While Squadron 78’s recent victories have captured the public’s imagination, the unit has a long and storied past that reaches back to the final days of the Messer era. Established on 2604-02-22, Squadron 78 was created as part of the Empire’s response to the initial battles of what would come to be known as the Second Tevarin War. Strike squadrons were seen by many as the ultimate symbol of Messer’s power. Afterwards, while many squadrons were being retired or restructured, Squadron 78 managed to survive intact due to their distinguished actions in the post-war years. The result has been a bomber squadron still flying the modern version of the hardware they were assigned over three centuries ago, still active despite living through a series of complex political transitions that even at one point lead to the entire unit being arrested.
An Unusual Name
The unit was first assigned to a now-defunct space forces training facility at Ankorum on Terra’s northern hemisphere. It was here that the unit’s crews and ground personnel underwent six months of Retaliator-A familiarity and transition training before deployment against the Tevarin, and it was here that they acquired their unusual moniker, the “Thundering Thorshu.”
At the time, the bomber field at Ankorum was as close to the middle of nowhere as was possible in civilized space, an unpopular assignment for a generation of military personnel eager to save the galaxy by battling aliens on the front line. Squadron 78’s first commanding officer, Captain Jaso Iger, realized that he could use the brand new spacecraft he had been entrusted with to ingratiate his team to the weary base personnel. For the first three months of training, he would commission one of his pilots to covertly fly luxury foodstuffs and other items from the planet’s southern regions back to the base. Hailed by all for providing these creature comforts, the phrase “having a 78” briefly came to use amongst navy starmen as an expression for having a lavish meal. This all came to a halt when the Retaliator transporting contraband suffered a flame-out during a landing approach. The tower quickly ordered the crew to dump their fuel and dummy munitions in preparation for a crash landing. The order was followed, sending the illicit goods stored in the bomb bay falling around the airbase: two tons of fresh Thorshu crab legs. With that, the squadron’s name was established and a three hundred year legacy of seafood-oriented intra-service jokes was born.
Wrapped in Glory
As would be expected, Squadron 78’s first combat came in the Second Tevarin War, where they earned multiple combat awards while racking up capital ship and spaceto-space kills during the lengthy conflict. In the years following, the squadron continued to see service in a range of capacities, including heavy anti-piracy interdiction and as part of the Messers’ political intimidation machine.
Squadron 78 assured their survival during a seemingly insignificant mission in early 2791. As Messer XI’s hold on the population began to falter, bomber squadrons found themselves tasked with increasingly dubious missions. Units that had spent their careers flying against pirate bases and external threats found themselves reassigned to core worlds and assigned the eliminating political dissidents or subduing rioting populations. In one such instance, the Thundering Thorshu were ordered to equip double-loads of antimatter torpedoes and destroy an inhabited moon in the Ferron System believed to be the hiding place of a cadre of radicalized rebels.
As a matter of official record, the squadron was tasked with a kill-order strike on a suspected insurrectionist training facility. After a four-hour run from the jump point, the Retaliators entered scan range of Ferron’s moon. What they discovered was hardly the haven of cutthroats and anarchists that had been presented in their briefing, but rather an agro center on a small moon that had no weapons and no ships, but plenty of inhabitants.
Commanding officer Lisa Cahillier was contacted by her superiors who requested a progress report. None of her pilots could find any evidence to mark the base as a threat. Cahillier defied mission protocol and contacted the base directly and ordered them to surrender their weapons. They responded with pleas; the base was settled as a home for ex-patriots hoping to escape the ongoing chaos, not as a base for militant revolutionaries. They numbered in the tens of thousands, all marked for death.
Cahillier commed back to report her findings and recommend a mission abort citing a lack of a legitimate target. Her superiors were incensed and repeated their order for the 78th to open fire on the target. The squadron held their ground, refusing to fire without a clear or confirmed tactical or military target.
The commander of the battle group, Admiral Lorna Gestala, intervened on the comms, giving a final declaration for the 78th to annihilate the target.
Cahillier ordered her group to fire, but targeted an asteroid beyond the agro center. The moon’s inhabitants watched the torpedoes sail harmlessly overhead and obliterate the distant target.
The bombers made the long, silent flight home to face certain court martial and inevitable execution. On landing, officers were taken away in restraints and enlisted men were confined to quarters on base. All indications are that Messer XI intended to make an example of this group of traitors when doing so would be politically expedient. Luckily, this never came: the squadron spent roughly 18 months in the stockade and then were freed as heroes by the incoming government. Squadron 78 was re-established, presented as a symbol of enduring humanity in the face of the most tyrannical orders from the fallen Imperator.
Behind the Scenes
Squadron 78 is best known to the public today for their part in Operation Unilateral Force, a 2940 effort aimed at inciting Vanduul infighting by targeting a single clan’s line of battle. Through these surgical strikes, the hope was that the weakened clan would then become a target for other Vanduul; diverting attention and resources from UEE space while inflicting further ongoing losses on the various clans involved. While the operation failed to generate the internecine conflict that xenopsychological operations predicted, the 78th took part in a major strike that resulted in the crippling of an enemy Kingship.
An embedded reporter, Felix Terwyn, followed the squadron during their training operations at MacArthur and then through the three-week deployment at forward operating base Cernan that ended in the epic final attack. Felix saw to it that the squadron’s torpedoes were all equipped with cameras that provided a unique perspective, not only into the nature of war, but a seldom seen up-close view of the Vanduul threat itself. The resulting news stories made brief celebrities of the pilots involved, identifying them as the cream of the crop of the UEE’s bomber corps.