Read Fortunes of War Online

Authors: Stephen Coonts

Fortunes of War (9 page)

The thought did occur to him, however, that he had better personally notify the military of the presence of the unknown planes.

He dialed the telephone number of the commanding officer of the army unit that provided airport security. Since it was the middle of the night there was no one in the office to answer the telephone. The army ran a strictly business-hours operation. Consequently, the four ZPU-23 antiaircraft artillery units parked around the airport perimeter that could have shot the incoming Japanese C-130s to bits with just a few bursts of aimed fire were never manned. This was, perhaps, just as well, because near each gun was a Japanese commando in civilian clothes, armed with a sniper rifle equipped with a starlight scope.

The tower supervisor also turned off the airport lights—the runway, taxiway, and approach lights. Vlad airport instantly took on the appearance of the black water that bordered it on three sides.

The lead C-130 broke out of the overcast a mile and a half out on the ILS glide slope. As a precaution, the aircraft was displaying no exterior lights. The pilot looked in vain for the approach and runway lights, then correctly assumed that they had been turned off. He spoke this conclusion aloud to the battalion commander standing behind his seat. The words were just out of his mouth when the ILS needles locked up and the off flag appeared on the face of the instrument. The tower supervisor had ordered the instrument landing system turned off, too.

The copilot was now flying the plane. The ILS failure bothered him not at all. He continued to follow GPS lineup and descent commands on the heads-up display.

At a hundred feet above the runway, the pilot saw lights reflecting off the wet concrete and called it. The copilot saw it, too. The pilot had his hand on the switch to turn on the landing lights, but he decided
not to take the risk. There was just enough glare from the city reflecting off the clouds for the copilot to flare the Herc and set it on runway centerline. The pilot pulled the props into reverse thrust and, when the plane had slowed, turned off on the first available taxiway.

The battalion commander slapped the pilot on the shoulder, then turned and went aft to where his men were waiting.


Six minutes after the first Herc was on the ground at Vlad airport, Japanese troops were in the airport control tower and Japanese controllers were running the radar and talking to inbound traffic.

The transition occurred with only the most minor of glitches: The tower guard, a young Russian policeman armed only with a pistol, pulled it from its holster as six soldiers in strange uniforms trotted out of the darkness toward him with their assault rifles at high port. The gesture was futile. No one had told the policeman anything; he had not the least glimmer of an idea that Siberia—the airport—was being invaded. Still, his nervous reaction was, perhaps, understandable.

A pistol was a pistol, so the corporal trotting up with his squad shot the policeman with a burst of three rounds. The soldiers, all wearing body armor, jerked open the door of the building and went thundering through.

The policeman's body lay where it had fallen for the rest of the night. A passing Japanese officer finally noticed the pistol—a seventy-year-old Webley relic from the heady days of World War II Lend-Lease. He picked it up and stuck it in his belt. No one touched the body.


The paratroopers landing at the former closed airport assembled and counted heads. Several of the men had landed in construction ditches and one had fractured a leg by striking a bulldozer that had apparently been employed tearing up concrete. Surpisingly, the Russians were ripping up the crumbling old runways and putting in new. They were also in the process of installing sewers, water, and power lines.

Miraculously, all the paratroopers had somehow missed a construction crane towering a hundred feet in the air. Landing in a major construction site complicated the paratroopers' arrival somewhat, but so far, no one had paid them the least attention.

In accordance with the invasion plan, a company of soldiers assigned
to guard the perimeter moved to the fences and took up their positions. The remainder of the soldiers laid out flares and tiny radio transmitters to outline a landing zone in the event the airport runway lights failed for any reason. Some of the larger pieces of construction equipment, including the construction crane, were marked with red warning lights. Then the men waited for the additional paratroopers scheduled to arrive. Within fifteen minutes, more soldiers floated from the misty clouds on white parachutes as the hum of turboprop engines echoed from the surrounding buildings and hills.

When the second wave of troops was on the ground and out of the way, containers carrying machine guns, ammo, and communications gear began to drop from the clouds. The Japanese were dropping most of the men first, then the containers of supplies, just to be on the safe side. Still, they had hoped for only light opposition. So far, there had been none.

Occasionally, a container would drift too far west and fall into Amur Bay amid the fishing and industrial boats moored there, but not too many drifted that far, so no one paid much attention. People were visible on the boats, watching the military operation. No one made any attempt to interfere or even get closer to kibitz better.


Meanwhile, in the heart of the old city of Vladivostok, four unarmed Japanese commandos in civilian clothes watched as a small coaster eased through the gentle swells of the black water inside the Golden Horn, moving toward the public pier. There were no policemen or Russian soldiers anywhere about, the commandos had made sure of that. For the past two days, they had had this area under surveillance. During the hours when they weren't on watch, they played the role of Japanese businessmen at a local hotel and ran up prodigious bills—which they had no intention of paying—for food, vodka, and women.

Two of the commandos walked out to the bollards and caught lines thrown from the coaster's deck. Soon she was against the pier, with two gangways over. Troops in combat dress trotted ashore. They kept right on going across the pier and sidewalk and parking area, stopping at the first major street and forming a perimeter guard.

When the coaster's contingent of fifty men was ashore, the lines were taken in and it backed out into the strait. Another coaster eased out of the darkness up to the pier.

The next day, several major cargo ships would appear in the road
stead, ships carrying tanks, artillery, and all the other supplies and equipment necessary to keep a division fighting for weeks.

Across the bay at the Churkin wharves, a similar scene was being played out. Two of the Japanese cargo ships could get in against this wharf, but the cargo cranes were broken. The Russians had been unloading cargo by hand. The following day, these soldiers would have to have the military situation in Vladivostok well enough in hand that a portable crane could be off-loaded and erected.

The soldiers certainly had encountered no opposition thus far. That would soon change. Telephones were ringing all over Russia; the news from the airport was being discussed in Moscow. Locally, the authorities were hearing of the paratroops' arrival.

At the ferry slip on the west side of the bay, the captain of
Ivan Turgenev
, a ferry loading passengers for Russian Island, across the strait from Vladivostok, saw strange troops in battle dress on the Churkin wharves and called his dispatcher on the radio. The dispatcher was incredulous.

With the diesel engine of his ferry still idling, the captain went ashore. The boozy barflies waiting to be taken home after an evening on the town paid no attention. Some of them were already vomiting over the railing.

At a public telephone in the little terminal, the ferry captain asked the operator for police headquarters. The officer on duty there did believe the captain's story, got the facts as quickly as possible, and even thanked him for calling.

After he hung up, the captain stood watching the troops for a moment from a window in the terminal; then he heard another ferry tooting.
Ivan Turgenev
was late on her departure. He ran back to the boat and headed for the bridge. Invasion or no, the ferries had to keep running.


A half hour after the destruction of the two Su-27s from the Vladivostok airport, the combat air patrol of Zeros known as White Flight was nearing the end of its on-station time. A new flight of four—Yellow Flight—scheduled to enter the area in five minutes was at least fifteen minutes behind schedule. White Leader had listened a few minutes ago to Yellow Leader talking to the tanker on Station Alpha, two hundred miles southeast. Yellow Leader was in a foul mood—the tanker was having equipment problems—but verbal
rockets over the radio seemed to have little effect. So that flight was late, and it was not escorting the transports carrying more troops and supplies to Vlad.

There, on the very edge of his tactical screen, something coming west from Sakhalin Island…. White Leader adjusted the scale of the screen.

Four planes, still climbing. His computer identified them as MiG-29s. Definitely hostile.

He decided to continue to orbit, to let the MiGs come to him. If he flew toward them, he was leaving the back door open for planes coming south from Khabarovsk in the Amur valley.

“White Three, you will fire two missiles at the easternmost targets, upon my command.” This transmission went out over the encrypted radio circuit.

“Roger, White Leader.” That was Jiro Kimura, White Three.

Max range for the missiles under the Zeros' wings was sixty nautical miles. White Leader decided to shoot at fifty, in case one of the missiles had less than a full load of fuel. He studied the tactical display as he orbited.

The MiGs were high, over thirty thousand feet, up where airliners cruise. Airliners…Where were the transports? They should be just offshore…coming north from Hokkaido. Shouldn't they?

White Leader checked the watch on his wrist. He adjusted his tactical screen, pushed buttons. The transports should be identified on this presentation, if they were on time.

Nothing. Drat!

“White Three, White Lead. Do you have any friendly transports on your tac screen?” This transmission was encoded in a discrete, impossible-to-intercept beam of laser light that was aimed only at the other planes in the formation.

“Affirmative. They are—”

Even as Jiro spoke, the MiGs changed course, ninety degrees to their left. Southwest. And the transports appeared on White Leader's tac screen, the very edge of it. The MiGs were on course to intercept.

“White Three, watch the back door. White Two, come with me.” White Leader stroked his afterburners.

The Zeros had been cruising at a very economical .8 Mach. Now the fuel flow increased dramatically, as did the airspeed. The two Zeros slid through the sonic barrier with nary a buffet. Mach 1.2…1.6…Mach 2…2.3…2.4. The airspeed stabilized at Mach 2.5.

Below, people asleep in coastal villages and towns awoke to twin thunderclaps, so close together that some people heard only one loud sonic boom. The booms reached the ground miles behind the speeding Zeros, streaking to intercept the MiGs before they got within range of the transports.

Above the clouds, the brilliant glow of the white-hot flames from twin afterburners shot across the sky like missiles. As the planes got away from the land, the stratus clouds thinned to wisps. Here and there, the sky was clear.

The intense heat signature of the two planes appeared as targets on several infrared scanners on coastal antiaircraft missile batteries, batteries recently alerted by telephone calls from frantic men in distant headquarters. One of the missile crews got an IR target lockup and tried to confirm via telephone that the target they were seeing was hostile. While this conversation was taking place, the targets passed out of range and lockup was lost.

The second crew was less professional. The danger of firing a surface-to-air missile at Russian fighters did not occur to them until later. When they got an IR lockup, they pushed the fire button.

Their SAM-3 missile leapt from its launcher as a sheet of dazzling flame poured from the solid fuel rocket motor. The missile accelerated away into the darkness, chasing that hot target.

Unfortunately, the battery crew had committed their missile to a futile stern chase. The missile exhausted its fuel before it closed half the distance to those fleeing Mach 2.5 targets. When the engine fell silent and the missile nosed over, a self-destruction circuit sensed the absence of acceleration and exploded the missile harmlessly.

White Leader got a glimpse of the explosion in his rearview mirror, but he was extremely busy and didn't give it any thought until later, much later, during mission debrief.

He was closing on the MiG-29s at almost a right angle, actually eighty-eight degrees. This would be a full deflection missile shot at nearly maximum range, the worst kind: the missile might not be able to make the corner. Should he wait and turn in behind before shooting? That would increase the chances that a missile would track, but it would let the MiGs get closer to the transports. The MiGs were at seventy-five miles now, closing at a sixty-degree stern angle.

There were two flights of MiGs, two to a flight, and the flights were about three miles apart.

For a second, White Leader wondered if the MiGs knew he was
there, knew they, too, were being hunted. He shook the thought off. No time for that now.

Sixty-miles range. He fired one missile, then made a short left turn. This would let the MiGs extend out, put him astern. He still had a ton of closure—they could be doing no more than Mach 1.5. He would get astern and shoot again.

“White Two, shoot on my command.”


Now, a sixty-degree angle of bank turn to the right. Yes. He was only forty-five degrees off, still closing.

The first missile must have missed, because the MiGs were turning hard, hard right, into the direction that the missile had come from.

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