Griffon Squadron is once again called into action, as Imperial and Ork ground forces fight a pitched battle across the desert. The Marauder bombers race to destroy Ork vehicles to help their own Imperial armour break through their lines. Outside the range of their own fighters, they have no escort, but the Orks are faced with the same situation, and have also sent bombers to attack the Imperial armour in the same battle.
The four new Marauder bombers, freshly painted with the markings of Griffon Squadron and crewed by newly trained recruits of the Imperial Navy, roared through the sky to their first conflict on Parnassus.
“I don’t like this. Why Griffon Squadron?” Farnam, the co-pilot of Griffon 2, had the vox channel open to address the whole squadron, but it was his pilot next to him who responded.
“I know… first assignment, and we’re put in a squadron that has lost every plane and crew. What did we do in the Schola that got us a cursed group? And our first mission has no fighter escort?”
A new voice cut into the conversation: “This is Griffon 1. Stow that kind of talk. We’re here for a reason, and if the higher-ups put us here to do a job, we’re going to do it. And you know if talk of dissent or “curses” makes it back to a Commissar, we’ll be investigated,” Jansen scolded. As the pilot of Griffon 1, she was the Flight Leader, although she had as little combat experience as the rest of the crews, but it was her duty to keep them focused. Even if her own feelings about the situation weren’t that different from theirs. “There’s an armoured division facing off against the Orks down there, and we’re going to bring down the Emperor’s wrath on those filthy green xenos and show our groundpounders what it means to rule the skies. It’s true that we’re outside fighter range, but it’s the same for the Orks, so we shouldn’t have to worry about being intercepted by those flying junkpiles. All the same gunners, keep your eyes open.” Beside her, her co-pilot nodded approvingly and she could hear a jumble of “yeah”, and “let’s go”, and “all right” from the other crews in the squadron.
“This is Griffon 4. I can see our tanks up ahead.”
“Me too,” responded Griffon 2. “Let’s get past them and drop some death on the Orks. Make sure…”
“We’ve got aerial bogeys!”, an excited voice suddenly cut through the vox, interrupting Griffon 2’s pilot. “Uh, I mean… this is Griffon 3. We have spotted incoming aircraft,” the voice continued, a little slower, but still with an air of barely contained enthusiasm. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay, Griffon 3,” Jansen responded, “we’re all keen to do our best. Keep focus.”
“Yes, Flight Leader. They’re too big and slow to be fighters. It looks like the Orks have sent bombers as well.”
“All right, gunners, it looks like you’ll have something to do after all. Bombardiers, make your hits count. Every Ork vehicle you destroy will save the lives of Imperial citizens and soldiers.” Jansen tried to continue being reassuring and inspirational, but now, in the face of the enemy, she wanted only concentrate on maneuvering her own aircraft.
“This is Griffon 2. They’re dropping ordnance! But they are still over their own forces! Orks really are as stupid as they told us in training!” Linden, Griffon 2’s pilot watched in amusement as large yellow bombs dropped from two of the lumbering aircraft ahead of him. He expected to see them fall to the ground below amidst the ramshackle Ork vehicles bouncing across the desert over the low dunes, but instead, after a second of descent, the bombs levelled out and began to fly towards them. His amusement turned to shock as he suddenly remembered reports, spoken of in hushed tones in flight school. Rumours shared from experienced pilots. They’d told of bombs piloted by smaller Orks. Bombs that would follow aircraft, and then when they were close enough would open fire with powerful short-range guns, or simply detonate alongside the target aircraft, destroying them both. “Grot bombs!” he yelled into the vox. “We need to bring those bombers down before they launch more!” His nose gunner had the same thought, and was already firing her twin lascannons at the huge aircraft as Linden was making his exclamation. The powerful beams bored holes through the wing of one of the Grot bomb launching craft, separating metal plating from the craft. But it wasn’t enough to bring it down. The other Griffon nose gunners followed suit, but weren’t able to get their targets lined up effectively, and their shots were wasted, missing entirely.
“Avoid those Grot bombs!” came a voice over the vox from Griffon 4. “We’re going left!”
“This is Griffon 3. We’re with you.” Both Marauders swooped to the left, and then hooked slightly right to get out of the path of the piloted bombs, and to line up with approaching Ork vehicles. As close to the ground as they were, their nose gunners were able to fire at the heavily armed Ork trucks. At the same time, their co-pilots unleashed the air-to-surface Hellstrike missiles. Under this onslaught, two of the xeno war machines exploded, scattering chunks of machinery and Ork bodies across the desert.
“This is Griffon 4. I think there are two Grot Bombers and two Heavy bombers. I noticed that the ones which launched Grot bombs are the ones with two dorsal turrets. The others are more likely to be loaded with bombs to drop on our tanks.”
“Well spotted, Griffon 4,” came Jansen’s voice from Griffon 1. “Two of them are swerving to intercept you. Watch… Emperor’s Teeth!” Jansen’s voice suddenly rose in volume as she saw one of the heavy bombers suddenly drop in altitude and serve toward her plane. She heaved on her controls to make sure that the wings of her Marauder didn’t contact those of the huge craft bearing down on her.
As the planes passed each other, a row of guns on the side of the Ork bomber erupted with fire, slamming metal against the side of Griffon 1. The plane rocked as most of the bullets and cannon fire pounded the fuselage right under the cockpit. Jansen’s co-pilot screamed, but he was barely audible over the noise of the storm beating against the side of their aircraft. Cracks appeared in the canopy side window and Jansen flinched to her right, afterimages of the flashing muzzles of the Ork guns and the sparks dancing across nose of her craft still in her eyes, even as she pressed her eyelids tightly closed. Then came another sound: the dorsal heavy bolters behind the cockpit firing as Sharnus retaliated.
“I got ’em!” called Sharnus over the vox. “He’s not dead, but I definitely blew off a piece! How are we doing? Shouldn’t we be dead?”
“I guess command learned from the other missions,” Jansen replied, almost unbelieving that the were still alive. “They had the techs add armour to the cockpits. Without it, we would certainly be spiraling for the ground now. But we weren’t all lucky, I’m still detecting significant damage. We won’t survive another pass like that.”
Meanwhile, Griffon 3 was absorbing a barrage of its own, as the other Ork Heavy bomber had turned its nose in their direction and fired all of its forward-mounted guns. Warning lights and damage indicators were flashing in the cockpit as Ork rounds impacted across the front and wing of the Marauder bomber.
Likewise, Griffon 4 came under fire from the other Grot bomber, while one of the little Grot bombs detonated against Griffon 2, ripping a hole through the tail.
“It looks like we’re all veterans, now! Survived enemy fire,” voxed Farnam to the group.
“Well on the first pass, sure, but I’m sure there’ll be more enemy fire,” replied Jansen. Let’s make sure they receive more than we do from now on!”
Suddenly a new voice squawked out of the vox. It was a less clear than the group’s communication, with some additional static and variation in volume. “This is Commander Tsannik of the 301st Armoured Division. We’re glad you’re here Griffons. I don’t like the look of those yellow crates up there with you. Can you keep them off us while we knock out the Ork trashpiles on the ground?”
“This is Captain Jansen, of Griffon 1,” came the reply. We have no fighter escort. Our mission is to also knock out the Ork trashpiles on the ground, but we’ll see what we can do. But first… Bombardier?”
“I’m on them. Keep steady… bombs away!” And with that, Griffon 1 released two loads of bombs, blanketing the area below them, and destroying two of the large Ork battle vehicles in spectacular plumes of fire and sand.
Griffons 2 and 3 also released their own payloads, and each annihilated another of the over-gunned Ork vehicles.
But the Imperials weren’t the only ones looking to cause damage on the ground. One of the Ork Grot bombers also opened its bay doors and dropped high explosives on the Leman Russ battle tanks below. Two of them, side by side, disappeared in a shower of metal and dirt. A heavy bomber flew in low to the ground and fired its nose guns, ripping up the desert floor and blowing the tracks off another of the tanks, and setting its engine on fire. The other Heavy bomber circled, its broadside guns pointing downwards as it attempted to pound another Imperial tank into the ground, but the fortunate amoured vehicle drove through the metal hailstorm unscathed.
Griffon 4 turned to find another ground target and found itself up behind one of the Ork bombers. “Can you take it down?” the pilot, Rhees, asked the nose gunner.
“No, they’re too close. I’m going for a ground target.” The lascannon fired and the beams bored into the sand beside the battlewagon ahead of them, melting two glass-walled tunnels into the ground.
“Good drops, Griffons! Keep it up. But don’t let the bombers line up on you! They’re more heavily armed to the front than the rear. And don’t get in beside those heavies!” instructed Jansen. “Can anyone still see the Grot bombs?” Just as she asked, an explosion ripped through the fuselage of her own plane as the Grot bomb she’d lost sight of detonated. More warning lights lit up on her dashboard.
“I’m lining up to bring down one of those bombers. Gunners get ready!” called Linden over the vox as he put his bomber into a sharp turn.
“Watch it!” replied Rhees from Griffon 4. “You’re not a fighter pilot. Emperor’s Teeth!” he exclaimed as Griffon 2 filled his cockpit window and he tilted his own aircraft sharply to the left to avoid a collision before leveling out.
Griffon 2’s nose gunner fired prematurely, before Linden had leveled the craft, and the lascannon beams went wide of their intended target. But as the plane straightened, he fired again, this time tearing a tail fin from the lumbering Ork bomber. In Griffon 4, the dorsal gunner also took the opportunity to take a pot shot at the same bomber, his bolter shells streaking across the sky and exploding across the starboard engine. At the same time, the bombardier dropped a bomb load on the vehicle below, annihilating it with a direct hit.
“Griffons, this is Commander Tsannik. Can you do something about the bombers? We can take care of the ground forces ourselves, but we’re getting pasted from the sky!”
“Despite what Griffon 2 seems to think, we’re not fighters, Commander. We’re not built to dogfight,” Jansen replied. But he’s not wrong, she thought to herself. The armoured division is losing a lot of tanks, and there’s not much we can do about it.
“Captain! Another Grot bomb!” Jansen’s co-pilot, Harkel pointed out the side window as the small craft approached.
“I see him,” she replied. What she saw was a large round bomb with enlarged fins and a rocket engine. The cockpit was simply an open space with a small windscreen in front of it. Behind the windscreen was a large green nose and a huge toothy grin sandwiched between a dirty red scarf below, and a leather cap with goggles above. As the creature turned the craft to meet them, Jansen pulled hard on her own controls, skidding her plane slightly in the air, and changing direction slightly, just as the diminutive green pilot fired the guns bolted to the nose of its own craft. The bullets missed, and as the bomb itself sped past harmlessly, Jansen saw the Grot pounding its little fists against the side of it cockpit, its maniacal grin replaced with a despondent wailing, like a spoiled child having a tantrum. “Keep an eye, Harkel, in case he comes around again. In the meantime… Bombardier, I’m lining you up another target.”
“I see it. Bombs away,” came the reply. Then seconds later: “Target destroyed.”
Griffon 2, incorrectly anticipating the movement of the bomber it was tailing, swerved as the enemy planed turned sharply put itself on a collision course.
“Emperor’s Holy Testicles!” cried Farnam as Linden brought their Marauder within metres of the hulking yellow Ork plane as they passed head on.
“Let ’em have it!” called out Linden, ignoring Farnam’s blaspheming. Not entirely sure who he was referring to, the dorsal and tail gunners both started firing at point blank range at the plane they had nearly collided with. Bolter shells ripped into the rear of the Heavy bomber, exploding out chunks of twisted metal and wiring, yet the plane stayed in the air. The bombardier too, dropped the internal payload along with the wing-mounted bombs on the Ork vehicle that Linden had lined up regardless of another aircraft already being in that airspace. The battlewagon blew apart under the combined explosive force of the ordnance that landed in its vicinity.
At the same time, Griffon 4 was still stalking ground targets, strafing a large war truck with its lascannons, blowing off one of its main armaments, but failing to prevent it from advancing. Griffon 3, taking the tank commander’s words to heart, decided to try to prevent more damage to the ground forces. Spotting one of the Grot bombers lining up on the Leman Russ which sported an extended cannon barrel, Griffon 3’s pilot got her nose pointed at it. The nose gunner fired the lascannons, scoring a hit just behind the cockpit, creating a new opening for the Ork crew to see out of. This must have distracted the pilot, as the gunfire against the tank below rained all around it, but the tank emerged through the cloud of dust and sand unscathed.
“That was a close one!” voxed the tank Commander. “I thought they had us with that run!”
But a nearby tank wasn’t as lucky, as it was strafed by a Heavy bomber and cut to pieces, the streams of ammunition from the Ork plane finding the weak spots in the armour, tearing through it and shredding the crew inside.
Likely disappointed with its inability to kill the command tank, the Grot bomber turned and immediately strafed another of the armoured division. This time, its attack was much more effective, as its bullets ripped open the engine compartment and set the tank ablaze.
Perhaps in its focus on finding a new ground target, the Ork pilot didn’t notice that it had put itself in front of Griffon 2. Seizing the opportunity, the nose and dorsal gunners fired, and great chunks of plating were torn from the large, yellow craft as oil sprayed from one of the engines, streaking the fuselage in black.
Griffon 1 swooped over to fall in behind the Heavy bomber that Griffon 2 had almost collided with and the nose lascannon put a beam straight through the port engine, which belched flame from the front and back, and then began to emit a thick black trail of smoke.
“Come on, Enki, you can do it. Get him again!” Jensen wasn’t sure she was even speaking loudly enough for her nose gunner to hear, and whether she was encouraging Enki, or just hoping out loud, and the lascannons flashed again and the port engine exploded, caving in the entire side of the heavy bomber, and folding in nearly in half before it separated into to pieces, which both tumbled to the desert below.
“Yes!” Enki and Jansen cried out in unison. The first aerial kill for the current Griffon Squadron. This would be something to celebrate when they returned to base.
As Griffon 3 dropped the last of their bombs, destroying another Ork war truck, the dorsal gunner also spotted the Grot bomber in range, and tried to finish it off, but couldn’t get a hit.
“Great shot Griffon 1! There’s not much left on the ground, and the greenskins are pretty shot up! I think they’re making a run for it! This is Griffon 4. I’ve spotted the last Ork wagon and I’m going to give my gunners something to shoot!” Rhees turned his Marauder to fly over the final Ork vehicle, which was still making its way across the desert, looking for any surviving Imperial tanks to attack. This brought him close to two of the remaining Ork bombers, and he accelerated to get ahead of the Grot bomber to give his tail gunner a target. This unfortunately brought him nose-first into the broadside of the remaining Heavy bomber.
As Griffon 4 dropped bombs, the dorsal and rear gunners fired desperately into the Grot bomber behind them, at close range, as the Grot bomber fired at them. Rhees realized that he had put himself in the worst possible position, as they were in front of the Grot bomber’s forward guns, and staring right at the broadside and dorsal turret of the Heavy bomber in front of them. His blood seemed to suddenly freeze and his consciousness detached from his body, as all sounds faded. He could make out the heavy repeated thuds of the heavy bolters firing, the constant whine of the Marauder’s engines, and then the inconsistent, non-rhythmic bangs and blasts of the Ork guns, which all had different calibers and firing rates.
As the wave of enemy fire washed over the cockpit and front of the aircraft, Rhees could see nothing but the flashes of the enemy guns in front of him. Behind him, the dorsal and rear gunner were shooting holes on the Grot bomber’s wings and fuselage, but couldn’t bring it down. And then it was over. The Heavy bomber had passed in front of Griffon 4, and for all of its blazing away and pouring fire into the front of the aircraft, had done nothing but chip paint before accelerating and flying away, not attempting to turn and continue the engagement.
Suddenly, reality flooded back into Rhees, and he laughed. “We’re alive?”
His co-pilot gave him a stern look and said, “The Emperor protects, but we may have used our favours up. I don’t think he’ll pull us out of the storm like that again. Just to be safe, I’ll be spending a bit more time at the chapel tonight.”
The wounded Grot bomber behind them also turned and sped away as a final lascannon beam from Griffon 1 cut through the air beside it.
The final Ork plane, the Grot bomber that had failed to destroy Commander Tsannik’s tank, turned and headed back to where it had come from, but Griffon 2 was still following. Griffon 3 pulled up along side Griffon 2, also behind the retreating Grot bomber. “Griffon 2, we don’t have the fuel to follow it, and if we do, we’ll end up inside their fighter range. We’ve got one shot at this.”
“Acknowleged Griffon 3. On the count of three, we fire our shot and see who brings it down.”
“Okay, Griffon 2, you’re on. Hear that gunners? On three, give it your best shot. Count it Griffon 2.”
Linden began: “One… two-” On the “two”, Griffon 2’s nose gunner fired, the twin las beams both carving through the tail section of the large Ork plane and into the wing root, severing the starboard wing completely. Free from the fuselage, the wing fluttered and tumbled like a huge leaf falling from a tall tree. The rest of the craft fluttered more like a brick as it plummeted the short distance into the ground below.
Several voices from Griffon 3 called out in protest. “What happened to three? We shoot on three?”
“You shoot on three. We’re Griffon 2. I shoot on two,” came the reply from the nose of Griffon 2.
Any jeers and cries of amusement that the crew of Griffon 2 were about to make were cut short instead by cries of surprise and shock as bullets tore into the Marauder. Linden saw a small yellow craft with a green grinning face as the final Grot bomb bore down on them, guns blazing. Then the Grot jumped over the side of its bomb just before it exploded, blowing out the window of the Marauder’s cockpit, and launching debris into the inboard port engine. The engine sputtered, popped and erupted in black smoke, as Linden and Farnam attempted to shut it down and shut off its fuel supply.
Below them, hanging from a crude parachute, the Grot was looking up, waving its fists at them, alternating the number of fingers it had raised as it did so.
“Are we going to make it back to base?” asked Linden of his co-pilot.
“Yeah, we should do, if we don’t encounter anything on the way back,” Farnam replied.
“Good enough, then. We all survived, Griffons!” A chorus of cheers rose from the four crews of the most successful mission by the Griffon Squadron.
On the ground below, Commander Tsannik sat on top of his Leman Russ and surveyed the desert around him. It was littered with the flaming and smoking wrecks of the 301st Armoured Division, along with piles of metal and debris that were once Ork fighting vehicles. He glanced up at the withdrawing Marauder bombers and shook his head, before calling down into the open hatch on the turret. “Let’s go… hold up a second.” Tsannik paused and unholstered his laspistol as he saw a small creature scavenging through some of the nearby debris. It was like a small Ork, and had a harness with strings on it, that seemed to be a attached to a large blanket that was dragging behind him. Around its neck was a dirty red scarf, and it wore a leather cap on its head. For a moment he wondered what it was, as he’d not gotten close enough yet to Ork forces to recognize much outside their crude and ugly vehicles, but then decided that he didn’t care, and shot it through the head, even though it didn’t look particularly dangerous.