The Sixth Battle

Talent 500, approaching the Russian carrier Varyag

Four miles out, the A-6Es neared their pop-up point. Commander Slats Slattery checked his armament panel, ensuring his ballistics computer had selected the general loft attack, affording a survivable means of killing Varyag. Seconds later his pilot, Lieutenant Crunch Neslie, called, "Here we go!" The air wing commander felt the sudden onset of G-force as the Intruder pulled up at full power, looking for the maximum loft distance for its Mark 84 bombs.

As the three surviving A-6s climbed, the Russian 30mm gatlings opened up. Though US antiradar missiles and Prowler jamming denied the Eurasian carrier its full defenses, old fashioned barrage fire could score a lucky hit. Seemingly oblivious to the flak, Talent 510 managed to release four half-ton Mark 83s while 502 lased the target. The bombs entered the "capture basket" of 502's laser beam; their gimballed seeker heads centered the bombs in the beam, controlling fins to adjust the LGBs' glide path. Two fell short but two more bombs punctured the flight deck. Smoke and flame shot from holes like Roman candles on a lawn. The flattop was wounded. Feeling like a hunter closing on a
maddened lioness, Slats Flight pressed in.

With the big ship locked up on radar and FLIR, Crunch followed the steering commands in his sight until the yellow "in range" lights began flashing. The pilot then pressed his "commit" trigger, and two seconds later the sight told him to pull up. At 30 degrees nose high, the attack computer released
the LGBs, which thumped off their racks microseconds apart. From two miles away at 2,800 feet, Varyag looked ominous. Slats and Crunch knew that she was not as large as a Forrestal class ship, but here was an enemy carrier, open to attack. The price of admission had been paid--three Intruders shot down. But now, bombs gone, USS Langley's CAG anticipated the payback. Crunch never hesitated when the red breakaway lights began flashing in his sight. Smoothly coordinating the controls, he rolled into a 120-degree banked turn, dropping for the deck. For a moment the crew had an eerie, vulnerable feeling as their belly was turned toward Varyag's guns.

Meanwhile, Talent 500's bombs found the basket and homed toward the 65,000-ton, burning ship. Both weapons sliced diagonally across the smoky flight deck, from starboard quarter to port bow. The one-ton Mark 84s were delay fuzed, permitting them to penetrate the deck before detonating. They smashed through the overhead of the hangar and, hardly decelerating, pierced the next deck as well. Both erupted with incredible force within the confines of the hull.

Turned in his seat, Slattery gawked at the geysering smoke and waterspouts around Varyag. The war whoop of elation died in his throat as 502 took an SA-16 and lurched visibly. "Bashful's hit," Slats told Crunch. "I don't know if he's gonna make it." "I don't know if anybody's gonna make it," Crunch said. He shoved on the throttles but they were already against the stops.

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