If nothing went wrong. If they were able to break away from Dmitriev’s
troops and searching aircraft.
If. .. if. .. if. ..
Saturday, 7 November 0145 hours (Zulu +3)
Office of the Commander, Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Naval Base, Crimean
Military District Starshiy-Leytenant Anton Ivanovich Kulagin stood to
attention and saluted his superior. “We cannot confirm the reports,
Comrade Admiral,” he said. His uniform, usually spotlessly immaculate,
was mussed, and there was a smudge of something, smoke or grease, on his
face. “But it appears that Boychenko has escaped.”
Dmitriev swiveled in his chair to face the young officer. “How?” The
word was flat and emotionless.
“Sir, the Americans launched a heavy air strike against our positions in
the mountains above Yalta. Under cover of that strike, they landed a
number of helicopters at the White Palace and evacuated a large number
of people. Their wounded, the UN people, their naval UN attaches. We
cannot confirm that Boychenko was among them, but-”
“But we must assume that he is.” Dmitriev closed his eyes, suddenly very
tired. Boychenko would not have missed his opportunity to flee to asylum
with the American battle group.
“Yes, sir. Casualties were light among our ground forces, moderate to
heavy in the air. We lost twenty-five aircraft of various types, mostly
He looked up. “Twenty-five? So many?” That was nearly twenty percent of
all of the combat aircraft they possessed, gone in a single engagement!
“Yes, sir. And several more damaged. Colonel Vorodin reports twelve
American aircraft shot down, but we have no confirmation on that as yet.
Fifteen of our pilots are dead or still missing.” Kulagin paused. “The
Americans, it seems, possess a considerable advantage in their Phoenix
“Da. Those monsters.” Once again, the Americans had shown the value of
their undeniable technological lead in weapons systems. An air-to-air
missile that could guide itself across nearly two hundred kilometers at
five times the speed of sound. ..
He shook his head. The best in the Russian arsenal still could not match
“And the rebel forces?” he asked. “Surely they did not evacuate all of
them by helicopter?”
“No, sir. In fact, our observers reported that a number of Americans
remained behind when the helicopters left.”
“Yes, sir. American Marines. Our scouts were not able to get close
enough to formulate a detailed report, of course. We don’t know how many
“American military forces are helping the rebels.” Dmitriev’s fingers
drummed rapidly on his desktop. “What do they hope to achieve? They will
be trapped in Yalta-”
“Sir. ..” Kulagin stopped, obviously afraid.
“Go on, go on. Nothing you say can be worse than the news that we’ve
lost so many aircraft.”
“Sir, shortly after the helicopters left, the rebel forces evacuated the
palace as well. They appear to be retreating up the coast road.”
The news struck Dmitriev like a physical blow. “What?”
“Yes, sir. We estimate fifteen hundred rebels, mostly from the 4th Fleet
Spetsnaz, are now on the road.”
Dmitriev got up and walked around his desk. A map on the wall next to
his office door showed the entire Crimean Peninsula and the northern
third of the Black Sea in considerable detail. Pins with colored tags
had been stuck into the map at various points, marking ground forces,
while the American fleet’s movements had been drawn in with broad
strokes of a blue felt-tip pen.
“That is an interesting detail, Anton Ivanovich,” he said. “You are sure
“Yes, Comrade Admiral. At last report.” He leaned forward, his
forefinger brushing the town of Alusta, twenty-five kilometers up the
coast from Yalta. “They were here. That was perhaps an hour ago. Vorodin
reports attempting to launch an air strike on the convoy, but American
carrier aircraft continue to provide cover for them. His aircraft have
not been able to get close enough to attack.”
“The coast road.” Dmitriev’s thoughts were spinning. “The coast road.”
Where are fifteen hundred rebel soldiers going? His eyes followed the
coast road to the northeast, to Feodosiya, where it swung gradually
eastward across the Kerch Peninsula.
“Kerch,” he said abruptly. His finger came down hard on the seaport city