CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

these ridges up here look pretty much the same from the air.”

Boychenko nodded. “We are. .. how you say? Stuck.” He pointed to the

map, then told Natalie something in Russian.

“He says that an armored force coming out of Kerch has spread out along

the east side of this ridge.” She pointed to the map. “Here. .. and

here. Between us and the port. He says they’re naval infantry.”

“Morskaya Pekhota,” Boychenko added for emphasis, making a face. “Like

American Marines. Good soldiers.”

“He says the lead elements of his column have been skirmishing with them

for several minutes now. That’s what the gunfire is, over the top of the

ridge. He says there’s no way to go through, and he doesn’t think we can

go around. He wants to know if helicopters can come here to pick us up.”

Tombstone looked up. Contrails were twisting wildly through the sky high

overhead. One contrail ended in a fleecy white puff, from which a black

streak emerged, arrowing downward toward the sea.

“Not until we have air superiority,” he replied. “And probably not until

we do something about that naval infantry. The helos can’t touch down if

they’re under heavy fire from the ground.”

Boychenko looked grim as Natalie passed on Tombstone’s assessment. A

moment later, she told him the general’s reply. “He says. .. he says he

hopes we can use rifles as well as aircraft, because we’re in the

infantry now. He cannot promise us a way through to the beach.”

On the other side of the ridge, to the east, the crackle of small arms

fire was increasing.

0840 hours (Zulu +3)

Over Arsincevo Crimea Military District In the skies over Kerch and

Arsincevo, the real battle was beginning to take shape. As Tomcats and

Hornets flew constant patrols, shielding the Marine landings, the ships

offshore, and the attack and support aircraft that were backing up the

landings, two major groups of Russian aircraft approached, one from the

north, coming in low across the Sea of Azov, the other from the west,

bursting across the Crimean Mountains and streaking straight for the

fleet gathered in the shallow gulf between the Crimea and the Caucasus.

The Americans struck the first blow in the aerial engagement, loosing

their AIM-54C Phoenix missiles while the enemy was still eighty miles

away. The survivors pressed on, however, their numbers only somewhat


At 0840 hours, the Russian aircraft, now numbering about forty, mostly

Mig-27 Floggers and Mig-29 Fulcrums, hit the wall of American

fighters–a total of sixteen Tomcats and fourteen Hornets flying in four

squadrons. Marines on the ground looked up in something like awe as

white contrails crawled and scratched across the sky, etching out twists

and turns and occasional deadly plunges toward the earth on smoke trails

turned black.

The twisted mass of contrails thickened, swiftly tangling into what

aviators referred to as a furball.

In the skies above the Kerch Peninsula, aircraft and men were dying.

0905 hours (Zulu +3)

U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson Arsincevo fueling dock So far, the information

supplied by the Russians through Captain Magruder had proven accurate.

South of the naval base facilities at Kerch, and just offshore from the

tank farm and refinery complex at Arsincevo, an enormous offshore

fueling dock was connected to the shore by a bridge and a massive bundle

of petroleum loading lines. The dock approaches had been carefully

checked by the frigate Leslie, making certain that the shipping channels

were clear and deep enough for the supercarrier’s ponderous draft. Two

hours earlier, a shore party of fuel handlers from the Air Wing’s V-4

Division–“grapes” in Navy parlance, because they wore purple jerseys

during flight deck operations–together with a security detail of

Marines off the Jefferson, had boarded the offshore dock and begun

readying it for fueling operations.

Commander Tom Hadley stood on the starboard side of the Jefferson’s

bridge, looking down at the fueling dock. .. and out across the water

beyond to the shoreline a mile away. This was the key moment in

Operation Ranger, the whole point of the raid, and the time when the

huge carrier was at her most vulnerable. He’d brought her into the

narrow waters between the Taman and Kerch Peninsulas, facing south with

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