CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“We’ve met each Russian approach and turned it aside without incident,

but it’s forcing us to use our aircraft fuel reserves at a rather

alarming rate. We’ve been putting aircraft off our flight deck nonstop

now for, let’s see. ..” He checked his watch. “For two hours, now. It

seems likely, to Ops, at least, that the Russians are deliberately

forcing us to expend our fuel reserves. They blocked the straits in the

first place. They know we’re not getting any more fuel. Now they’re

trying to get us to expend what we have.”

“Setting us up for an attack, CAG?” General Howe asked.

“Maybe. Or maybe just to leave us helpless. Without air, of course,

we’re just so much gray-painted metal.”

“What about our UN assignment for keeping the peace?” Marusko wanted to


“That’ll be up to Washington, Steve,” Admiral Brandt replied. “The

transfer of control to the UN didn’t legally take place this morning.

Washington might want to take that as an excuse to back out now. On the

other hand, we could get a directive anytime telling us to start bombing

Sevastopol until the bastards yell uncle.

“In any case, our first priority, after the security of the battle group

and MEU, of course, is to get our people off the beach.” Brandt looked

at Coyote. “You said you’ve been discussing this with CA-with


“Yes, sir. We’ve discussed several possibilities. One urgent note. We

need to get the wounded out, including Admiral Tarrant. Stoney was

wondering about subs, or a quick helicopter in-and-out.”

“I don’t want to send our subs that close inshore. Not in Ivan’s

backyard.” Brandt looked at Marusko. “How about it, Captain? Can you get

them off with your helos?”

“If Coyote’s people could give us air superiority, both over the beach

at Yalta and in a secure corridor all the way back to the battle group,

certainly. A piece of cake. If not, well. ..” He shrugged. “We all know

what happens when helicopters tangle with interceptors.”

The attempted joke fell flat in the room, eliciting no more than a

forced chuckle or two.

Brandt looked at Coyote. “How about it, CAG? Can you deliver on that air


“Well, sir, we’re not going to manage it without a fight. While they’ve

been probing our defenses, we’ve been probing theirs, seeing how close

we could get to the beach. Every time we get within, oh, forty, fifty

miles of the coast, though, we find ourselves facing Migs. Lots of them.

It’s kind of a standoff right now, you see. If they try to force our

defenses, we open fire and we’re in a shooting war. Same for us, if we

try to force our way through to the beach. And until we get clear orders

from Washington. ..”

Brandt nodded. “I think we’re all aware of that particular handicap. I

had quite a long session with Admiral Scott this afternoon. He tells me

there’s a special briefing of the President’s advisory staff scheduled

for this morning, Washington time, and they’ll be going over their

alternatives. But he also told me that the atmosphere back there is a

bit panicky. No one in the administration wants to get into a fight with

the Russians. At least, no one wants the responsibility of being the one

who gives the order. We may be on our own out here for quite a while.”

Brandt paused for a moment, as though gauging the feelings and attitudes

of each of the men standing around the Flag Plot table.

“I do not happen to believe, however, that we should be sitting around

on our hands just because Washington is. I want each department

represented here to begin working up a list of working options, based on

the possibility–no, belay that, the probability–that we’re going to

have to fight to get ourselves out of this damned mess. .. and to

evacuate our people ashore.”

“Getting out of this,” Commander Jeffries, the senior Air Ops officer,

said thoughtfully, “could require something other than fighting


“Who’d you have in mind, Bill?” someone asked, and the others laughed


“The Turks, actually, since they’re the ones who aren’t letting us into

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