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The Harvest campaign, also known as the Liberation of Harvest or the Harvest Conflict, was a five-year-long campaign to retake the devastated UEG colony world of Harvest from the Covenant, beginning in 2526 and ending in early 2531.
Contact with the Covenant
The UEG colony world of Harvest was founded in 2468 by colonists aboard the UNSC Skidbladnir, and was one of the farthest colonies from Earth. By 2525, Harvest had become the major agricultural center of the UEG. However, during the same year, there were reports of an unidentified vessel near the planet, and all contact with Harvest ceased soon afterwards. Only several thousand civilians of the planet's population of 300,000 were evacuated; they told their rescuers of a nearly unstoppable alien ship.
The Colonial Military Administration assembled a battle group comprised of two frigates and a destroyer to investigate the disturbance. The battle group found most of the surface of Harvest reduced to molten glass. A large alien warship was found in orbit over Harvest; its crew transmitted a message in flawless English, calling themselves "the Covenant" and vowing the destruction of humanity. The ship opened fire with advanced energy weaponry and destroyed the two frigates, leaving the destroyer to escape, albeit heavily damaged.
In response to the disaster that befell the scouting group, the UNSC went to full alert and began mobilizing the largest fleet in UNSC naval history. However, they needed an experienced commander to lead it. They turned to Vice Admiral Preston J. Cole, a retired veteran of the Insurrection and a brilliant tactician. Cole reluctantly agreed and was promoted to full admiral.
When Cole's fleet of forty ships arrived at Harvest, they found the same, colossal ship in orbit. The Covenant ship immediately opened fire and began picking off Cole's ships one by one. Neither Magnetic Accelerator Cannons nor Shiva-class nuclear missiles had any effect on the alien energy shields and the fleet began to lose integrity. Cole had a last-minute tactical inspiration: he ordered the fleet to fire all its weapons simultaneously. This ploy won the battle at the cost of thirteen UNSC vessels.
Despite Cole's pyrrhic victory, the Covenant began swarming the Outer Colonies and were determined to retake control of Harvest. The Prophet of Regret personally assigned Arbiter Ripa 'Moramee and the Fleet of Glorious Interdiction for this task. The Covenant sent more ships to Harvest and engaged UNSC forces on the surface as well as in space. The Covenant were clearly looking for something on the planet and would stop at nothing to find it. The UNSC continued to retaliate, with many engagements occurring in the planet's ruined cities.
Eventually, the UNSC gained the upper hand on the ground and began to slowly push the Covenant back. It was soon assumed that victory was inevitable, with UNSC forces taking back most of what was left of the planet. These victories, along with Cole's original victory, were being broadcast across the colonies, as a sign of hope to boost morale.
However, the Covenant still held a tremendous advantage in space and won numerous engagements against the few ships the UNSC could spare, as the majority of Cole's fleet was spread across the Outer Colonies.
The Covenant strike back
Following the Covenant's victories in space, their vessels began to glass even more of Harvest, killing helpless UNSC forces on the surface. More Covenant ships began to arrive at Harvest and deployed additional troops on the ground, eradicating almost all human presence on the planet. UNSC forces were battered and forced to retreat across the planet, leaving the Covenant free to scour the planet for the Forerunner artifact they sought.
After Covenant forces led by Field Master Re'gish Wamik discovered a Forerunner structure under the ice, the Prophet of Regret sent the Arbiter to lead an excavation operation and retrieve any significant artifacts.
In a last ditch attempt to remove the Covenant, the Marathon-class heavy cruiser UNSC Prophecy was sent to Harvest. The Prophecy managed to destroy several enemy ships, and set up a small forward outpost on the ground. However, the ship was critically damaged and became stranded, with its reactor leaking lethal radiation. An ONI prowler was present in-system to witness the battle, but in order to maintain stealth, made no attempt to evacuate any survivors from the Prophecy and jumped out of the system to inform FLEETCOM instead.
Final liberation of Harvest
On January 3, 2531, while in a UNSC staging area in interstellar space, Admiral Cole received a message from Commander Orez of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Orez informed Cole that the Prophecy had repelled newly arrived Covenant warships in the Epsilon Indi system and that there were survivors to be rescued. The UNSC Spirit of Fire was chosen by Cole due to its role as a support ship rather than a warship. The Spirit of Fire, along with a frigate, arrived at the system on February 4, three days after the Prophecy's crew sent their message.
Upon their arrival, Serina, Spirit of Fire's onboard artificial intelligence, analyzed the Prophecy and reported that the ship's nuclear reactor was damaged and was releasing a harmful level of radiation throughout the ship. The Spirit of Fire attempted to draw the Covenant away from the Prophecy by using its MAC and HAVOK nuclear warheads upon enemy craft. A Covenant capital ship and several dropships were destroyed, though the rest gathered behind the Prophecy to avoid being fired upon.
Fire Team Lima, commanded by Sergeant John Forge, was transported to the ship, but their Pelican was fired upon and made a crash landing on the Prophecy. The landing resulted in the death of one of the Marines and forced the survivors to use torches to cut their way into the ship. The team split up, with Forge heading for the navigation room and the rest of the fireteam searching for survivors. Serina noted to Forge that the ship's AI, FitzGibbon, may act "peculiar" due to elevated radiation levels. Forge was initially denied access to the navigation room by FitzGibbon due to multiple counts of misconduct in the former's service record. After Forge reminded the AI of the Covenant boarders and stated that his actions were in compliance with the nascent Cole Protocol, FitzGibbon allowed the sergeant entrance into the navigation room to purge the data. FitzGibbon then activated a three-minute self destruct timer and informed Forge that his team was in Bay 2. Upon his arrival at Bay 2, the team quickly evacuated with some of the Prophecy's crew. After arriving back on the Spirit of Fire, the survivors were taken to the medical bay, where Serina informed Forge that the radiation poisoning that the crew sustained was too severe and that they would certainly die.
After the threat in space was destroyed, the Office of Naval Intelligence kidnapped a civilian scientist, Professor Ellen Anders, the grudging protegé of Dr. Catherine Halsey. ONI wanted her to decipher a Covenant message written in Forerunner glyphs. Anders was then sent to the Spirit of Fire via the prowler UNSC Last Gleaming. Upon her investigation, she concluded that the message meant that "treasure" was to be found, but was hidden. Shortly thereafter, Anders scanned the northern polar region of Harvest, concluding that there was a structure under the ice.
During the coming ground battle, Alpha Base served as a staging point for Forge's reconnaissance patrol near the Forerunner structure in the northern polar region. In the combat's early stages, Anders redirected a squadron of AV-14 Hornets on their way to Rally Point Baker near Alpha Base to investigate activity readings on Quadrant 4, where they discovered a significant concentration of Covenant forces. Sergeant Forge was sent to investigate further, but the Covenant had already moved on. During this time, Alpha Base was destroyed and was occupied by the Covenant while the UNSC forces in the area were scattered.
In response, the Spirit of Fire sent reinforcements to retake the Alpha Base. Forge managed to rally survivors and recapture the area, destroying the Covenant presence with assistance from B-65 Shortsword bombers. The Marines then reestablished the base, from which Forge led an assault to capture the Forerunner relic which had been excavated by the Covenant. As the UNSC forces approached the structure, the Prophet of Regret ordered the Arbiter to destroy it in order to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. However, the UNSC managed to destroy the detonator in time, and push into the interior of the structure.
Upon capturing the structure, Anders opened a holographic map of nearby star systems. Several Sangheili disengaged their active camouflage and attacked Forge's squad. When Forge and his men were pinned down, two Grizzly MBTs were deployed from the Spirit of Fire to help them escape. The Grizzly tanks cleared a path and led Forge and Professor Anders to waiting Pelican dropships to return to the Spirit of Fire, while reinforcements from Alpha Base held off the Covenant.
The information the Covenant gained from the Forerunner structure led them to the UEG colony on Arcadia. Anders was drawn to the same planet after examining the artifact. The Covenant attacked Arcadia on February 9, 2531, closely followed by Spirit of Fire.
Overall, the campaign was one of the UNSC's earliest and greatest victories. Despite sustaining heavy casualties, the UNSC had managed to retake Harvest, which, although devastated, held important strategic value. The victory boosted morale immensely across the colonies, proving that the Covenant were not invincible and could be beaten. However, as the Covenant began to destroy the Outer Colonies and move in on the Inner Colonies, Harvest lost its strategic value, and the UNSC began pulling back to protect more important worlds such as Earth and Reach.
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