Taking place in the final year of the Human-Covenant War, the Battle of Harpa was a thirteen-day conflict that saw some incredibly bloody fighting between a UNSC defence force and a small but well-equipped Covenant fleet that had stumbled upon the agricultural world by accident while scanning for Forerunner artefacts. While not a particularly important colony world from a strategic standpoint, Harpa was surprisingly well-defended and turned what was initially supposed to be a quick and decisive engagement into a slow and costly battle of attrition.
Following a battle that lasted nearly two weeks, Harpa was eventually evacuated at a heavy price, with the surviving Covenant invaders unable to pursue fleeing UNSC forces into slipspace. Though the world was eventually glassed when Covenant reinforcements arrived several days after the main battle, the terrible losses on both sides led to much debate later over whether or not it could be considered a stalemate.
The Covenant Destroyer Justicar, under the command of Shipmaster Felo 'Ranakee, arrived in-system on March 1st while sweeping for Forerunner relics and quickly reported a sizeable Human presence on Harpa's surface. As it prepared to engage a second ship, Divine Reclamation, emerged from slipspace to join it in assaulting the planet. Caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of two enemy vessels the Harpa Defence Fleet, which consisted of only four ship, split itself up to draw out the pair of Destroyers while it organised a proper defence on the ground. The Justicar made short work of Harpa's sole orbital defence platform before eliminating the UNSC Troy in a single volley of plasma torpedoes. It then moved straight in to attack Harpa's capital, Andama, with a massive ground deployment designed to overwhelm the city's defenders.
The UNSC Starhood met a similar fate to the Troy as it attempted to engage the Divine Reclamation, though its destruction allowed a Halcyon-class cruiser, the UNSC Konakli, to severely damage the Destroyer with a lucky MAC round before it too was gutted by a retaliatory strike. With both Covenant ships now forced to land, the battle of Harpa soon shifted to a purely ground-based engagement, with Shipmaster Ranakee directing troops from the Justicar's bridge. The sole surviving vessel of the Harpa Defence Fleet, the ageing UNSC Bright New Day, wisely refrained from engaging the better-armed enemy ships and instead set up a staging post on the planet's southern hemisphere as UNSC forces under the famed Brigadier General Richard Mack Senior rallied for a counter-attack against the Covenant invaders.
Siege of Andama
Using the fortified HAMMER Base as his headquarters, Mack immediately sent instructions for the SPARTAN-II Sigma Team to move in and intercept Covenant landing zones. The group had initially been stationed on Harpa while awaiting redeployment, and split into several up as they moved in to assist local Marine forces. As the colony world's primary population centre, the sprawling metropolis of Andama was immediately besieged by Covenant forces and saw the majority of fighting during the invasion. Master Chief Petty Officer Fenn-145 took charge of the city's defences upon Sigma's arrival, and had his subordinates spread out to lead troops into battle. Though they lacked the numbers to drive the Covenant back, the supersoldiers managed to inflict severe casualties via hit-and-run tactics.
Upon hearing reports of Spartans active inside the city, Shipmaster 'Ranakee doubled his efforts to take Andama and deployed thousands of new troops with orders to kill them at any cost. Many among his army, namely Sangheili officers, sought to challenge and defeat the supersoldiers in single combat. Sigma Team used this to their advantage, luring individual warriors into battle with one of their number before ambushing and killing them with explosives or nearby marksmen, depriving Covenant infantry of their commanders and leaving Unggoy and Kig-Yar soldiers as easy prey for further attacks. With his strategy of a quick elimination in tatters, the Shipmaster unleashed an armoured force of Wraith tanks, backed up by no less than five Scarab walkers with the intention of utterly crushing the amassed UNSC troops there while other detachments attacked smaller settlements across the continent.
Though they were massively outnumbered, UNSC forces within Andama forced the Covenant into a war of attrition, using guerrilla tactics to halt infantry advances before retreating in the face of heavy plasma bombardment. Sigma Team played a crucial role in the city's siege, with Marco-035, Nef-015, Resk-063 and Wulf-041 rallying the local Marines again and again as they made the Covenant fight for every inch of ground. Andama's siege - one that Felo 'Ranakee believed would last mere hours - turned into a gruelling week of urban warfare that reduced most of the city to rubble. Though the surviving UNSC troops and their Spartan allies were close to their breaking point, the enemy Shipmaster's patience ran out first. The Covenant army, which had lost a great deal of its morale in spite of their numbers, was forced to fall back. While Andama's defenders initially believed that this meant that they were fleeing Harpa itself, the battle-hardened Spartans realised that this was not a good sign and called for an immediate evacuation.
Just as Sigma Team had anticipated, the enemy withdrawal was merely a prelude to a direct enemy orbital bombardment. Having destroyed all but one ship in Harpa's defence fleet, the super-destroyer Justicar fired everything it had at Andama, levelling the colony world's capital with plasma and reducing the city to twisted glass. Over a third of its defenders were lost in this attack, though many more were able to escape thanks to the timely arrival of a wave of dropships from HAMMER base. The fight for Andama had taken a heavy toll on both sides, though the loss of three precious Scarabs during the siege was a dark mark on Felo 'Ranakee's stellar battle record. While their existing forces re-organised, a fresh Covenant legion was deployed to hunt down the survivors, pursuing them over the dense jungles that covered most of Harpa's northern continent.
Battle of HAMMER Base
After losing Andama, all UNSC forces remaining on Harpa retreated towards HAMMER base, a heavily-fortified military base in the mountains. While en-route, the evacuation dropships came under heavy fire from enemy fighters, who shot down several before they were driven off by fast-attack aircraft. Among those Pelicans shot down was Wulf-041's. Though the Spartan survived the crash, Covenant troops soon closed in on the crash site, forcing him into hiding while they swept over the area in search of the 'Demon'. Wulf would continue to evade the enemy until he came across a Covenant armoured division heading towards HAMMER base, led by a single Type-47 Scarab. The Spartan was able to single-handedly scale the walker, kill its crew, and destroy it from the inside, halting the enemy advance momentarily before falling back to an evacuation site where he was picked up by Kane-098's Pelican.
With the entirety of Sigma Team and the planet's defence force gathered at HAMMER base, Brigadier General Richard Mack Senior began to organise its defence, intending to keep the Covenant at bay long enough for a proper escape route to be established offworld. Thanks to their efforts in keeping the Covenant's groundside forces occupied at Andama, most of Harpa's civilian populace had escaped, though that left very few spaceworthy vessels for the military to leave the planet on. With the UNSC Bright New Day as the only warship capable of slipspace travel on the planet, Mack was forced to draw attention towards HAMMER while a second evacuation was held for non-combat personnel. The area around the base was reinforced with minefields and anti-aircraft cannons, while an ageing Onager mass driver was set up to provide some defence against enemy warships.
As with his assault on Andama, Felo 'Ranakee prioritised the capture of enemy materials over simply destroying his foe from afar, and had the nearly arrived Jiralhanae Destroyer Divine Reclamation lead the attack. Once again, the Covenant relied on numbers and firepower to breach HAMMER base, taking heavy casualties as they tested its defences. After the initial frontal attack, they began to strike at weaknesses in the human defences, using Kig-Yar snipers and Special Operations teams to whittle down their foe before finally achieving a major breakthrough after an hour of non-stop fighting. After the destruction of a generator powering a number of automated turrets, the Jiralhanae charged into the stronghold, slaughtering all in their path and even giving members of Sigma Team trouble in melee combat. In spite of these losses, Mack and Fenn-145 were able to lead a successful counter-attack that gave their troops time to flee into a tunnel system that would lead them beneath the nearby mountains.
In the process of initiating HAMMER's self-destruct countdown, Nef-015 was ambushed and badly wounded by a Jiralhanae Chieftain. Cut off from the escape tunnel, the SPARTAN-II fought his way out of the base with a HAVOK nuke and managed to hijack a banshee, flying all the way up into the Divine Reclamation's hangar bay on a suicide mission. Though Nef was fatally injured in the act of planting the HAVOK, he was able to detonate the device before dying and completely obliterated the Destroyer from the inside just as HAMMER base's reactors overloaded and destroyed the base. This pushed all local Covenant forces into disarray and left them unable to pursue Mack's forces into the mountains.
Using the time bought by Nef's sacrifice, the remaining UNSC forces fled into the Jamitar desert, where the Bright New Day awaited them. Angered by the loss of the Divine Reclamation, 'Ranakee had his super-destroyer launch a series of devastating plasma strikes against the planet's surface, intent on exterminating any humans who had not yet regrouped with their main force. By March 13th Mack's troops had started to board the Bright New Day, though the frigate soon found itself surrounded by a Covenant army. Quickly assembling a strike force, the Brigadier General diverted enemy attention away from the Day and towards a cluster of half-buried ruins in the desert, which had been partly excavated by ONI some time before. Aware that the Covenant sought Forerunner relics beyond anything else, Mack broadcast that they intended to destroy the area and forced Felo 'Ranakee himself to the surface in a desperate attempt to preserve the ruins.
Taking advantage of the Covenant's haste outweighing tactical sense, Mack's troops ambushed and slaughtered the first few waves of attackers. When they slowed their advance, demolition teams destroyed several irrelevant but noticeable structures, which sent the fanatical aliens back into a violent frenzy. Though outnumbered, Mack and his troops held the line for several hours while the Bright New Day loaded the last survivors on board, and eventually called for extraction via Pelican dropship when it became clear that holding their position would be meaningless. Shortly after they did so, Mack's position was suddenly overwhelmed by an elite force of Sangheili warriors led by Felo 'Ranakee, and though the legendary soldier took down a number of his attackers he was eventually outfought and killed by the Shipmaster, remaining defiant to the end. Jax-007 arrived moments after Mack's death and after brutally dispatching 'Ranakee's guards challenged the overconfident Sangheili to a sword duel.
Though the Sangheili's martial training with the weapon far outstripped that of the supersoldier, he had never faced a human opponent in such a duel and the Spartan's enhanced strength, speed and unorthodox tactics gave him the upper hand, allowing Jax to disarm and scar 'Ranakee. While he could have easily finished off the Covenant leader, the Spartan left him alive and departed with Mack's body, seeing it as a worse fate for an honor-bound Sangheili warrior. Sigma Team and those few that remained of Mack's task force then boarded the Bright New Day, which would take advantage of the Covenant's panic and disarray to escape the doomed colony while it could.
- "Humans, your planet is lost, your forces scattered and your ship defenceless. However, I will give you an opportunity to survive this day, for giving us such a glorious battle. Bring me your vessel's navigation data, carried by one of your Demons, and I will let the rest live. Make your decision"
- ―Felo 'Ranakee's ultimatum to the UNSC survivors
The frigate, having rescued everyone it could, took off from Harpa's surface as the Covenant Destroyer moved towards it. When Jax-007 reached the bridge, he asked Captain Maxon to open fire on the ruins. The naval officer complied with the Spartan and obliterated the site with a volley of missiles. While he hoped that would be enough to kill Felo 'Ranakee, the Shipmaster had escaped and contacted the Bright New Day personally, promising that he would allow their escape if a Spartan brought them navigational data. As Sigma's leader, Fenn took it upon himself to do so, though he had no intention whatsoever of giving the Covenant vital information and easily saw through what was obviously a trap. However, with the Day's limited armament and no way to escape the Justicar and its plasma weaponry, he chose to sacrifice himself by taking several SHIVA nuclear weapons across in an unarmed shuttle.
While his comrades protested, Fenn ignored them and gathered his weaponry for a suicide attack. En-route, he was approached by Lieutenant Martin Keel, one of the ship's ODST's. Keel had been badly wounded during the retreat across the desert and although medics had patched up his wounds with biofoam he would not last more than a few hours without serious medical assitance. As such, he offered to ferry the Spartan over towards the ship and go out with a bang. Master Chief Petty Officer Fenn-145 said his final goodbyes to the five other members of Sigma-Alpha in the ship's hangar bay before departing with his deadly cargo, seemingly without regrets.
Still aboard a dropship, Felo 'Ranakee had been recuperating from the wounds he suffered fighting Jax and was en-route to the Justicar when news of the human ship's approach reached him. His plan was to personally kill the Demon after seizing the data before having the Destroyer blow the enemy vessel apart, cementing his victory on Harpa despite the absolutely tremendous cost in lives it had taken to take Harpa. Ordering a group of well-armed Sangheili and Mgalekgolo to surround and detain the Spartan the moment he left the dropship, the Shipmaster was sure of his victory until a brief, panicked transmission from one of his officers reached him; Fenn had stepped out of his shuttle, held up the detonator for the assembled force to see, then set off the nukes. The Justicar was blown apart from the inside by the blast, which vaporised most of the warship in seconds along with most of the Shipmaster's remaining troops. With the way now clear, the UNSC Bright New Day immediately jumped to slipspace, leaving Felo 'Ranak trapped on Harpa alongside the remnants of his army.
- "Nobody won Harpa."
- ―a phrase commonly associated with the battle post-war
It was not until two days later that four CCS-class battlecruisers arrived in search of find Felo 'Ranakee. The Shipmaster, who knew the price of failure well, had compiled a detailed report that indicated the deaths of not only Richard Mack Senior - one of few Human military commanders known to the Covenant - but of Nef-015 and Fenn-145 as well. His hopes that the death of several high-value targets would save him from exile of execution came true after a brief judiciary hearing in High Charity, though due to his failure it was clear that Felo 'Ranak would likely never advance beyond his current rank. With the Forerunner ruins on Harpa destroyed, the Covenant fleet then glassed the entire planet, both as a sign of their supremacy and to burn away any memory of the grievous losses suffered there.
The UNSC Bright New Day spent several weeks in transit before arriving on Sigma Octanus IV to report what had happened at Harpa. The near-total loss of its defence force, alongside two irreplaceable SPARTAN-II's and Richard Mack Senior, was a heavy blow to the UNSC. Kane-098 was made Sigma Team's new commanding officer after the group returned to Reach, while Mack Senior's body was brought to Earth for burial; a rare privilege so late in the war. With Harpa gone, the UNSC was pressed further back through the Inner Colonies, with only Reach and Earth itself standing as its major military centres.
- The Battle of Harpa was this author's first ever fanon article on the wiki, and provided the basis for the rest of the Sigmaverse to form around.