Operation: Pharaoh

With the war in Germany over it was time to pull forces back. Apart from 200,000 Army soldiers, assorted vehicles and a small naval and air force the full attack force had been ordered to go back home. Having such a large military on the move however provided opportunities. Before the war and the Impact, the Empress had ordered Operation: Pharaoh, a swift surgical strike to rapidly assert Athenian control over Malta. Militarily Malta posed no chance and at the time the only deterrent was the possibility of an Italian response. With Italy now solidly on their side that concern was gone as well. This left Avra in a comfortable position, she knew her Empress’ wishes, she knew it could be done and she knew with the normal military movements no one would even notice until it was too late. As such, while declaring war during a regency tended to be a no go, she had no problems with it here. As the orders were issued to the Imperial Command, the branches of the Hellenic Forces jumped into action. Satellites had already been tracking military developments on Malta ever since the first orders were issued and now with even more precise intelligence from RQ-4s and MQ-4Cs, nothing could hide. It was these surveillance operations that showed Malta’s army could be no larger than 70-80,000 soldiers, it had several hundred tanks, towed artillery and S-300s with the former focused on anti-shipping, about 600 F-16s and several hundred helicopters of varying kinds. The anti-air was heavily outdated and even if it could detect the carrier-launched F-35s or surface-launched F-22s, the Growlers in the Hellenic Navy would make quick work of it with their Next Generation Jammer. The navy was a slightly tougher nut to crack, however here it was more a numbers game than quality. Air strikes could handle most of the 105 patrol boats and the overwhelming surface capability of even a single Carrier Strike Group would leave little left of the larger vessels.

As preparations were completed and all units in the proper ranges, Operation: Pharaoh could begin. With only two stages it really wasn’t a difficult plan. The first stage would be a joint air and naval strike to take down the Maltese defences and establish air superiority over the islands. Once that was established a Marine landing force would force their way on the islands and with help from Army Paratroopers and air and naval fire support take over vital infrastructure. If all went well civilian casualties would be negligible and even infrastructure would generally be left unharmed. Many even expected that stage 1 alone could possibly break the Maltese defence and force an early surrender to avoid further bloodshed. Avra however was less convinced of that chance.

As the designated time arrived F-35Cs, EA-18Gs from the HNS Empress Athanasia, HNS Dobrich and HNS Alexander the Great as well as F-22s, F-35s and B-2s from HAF based in Greece and Asia Minor entered weapons range. The Growlers would be first to engage in jamming operations and launch their HARM payloads against S-300 sites that had been identified prior. Jamming would have three goals; crippling their air defence, crippling their ability to communicate on the island and perhaps most importantly cutting them off from the world. Attack submarines simultaneously cut the undersea cables linking Malta to the rest of the world while F-35s launched their own anti-radiation missiles against radar and SAM sites. Combined with these strikes would be air to surface strikes using more conventional payloads against the few airstrips on the islands, hangars, fuel depots, munitions depots, army barracks, naval stations and artillery positions. The focus of the Greece-launched F-35s instead was on the defending navy, specifically the patrol boats but also the Cassard and Durand de la Penne Class destroyers. Zeus Class Battlecruisers and Ares Class Cruisers would likewise use their naval guns and missiles against the larger targets as well as any patrol boats unlucky enough to be in their range.

To the Maltese these initial blows were tragic. Malta had suspected the Athenian Federation would strike at some point, their expansion pattern made that clear. The Maltese government had some hope that they could somehow play out Athens and Rome against each other due to their comparable powers but when the Byzantine League was announced they knew for sure either one of them was going to strike them. They didn’t however expect it this soon. Athens was still tired from the German war and they had just lost millions of their own. Furthermore attacking while the actual ruler is away seemed like outright insanity. As the Athenian airstrikes hit the jamming operations prevented field commanders from informing their superiors and governments. As Malta had generally placed the military outside cities (in anticipation of war and the hope that it would protect the cultural treasures), it ironically was the lack of internet and global connectivity that first pointed the Maltese government to there being a problem. Falling back to landlines and other jam-proof communication methods some command and control was restored but the news wasn’t good. The initial strikes had incapacitated a decent part of the Maltese Air Force, the S-300s had shown themselves all but useless against the highly advanced stealth fighters and on the sea things weren’t a whole lot better. Outgunned and unable to engage at the same ranges as their enemies could, the Maltese fleets would often spend minutes exposed before they could shoot back. This had left 25 out of 35 destroyers completely disabled or worse and half the patrol boats sunk. The remaining ships were struggling to regroup as the Athenian engagements continued.

Almost in desperation orders were issued to get as many F-16s in the air, using whatever they could as air strips. Furthermore towed artillery was to be repositioned to engage any naval landing attempt rather than being focused further out sea. The sea was lost, now all focus had to shift to the coastline. The remaining navy would be ordered to delay the Athenians as much as possible so the Maltese army could mobilize. They knew winning against an enemy that outnumbered them and was decades more advanced was not feasible, but this way at least they could maybe establish a stalemate or force negotiations on more favourable terms.

Considering the circumstances the Maltese defence was probably the best thing they could muster, but even then it was delaying the inevitable. Now that the first strike had been done and movements didn’t need to be kept secret, constant F-35 and F-22 patrols over the island’s airspace would engage the defending F-16s that somehow entered the air. Meanwhile UAV and satellite feeds allowed air to ground strikes and even naval strikes to take down build ups on the ground as soon as they became large enough to detect. The strategy of redirecting artillery for shore protection duties was problematic. While the original plan had been to proceed to the landing phase of the war, it was deemed smarter to implement another strike run.

While the F-22s and F-35s continued in their air superiority operation, supported by AWACS and anti-air ships offshore, the B-2s would refuel at their bases and commence another strike operation. This time focusing exclusively on all artillery positions. At the same time the Hellenic Navy would use guns and missiles to disable or sink the surviving ships. Hopefully being able to distract the defenders with the strikes, the Greece Class Helicopter Carriers deployed 9000 Marines and 400 Leclercs into and near Valletta. Simultaneously the full transport fleet of the Hellenic Air Force would be used to drop 15,000 paratroopers just outside Valletta and 6,120 paratroopers within open zones in Gozo. As soon as all these forces were in place they were to overtake harbours, airports, government facilities and secure military and police facilities. Any resistance encountered was to be taken out swiftly but mercifully. If possible non-lethal options were to be pursued. Civilian casualties were to be avoided by all means reasonably possible. The goal was to pacify the country, not foster a decades-long insurgency.

The Athenian strikes in many ways achieved their goals, 250 bombers deploying their full payloads on the rather contained targets meant nothing was left over. As many of these artillery positions were still outside the cities, civilian casualties were non-existent however inaccurate explosives and secondary explosions meant by the end of the two strikes 15,000 Maltese soldiers had died and 10,000 were injured. And now the worst was to come. With nearly 30,000 soldiers on Maltese soils they already nearly matched Maltese forces in numbers and the 400 tanks heavily outnumbered them. With that Valletta was completely lost and much of the main island fell with it. In Gozo resistance would be more successful as the Athenians didn’t have the same level of numbers and armoured back-up there. On the main island the defending soldiers largely surrendered as they realized the war was lost. A force of 17,000 soldiers would hold ground on Gozo and fight the Athenians while simultaneously fortifying against the inevitable Athenian push once they got around to reinforcing their mainland force now that they owned the airports and harbours.

The next two days would in many ways feel like a stalemate, but behind the scenes plenty was going on. The invasion force on the main island would use the time to consolidate their position and establish full control over the area. Police and defensive forces had been disarmed and a curfew had been put in place so that until the war was over no movements of any kind would be allowed. Anyone found outside would be detained and if they could not provide a satisfactory explanation detained. At the same time another 20,000 soldiers were being deployed from the mainland to Malta using C-17s.

As soon as these soldiers were in place, all but 5,000 Paratroopers would split off from the Valletta branch of the occupation force and strike at Gozo. To soften the defences, ground formations would be harassed by fighters and where possible naval bombarding while smaller formations and individual units were constantly targeted by MQ-9s. Beyond seeking to thin the resistance, these attacks also served to keep the Maltese from getting organized. By the end of the second day, the time for the final push was there. Using their live intel feeds and air support the soldiers, Marines and tanks engaged the defending forces as they forced their way into Gozo. The fighting went on for several hours but by 2300 local time, the back of the resistance was broken and the main island force had pushed deep enough to group up with their paratrooper partners from the initial landing. Malta was now under complete Athenian control with only some pockets of resistance left. The next hours would be used to finish these off, with Malta providing no significant cover or camouflage. However at the same time President Vella was forced to sign the Maltese unconditional surrender. From this point going forward Malta was Athenian.

Fearing resistance might still be hidden the island would not immediately be made to join the Federation, instead it was kept under military control with the Marine and Paratroopers steadily replaced by regular soldiers. For now these soldiers were ordered to oversee all law enforcement and security duties, Lieutenant General Karga was meanwhile appointed as military governor. In their effort to weed out all resistance soldiers went house by house to confiscate any and all weapons and search for soldiers identified based on Maltese records. Any found would be arrested and join their fellow soldiers in PoW camps. On the other hand, everyone arrested for curfew violations would be released and with active hostilities over the curfew itself was suspended. The focus for now would be on a return to normalcy and after making sure there was no fanaticism a return of the PoWs back to civilian life. Once all of that was completed the Union of Malta could join the Athenian Federation.