The War for a Dead World
This Saturday sees the release of ‘Tallarn’, the latest volume in the Horus Heresy series, which brings John French’s various tales of that massive war together in print for the first time. We caught up with John to find out about the battle and the book, and here’s what he had to say:
John: Tallarn was the biggest tank battle in Imperial history, and one of the biggest battles of the Horus Heresy.
The opposing forces fought for over a year on the surface of a planet that had been virus bombed by the Iron Warriors, so that nothing could survive outside of the sealed hulls of tanks and war machines. By the end, over a million machines were dead wrecks on the surface and both loyalists and traitors had sacrificed huge resources for a victory that no one understood.Pretty bleak, pretty vast, very interesting – that’s what I thought when I started researching Tallarn and writing stories about the battle, oh… about five years ago. Back then I had three questions that I wanted to explore and maybe give an answer to:
– What was it like to fight in an unimaginable hellhole like Tallarn?
– Why had it happened?
– What had the Iron Warriors wanted on Tallarn, and why had they abandoned it after spending so much iron and blood to hold it?
These are the questions that I try to answer in ‘Tallarn’, but if you want a taste of the answers then keep reading.
What it is like to fight on Tallarn?
Sealed inside an armoured vehicle. Wrapped in an envirosuit. Sweating. Breathing air piped out of a tank. Sitting in a space barely big enough to move in. Surrounded by the rattle of engines and the clank of tracks. When the engines are off, hearing the dust and death-laden wind stroke the hull, knowing that if any of that air gets in, you are dead. The world outside is either the murk-drowned circle of a gunsight, or the screen of an auspex.
This is the life of a human soldier in the largest tank battle in Imperial history.
And that’s just when it’s quiet. When the shooting starts, the sound of the engines is almost enough to drown out the sound of the guns firing, of breeches slamming open, of plasma charge building, of the thunder of lascannons. And while you are doing your part, you know that just one breach in the hull and you are dead. One broken track or failed gear, and you are doomed to wait until the tank’s air supplies run out. That, or get out and take a few steps on the surface of Tallarn before the air dissolves the flesh from your bones.
Why did it happen?
Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? And the thing is that the loyalists were never sure. As far back as Codex: Imperial Guard from 1995, the root causes of the battle were always said to be a mystery.
The reason it got so huge, though, is simple: neither side would flinch. Tallarn was not a planned engagement in the Horus Heresy; it was a vortex of killing that grew until both sides had staked so much in the battle that neither could back down.
Tallarn had been a staging world during the Great Crusade, but then the crusade had moved on and it had become a forgotten backwater. Even several years into the Heresy, it had not been touched by the fighting. No one seemed to care.
Then, out of nowhere, Peturabo and the Iron Warriors turned up and virus bombed it, killing all life on the surface. At that moment, they could have moved on and left the corpse of Tallarn in their wake. But they didn’t. They hung around, putting an armoured force down onto the surface, even though there should have been nothing left alive. There were survivors though, forces that had been sheltered in underground staging bunkers. These survivors began a hit and run campaign against the Iron Warriors on the surface.
And so Perturabo deployed more forces.
And then the loyalists managed to get word out to the wider Imperium that the main force of the Iron Warriors – and their primarch – were on Tallarn. Loyalist reinforcements turned up, hoping to contain or break the Iron Warriors. Ragtag forces left over and lost were drawn the conflict like insects to a fire.
The fight became a meat grinder, with both sides pouring in more and more forces in response to the other side’s escalation. By that point, it didn’t matter why the battle had started. All that mattered was not losing. Millions of war machines and countless lives were spent to not give ground.
And then, just as abruptly as it had started, the battle was over. The loyalists were left in possession of Tallarn. Victory was theirs.
But why did it end, and why had the Iron Warriors wanted Tallarn in the first place?
That is the question that intrigued me most when I started the Tallarn stories, and the answer is… well you didn’t really expect me to tell you that here, did you?
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