The first record of the Imperial Navy’s use of Exploratory Squadrons dates back to M38, during the defence of Imperial worlds from the Chaos Warlord Tagsa the Vilified by Battlefleet Hecate. Originally envisioned for long range patrols and deep reconnaissance of unknown worlds, the Exploratory Squadrons of a single Light Cruiser accompanied by four to six Escorts was an attempt to find an effective formation for these tasks without tying up two valuable front line Cruisers.
The 1st Ceres Exploratory Squadron seems to be the first such formation in existence and was primarily used as a forward detection unit to keep track of Warlord Tagsa’s lightning attacks and also to locate the bulk of his main fleet that had eluded Battlefleet Hecate for so long. This role quickly changed during main battles to an effective combat formation and soon many other Light Cruisers and Escorts were being pulled from their normal fleet structure and re-deployed as Exploratory Squadrons. With the successful completion of the Tagsa War, their use gradually spread to other Battlefleets throughout the Imperium.
Hecate is a frontier sector in the Ultima Segmentum and is perpetually a target for corsair and pirate raids. Of late, the sector has seen a noticeable increase in activity from Hive Fleet Leviathan that seems to be attempting a combined series of probing attacks on many worlds in this region of space, constantly testing the Imperium’s response and reaction times.
As a frontier sector, Hecate enjoys few of the benefits that more developed areas of the Imperium enjoy and, after four millennia, Battlefleet Hecate is still under strength. This has given rise to a need for very mobile units within the fleet that can rapidly deploy to counter any threat to the sector’s borders. The famous Exploratory Squadrons are just one example of the unique tactics that the Battlefleet has been forced to employ as alien forces encroach from all sides. The few space borne assets available must be preserved at all costs.
Throughout its two thousand year history, the 1st Ceres Exploratory Squadron has had all of its vessels replaced at one time or another, mainly due to damage received, but also because of regular ship rotations that enable less experienced crews to train and fight alongside veterans. The squadron has still managed to maintain its name and identity throughout these changes.
A Dauntless-class Light Cruiser has always been the stable anchor of the 1st Ceres, usually supported by a mix of Sword-class Frigates and Cobra-class Destroyers. This configuration allows the squadron to combat most threats it must meet alone, though in heavy conflicts it is important to keep a steady amount of escorts in reserve to replace losses in battle, or the squadron will quickly lose its effectiveness.
The 1st Ceres is currently commanded by the Dauntless-class Light Cruiser Pioneer, under Captain Vertasis and is accompanied by the Frigates Exor, Piron and Lustre, along with the Destroyers Evitas and St. Alicia.
Typically, the squadron is utilised in the patrol of Hecate Sector’s borders and to run down small pirate fleets. When greater threats are uncovered, the squadron has standing orders from Sector Command to maintain distance and track the course of danger. However, the forces of Battlefleet Hecate are often stretched thin and the 1st Ceres is infrequently required to attempt the interdiction of these threats without hope of reinforcement, most notably during the Haema Ambushes, an action that won Captain Vertasis the coveted Bronze Halo.
The 1st Ceres Exploratory Squadron has always maintained a strong sense of tradition, born of the fact that it is the longest known standing formation of its type in the entire Imperium.
Captain Vertasis is a man who appreciates the many years his squadron has served the Imperium and considers the 1st Ceres to be the very front line defence of the Hecate Sector. To this end, he has proved himself to be a skilled, if a little reckless, Squadron Commander, always willing to put the ships under his leadership in harm’s way in the defence of his beloved Imperium.
As the ships in Exploratory Squadrons are often drawn from many different squadrons, especially in times of war, it is not uncommon for ships to bear diverse markings and paint schemes. During peace time, however, efforts are usually made to give all ships assigned to the 1st Ceres their traditional blood red prows as used by the very first vessels that formed the squadron during the Tagsa War.
Using the Squadron in Battlefleet Gothic
Exploratory Squadrons count as being a single Cruiser for the purposes of fleet composition. The following entry may be added to the Imperial Navy Fleet List in the Battlefleet Gothic rulebook;
0-2 Exploratory Squadrons
One Light Cruiser
2-6 Escorts, of any type.
Only the Leadership of the Light Cruiser is used for the squadron and only this ship may receive Skills and Refits during a campaign. Otherwise, the Exploratory Squadron follows all the normal rules for squadrons, as detailed in the rulebook.