CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

I think we can make it out over the sea, though, and eject.”

“Good luck, Tomboy,” he said. “Hey. .. this time try not to break your

leg when you punch out, okay?”

He heard her laugh. .. but he also heard the worry behind it. “Don’t

worry, Stoney. You take care of yourself. See you back aboard the


“See you aboard.”

He watched her Tomcat, dwindling to a speck in the distance, still

climbing, still burning.


Sunday, 15 November 0945 hours U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson Northern

approaches to the Bosporus Strait The broad, calm waters of the Bosporus

spread out ahead of the Jefferson as the great carrier slowly cruised

southwest into the straits. The same pilot who had guided them through

weeks before, Ismet Ecevit, was again on the bridge, stoically at his

place alongside Jefferson’s helm. If he felt any distress, any injury to

his national pride after the events of the past weeks, he gave no sign

at all.

Tombstone leaned forward in the chair, the raised, leather-backed chair

that had the word CAPTAIN stenciled in bold letters across the back, and


They were leaving the Black Sea at last.

“Glad to get out of this pocket?” Admiral Brandt, standing at his side,

said with a smile. “I seem to remember you weren’t too thrilled with

coming in here, a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yes, sir,” Tombstone said. “It’s going to be real good to get home.”

They were going home. It still seemed hard to believe, but the orders

had come through from Washington only a few hours after U.S. Army

engineers and Navy Seabees had reported the Bosporus Strait clear to


The Battle of Kerch, as it was being called now, had ended in a clear

victory for the American battle group and MEU-25.

Tomboy had taken a lot of good-natured ribbing once she and Hacker were

back aboard the carrier. The F-14 Tomcat had been designed strictly as

an air superiority fighter” not one pound for air-to-ground,” as the

slogan had insisted during the aircraft’s design and testing. Still,

she’d handled the big machine as an appallingly effective ground-attack

aircraft, something quite outside its normal purview. .. and hers. Her

impromptu strafing run was credited with breaking up the naval infantry

attack on Boychenko’s position; the Krasilnikov forces had fled moments

later, opening up the way for the evacuation helicopters off the

Guadalcanal to move in. They’d touched down on the ridge above Arsincevo

minutes after Tomboy’s strafing run; Tombstone had made it back to the

Jefferson only ten minutes ahead of Tomboy and Hacker, who were plucked

from the sea south of Kerch by one of the carrier’s SH-53 rescue


By then, the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson was underway again, cruising south

at a brisk clip with her aviation gasoline tanks full once more. With

another sixteen days’ worth of fuel for her aircraft, clearly any

attempt to stop her would be foolhardy. Tombstone, pausing only to take

a quick shower and put on a clean uniform to look the part, had assumed

command from the ship’s Exec; Admiral Brandt had transferred his flag to

the Shiloh, and so Tombstone had been left in command of the carrier, a

command confirmed–at least temporarily–by Washington a few hours


The sea battle that had followed had been almost total anticlimax.

Dmitriev’s small and ill-prepared carrier force had been steaming around

the southwestern tip of the Crimea, obviously hoping to trap the battle

group at Kerch, but by the time the two squadrons came within range of

one another, Dmitriev had only a handful of aircraft left, and his huge

Pobedonosnyy Rodina was literally a sitting duck.

The battle was over in minutes and was resolved even before Coyote could

order an air strike by A-7s and Hornets. The Los Angeles-class attack

sub Orlando had been lurking unseen and unheard in the deep, dark waters

south of Sevastopol and had picked up the approaching rumble of the

Rodina’s screws almost as soon as she’d left port. Over one hundred

miles away, four sub-launched TLAMS–Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles–had

burst one after the other from Orlando’s vertical launch tubes, driving

up through the water on rocket motors that hurled each twenty-foot-long

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