CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Admiral Collins was conspicuous by his absence. He was still aboard his

flag, the Guadalcanal, and had delegated his interest in the planning

session to Howell. In a way, Coyote thought, that was good. They could

brainstorm some rather wild possibilities here, without being

immediately overruled by the conservative MEU commander.

“At ease, gentlemen,” Brandt said. Walking to his accustomed place at

one side of the chart table, instead of Admiral Tarrant’s usual spot at

the head, he nodded to the others in the room. “Okay, people. We’ve had

to endure a lot of sudden changes, and chances are this is just the

beginning. I’d like to tell all of you, before we set out, that I have

no idea how I’m to fill Admiral Tarrant’s shoes. I’m not half the man he

was, not half the strategist, and I’m feeling a bit out of my depth. I’m

counting on each and every one of you here to see me through this thing,

to help keep me from making an ass of myself and putting this battle

group in jeopardy.”

He paused a moment, looking from face to face. “Okay. We’re here, as you

all know by now, to discuss our options. I don’t need to tell any of

you, I’m sure, that our situation as of this morning is not very

promising. Some of us have been working on the various alternatives that

have presented themselves, however.

“Let’s hear from you first, CAG.”

Coyote hesitated. It was the first time anyone had referred to him

officially by that unfamiliar title, and he still wasn’t very

comfortable with it.

Of course, he thought, Jeremy Brandt must be having the same problem

with his new role as admiral and CO of the whole battle group.

“Our major problem,” he told the others, “isn’t tactical. We’re more or

less hamstrung until we get definitive orders from Washington, and it

could be a day or so before that happens. In the meantime, all we can

really do is button up and maintain our own operational security.

“We are, however, maintaining full CAP coverage, and we’re continuing to

fly ASW patrols. We are also beginning to make plans for some sort of

operation aimed at getting CAG–Captain Magruder, I mean–and the rest

of the Americans ashore out of hostile territory.” He smiled. “We’ve

code-named it Operation Ranger, after John Paul Jones’s ship.”

“I thought that was the Bonhomme Richard,” Commander Barnes, the Air

Boss, said.

“Just for his big I’ve-not-yet-begun-to-fight engagement,” Coyote said.

“Before that, his ship was the Ranger.”

He pointed to the large chart, which showed the Crimean coastline.

Jefferson and the other ships of the CVBG, along with the vessels of

MEU-25, were all plotted, along with the current CAP tracks and ASW

patrols. A number of points had been marked in red, extending in a

ragged arc along the battle group’s perimeter. “Our principal tactical

problem is the Russian overflights, of course,” Coyote continued. “Their

attempted overflights. In the past five hours, our aviators have carried

out seven interceptions of various Russian naval aircraft, ranging from

Mig-29s to a Badger-G attack plane.”

During the bad old days of the Cold War, encounters between Russian

reconnaissance aircraft probing both the material and psychological

readiness of the American carrier defenses had been common. Most

aviators had treated it as a kind of a game, a way to show off to the

Russians and even pick up a souvenir or two. There’d been plenty of

cases of trades arranged by sign language or radio between bomber and

Tomcat crews–a Russian fur cap for a copy of Playboy, for instance. For

the most part, though, the Russian bomber pilots had tested the American

defenses, noting how soon they were intercepted by the Tomcats and how

far they could press the Tomcats before being forced to change course.

There’d been several accidents during the closest of those encounters,

but no cases of missiles or gunfire exchanged.

The situation was far more uncertain here, with the Americans completely

in the dark about Russian intentions. Any of those approaching aircraft

could be loaded with ship-killers intended for an all-out assault on the

Jefferson. Each had to be met and, if possible, turned aside.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145

Categories: Keith Douglass