Excerpt, Volume 2:
One of the hardest of his own orders that Admiral Mann had to stand by, was that of rescuing survivors. His warships and helicopters reported dozens in the water. Those downwind of the chemical warheads would have no chance, but the remainder waved, shouted and blew whistles in order to gain attention.
USS Peel’s crew were fighting to shore up bulkheads, but the only safe course of action for her was to turn her stern to the seas and put her engines astern, making for the Azores in that slow fashion, if a torpedo did not find her first.
Conrad Mann would not compromise his warships integrity by allowing seals to be broken in order for crewmen to go topside and carry out rescues. He could not allow his ships to break formation, and he could not afford to weaken his defensive screen by detaching another vessel. The same went for his rotary wing assets, he needed them hunting rather than performing SAR.
All requests to heave-to or to delay ASW operations were refused, and the winking beacons on survival rafts and immersion suits fell astern, disappearing into the cold, black Atlantic night.
Twenty-one minutes later a UH-60B from the USS Gerald Ford firmed up very quickly on a contact that was coming on too fast for caution. Within another three minutes a further two helicopters began to prosecute separate contacts, but before any could drop on the hulls they rose to launch depth and the next attack began.
The soviet hunter-killers had used well the time the helicopters had been absent, and all seven began launching within minutes of each other.
SS-N-7 anti-ship missiles burst out of the black depths in welters of spray, their solid rocket motors providing the thrust that would send them at high subsonic speed towards their victims.
Gerald Ford’s TAO saw at a glance that his remaining F-14s and F/A-18s would be of no use, their attackers were within forty miles of the nearest US ship, and the aircraft were too far away to engage in time.
Standard 2 missiles roared from vertical launch tubes, tipping over as their ships guidance systems fed them data on the incoming attack.
High above the ships, the radar operators aboard the early warning Hawkeye watched the attackers come on, locked down their firing positions to within six feet, and fed mid-course corrections to the Standard 2s. Whilst they were doing all this they saw twenty new tracks appear two hundred and ninety-six miles out.
Placing a cursor on the lead inbound the operator was surprised, he had thought that he could judge speed pretty well, and he’d have guessed that these newcomers were coming in at mach one, give or take. However the speed was Mach 2.7, and these inbounds were climbing.
Selecting the Gerald Ford’s CIC on his frequency selector he spoke quickly and clearly.
“Vampires, Vampires, Vampires…Lunch Bunch this is Eye Spy Zero Two, I have two zero Vampires, bearing 350’, Angels two five and climbing, range now at two hundred fifty-five miles!”
The TAOs reply was immediate.
“Roger, Eye Spy, we have them on the board.” A moment later the TAO came on again, this time on an air wing frequency.
“Long Knife Zero One, Lunch Bunch?”
The F-14 squadron commanders’ reply was short, and to the point.
The TAO told them where, how high, and a one word instruction that meant they were to hustle.
“Long Knives steer 349’, make Angels Twenty and buster!”
“Roger, the Knives are in the elevator with burners on, our heading is now three four nine.”
“Roger Knives, you have the fast moving vampires which are now levelling at Angels Thirty.”
Long Knife Zero One had only four other aircraft with him, the remainder having already emptied their hard-points in the previous attack. Between the five of them they had eight AIM-54 Phoenix, and fifteen AMRAAMs. Sat in back the RIOs assigned weapons to targets, and fifteen seconds later the first AIM-54 left its hard-point.
Unlike the weapons released by the attack hulls, the newcomers were not configured to single out ships; they had sets of coordinates to aim for.
In the USS Gerald Ford’s CIC, Admiral Mann knew without asking that this was the soviets big effort, their last chance at stopping desperately needed reinforcements and supplies from reaching Europe.
The twenty fast approaching missiles were heading for the protected zone within the twin rings of warships, and they all had to be nukes.
“Make to all ships, brace for nuclear strike…tell the inner pickets to make for the outer screens at flank.”
The plot showed all his airborne assets, and some were too damn close to them.
“Get the helo’s down, those that can do so in the next three minutes, it’ll take too long to secure them beyond that time…tell the rest, with the exception of Eye Spy and the Long Knives to beat feet.”
The young officer at his elbow turned to give the orders and then paused.
“Beat feet to where, sir?”
Conrad half smiled
“Anywhere but here, son.”
The Alfa Potyemkin left its charge to clear datum whilst the Alfa itself descended to 1200 feet and sprinted north at 30 knots. Once there sonars registered the unmistakable signature of a nuclear event he would send his detailed report, declaring that the army no longer had anything to fear in Europe
The first AIM-54 was a clear miss, detonating in the wake of the lead missile, but the second scored on it. It was not a spectacular explosion, the complex mechanisms necessary to enable a nuclear reaction to take place, were simply destroyed. Nuclear weapons do not have impact fuses, and they don’t even go off if an aircraft that should be carrying them should fly into a mountain. They just are not that sort of explosive device.
The board on Gerald Ford’s CIC recorded the hits and misses, and there were more of the latter than of the former as thirteen still remained.
With all there ordnance expended the F-14s turned northeast, clearing the way for the warships not yet involved with the sea-skimmers.
Far below, the battle raged on.
West of the carrier, the frigate USS Hallemville fell out of line, with what remained of her superstructure ablaze and flames roaring through rents in her hull. Her sister ship the USS Gallishere was one moment forging through heavy seas with spray fogging the air above her bows and her Phalanx gun hammering to the north, and then was engulfed from view by smoke flecked with fire. When the wind swept the smoke clear moments later she was gone, with only the still falling debris to confirm that she had ever having existed.
Being more sporadic, and coming from far wider spaced firing points, a greater number of warships had been able to engage this attack than the previous one.
USS Normandy had only expended half of her re-filled magazine during this attack, and now she began launching in a different direction.
Although this current turn of events had been allowed for, Conrad could see that there was more than a fair chance that one or more were going to get through.
“Do you know how to pipe ‘Up Spirits’ young man?” he said to the young officer without turning.
The ensign frowned, unsure as to whether he had heard the admiral correctly.
Admiral Mann turned his head and smiled.
“Never mind, wrong navy…and even they don’t do that anymore.”
Five of the soviet weapons escaped the Normandy’s best efforts, to tip over and descend. Two were five miles apart, and a few seconds ahead of the remainder, achieving three times the speed of sound in their descent toward the ocean.
Milliseconds separated the pair as they reached 10,000 feet, and their onboard systems completed the tasks they had been programmed for.
Orbiting at 26,000 feet the E-2C Hawkeye was the first casualty.
EMP, the electro-magnetic pulse produced by nuclear events, fried electrical circuits, and then the weapons thermal output lifted the twin-engine aircraft to 39,000 feet, well above its maximum ceiling. Before the super thermal had carried them to that altitude the Allison T56-A-427 turboprops sputtered and faltered, starved not of fuel, but of air. The little AWAC aircraft was then caught by the blast wave, and swiped from existence.
Admiral Mann did not know it, but they had gotten off lightly. Only two of the five missiles had detonated, and in doing so they destroyed the remainder that followed behind them.
On USS Gerald Ford’s starboard side, her external sensors burnt out, and in so doing triggered alarms throughout the vessel. The same went for all the surviving surface warships, whatever their position the part of the vessel facing ground zero had optical and sensor equipment frazzled by the unbearable light that heralded the detonations. EMP also did its worst on those electrical systems not shut down and shielded. Communications and radar were lost throughout the fleet and until the back-up systems came online, they were deaf and blind.
In the carriers CIC the board had gone blank and the officers in charge of the various departments harangued their technicians to boot up the back-up systems and get the show back on the road.
Being inside the double rings of warships, though close to the northern perimeter, USS Gerald Ford was closer to ground zero than any other surface ship, but still 30 miles from it. Her starboard side’s paintwork had been bleached several shades lighter than the rest of the ship, by the thermal pulse.
The blast wave took all of three minutes to reach the carrier, but still had the strength to heel her 104,000 ton bulk over by twenty degrees.
The TAO braced himself against a bulkhead until the ship righted itself, and then barked at the personnel in CIC.
“Come on people, no one’s sailed through the after effects of one a nuclear strike before, it could get pretty damn stormy pretty damn quick, and we’re still blind………get those systems back up, NOW!”
His words were prophetic, as the huge warship heeled over once more with the assault of an 80 foot wave moving at as many miles an hour.
Captain Sonderland had remained on the bridge, despite the heavy lead lined blast shutters that prevent anyone looking out of the screens. Gripping the arms of his chair he had trouble recollecting whether he had been on a ship as large as this before, in what seemed an equal to the worst storms of his long career. They were sailing blind and he did not like that one tiny bit, the bridge radar repeater remained blank despite five minutes of promises from technicians, and so he ordered the bridge lighting extinguished and the shutters hand cranked open.
For all he could see, once that had been accomplished, they could as well have been left in place for all the good it did.
Massive quantities of water had been vaporised by the air-bursts and what greeted him outside was the thickest fog he had ever encountered.
Leaving his chair he stood beside the helmsman, squinting his eyes in an effort to penetrate the murk, and decided that until radar had been restored he needed a lookout on the bow. He was weighing up the dangers to such a lookout, should the easterly wind change and blow fallout across the vessel when he saw something ahead. A faint orange glow, much defused by the thick blanket of fog, which had altered the otherwise uniform vision of nothingness.
He had time only to mutter to himself.
“What in hells name is that?” before the Gerald Ford slammed into the burning hulk of the USS Hallemville.
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