Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Long War, Part XII - The Battle of Ogbomosho

Previous: The Long War, Part XI - Crisis in Africa

The Battle of Ogbomosho

The Skyrangers arrived in Ogbomosho early evening Nigerian time on 7 April 2016. By this point the chryssalids had been running amok for almost 12 hours, and their numbers had swollen to over several thousand. It was fortunate for the X-Com operatives that they landed in an area relatively devoid of the creatures. Had they landed in the southern part of Ogbomosho, where most of the creatures were concentrated, they would all most likely have perished. Without communications from Doorn "Okami" Takeda did not want to hazard a landing at the university, but rather chose a site half a kilometre west. His squad would then loop around to the north, while the second squad commanded by "Tora" Sato would loop around to the south. Okami and Tora were able to lead their respective squads from the drop site and link up with UN troops still holding out in the university.
Tora's squad encountered an impregnated civilian en route, and was able to witness first hand the transformation from human host to newborn chryssalid. The squad soon learnt that light and noise drew the creatures. Killing the alien pupa drew several more, and they were forced to conduct a fighting withdrawal to the university. They were only saved from being overrun by making it to the perimeter. UN troops keeping quiet under light and noise discipline opened fire to cover the squad, and they made it through the lines thanks to the intervention of the blue helmets.

The cordon around Ogbomosho in the evening of 8 April 2016. Nigerian reinforcements from Ibadan maintained a strong front, while the arriving X-Com brigade (marked in red) was used to complete the encirclement of Ogbomosho and to reinforce the UN lines.

The arrival of X-Com only marginally increased the firepower of the defenders. The real contribution made by X-Com was through the use of the Skyrangers in ferrying people and supplies in and out of Ogbomosho. Doorn refused to abandon his troops and the civilians trapped in the university, and faced with such intransigence, Okami decided to put the Skyrangers to work. With most of Nigerian air power tied up in operations against the Boko Haram the Skyrangers became the life line in and out of the city. The Japanese pilots ran dozens of missions from Ogbomosho to either Ilorin Airport to the north, or to Oyo to the south. They evacuated thousands of civilians, UN personnel and Nigerian army soldiers during the period between 7-9 April 2016. They also flew in supplies, ammunition and reinforcements to the defenders in the university. Fuel became a problem due to the lack of specialised jet propellant used by the Skyrangers, but under advisement from Chief Engineer Raymond Shen the pilots simply filled up with commercial jet fuel at Ilorin Airport. "It'll do in a pinch," stated the engineer. "We'll clean out the pipes when you boys and girls come home. And in the meantime keep your speed below supersonic, or you may have some...difficulties."

The troops trapped in the university initially considered a wholesale evacuation of the pocket, but it was judged that a Skyranger airlift could not carry out enough people at once without compromising the perimeter. Chryssalid attacks were virtually non-stop, and the encircled troops were forced to fend off attacks all night. Most of these attacks were sporadic, random and disorganized, but on occasion the defenders were swamped by massive pods of chryssalids which threatened to overwhelm them. Even worse than the attacks were the constant pleas for help from civilians, soldiers, and police officers trapped in the city. When the UN first arrived in Ogbomosho Doorn organized several patrols whose primary purpose was to find and escort civilians to the safe zone around the university. These patrols were very successful but were discontinued once night fell, despite the pleas and protests of the civilians within the university. All the UN troops could do was listen to the increasingly desperate men and women begging, pleading, threatening and screaming on cell phones and emergency bands, and advise them to either stay put, escape the city or make their way to the university. Organized hold-outs could resist the chryssalids while they had ammunition, but once they were out they were doomed. Hiding was more successful, but ineffective if a chryssalid strayed too close - later autopsies on the creatures revealed that electroreception numbered among one of their senses. The creature had the ability to detect the weak bioelectrical fields generated by living beings from a range of about 4-5 metres - cowering behind a wooden door or wall usually ended brutally with the chryssalid using its forelegs to punch through the obstruction. Metal partitions offered better protection from detection because the metal blocked or distorted electrical fields (creating rudimentary Faraday shields), but the aliens also appeared to possess excellent eyesight and hearing. People who hid on rooftops and basements fared better, but their existence was poised on a knife's edge - any noise, stumble or mistake had disastrous consequences, especially as the number of chryssalids exploded out of control. Civilians at the university determined to find family and loved ones tried to head out into the city on their own, but were stopped by UN troops under Doorn's orders. Some managed to slip past the perimeter, and were never seen again.

Dawn over Ogbomosho.

Okami raised the idea of using the Skyrangers to rescue clusters of civilians trapped on rooftops, and Bradford initially gave the go-ahead. The use of the Skyranger was a double edged sword - it could be used to ferry people in and out of the city, but also drew the chryssalids in large numbers. Okami conducted several rescue missions throughout the city, and in each one the template remained the same - one Skyranger would be sent to create noise and draw the chryssalids away from the target area, while another would land, rescue the civilians, and take off before too many of the chryssalids arrived. X-Com operators provided perimeter security during the operations. The missions were discontinued because it was judged that using the Skyrangers to extract the wounded and bring in ammunition and reinforcements was more critical to the survival of the pocket, which was in constant danger of being overrun. One Skyranger piloted by "Variable" Fukuyama was sent on frequent runs around the city with one simple goal - to create noise and draw chryssalids away from the university. The importance of this diversion did not become apparent until the dawn of 8 April 2016, when X-Com and UN troops finally had enough visibility to see what had become of the city. Scanning with binoculars from the highest vantage points of the university revealed a heart-stopping sight - the city of Ogbomosho was awash with movement as chryssalids roamed unchecked on the streets. "There were so many of them that the ground looked like it was moving," stated "Mesmer" Levin, an Israeli scout sniper. Mexican sniper "Chestnut" Jimenez added: "The chryssalids were terrifying. Anyone who says they weren't scared is either lying or a lunatic. The fact that they used to be people, though - that's the worst part. And the thing that scared everyone the most was the thought that we might end up like them."

By the morning of 8 April 2016 UN and Nigerian forces had created a U-shaped cordon around the city. Estimates of chryssalid numbers were now in the tens of thousands, and the creatures had begun migrating away from the city. Outside Ogbomosho the advantage lay with the human defenders. Unhampered by urban clutter and with long clear lines of sight the soldiers mowed down hundreds of chryssalids on the outskirts of the city. Rifles, machine guns, mortars and howitzers were extremely effective in the open fields. By contrast the university was in constant danger of being overrun, and it was only the bravery and steadiness of the troops barricaded within, and the constant diversionary runs made by Skyrangers over the city that gave the defenders the breathing room to survive. Even the cordon outside the city began to feel the strain of having to kill thousands and thousands of chryssalids. The battle became more about logistics rather than combat - the vital question which determined whether or not the chryssalids could be contained was whether the soldiers could remain supplied with enough bullets to hold the line.

The arrival of the X-Com brigade from Tanegashima on the evening of 8 April 2016 alleviated some of the pressure on the human lines. They arrived in Ilorin Airport, hustled on board a vast melange of troop transports, and driven through the night to their positions. The only gap in the human cordon lay to the northwest, and the biggest fear of the crisis was a chryssalid breakout in this direction. To the northwest of the city lay
Old Oyo National Park, a wildlife sanctuary populated by buffalo, antelopes, lions and many other types of African fauna. It was not known at the time whether the chryssalids could impregnate non-human species, but it was a fair assumption - the nightmare scenario which Nigeria, the UN and X-Com wanted to avoid was a wholesale chryssalid migration to the park. Once the creatures had the run of the park they had access to thousands of new hosts, as well as the freedom to spread out in any direction to rampage across all of Nigeria. Two battalions were placed across this gap to complete the encirclement, and the remainder sent to shore up parts of the cordon which were wavering and in danger of collapse. Doorn's heavy equipment, vehicles, transports and ammunition reserves also arrived at Ilorin Airport after being redirected back from the CAR, and these were funnelled to the front lines as fast as possible.

UN forces drive through the night to reinforce the cordon around Ogbomosho.

The night of 8 April 2016 was the most critical of the battle of Ogbomosho. The chryssalid population had stabilized - there were no more easily available hosts left to impregnate, and any remaining survivors were either within the university, escaped to the human lines, or hidden away in the deepest, darkest places they could find. The chryssalids, driven by a deep seated need to reproduce, began leaving the city en masse in search of new hosts. The human lines were formidably effective during daytime, but once night fell their advantage was diminished. Some units, notably the US and UK companies in the UN brigade, were fortunate enough to be equipped with night vision goggles and were able to maintain their combat effectiveness. Other units used starshells and flares to illuminate the darkness. Some units had none of these advantages, and it was these sections of the line that were most vulnerable. The nights of 7-8 April coincided with the new moon over Nigeria, shrouding the area in pitch black with only the stars providing ambient light. Without visibility some parts of the line were forced to let the chryssalids come dangerously close, and the resultant contacts were highly risky affairs. Some parts of the line gave way, but were immediately plugged by whatever reserves the human defenders could muster. Every member of both UN brigades were committed - if a soldier could hold a rifle, then they were in the line, or waiting in reserve to plug the gaps. Another difficulty was the melange of nationalities in the brigades. A UN brigade was not a brigade in the same way a national brigade was, with a unified chain of command, shared language and customs, and efficient communications. A UN brigade in reality was composed of a group of battalions, companies and sometimes platoons from different countries with fragmented chains of command, disparate languages and customs and wild variations in rank. Communications was an ongoing nightmare, requiring translation, repetition and clarification. To combat this Bradford seeded every company with members of his staff, and paired them with translators within the unit to ensure that he received accurate situation reports and that his orders were carried out. Even in the face of the enemy there were petty displays from officers from various nations who refused to take commands from a soldier from another country whom they considered to be their inferior in rank. It took a polite phone call from Japanese Force Commander Iwata to ensure compliance. Even the Force Commander's orders were not orders per se, but formal requests. If a company captain or major proved particularly intransigent it would take a phone call to that officer's superiors in their home nation to force them to act, and even then it would be begrudgingly.

One advantage in the UN's favour was the simplicity of the task in hand. All that was asked of the human defenders was to hold the line at all costs, and every man and woman, whether they were a commando, a line infantry soldier, or logistics clerk could understand this elemental imperative. The dawn of 9 April 2016 saw the defenders weary, exhausted and almost out of ammunition. The lines had nearly been breached in a dozen places, and it was only through the expert handling of his meagre reserves that Bradford managed to stave off a breakthrough. The Skyrangers were again co-opted into service, scrambling three squads of the X-Com strike force into crisis points in the cordon and bringing forward reserves of ammunition to the tired UN troops. The Kawasaki Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle (SHIV) excelled in its first deployment, taking a massive toll on the aliens anywhere it was deployed until it ran out of ammunition. The Skyranger pilots were at the point of collapse, and at the very end of their combat effectiveness - only the use of copious amounts of caffeine and amphetamines allowed them to continue their runs over the city. The Nigerians in the southern half of the cordon were rock solid - they had none of the UN's disadvantages and they were constantly reinforced by more and more troops and equipment from Ibadan. They were ably led by their commander, Major-General Ilo, and more importantly, they were on home soil and fighting for their homes and families. They needed no other motivation to stand their ground.

The UN defence, on the other hand, was compromised by its multinational composition, fractured command and control, and lack of supply. Bradford had already begun planning a general withdrawal to ease the pressure on his lines when the sound of jets overhead gave the beleaguered defenders hope. The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) from NATO arrived in the morning of 9 April 2016. Tireless lobbying from the UN Secretary-General and visceral, shocking footage of the carnage in Ogbomosho taken by helicopters overhead finally convinced the heads of NATO of the seriousness of the threat. European fighters screamed overhead and made bombing runs over the chryssalid herds, destroying swathes of the creatures in a single pass, shortly followed by helicopters and paratroopers. NATO command coordinated with Bradford to place the arriving soldiers where they were needed, and this combined with daylight, allowed the cordon to stabilize. In the afternoon of 9 April NATO commandos from the VJTF launched an offensive to link up with the encircled troops in the university. Advancing in a wedge down Ogbomosho Road Belgian, Dutch and German troops were able to clear a route, creating a salient with the university at its apex, and providing relief to the exhausted defenders who had been fighting non-stop for over 48 hours in the pocket. The lines had been stabilized - the pocket relieved - and more and more NATO troops were arriving en masse to provide fresh troops, ammunition and supplies. The crisis had finally been averted.

NATO forces arrive to relieve the beleaguered UN troops.

On 10 April 2016 Nigerian soldiers observed several chryssalids walking slowly and aimlessly on the southern perimeter of Ogbomosho. Further sightings suggested that the aliens were sick and debilitated, and this observation was soon confirmed all along the perimeter. On 11 April 2016 Nigerian units pushed cautiously into the city and found an amazing sight. Everywhere they found chryssalids dead or dying on the streets. They were still dangerous if approached, and made feeble lunges at soldiers who came too close, but in their incapacitated state they were easily dispatched. The carapace of the chryssalids had faded from a vivid purple to a bleached violet, and they appeared addled and disorientated. A general advance was ordered all along the cordon, and weary UN and Nigerian troops, along with fresh NATO forces itching for a fight, closed the noose around the city. Everywhere they went the situation was the same - the chryssalids were collapsing and dying in droves. Every now and then the troops encountered an active chryssalid that was still fast and dangerous, but these became increasingly rare and were easily put down. By 12 April the crisis was considered over, and Ogbomosho was in human hands again.

Aftermath

The initial hypothesis for the wholesale death of the chryssalids was that they fell victim to pathogens in the atmosphere which their immune systems were not equipped to handle. Comparisons were made to the north, south and central American Indians, whose population and culture were initially decimated by the introduction of diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and diphtheria by European settlers. The survivors, like the Europeans, were able to develop antibodies and resistance to the introduced diseases, but not before the disease exacted a deadly toll. It was thought that the chryssalid's immune system, with its affinity for human biochemistry, fell victim to some innocuous bug to which humans had adapted to generations earlier. This hypothesis would be challenged by Dr. Vahlen several days later after her team conducted extensive examinations of the creature. According to Vahlen, the creature's hybrid cells exhibited signs of accelerated senescence. "This creature didn't die from any disease or virus or bacteria," Vahlen declared. "It simply died of old age." Vahlen's autopsies revealed that the chryssalids only lived for about four to five days, and were most dangerous in the first 48 hours of their inception. By the third or fourth days the accelerated ageing took its toll in the form of dulled reflexes, lethargy and listlessness. By the fourth or fifth day they were too weak to move, and died shortly afterwards.

The traumatized survivors of Ogbomosho.

Despite the demise of the chryssalids Dr. Vahlen remainded deeply concerned. Cellular mitosis in the creatures occurred at a rate which made terrestrial life seem glacial by comparison. More worrying for her and her team were the tell tale signs which pointed to the fact that the organism was designed rather than evolved. Vahlen had no way of knowing what kind of world the chryssalids hailed from, but she was highly doubtful that environmental factors could have evolved such an organism. She pointed to the elegance of its design and its specific ability to interact with carbon-based biochemistry as proof that the creature was bio-engineered. "It's the perfect bioweapon," Vahlen stated. "If you introduce a single organism to an enemy city, it will decimate the civilian population in a matter of hours. Once it runs out of hosts, they will all die off within four to five days, allowing your soldiers to walk into the city without any danger to themselves." Her grim warnings did not end there. "If the aliens decided to turn their hand to biological warfare on a viral, even bacterial level, the resultant diseases could wipe out humankind in hours given the speed of alien cellular replication. If they can engineer something as complex and deadly as a chryssalid, with its bizarre hybrid life cycle, then a simple virus would be child's play for them."

Nigeria remained a cauldron of unrest in the days after the crisis. The losses in Ogbomosho were catastrophic. Identifying the actual number of victims proved an almost impossible task, given how the chryssalids consumed their victims and left little of their hosts behind. The inability to conclusively identify the dead left many families in a hellish limbo with no closure and no body to mourn. Entire families and communities disappeared without a trace. It was estimated that over half a million Nigerians lost their lives during the attack, making it the single most devastating attack in the nation's history. Some incredible tales of survival emerged in the aftermath of Ogbomosho. Some children were inexplicably left alone by the chryssalids for no apparent reason. Anyone in the vicinity of these children were spared by the chryssalids, and these children were soon deified by Vodun ("voodoo") practitioners for possessing strong juju, or supernatural power. Others Nigerians from Christian denominations shunned them and called them the spawn of the Devil. Even more incredible were stories of how the chryssalids appeared to respect, even fear snakes. A snake charmer from Ogbomosho recounted an incredible tale of walking in the streets with a snake draped around his neck and being left alone by hundreds of chryssalids who gave him a wide berth. Upon learning of the snake's apparently talismanic powers the snake charmer draped several snakes over the shoulders of his family and walked them safely to UN lines, much to the astonishment of the blue helmets who saw the horde of chryssalids parting like the Red Sea in Biblical mythology to allow the passage of this Nigerian family.

For X-Com the crisis in Ogbomosho was a baptism of fire which unified and gave the organization a clear purpose. For the first time the entire brigade, not just the strike force, had fought a common foe, and it created a strong esprit de corps among the soldiers which went beyond national lines. For the first time the soldiers began to think of themselves as soldiers of humanity, as opposed to soldiers of whatever nation-state they hailed from. The leaders of X-Com began to see the possibilities of the wide mandate given by the UN resolution, and the size of the X-Com reaction force almost doubled when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon folded the remains of Doorn's brigade into the unit. To commemorate the fallen, Bradford requested and was granted permission to create a unit badge for X-Com which separated them from other UN forces deployed in peacekeeping missions around the globe. X-Com also adopted a motto that would one day become as famous as many of the other mottos sported by other famous military units in history, such as the SAS's "Who Dares Wins" or the US Marines' Semper Fidelis ("Always Faithful"). X-Com's new motto was Vigilo Confido, or roughly translated from Latin - "Trust In Our Vigilance".

Vigilo Confido.

Next: The Long War, Part XIII - Escalation

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. "Trust in our vigilance." That gave me chills. The entire Ogbomosho arc has been a fantastic read, and I can't wait to read more.

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  3. fuuuuck, this is so good. I am seriously considering buying any xcom related books i can find now just to pass the time while I wait for you

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  4. Let me guess, they avoid snakes because chryssalid IFF deemss them too similar to the thin mints.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. Double post removed, and I gather you mean thin men instead of thin mints. :)

    But yah you're right, according to X-Com lore the chryssalids have an affinity and partnership with the snake men which is not completely explained. In the 1994 version of the game chryssalids and snake men were always deployed together in missions and they have similar reproductive systems - they're asexual and they both lay eggs. In the 2012 remake the relationship isn't as explicit, but we know that thin men are snake men in disguise. Finally in the 2016 sequel we see the snake men revealed again, but they've been changed into snake women instead. I don't know what the exact relationship between the two species is yet, but I thought it would make for a nice touch to have the chryssalids mistakenly assume snakes were little snake men and leave them alone.

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