Sunday night saw the PAPI coalition overwhelm the Imperium with vastly superior numbers and flip the M2-XFE iHub. In a pitched battle stretching over five systems and involving nearly 4,000 capsuleers, PAPI claimed the strategically vital objective. The loss prevents the construction of a cyno jammer and eases the task of releasing the remaining 130 titans trapped under the M2- Keepstar.
PAPI forces numbered around 2,400 to 1,600 from the Imperium. However, with the latter fixed on the hellcamp and refusing to give their enemy an opportunity to extract, this gave PAPI the freedom of manoeuvre to drop capital ships throughout the constellation, outgunning and outnumbering the defenders at every turn. The ISK war saw The Imperium lose 1,000 ships at 177bn to PAPI’s 475 ships at 93bn.
The fight commenced in the adjacent system of 5-CQDA where Goonswarm Megathron, Bhaalgorn and Apocalypse fleets supported FAX entosis groups. Initial progress was quick but short lived with PAPI engaging rapidly with multiple HAC fleets. In a sign of what was to come, PAPI escalated quickly, dropping dreadnoughts and carriers in support. As the Imperium withdrew, severely overmatched, the “toasters” were destroyed and the flipping process began. 5-C would fall a few hours later with Goonswarm losing an Eagle fleet fighting carriers in a desperate attempt to stop PAPI’s progress.
In the first few hours of the battle, the Imperium managed to hold onto various nodes and at one point it looked as though they may be able to pull off a miraculous victory, yet this was not to be the case. PAPI formed hard and in huge numbers, with some pilots stating they were having trouble getting into the overflow HAC fleets. In a microcosm of the battle The Initiative’s (INIT) Eagle fleet warped in to contest a node and within moments of landing were met by three PAPI Muninn fleets. Although the defenders managed to escape largely unscathed, the speed and quantity of the PAPI response would prove to be too much to handle.
Reposte & Counter-Reposte
As it became clear that the Imperium would not be able to contest these nodes through conventional means an interesting game of cat and mouse emerged between fleet commanders. The defenders began by conducting strike ops onto entosis groups when they were undefended, killing the smaller ships and warping off before reinforcements arrived. This in turn led to PAPI setting bait traps, drawing in Imperium fleets, and then landing multiple fleets upon them. To counter, the Imperium tried to use this method to draw in the reinforcements and use bombing runs to reduce their numbers.
Despite all these varying tactics, none proved effective. Strike ops could not break the larger entosis vessels and withdrew. The bait traps were largely unable to catch an enemy fleet due to the vast numbers of eyes in system. And the bombing runs suffered heavy casualties as their surprise was nullified by heavy time dilation.
A Long Night
In many ways this battle highlighted the common themes in this war: iHubs and Heavy Assault Cruisers. The primary tactic of the PAPI coalition has been to flip systems and then to destroy structures, and although slow, it is a low-risk tactic that has proved successful. In contrast, the Imperium will look to defend those structures and offer the chance of larger, more decisive battles until the system becomes untenable and they fallback to another location.
The future of the M2- Keepstar is still in the balance, but despite the efforts of the Imperium attempting to defend the iHub, it was conceded and they withdrew back to the hellcamp and 1DQ uninterested in losing further ships in what was a foregone conclusion. This PAPI victory now sees them able to plan the next evacuation from the M2- hellcamp without the time pressure that an onlining cyno jammer would have imposed. With all eyes fixed on this one system, the next move is now in PAPI’s hands.