CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

of the sprawl of Kerch. The naval port was directly on the north, almost

adjacent to the tank farm, while a major airfield was visible to the

northwest. By the dazzling light of the new-risen sun, Tombstone could

see Kerch itself to the northeast, a drab-looking city separated by the

sparkling blue waters of the Kerch Strait from the gray strip of land

marking the western tip of the Taman Peninsula. Where much of the

southeastern coastline of the Crimea had been devoted to resorts, health

spas, and recreational beaches, the eastern end of Crimea, the Kerch

Peninsula, was nearly entirely given over to the Russian military.

In particular, there was a Black Sea Fleet port at Kerch itself,

together with a major refinery and military petroleum storage facility

at Arsincevo. A major pipeline from the rich oil fields of the Caucasus

came through the town of Chuska on the Taman Peninsula, then crossed the

strait underwater, emerging south of the Kerch naval base and running

through the Arsincevo refinery complex. The storage facilities here held

millions of gallons of diesel fuel for the Black Sea Fleet ships

deployed at the base.

And some of those tanks, according to General Boychenko, held several

million gallons of aviation fuel, a formulation identical to the JP-5

used by U.S. Navy aircraft.

CBG-14 might have been left to its own devices by Washington, but they

were about to demonstrate that those devices could still be very

effective indeed.

“Hey, Captain Magruder?”

It was Doc Ellsworth. During the drive up the coast from Yalta,

Tombstone had been able to draw the young man out a bit more. He’d been

right in his guess that Doc was a SEAL, a member of the elite Navy

commando unit descended from the famous UDT frogmen of World War II. He

was serving now as part of a Marine Force Recon unit; SEALS and Marine

Recon often teamed up in four-man units for special ops.

“Whatcha got, Doc?”

“Trouble. Coming out of the Kerch naval base and headed this way.”

Tombstone nodded. “Okay. On my way.”

He was tired, though the pump of adrenaline had been keeping him going

since yesterday. It had been a long, long night.

The coming day promised to be longer still.

0745 hours (Zulu +3)

Company “Sobaka,’ 15th Naval Infantry, Kerch Naval Command Polkovnik

Yuri Nikolaivich Yevtushenko was riding with his head and shoulders

above the circular commander’s hatch in the turret of his BTR-60 as the

armored personnel carrier crested the ridge north of Arsincevo. It was a

glorious morning, the sun sparkling off the sea, though a low line of

dark clouds to the north held the promise of rain later.

On the highway ahead, the BTRS of the reconnaissance platoon were

stirring up a cloud of dust. Turning in his steel-ringed perch and

looking back past the heads of the naval infantry commandos riding on

his command vehicle, he could see the rest of the column strung out on

the road behind him, six amphibious PT-76 tanks and a long line of

personnel carriers.

“We’re all here, Comrade Colonel,” one of the soldiers said, shouting to

make himself heard above the roar of the armored car’s engine. The

others laughed. “None of us has left yet!”

“Well, then,” Yevtushenko said, grinning, “perhaps I’d better get into

uniform!” Ducking back below the hatch, he removed his regulation steel

helmet and pulled out his beret, the famous black beret of the Russian

naval infantry, and donned it at a jaunty angle. Rising again in the

hatch, he grinned at the soldiers and tossed them a strictly

nonregulation one-fingered salute.

“Ah!” one shouted. “Now I know we are going into combat!” He removed his

own helmet and pulled his beret out from inside his one-piece,

light-camouflage uniform. In seconds, the others had done the same.

Russian military uniform doctrine specified steel helmets for naval

infantry troops, but the black beret was such a beloved and distinctive

part of their uniform by now that most commanders had long since given

up trying to enforce that regulation. In fact, the Morskaya Pekhota, the

naval infantry, was an elite combat unit, classified as a “Guards” unit,

in fact. As such, they were permitted to wear their berets, with the red

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