the Hypatians limited time to evacuate their facilities, knowing full-well many civilians would not be able to escape his intended targets. Despite a huge disparity in the size of the fleets (the League had 98 battlecruisers, 40 light cruisers, and 32 destroyers, against one battlecruiser, three heavy cruisers and one destroyer, which was dispatched to head off as a courier), Admiral Jan Kotouc moved to assist Hypatia.
Firstly he used his stealth platforms’ wedges to destroy the League’s reserve ammunition pods, then fired wave after wave of missiles at the League fleet. However, Kotouc’s small fleet lacked any pods, and they had none of the Apollo systems that would have enabled them to stay far out of the enemy’s reach. His attacks did have the desired effect of provoking Gyozo into firing his primary strike at the Manticoran vessels, though this meant over a hundred thousand missiles now poured towards him. Despite this, the Manticoran ships continued to fire, and took out scores of League battlecruisers with salvo after accurate salvo, until the League’s wave crashed over them with devastating effect.
What happened next could only be considered outrageous. Gyozo, infuriated beyond all reason, ordered a follow-up strike on the broken and crippled Manticoran ships, in a clear violation of the Denab Accords. Gyozo himself died as one of the last incoming rounds of Manticoran fire destroyed his battlecruiser, but not before his order was carried out. Command passed to Admiral Martin Gogunov, who insisted upon sticking to Gyozo’s timetable for attacking Hypatia, and also stated his wish to fire upon Manticoran escape pods (in addition, he refused any assistance from retrieving his own escape pods, as he would not give any further time to Hypatia).
Before Gogunov could carry out any of his desired orders, the remaining Manticoran destroyer Arngrim opened fire, having used her Ghost Rider platforms to identify Gogunov’s flagship. Commander Megan Petersen’s attack might have been seen as reckless, and even in defiance of her own orders, but she cut Gogunov off from the rest of his fleet when her ship’s attack crippled Lepanto. Petersen then contacted the next officer in the chain of command, Admiral Thomas Yountz, and promised to keep targeting each flagship until she found a commander willing to stand down. Yountz wisely chose to withdraw.
Despite Alignment spies prodding the League’s leaders, and a self-inflicted nuclear strike on Mesa itself (designed to make it appear that Manticore had slaughtered millions of civilians), the tide of opinion was turning against the Mandarins and the League. Admiral Kingsford came to suspect that Manticoran claims of the Alignment’s interference were true, and he had serious misgivings at the way Buccaneer had been carried out. When Kingsford was ordered to destroy Beowulf’s missile production facilities, he carried out his orders, and the League fleet was secretly aided by Alignment forces, who set off nuclear strikes on Beowulf’s orbital stations, killing millions. However the Alignment had hoped to time their attack to the League’s own, and this failed, making it clear the League itself had not launched nuclear strikes on civilians.
Things got worse. Beowulf had been hosting an Alliance conference and among the dead were high-ranking Manticoran and Grayson officials, including Thomas Caparelli, Patricia Givens and Judah Yanakov. It was believed Admiral White Haven (by now husband to Admiral Harrington) had also perished, and in the wake of such a brutal attack on one of their allies, Elizabeth III directed Harrington to end the conflict quickly and decisively, by taking Grand Fleet to Sol. Meanwhile, forces within the League’s government began to investigate the Alignment’s alleged interference in their affairs, and started to root out moles in their midst.
An attack on Sol seemed unprecedented, yet Grand Fleet’s vastly superior technology made breaching earth’s defences very easy. For Honor, who was consumed by grief and rage, it took all of her self-control to not destroy surrendering craft and outposts, and her terms for surrender were ruthless. She ordered Kingsford to scuttle every ship and promised to destroy the Sol system’s industrial infrastructure, with the exception of power plants and habitats. In a move calculated to cause chaos, she ordered the Mandarins’ arrest and extradition.
Needless to say, the Mandarins were not inclined to surrender themselves, but Admiral Kingsford took it upon himself to apprehend them and accept Harrington’s terms. Harrington herself was mollified by the surprise arrival of her husband, who had survived the attacks on Beowulf through a minor miracle. Together they demanded that the League’s institutions be dismantled and reformed – the Office of Frontier Security, so often responsible for forcing worlds into League membership, would be destroyed, and a new, properly representative constitution would be written. Having already destroyed Sol’s industry, the next Alliance promise (unless their conditions were met) would be to target the next four-most powerful League worlds and repeat their actions, and to do so over and over again until their conditions were met. Kingsford agreed, and the war was over.
Whether the rest of the League – especially its power brokers and kingmakers – would accept the terms would be another matter, but for that moment, the League could not resist. The reforms would begin, and a much larger, more devastating conflict had been averted. For the moment at least, there was peace.