CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

at the easternmost tip of the peninsula, overlooking the narrow Kerch

Strait that connected the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov to the north.

The strait was only five kilometers wide at that point, separating the

Crimea from the Taman Peninsula. .. and Russia proper. “Kerch,” he said

again, turning to Kulagin. “They are going home, as Boychenko promised


“Then we have won, Comrade Admiral!”

“Hardly!” Turning from the map, he hurried back to his desk. There was

much to be done.

“But if the rebels are fleeing-”

“An hour ago I had a report from our aerial reconnaissance unit,”

Dmitriev said. “The American battle group is now moving northeast at

full speed.”

Kulagin remained in front of the map, studying it carefully. After a few

moments he said, “The Americans are going to Kerch as well?”

“Yes. It is obvious, no? They intend to provide naval transport for

Boychenko’s troops across the strait. It could be that Boychenko plans

to cut a deal with Krasilnikov.” Probably by painting me as a bungler,

he told himself, but he was unwilling to voice the thought to his


“But we have naval facilities at Kerch. And a battalion of naval


“Exactly,” Dmitriev said as he picked up the telephone on his desk. He

punched a button. “Vasily! Get me Yevtushenko at Kerch! I don’t care

what time it is! Get him!” As he waited for the connection to be made,

he looked at Kulagin. “And Anton! While I discuss this with Yevtushenko,

call an assembly of all ship captains. In the main briefing room down

the hall, three hundred hours.”

Kulagin’s eyebrows crept up his forehead. “All captains? A sortie,

Comrade Admiral?”

“A sortie. With speed, we can catch the American battle group against

the Taman Peninsula, while Yevtushenko deals with Boychenko’s soldiers

ashore. If we cannot use the American carrier group, we can destroy it.

.. a demonstration that should impress our Ukrainian friends. More

likely, we will actually be able to force their surrender, and that

would be a prize indeed to present to Krasilnikov!”

“But, sir! An American battle group!”

“Don’t you see, Anton? They have been flying air operations steadily

since Thursday morning. Since before that, even, if you count their ASW

and fighter patrols. They were in combat Thursday against our Bosporus

strike force. And this evening they mounted a major operation that must

have involved all of their air assets. And with their lines of supply

cut, they simply do not have the reserves of aviation fuel necessary to

continue operations much longer. Even an American aircraft carrier

battle group cannot fight for long without fuel for its aircraft!”

“We don’t know how much they still have, though-”

Dmitriev laughed. “They do not have enough, and that is all we need to

know! That, and the fact that we know where their carrier force is

going. .. straight into the pocket south of Kerch and the Taman

Peninsula! We will trap them, force them to use the last of their

aviation gasoline. .. and then we will have them! Go now! Quickly!”

“Da, Comrade Admiral!”

It was, as the Americans might say, a long shot, but they might just be

able to pull this off.

0720 hours (Zulu +3)

Tomcat 207 U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson Tomboy guided her F-14, nose number

207, into position astride the slot for catapult two, following the arm

and hand motions of a Green Shirt on the deck in front of her. The cat

shuttle was run back, and she heard the thumps and clanks as the deck

crew attached it to her nose-wheel. It was still dark, with sunrise

another ten minutes away, but the entire sky was alight with a deep blue

radiance that clearly illuminated the activities on the deck.

She felt again the familiar thrill of anticipatory excitement, waiting

for the cat shot.

“Ready to roll back here, Tomboy,” her RIO, Lieutenant Bruce “Hacker”

Kosinski said from the backseat.

“Okay, Hack. You keep your eyes peeled back there. We’re going to be

knee-deep in Russian interceptors as soon as we hit the coast.”

“Roger that.”

She thought again of Tombstone ashore. His order still rankled, and

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