Operation Return

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Operation Return
Part of the Federation/Dominion War
Operation Return 1.jpg
The Federation fleet advances on the Dominion fleet
Date 2374
Location Bajor Sector
Result Federation Alliance victory
Federation Alliance
Klingon Empire
Cardassian Union
Notable Commanders
Captain Benjamin Sisko
General Martok
Gul Dukat
627 starships 1,254 starships

Operation Return was the code-name for the combined counter-offensive of Starfleet and Klingon Defense Force fleets against Jem'Hadar and Cardassian military forces in the Bajoran sector, launched in mid-2374, with the specific aim of recapturing Deep Space 9 and re-establishing control over the Bajoran Wormhole.


Despite coming perilously close to defeat, the outnumbered Federation fleet was saved from destruction by a delayed task force of Klingon warships, resulting in the collapse of the Dominion lines and their subsequent withdrawal. The recapture of Deep Space 9 proved to be an important victory for the Federation Alliance, enabling Starfleet to re-establish its forward operating base for operations in Cardassian space and temporarily setting back Dominion offensive operations.

In the opening months of the Dominion War, the Federation suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Jem'Hadar, showing little capability of stopping and turning back the Dominion's all-out offensive. The Federation and their Klingon allies were unquestionably losing the war.

The status of Deep Space 9 and the Bajoran wormhole remained the sole positive note for the allies. The minefield deployed prior to DS9's capture proved resistant to the Cardassians' attempts to destroy it, preventing any Jem'Hadar reinforcements from entering the Alpha Quadrant and joining the conflict. In addition, the massive sabotage inflicted on DS9 as the Federation withdrew ensured that the station itself remained vulnerable to attack for several months while the Cardassians made repairs. By the fifth month, both the Federation and Klingon fleet commanders were facing a crisis: the allies were not winning without also without suffering major losses. Morale among both fleets was at an all-time low, presenting a serious problem for many unit commanders.

Plan & Execution

Knowing Deep Space 9 would be captured, Captain Benjamin Sisko proposed a plan for the allies to launch a major offensive, the goal being to recapture the station, re-secure the wormhole, and force the Dominion to divert troops away. It was not a popular plan, especially since it involved re-routing ships from key territories. The main fear was that the Dominion would choose to sacrifice Deep Space 9 in favor of launching a full-scale attack on Earth.

Arguing that Earth wasn't the key to the Alpha Quadrant, and the Bajoran wormhole was, Sisko pointed out that whoever controlled Deep Space 9 controlled the wormhole. With the Klingon Empire still needing convincing, the resulting delay proved to be critical to the timing and outcome of the battle. On the starbase itself, a resistance cell (headed by Major Kira Nerys) quietly worked to sabotage Terok Nor, awaiting Federation troops.

Five days away from the planned launch, the Cardassians finally figured out how to destroy the minefield left behind by Deep Space 9's officers. The process would take three days, paving the way for Jem'Hadar reinforcements to come through the wormhole, and overwhelm Federation forces completely. The Federation's own reinforcements were more than those three days' out, and though they tried to attack the station all the same, they were outnumbered 2:1.

The Battle

With time on its side, the Dominion established a strategic blockade. Starfleet was forced to take the offensive, now at a disadvantage against the Cardassians and the Dominion. Captain Sisko commanded the fleet from the USS Defiant, and instructed ships to ignore Jem'Hadar ships in favor of firing upon Cardassian ships. Sisko hoped to provoke the Cardassians into chasing the Federation ships around, creating a hole in their formation that the Federation could get through.

Gul Dukat recognized Sisko's strategy almost immediately, and ordered his commanders to hold their positions. However, after three hours of standoff, Dukat decided to toy with Sisko and deliberately break the stalemate. The Cardassian ordered six attack fighter squadrons to break formation and chase the Federation ships. Behind the hole in formation, as Dukat had planned, a large contingent of destroyers were standing by, ready to outflank and trap Sisko's forces. Luckily for the Federation, Sisko also recognized Dukat's strategy. Playing along, Sisko also ordered the rest of the fleet to launch a full-scale attack on the Dominion's center and punch through the blockade.

After this, the battle quickly degenerated into a melee, as the Starfleet ships closed to be at point-blank range with the Dominion forces. With ships so widely dispersed among the Dominion fleet, inter-ship coordination became more difficult. When the Dominion ships started jamming communication frequencies, cutting off starships' contact with each other, the melee dissolved into a total free-for-all. For Starfleet, it quickly became a losing battle. Unable to concentrate their attacks onto specific points, the Dominion's superior firepower gradually wore down Starfleet vessels.

After almost two hours, this time in sustained close-range combat, a large force of Klingon warships decloaked and slammed into the Dominion's starboard flank. The additional firepower tipped the balance in the allies' favor. Many Dominion ships were destroyed, opening a hole in the Dominion lines. Due to this, the Defiant managed to slip past a formation of Jem'Hadar attack cruisers and escape the battlefield, speeding towards Deep Space 9 at maximum warp.

Choosing not to pursue the Defiant, Gul Dukat relied instead on Terok Nor's defenses. In the meantime, Dominion lines crumbled, as they were now outflanked by Klingon forces. Dukat ordered his forces to continue fighting, thinking the minefield would soon be dismantled, and Jem'Hadar cavalry would soon arrive. When the last mine's self-replication unit was deactivated, Terok Nor immediately destroyed the minefield. With practically no options left, Captain Sisko ordered the Defiant to enter the wormhole for a hopeless, last-ditch stand against the incoming enemy forces. On the station, the weapons systems had been disabled by the resistance.

Inside the wormhole however, the Bajoran Prophets spoke to Benjamin Sisko. Arguing that the approaching Dominion fleet constituted a threat to Bajor, whose people worshipped them as gods, Sisko convinced the noncorporeal beings to intervene. Moments later, as the Defiant and the Dominion fleet prepared to open fire on each other, all of the 2800 Dominion ships simply disappeared. When the Defiant exited the wormhole alone, the Dominion leaders were first perplexed, then alarmed. Their monitoring outposts in the Gamma Quadrant confirmed that the fleet had entered the wormhole, but there was no sign of them exiting, and no sign that they were still in the wormhole. To the Dominion and the Cardassians, it appeared that one Starfleet ship had somehow annihilated their entire armada.

At the main point of the battle, 200 allied ships broke past the Dominion lines and headed toward the space station. Stunned by the sudden turn of events and unable to fire on the Defiant due to earlier sabotage, an evacuation was ordered of the station, as well as a retreat of all Dominion forces in the Alpha Quadrant back to Cardassian territory. Dukat, already enraged, was informed by his half-Bajoran daughter that she had been helping the Resistance Cell on Terok Nor, and had just released them from their holding cells. Dukat's second-in-command shot and killed the woman for her transgression, and an aggrieved Dukat stayed on the station as the Federation took it back, and was captured.

With the station lost, the remaining Dominion forces turned in full retreat back to Cardassian space, bringing the battle to a quick conclusion.


"Operation Return" was critically important to the outcome of the Dominion War. Had the Dominion established a reliable supply line through the Bajoran wormhole, they would have had a secure industrial base from which to send an enormous number of warships and Jem'Hadar, which virtually guaranteed to overwhelm the Federation Alliance.

The battle itself was a major strategic and morale success for the Alliance, as it gave the Federation control over the wormhole, and Dominion reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant were cut off indefinitely. The Bajoran wormhole remained closed to Dominion traffic for the remainder of the war. The Dominion actually engaged in peace talks after this defeat, though those talks were ultimately intended to regain a star system necessary for the production of ketracel-white. Soon after those peace talks, the Dominion recovered and launched new offensives into Federation territory.

As a result of the events during the Dominion withdrawal from the Deep Space 9, Dukat was replaced as leader of the Cardassian Union. The new Cardassian leader became increasingly frustrated with Dominion policy, eventually starting the Cardassian Rebellion, and ultimately ensuring the Federation Alliance's victory in the Battle of Cardassia.

For his crucial role in leading the attack, Benjamin Sisko was awarded the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor.