jersey and green-striped helmet, made a last check up and down the
length of the aircraft, then snapped off a crisp salute to the pilot.
Dropping to one knee, he pointed two fingers down the length of the
deck, then jabbed his thumb to steel, signaling the catapult officer to
punch it. The Hawkeye, its props already howling, rocketed forward on a
trail of steam boiling from the catapult slot. In two seconds, it was
traveling at over 150 miles per hour; flaps down for maximum lift, it
sailed off the Jefferson’s bow, hung there in the wet air for a moment
as though unsure whether to climb or fall. .. then began climbing.
“I’m sure glad to see him away,” Tombstone said with heartfelt relief.
“I hate being blind.”
“Amen to that, Stoney,” Brandt replied. “At least now we can see ’em
when they come after us.”
Tombstone knew that the claustrophobia he’d felt about this op ever
since its inception three weeks earlier was as much psychological as
anything else. With a surface area of over 175,000 square miles, the
Black Sea was only twenty percent smaller than the North Sea. In places
it was three times deeper; the greatest recorded depth was some 1226
fathoms–better than 7300 feet, deep enough to be very black at the
bottom indeed. There was enough water here for whole fleets of ships;
certainly, Tombstone had never felt this hemmed in or restricted during
his tours in the North Sea.
But throughout the years of the Cold War–indeed, since long before
America had had any national interests in this part of the world at all,
the Black Sea had been, by virtue of its geography, virtually closed off
to the Western world, a body of water owned–dominated, rather, which
was much the same thing–by Russia, whatever Turks, Romanians, or
Bulgarians might have had to say about the matter. American ships
occasionally passed through those straits for a game of show-the-flag,
but in a typical year the number of U.S. naval vessels entering the
Black Sea was likely to number fifteen to twenty … while ten or twenty
times that many Russian vessels made the passage.
A Russian lake. ..
That description had been floating about the wardrooms and squadron
ready rooms a lot lately, along with other names like “Lakeski Russki”
and “Red Sea North.” The Romanians, Tombstone reminded himself, still
called it the “Friendly Sea,” as had the ancient Greeks, but those cold
gray waters ahead would be anything but friendly for an American battle
Stupid. .. stupid. .. stupid. ..
What asinine, pencil-pushing, limp-dicked, shit-for-brains REMF, he
wondered bitterly, had thought this bastard of an operation up?
Operation Sustain Hope was what the politicians and the news media were
calling this mission Stateside, though the Jefferson’s men and officers
had taken to calling it Operation Hopeless unofficially. The
brainlessness of sending an aircraft carrier battle group into the Black
Sea simply defied imagination.
There were all kinds of arguments against operating a CBG inside the
Black Sea, arguments besides the painfully obvious one that, large as it
was, the Black Sea was completely landlocked and ringed by hostile or
potentially hostile nations. Carriers and their battle groups depended
for their survival on mobility and on defense in depth; both of those
factors would be severely limited once they were inside the Black Sea
Normally, in the open ocean, a carrier group was scattered across some
forty thousand square miles, or nearly a quarter of the surface area of
the entire Black Sea. An example often used to demonstrate the sheer
scale of a battle group deployment imagined the carrier, the center of
the CBG, located in Washington, D.C. Her escort ships, destroyers and
frigates, would be as far afield as Norfolk, Virginia, and Johnstown,
Pennsylvania; her combat air patrol defending the CBG’s airspace from
enemy attack would be patrolling the skies over Bangor, Maine, and
Charleston, South Carolina; while her attack submarines and her S-3
Viking ASW aircraft would be probing the waters ahead somewhere in the
vicinity of Cleveland, searching for enemy subs.
And if she’d needed to launch an alpha strike with her A-6 Intruders,
she could have delivered sizable force packages–bombs, in non-Navy