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Old 01-19-2015, 08:12 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Part II:

1245 Hours: 38th Bomber Regiment, Holguin Air Base, Cuba:


Colonel Duarte strapped himself into the pilot's seat of his Tu-16 and began the preflight checklist with his copilot. So far, there'd been no word from the reconnaissance flights, but Duarte had ordered his crews to their planes, and the regiment would get word as to a target location while in the air. Each Tu-16K carried two KSR-2 missiles, plus a full load of 23-mm for the defensive guns. Lot of good that did, Duarte thought. None of his bombers-that he knew of-had been able to make use of their defensive guns, since the Americans often stayed out of range and used either Sidewinders or Sparrows to kill the lumbering bombers. Today, though, he expected to face F-14s in force, and he'd be going up against AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, and from what the Soviets had passed along, those didn't miss much against bomber-sized targets. Even if the carrier was one of the old Essex-class ships that had been reactivated and only had F-8s, they still carried Sidewinders, and they were still deadly. Colonel Duarte put those thoughts aside as he prepared for taxi and takeoff. He called the tower, and received permission to taxi and prepare for takeoff. And the whole regiment-other than one aircraft down for serious maintenance-would be right behind him.

“Tower, this is Broadsword Leader, requesting clearance for takeoff.”

“Broadsword Leader, Tower. You are cleared for takeoff. Winds are zero-eight-five for ten.”

“Roger, Tower. Broadsword Leader rolling.”

The big Tu-16 began its takeoff roll, and was soon in the air, its two engines leaving a pair of smoky trails in its wake. One by one, the other bombers rumbled down the runway and into the air, forming up into squadron formations, then they headed southeast, towards the Windward Passage.


1300 Hours: Camp 32, near Holguin, Cuba.


First Lieutenant Kelly Franklin, United States Air Force, watched the bombers take off from her compound with some interest. She had been an F-16 pilot with the 307th Tactical Fighter Squadron, before being shot down the previous January, in a raid on the port of Matanzas, and after a spell of brutal interrogation in Havana, had been sent to Camp 32. In this particular compound in the camp, were female officers-mostly air crews, but some were from the destroyer tender Prairie, sunk at Guantanamo, others were actual base personnel from Gitmo, and some had even been captured on the mainland and shipped to Cuba. Another compound held male officers, and still another housed enlisted prisoners used by the Cubans on forced labor details. Most of the officer prisoners were not used on the outside work details, but those that the Cubans wanted to work were put into such things as sweeping cell blocks or courtyards, working in the camp gardens-or the dishwashing detail.

Lieutenant Franklin was sweeping the courtyard for her cell block-most of the officer prisoners spent most of the day in their cells, with only ten or fifteen minutes outside for exercise. The routine was harsh, guards were a constant presence to prevent prisoner communications, and punishment was often severe, as she had found out firsthand. But, as she swept the courtyard, she did so in code, passing messages along, and giving encouragement to the other prisoners, especially those in solitary.

It had been the rumble of jet engines that caught her attention, and though she was not diverted from her detail-hard to be diverted with a guard following her-she did notice the bombers climbing out and away from the air base, and she counted them as they left. Thirty bombers-most of a regiment, she knew. And they were headed southeast. With that direction-southeast, she knew they likely weren't headed for Puerto Rico, but Panama, perhaps? Maybe the Navy's got somebody nearby that can send you guys somewhere else-like into the Caribbean, and you can feed the fish, she thought as she went about her chores. The thought warmed her heart as the bombers disappeared to the southeast.


1310 Hours: Kennedy CIC:


Admiral Mattingly's chief of staff came up to him. “Admiral, we have a raid warning.”

“What have we got, Commander?”

“Two sources, Admiral. First, from Kingston. Jamaican air-traffic-control radar picked up a large formation of aircraft headed southeast from Cuba. Second, Ravens came through again. Right now, it's a regiment-sized force, headed southeast. They should be passing over the western tip of Haiti anytime now.” the chief replied.

“Too bad Baby Doc doesn't have a real air force, otherwise he'd have his people splash a few,” the Admiral observed.

The chief paused. “Uh, yes, sir.”

“All right.” Mattingly turned to his air wing commander. “CAG?”

“Admiral, with your permission, I'll shoot off the Alert Fives, put four more on Alert Five, and have everybody else at Alert Fifteen. In a half-hour, the Alert Fives go, and then the rest. Assuming Badgers, we have an hour at least.” CAG responded. By training he was an attack pilot, but knew full well that defending the battle group came first. “Except for the ASR alert birds, all the A-6s and A-7s have buddy stores and tanks. We can keep the Tomcats up all day if necessary.”

Mattingly nodded. “Do it.”

CAG picked up the phone and relayed the orders. Four F-14s from VF-32 shot off the catapults and into the air. Four more, these from VF-14, taxied into position, ready to launch. “Admiral, we have now eight Toms on CAP, and four more on the cats, ready to go. Everybody else is in the ready rooms.”

“Very well, CAG.” Mattingly responded. He knew that CAG would be mounting an Alert Fifteen Tomcat himself, leading his people into combat as a CAG should.


1315 Hours: Clansman 304, South of the Dominican Republic:


Lieutenant Commander Kevin “Popeye” Doyle brought his A-7E Corsair down towards the surface contact. He was the Operations Officer for VA-46, and he'd seen combat in the Caribbean before. He'd flown strikes in support of the Grenada operation back in '83, and in addition, that cruise had also seen the ill-fated Lebanon strike, and he'd also gotten some combat there-combat time in two locations on the same cruise? The last time that had happened was World War II! Then once the big war had gotten started, he'd been flying combat missions in the Med, Iceland, and now, back to the Caribbean. Some war, the thought.

His wingmate was Lieutenant (j.g.) Shannon “Buns” Weaver, a “nugget” on her first cruise. This was her first combat deployment since graduating from VA-174, the A-7 RAG, at NAS Cecil Field. Apart from walking around with NBC gear wherever she went, and making sure she knew where air raid shelters were on base, it had just been like peacetime, or some old hands in the RAG had said. She had been graduated early from Annapolis, and sent to Pensacola for flight training. Once she'd gotten her wings, the ban on women flying combat had been lifted, and she'd asked for either A-6s or A-7s. They'd sent her to Corsairs, and she fell in love with the SLUF. Once the war was over, the Corsairs were likely to be replaced by F/A-18s, but until then....

“Buns, Popeye,” Doyle called. “Contact at eleven o'clock. Low.”

“I see it, Popeye.”

“Buns, time for some OJT. I'll cover you. Fly down and make the ID.”

“Copy that.” And Buns rolled in and flew down to check out the contact. She could see it was a medium-sized freighter, headed east. And it looked like it was flying a Swedish flag. Buns rolled right and came around for another pass. Yes, there it was, a Swedish ensign from the stern, and another ran up from the superstructure. She pulled up and back to altitude.

“Popeye, Buns. It's a Swedish freighter. Headed east.”

“Copy. Form up on me, and I'll call it in. Starbase, this is Clansman 304. Surface contact is a neutral freighter flying Swedish flag.”

“Roger that, 304. You are to RTB. Repeat, RTB. Buster.”


Down below, the crew of the freighter Gotland watched the American plane fly around their ship, then pulled up and away. It was nothing new: they'd been buzzed by American, Cuban, and even Soviet aircraft every time the ship came into the war zone. But the Swedish government insisted on right of passage for neutral ships, even though there were hardly any neutrals that dared enter Caribbean waters-not unless they joined a convoy headed to or from the Panama Canal-because sometimes, Soviet subs had been known to attack neutral shipping. The Americans had gotten used to the neutrals tagging along, but when the ships arrived at the Canal, those ships were given a very through inspection-not by Panamanian authorities, but by the U.S. Navy-which still guarded the Canal. The rules were simple: either submit to the inspection, or turn back. Nobody fooled around with the safety of the Canal at risk, and the neutral captains were told by their home governments to go along. This trip, though, they hadn't had that problem. First, a stop in Bluefields, Nicaragua, to load coffee, and then a stop in Honduras to load Bananas. With luck, they'd be out of the war zone in two or three days, and headed across the Atlantic.



1325 Hours: South of Hispaniola:


The two Tu-16Rs flew to the southeast, about forty miles apart. Both were using their ELINT gear and, on occasion, their radars, to look for any ships. A single track would mean a freighter, and since most freighters-or tankers-in these waters belonged to the local neutrals, they were usually left alone. But several ships either meant a convoy, or an American battle group, and that meant combat. And a half-hour behind the pathfinders was the strike group, waiting on targeting information. So far, apart from a couple of surface contacts that were almost certainly freighters, there was nothing yet.

Unknown to the Cubans, their position and status reports-radioed back not only to the strike force, but to Eastern Air Command at Camaguey, were being picked up by the EA-3s and EP-3s orbiting over Mona Passage and south of Puerto Rico. That information was relayed to Kennedy CIC, and a rough plot of the Cuban reconnaissance aircraft was able to be worked out.

Captain Simon Delgado sat back in the pilot's seat of his Tu-16, letting the copilot fly the plane. So far, this mission had been boring, and there'd been no sign of the Americans. Maybe Colonel Duarte was right after all, and this would be a wasted effort. But still....maybe there was something out there. He asked his senior ELINT operator. “Anything?”

“No, Comrade Captain. Nothing at all.”

He turned to his copilot. “Jose, this might just be another wasted effort. Just like last week. Remember? Someone reported a carrier east of the Bahamas, and all we found was empty ocean.”

The copilot let out a laugh. “Maybe some fishermen saw a tanker and thought it was a carrier? Who knows?”

As the Badger flew on, an E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-126 picked up the incoming aircraft. First one, then two tracks came on the scope. The information was relayed to Kennedy CIC, where the entire battle group-other than the single Hawkeye- was still under full EMCON (Emissions Control: no radar or radio signals of any kind unless absolutely necessary).

“Admiral, looks like the Badger-Ds are coming in.” Mattingly's intelligence officer reported.

“What have we got?” asked the Admiral.

“Two tracks. One's about eighty miles south of Santo Domingo, with the other forty miles south of the first.”

“That's it. Flush the remaining Tomcats, get some A-6s and A-7s up with buddy stores. And kill the Badger-Ds.”


1327 Hours: Gypsy 202.


Lieutenant Phil Copely and his RIO, Lieutenant Commander Joe Parsons got the message from the Hawkeye: Kill the Badgers. “Gypsy 202 copies.”

As the Tomcat broke orbit, its wingmate turned to follow. Gypsy 207, with Lieutenants Mark Richard and Jeri Hansen, pulled in alongside 202. Both Tomcats scanned the sky with their TCS camera systems, while their AWG-9 radars remained off. Sure enough, about seventy miles away, the head-on outline of a Tu-16, with a huge amount of smoke behind it, appeared on the TCS in both aircraft. It was 207 that had acquired a target first, and thus they would take the lead. “Jeri, light 'em up, and lock 'em up,”

“Gotcha.” Hansen said. She powered up the powerful AWG-9 radar and had the Tu-16 squarely in her radar picture. “There's two of them.”

“We'll take one. Phil and Joe get the other one.” Richard said.

“Copy. We've got lock! Range sixty miles.”

“Fox Three!” Richard called on the radio as he fired, and a Phoenix missile dropped from the Tomcat's belly and ignited. Then he did it again, “Second Fox Three,” releasing a second missile.



In Delgado's Tu-16, an electronic-warfare operator was checking his screen. Then what he saw made him turn pale. “F-14 radar!”

“What?” Delgado asked.

“We have a fighter radar locked on us.” the operator responded, his voice now calm and cool. “Jamming pods are activated.”

“Get a warning out!”Delgado screamed at his radio operator.

There wasn't time. Flight time for the Phoenix missiles was a mere sixty-five seconds. The first missile blew the tail off the Badger, while the second exploded in the former bomb bay, and hot fragments from the missile sliced into the aircraft's fuel tanks, turning the Tu-16 into a ball of fire.


“Splash!” Hansen called. Not only had she seen it on radar, but she'd also seen it on the TCS camera.

“That's a kill,” Richard confirmed.

Just as he made that call, Gypsy 202 locked up the southernmost Badger and fired. This time, the missiles needed only fifty-six seconds to track the Tu-16 and explode it.

“Starbase, Gypsy 202. Splash two Badgers. Returning to station.”


1330 Hours: Kennedy CIC:


“That's the reconnaissance flight, Admiral.” the intelligence officer said.

“No arguing with that. Now, will the main strike abort, or keep going?” Mattingly asked.

“Depends, Admiral. If the Air Force is calling this one, they'll abort. If it's somebody higher up....”

“They'll press on,” Mattingly finished. He turned to his Chief of Staff, who nodded.

“I don't think they'll abort, Sir.. These are Castro's boys, and they'll keep coming in.”

“Agreed,” the intelligence officer said. “Admiral, we can expect the raid in a half-hour.”

Mattingly nodded. He looked at the plot, and saw the Tomcats taking their CAP positions. Twenty-four F-14s, along with a dozen A-6s and A-7s rigged as buddy tankers, were now airborne. And an EA-6B from VAQ-140 was also in the air, to jam missile-guidance radars. “Any word from Bon Homme Richard?”

“No, sir.” the chief replied.

That carrier group had also received the warning of the Badger reconnaissance flight, and had simply moved to the east, while leaving a couple of F-8s to deal with the Badgers, if they were encountered. As it turned out, one of the Tu-16s was found by the Crusaders, who shot him down. The second Badger, unaware of the fate meted out to their squadron mates, flew on, completed its planned search sweep, and turned for home.
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