But the operation already was not going according to plan. For some

reason, the That air elements had stopped short of U Feng and were

circling uselessly some fifty kilometers to the south.

Did that mean they were launching a ground assault first? Possibly the

That Special Forces were planning a sneak raid aimed at destroying the

J-7s on the ground. That was a chilling thought. The same strategy

he’d already applied against the RTAF might be turned against him.

Hsiao had heard the American adage “Use it or lose it” and knew its

meaning. The aphorism was appropriate here. He picked up a telephone.

“Get me Colonel Wu,” he said. A moment passed. “Colonel? This is

Hsiao. We are through waiting. Launch your aircraft.”

Seconds later, a siren began wailing across the compound. If the Thais

did not come to him, he would go to the Thais … and Sheng li would be


The first of the silver-gray Shenyang J-7s screamed into the morning sky

three minutes later.

0740 hours, 21 January

Tomcat 201, Point Lima

“Eagle Leader, this is Victor Four Delta.” The voice of the Hawkeye CIC

officer circling over Bangkok crackled in Tombstone’s ears. “We have

multiple bogies at U Feng, your bearing three-five-zero. Do you copy,


“Got ’em, Mr. Magruder,” Dixie reported from the backseat. “I make it

eight bogies … correction. Make that ten bogies. Looks like they’re

taking off two by two.”

“Victor Four Delta, this is Eagle Leader. We have your bogies.”

“Eagle, be advised that Thunderbird is closing with bogies.

“Copy, Victor Four. We’re tailing.”

The That aircraft, some sixteen of them, were already peeling out of the

wheel of aircraft above Chiang Mai and streaking toward the north.

Someone, Tombstone thought, should teach them some patience. Or some

discipline …

But then, this was their country, invaded by an unknown enemy. Yeah,

he’d be impatient too.

“Eagle Leader to Eagles,” he radioed. “Let’s go, but keep the throttles

light. Follow them in.” He didn’t know what those MiG drivers had

planned, but it couldn’t be good.

“Ninety-nine aircraft, Victor Four Delta,” the Hawkeye controller


“Bogies appear to be withdrawing, bearing three-three-zero. Estimate

two-zero bogies, now making for the green line.”

Withdrawing? Without a fight? Tombstone considered the possibilities

and grimaced beneath his helmet visor. His hours as General Hsiao’s

guest in Kiong Toey had taught him a thing or two about the man. He was

utterly ruthless, and he was methodical. Smuggling MiGs to a captured

air base, mounting a complex operation in both northern Thailand and in

Bangkok …

Hsiao would have foreseen this assault on his position, and he would

have planned for it.

“Eagle Leader to all units,” Tombstone snapped. “The people we’re up

against are tricky. Watch for snakes.” He was thinking of the

vehicle-mounted SAMs Batman had reported seeing at U Feng … SA-6


Hsiao had certainly had time to bring in a number of those monsters from

Burma or elsewhere. Those tracks Batman had seen suggested Hsiao had

run them south along the riverbank and across the border into Thailand.

The jungle below was probably crawling with men sporting

shoulder-launched anti-air missiles too.

Tombstone eased the stick forward, letting the F-14 descend to eight

thousand feet. Jungle-carpeted hills flowed beneath the keel of his


Dixie reported that the That formation was still pursuing the fleeing

bogies and was now approaching U Feng. He gave the other aircraft of

Eagle a quick check, looking left and right. The Vipers of VF-95

numbered ten F-14s, but only six had been assigned to the alpha strike.

The others were destroyed or under repair, back on the Jefferson’s

hangar deck.

“Hey, Tombstone?” Dixie called over the ICS. “We’re picking up some new

radar. Have a listen.”

Dixie piped the radar tone to Tombstone’s headset. He heard it, a

mournful thrum like a plucked cello string. “Long Track,” he said.”

Batman’s Gainfuls.”

“Long Track” was NATO’s code name for the radar used for early warning

and to acquire preliminary target data for the SA-6. Guidance during

lock-on and boost was called “Straight Flush.”

Tombstone opened a new radio channel. “Snow White, Snow White, this is

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Categories: Keith Douglass