When Hollywood covers the Battle of Mogadishu, how much of what we see is accurate? That’s what Based on a True Story Producer Brian wanted to know when he requested this week’s episode.
About the movie Black Hawk Down
On November 16th, 1997, an article called Reliving a Firefight: Hail Mary, then hold on was published in the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The paper would then go on to release one article per day in what amounted to a non-fictional serial story. When the final article was published on December 14th, a total of 29 articles had been published.
About a year later, the author of those articles, journalist Mark Bowden, rearranged, edited and then published the articles into a single book. Published on February 10th, 1999, Black Hawk Down tells the story of what most historians now refer to as the Battle of Mogadishu—an event that saw, as Mark Bowden explained, the longest sustained firefight involving troops from the United States since the Vietnam War.
It was a mission that was supposed to take about 30 minutes, certainly well under an hour, but ended up lasting for over 15 hours, saw over a dozen American troops killed, somewhere around 1,000 Somalis dead and, as the title implies, multiple Black Hawk helicopters shot down.
So how well does the movie do in showing us the true story of the Battle of Mogadishu?
Learn the true story behind Black Hawk Down
White text on a black screen greets us as our movie begins. It doesn’t really say ‘based on a true story’, but rather a variation—based on an actual event.
Then we’re given a quote from Plato:
Only the dead have seen the end of war.
Well, unfortunately this doesn’t start us off on a good note. You see, that’s not really a quote from the Greek philosopher Plato.
Even though General Douglas MacArthur did attribute it to Plato in his May, 1962 speech to cadets at West Point, one of the earliest attributions for this quote comes from a book by author George Santayana. That book is called Soliloquies in England and there’s a phrase on page 102 of that book that says:
Only the dead are safe; only the dead have seen the
end of war. Not that non-existence deserves to be called peace; it is only an illusion of contrast and a pathetic fallacy that we are tempted to call it so.
Was George Santayana the first to quote that? Maybe. We don’t really know; quotes are really hard to nail down the original attribution for…but that also means it’s also not something we can attribute to Plato.
But that’s neither here nor there for our overall story today. So let’s head back to the movie’s timeline, because the next sequence includes some text on screen that does help set up our story.
The time and place is set as east Africa in the country of Somalia, 1992. According to the movie, there have been years of warfare that have caused famine on a biblical scale.
There’s some numbers given. 300,000 civilians have died of starvation. Meanwhile, one of the most powerful of the warlords holds the Somalian capital of Mogadishu. That man’s name is Mohamed Farrah Aidid, and with his position in Mogadishu he’s able to capture aid shipments as they arrive to the war-torn country.
The movie goes on to say that the world responds to the crisis and behind a force of 20,000 United States Marines, order is restored and food is able to be delivered to those who need it most.
But then, in April of 1993, the Marines leave and Aidid declares war on the remaining forces from the United Nations.
In response, the elite forces of the U.S. military are sent to deal with Aidid—Delta Force, Army Rangers and the 160th SOAR, or Special Operations Aviation Regiment. That happens in August of 1993.
Originally, the plan was for the mission to last for three weeks. But then, six weeks later, politicians in the U.S. capital of Washington D.C. were under pressure to show some results.
All of that…is true.
It’s hard to pinpoint a date when the wars in Somalia began, but if there was one it’d probably be May 23rd, 1986. To understand the significance of that date, though, we have to go back a couple more decades.
It was in 1969 when Major General Siad Barre staged a military coup d’état and took over power, becoming the President of Somalia, the day after the previous president’s funeral.
The previous president was assassinated, by the way, although I couldn’t find anything that directly tied Siad Barre to the assassination—it’s pretty convenient.
So then President Siad Barre was in power for decades until, on May 23rd, 1986, he was involved in a car accident that saw his car slam into the back of a bus during a bad storm. It was pretty serious, and President Barre spent about a month recovering.
During that time, the rebellion began.
That’s why, even though there weren’t any shots fired on that day, many historians point to May 23rd, 1986 as being the start of what we now know as the Somalian Civil War.
And just like the movie shows, over the years there have been battles and wars between numerous warlords and clans, all of them combining to be what we refer to collectively as the Somalian Civil War.
That’s a conflict that—well, honestly, it’s still going today. It hasn’t ended. Well, sort of.
Some say that maybe it did end on January 26th, 1991, because that’s when the rebellion grew so much that it forced President Barre out of the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu.
But it’s not like that was an end to the conflict in Somalia.
Taking President Barre’s place in the capital was the man the movie mentions, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Well, technically there was another warlord, Ali Mahdi Muhammad who took over President Barre’s palace in Mogadishu, but for the purposes of our story today we can skip ahead a bit to when Aidid’s forces eventually pushed out many of the opposing forces in Mogadishu.
Maybe not all of them, but that sort of complexity to the war is just part of the reason why the conflict continues to rage on.
As for the number mentioned in the movie, 300,000 people dying as a result of famine in Somalia. Sadly, that’s true, too.
Although some estimates have that number being as high as 500,000 with another 2 million families losing their homes.
Oh, and the movie doesn’t really mention that it wasn’t entirely the warlords causing the famine. You see, on top of all of this bloodshed and killing, Africa was hit with one of the worst droughts of the 20th century. So food was at a shortage anyway, but it is true that the warlords made things even worse for the people by using this to their advantage and using food as a weapon.
Those combined factors were, as the movie suggests, the reasons why the United Nations got involved.
And that bit of back and forth the movie mentions is also true. By that, I’m referring to the tens of thousands of troops who marched into Somalia. That was the U.S.-led task force backed by the U.N. Security Council who enacted an operation called Operation Restore Hope.
That mission lasted from December 9th, 1992 until May 4th, 1993 and involved about 37,000 troops from the U.N., about 28,000 of them from the United States, that spread out and covered almost half of the entire country of Somalia. During that time, hundreds of thousands of Somalians were saved from starvation thanks to the aid given. Of course, there’s not really an official number of how many lives were saved—that’s something hard to track.
But it was never intended to be a long-term solution. In fact, from the onset it was referred to as the 100-Day Action Programme for Accelerated Humanitarian Assistance.
When the funding for that program neared an end, but with the situation anything but resolved, on March 3rd, 1993, the Secretary-General of the United Nations suggested a transition from the Unified Task Force, or UNITAF—that’s the 37,000 military personnel from 20 countries—to what they referred to as the United Nations in Somalia, or UNOSOM.
Well, technically it was referred to as UNOSOM II because they’d tried a similar technique before UNITAF.
The goal for UNOSOM II was to build on the peace that the UNITAF had managed to secure and start rebuilding the infrastructure. The U.N. knew the country was still insecure, and rather than trying to keep forces in Somalia indefinitely, the point of UNOSOM II was to start the process of rebuilding the war-torn country into one that could support its own government and handle its own peace.
But then, just like the movie says, when the forces from UNITAF started to pull out and transition to a more infrastructure-rebuilding mode with UNOSOM II, that’s when Muhamad Farrah Aidid saw his chance to regain control.
On June 5th, 1993, Aidid’s forces attacked a Pakistani-led taskforce that had been dispatched as part of UNOSOM II to a local radio station. That radio station was one Aidid had been using to broadcast anti-U.N. messages, so he saw the U.N. taskforce as an incitement.
After Aidid’s attack on the U.N. forces, 24 were killed and another 60 were left wounded—most of those being Pakistanis. So, as a result of that attack, the U.N. decided to try to take down Aidid.
The movie doesn’t mention this at all, but at first they tried attacking targets in Mogadishu where they thought he might be hiding. Then they posted a $25,000 bounty on his head. Nothing worked.
Then it all changed on August 8th, 1993. That’s when some of Aidid’s soldiers blew up a caravan of U.S. vehicles, killing four U.S. soldiers and injuring another seven.
As a direct response to this, the then-President of the United States Bill Clinton issued an order to send in a special taskforce to put an end to Aidid. They were deployed on August 22nd, 1993.
The movie is correct in saying that the taskforce consisted of Army Rangers, Delta Force and the 160th SOAR, or Special Operations Aviation Regiment. While those were the majority of the forces, what the movie doesn’t mention, though, is that those weren’t the only forces in the special taskforce.
Alongside the Rangers, Delta Force and SOAR were a few from the Air Force’s Combat Control Team and four members of Navy SEAL Team Six.
It was truly the best of the best from all of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Now all of that is a very brief overview, but that sums up much of what the movie explains in the opening sequences. Then, after all of that setup and explanation, the movie cuts to a scene where we see the timeline for the rest of the movie.
The text on screen says it’s Saturday, October 2nd, 1993.
Then there’s a brief scene that’s just vague enough to not really be true but one of those scenes that could have happened. I’m talking about the one with Josh Hartnett’s character, Eversmann, looking down from a Black Hawk on some of Aidid’s men taking a food shipment away from people.
Oh, and although the movie does mention his first name in dialog sometimes, Josh Hartnett’s character isn’t listed in the credits as anything but his last name—Eversmann. The real Army Ranger’s name was Matt Eversmann.
After that, though, we see Eric Bana’s character, Hoot, in the busy city streets of Mogadishu. He sees a line of non-descript SUVs. Then we hear Hoot whisper into his radio, “Leaving.” as the man gets into one of the vehicles and the caravan departs the city.
The camera cuts to an overhead shot of the three vehicles driving down the Somalian roads, each one kicking up a huge plume of sand and dust in its wake. Two helicopters enter the frame, one of them a Black Hawk and the other a much smaller helicopter. After a single well-placed shot to the engine stops the middle vehicle with the man we saw get in earlier riding in the back seat, they’re all stopped when the smaller helicopter lands right in front of the caravan.
That’s when the man inside, who has been talking to someone on the phone the whole time, says calmly, “I’m going to be late. Call you back,” as armed American soldiers knock on his window.
All of that is true, but there’s one major difference here between the true story and what we see in the movie.
That’s the timeline.
Remember when we saw the date of October 2nd, 1993 on the screen earlier?
Well, this daylight raid on the caravan happened on September 21st. The man inside, who we hear in the movie one of the men call Mr. Atto, was Osman Ali Atto.
Atto was an arms dealer and the chief banker for Mohamed Farrah Aidid. As such, he was a high value target for the mission as they hoped he could lead them to Aidid.
So Atto was captured on September 21st and put into a prison the U.N. was holding about 300 miles, or 480 kilometers, to the south of Mogadishu in the port city of Kismayo.
I couldn’t find any detailed information about how much Atto told the U.N. forces trying to track down Aidid, but I think it’s probably safe to say that he didn’t call Aidid right back.
Oh, and in the movie, Osman Ali Atto is played by the talented actor George Harris.
Going back to the movie, after capturing Atto, we see the planning of a much more detailed mission. This time capturing a couple more of Aidid’s inner circle, Omar Salad Elmi and Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdiid.
These two aren’t riding in an unprotected caravan outside of town. Instead, they’re holed up in a building inside one of Aidid’s most protected areas of town—the Bakara Market.
On top of that, the mission was to catch the two men before they left the area. That meant going to the busiest area of town that’s filled with the most loyal of people to Aidid in the middle of the day—on the afternoon of Sunday, October 3rd, 1993, to be a little more precise.
And that is true.
Most of the time, the military liked to pull off missions like this at night. One of the primary reasons for that was because the U.S.-led forces had a lot better technology than the Somalians did. More specifically, NODs. That stands for night optical device or night observation devices—night vision. This allowed the soldiers to see at night while any Somalians who tried to resist them were blinded by the dark.
But this time it was different.
They needed to catch the two of Aidid’s lieutenants before they disappeared again, and that meant moving fast. It also meant they couldn’t afford to wait until nightfall.
And that meant running a mission to Bakara Market, which the movie correctly mentions as being an area under Aidid’s control. Oh, and it was also was the busiest section of Mogadishu, a city of about 2.5 million people. So there was bound to be a lot of people around, most of them innocent civilians.
According to the movie, the mission seems to start off without a hitch. Soldiers secure the area around the two targets and manage to capture them pretty quickly.
Then…something goes wrong.
The first thing we see is when Josh Harnett’s version of Matt Eversmann is in the chopper with Orlando Bloom’s version of Private First Class Todd Blackburn. An RPG from Somalian soldiers below forces the pilot to make an evasive maneuver, and Blackburn falls—hitting the ground hard hundreds of feet below.
Although Eversmann wasn’t in the helicopter when Blackburn fell like we saw in the movie. Instead, he didn’t see Blackburn fall at all, but rather found him on the ground after—badly bruised and bleeding from the long fall.
Oh, and as a little side note…remember the scene where we see Orlando Bloom’s version of Private First Class Todd Blackburn is giving his information to Ewan McGregor’s version of John Grimes as Grimes is on the computer, typing it in? Well, one of the things Grimes asks Blackburn for is his serial number, which Blackburn gives him as 72163427.
That’s not real. And I’m not just being nitpicky about Blackburn’s serial number. You see, the U.S. Army did away with serial numbers, or service numbers as they’re officially called, in the year 1969—about 24 years before the events in the movie.
And that leads us to something else that I should point out because it’s one of the biggest changes in the film: Blackburn was a real person, but John Grimes was not.
Well, sort of.
Ewan McGregor’s character was renamed to John Grimes by the book’s author, Mark Bowden, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. In the book he’s called by the real person’s name, John Stebbins. Well, technically, John Grimes was a composite character of a few different men but it was the real John Stebbins who was the coffee-making master that we saw Ewan McGregor’s version of John Grimes playing.
Why the change in names? Well, it’d seem that the Army wanted to try and cover up his real name out of embarrassment.
That embarrassment was rooted in what John Stebbins did after he won a Silver Star for his actions in the Battle of Mogadishu. On June 8th, 2000, John Stebbins was found guilty and sentenced to 30-years in prison for rape and sodomy of a girl under the age of 12.
That was about a year before the movie’s release, so that’s why the Army didn’t want his name coming up in a movie that was meant to honor the men in the military as heroes.
I think Nora Stebbins, John’s ex-wife, said it best in a letter she wrote to the New York Post when she said:
They are going to make millions off this film, in which my ex-husband is portrayed as an all-American hero, when the truth is he is not.
Going back to the movie, soon after this we see the first death.
It happens when a convoy of Humvees led by Tom Sizemore’s character, Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight, are sent to pick up the two prisoners—the two of Aidid’s lieutenants the Rangers picked up earlier—along with the forces that had been dropped from helicopters and return them all to the airport where the U.N. forces were headquartered. After Blackburn’s fall, three of the Humvees break off from the column and went to go pick up Blackburn.
While they’re driving, we see in one of the Humvees when the gunner, Danny Hoch’s character, Dominick Pilla, is shot and killed.
Then we see it happen. The Black Hawk helicopter with Jeremy Piven’s character, Clifton Wolcott, piloting is hit by an RPG. It goes down, crashing in the city, killing both Wolcott and his co-pilot.
All of that is true.
Well, technically the convoy consisted of nine Humvees and three M939 series 5-ton 6×6 trucks. And it was Brian Van Holt’s character, Jeff Struecker, who was in command of the three Humvees that broke off from the rest of the convoy to pick up Blackburn. Dominick Pilla manned the .50 cal gun inside Struecker’s Humvee.
After word of Pilla’s killing hit the radio, everyone went silent—this mission wasn’t going as planned. And things were about to get a lot worse.
The Black Hawk that went down first was call sign Super Six One.
Although the movie doesn’t mention this at all, that’s not the first Black Hawk helicopter shot down by the Somalians. The first one wasn’t a part of this mission at all, but was shot down about a week before on September 25th, 1993. In fact, this was the first mission since then.
The Somalians were well aware of the technical advantages that the Black Hawk helicopters gave the U.N. forces—like big brother watching in the sky, reigning down terror from its powerful guns on their enemies below.
Although the Somalians didn’t have access to the same sort of technology the U.S.-led forces did, Aidid’s soldiers had learned how to take helicopters down thanks to some help from men who had spent time in Afghanistan fighting against the Russians. It was then that they learned that it’s really hard to hit a helicopter with an RPG.
But they also learned that you don’t really have to hit a helicopter with an RPG to take it down. You just have to have the explosion go off really close—let the impact of the explosion itself do the damage.
Sort of like torpedoes on submarines—that one scene in The Hunt for Red October comes to mind—or how some bombs are set to blow up in the air just above the ground to increase the damage radius.
So they added timers to make the RPGs explode before they hit the helicopters to give them a better chance of damaging them. Oh, and aim for the tail rotors. The body may be bigger and, by extension, easier to hit, but it’s also more protected. With Kevlar-laced panels, Black Hawk helicopters are built like flying tanks.
While it didn’t work every time, it worked this time.
When Super Six One went down, everyone knew the mission just got a lot more complex.
Instead of packing up and heading back with their two prisoners, now they had to go to the crash site to find survivors, if there were any, and hold off the city’s defending militia until more American soldiers could come rescue them.
Going back to the movie, there’s roadblocks now that are blocking the Humvees from making it to the crash site. As they try to reroute around the roadblocks, inside the Humvees, the injuries and casualties start to pile up as the Somalians bombard them with a constant barrage of bullets.
The movie cuts back and forth between different perspectives, so we’re jumping ahead in the movie’s timeline a little bit to see the result of this, but finally, it gets to be too much. They’ll do more harm than good, so Tom Sizemore’s version of McKnight gets permission from General Garrison to head back to the base.
Oh, and General Garrison is played by Sam Shepard in the movie.
The rest of the Humvees that hadn’t gone to get Blackburn—that’s when Pilla was killed—were still in the same spot as they were when the three Humvees left. They were waiting for a signal from the Delta Force team that had captured the two prisoners that they were ready for pickup. Meanwhile, the Delta Force, who the Rangers nicknamed the D-boys, was waiting with the two prisoners for the Humvees to come pick them up.
One of the Air Force soldiers in the Humvee, a man named Dan Schilling, decided to see what the hold-up was so he got out and ran to where the D-boys were waiting. Finally, the Humvees rolled up to get the D-boys and their prisoners.
That’s about the time Super Six One went down; something almost everyone saw happen from below. Immediately, McKnight’s Humvees were ordered to get to the crash site.
The time locally was about 4:20 PM.
Oh, and Air Force Staff Sergeant Dan Schilling isn’t portrayed in the movie at all. That brings up a good point because even though there were some 40 or so speaking roles in the movie, there were over a 100 men really there. 120 to be precise, at least initially.
But I think we can give the movie a pass on this. Ensemble casts are tough, and having an ensemble cast of 120 would be nearly impossible to follow. If you want to learn more about some of the men not shown in the movie, like Dan Schilling, or really get a much more detailed account of what really happened, I’d recommend picking up Mark Bowden’s book that the movie is based on, also called Black Hawk Down.
Going back to the movie, things are about to go from bad to worse.
Ron Eldard’s version of Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant is piloting Super Six Four. Then we see it happen. Two more RPGs; one of them hits its target.
Durant is able to keep Super Six Four in the air for a little while, but not long enough to make it back to the base. Another Black Hawk down.
Fortunately, Durant survives the impact. Unfortunately, his crashed helicopter is going to soon be surrounded by enemy soldiers while any hope of a rescue is still scrambling to try to rescue the last helicopter that crashed.
Super Six Four had just flown over where Super Six One went down, but because the helicopter seemed to be flying alright after getting hit, Durant was given the order from the command helicopter to head back to base. So he did.
By air, the base was less than five minutes away.
They didn’t make it. At about 4:40 PM, some 20 minutes after Super Six One crashed, Super Six Four went down.
Because they had begun flying back toward base, though, this meant that Super Six Four didn’t go down near the Super Six One crash site. The already complex mission got even more difficult. There were two crash sites now.
The movie was also correct that right after this, Struecker’s convoy of three Humvees that had just gotten through taking Blackburn back to base was ordered to go to the Super Six Four crash site.
While the men rearmed and prepared to go back into battle, Struecker and another soldier washed and scrubbed out Pilla’s blood and brains from the interior of the Humvee. Not easy work by any means, but if they’re to use the Humvee again to try and rescue the crew of Super Six Four—necessary work.
Meanwhile, most of the Rangers and Delta Force operators made their way to the first crash site. There were about 90 of them there and they dug in to hold the perimeter they’d built around the crash site and wait for a rescue team.
Struecker’s Humvees wouldn’t get there fast enough, so just like we saw in the movie, two Delta Force snipers were brought to the Super Six Four crash site by another Black Hawk. That was Super Six Two, and the two snipers were Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart.
Randy Shughart is played by Johnny Strong while Gary Gordon is played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau—or Jamie Lannister if you’re a Game of Thrones fan.
In the movie, we see Gordon and Shughart reach Durant, who is still in his pilot’s seat in the Black Hawk. He’s hurt. Enough that he can’t really walk, but not enough that he’s out of the fight. They pull him out and take him inside a nearby building where he’ll have cover, then they head back out of the building to hold off the advancing Somalian forces.
The way the movie shows it, it was pretty much a suicide mission for Gordon and Shughart. They were there to try to keep the enemy at bay for just long enough that someone might make it there in time to rescue Durant. Maybe them, too.
And that’s true.
With Super Six Two circling ahead, dodging RPG rounds while getting hit by bullets, the Somalian forces closed in around the Super Six Four crash site.
Oh, and even though I haven’t really mentioned them up until this point, the smaller helicopters we see in the movie are real, too. Those are Boeing AH-6J Little Birds, and their pilots did an amazing job throughout the battle keeping the enemy at bay as much as they could.
There were a few Little Birds flying overhead, trying to help Gordon and Shughart keep the Somalians away from the Super Six Four crash site. But there were too many for two men and a few choppers above to keep away.
Just like we saw in the movie, both men died in the battle.
Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart were the only men involved in the Battle of Mogadishu to receive the Medal of Honor—the first to receive the United States’s highest military award since the Vietnam War.
And just like we saw in the movie, after overrunning the Super Six Four crash site, Mike Durant was taken captive by Aidid’s men.
Back in the movie, this is around the time McKnight’s convoy finally makes it back to the base with the prisoners and casualties. That means help won’t come anytime soon for the men still out there.
We also see General Garrison back at the command post ordering reinforcements to help the men still out there. There’s a mention of the 10th Mountain Division, Pakistanis, Malays and their tanks and APCs—everything they’ve got.
That is all true.
The 10th Mountain Division is a light infantry division in the U.S. Army, and along with soldiers from Pakistan and Malaysia, they made up the rescue force that rode through town with 28 Malaysian APCs, four Pakistani tanks and dozens of other vehicles—almost a hundred in total—manned by a force of about 3,000 men. All of them representing the U.N.
The column was about two miles long as it snaked through the unmarked roads of Mogadishu. They didn’t get to the crash site fast. But as the sun began to set, the American forces were about to get one huge technological advantage.
Not the NODs that I mentioned earlier. Just like the movie shows, most of the men didn’t even bring their night vision—after all, the mission was mid-day and should’ve only lasted less than an hour.
But the AH-6J Little Bird helicopters that were hovering overhead helping to keep the Somali forces from overrunning the Super Six One crash site were choppers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or as they’re called, the Night Stalkers. As you can probably guess, they didn’t get that name by accident.
The Little Bird pilots were prepared to operate at night and, because of the advantage it gave them to be able to see in the dark when their enemies can’t, as the battle raged on, some of the Night Stalker pilots there were hoping the sun would set.
When it did, just like we saw in the movie, these pilots played a vital role in keeping the Somalians at bay.
Back in the movie, we see the time is 2:05 AM when the APCs arrive at the crash site and start to evacuate the soldiers. All the while, the vehicles are under heavy fire from all of the buildings on either side of the road.
There’s also a scene in the movie where we see them cutting into the Black Hawk to get the bodies of the pilots who died in the crash.
All of that is true.
At about 9:00 PM, the U.S. forces left their base to go meet up with the Pakistani and Malay forces. By about 11:30 PM, the convoy was ready to go.
Half of the convoy went over to the Super Six Four crash site. There was no sign of any of the Black Hawk’s crew, so they set fire to the helicopter to totally destroy it so it couldn’t be used by Aidid for anything and then returned to rest of the column that was headed to the other crash site.
It was about 2:00 AM when the rescue column arrived at the Super Six One crash site. They started evacuating soldiers as quickly as they could. As it turned out, though, cutting into Black Hawk helicopters that were built like tanks to get at the people inside didn’t turn out to be something they could get done fast. And I’m sure it didn’t help that they were under constant fire the entire time.
It took hours, but they finally got Cliff Wolcott’s body out of Super Six One and were ready to go back.
According to the movie, it’s about this time that they realize there’s another problem—there’s not enough room in the APCs for everyone.
That’s true. Each APC was designed to fix about six men inside, and it didn’t help that the injured men couldn’t fit in as easily. Simply put, they couldn’t fit everyone inside. So they put the dead on top of the APCs, the injured inside and anyone who couldn’t fit inside got to walk alongside the APCs from the crash site all the way back to a rendezvous point outside the hot zone of the battle.
That trip is commonly referred to today as the Mogadishu Mile, and according to audio commentary on the movie by one of the soldiers who was there, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Van Arsdale, it wasn’t really as long as the movie makes it seem.
Van Arsdale was in command of the reserve unit and also served as a military advisor on the movie.
The movie shows men running along the road behind the APCs when, in fact, they actually walked alongside them. It also shows the men going all the way from the crash site to the soccer stadium that the Pakistani’s had converted to their base, and while that’s where they ended up eventually but that’s not where they walked to.
In truth, according to Lieutenant Colonel Lee Van Arsdale’s account, they went about half a mile, or about 800 meters, to where the reserve unit was. You see, the Pakistani tanks and vehicles from the 10th Mountain Division didn’t go all the way to the crash site. They waited a short distance back and provided covering fire. The APCs went into the crash site to take all the men out, but when there wasn’t enough room they had to walk to where the rest of the tanks and vehicles were.
From there, they went to the soccer stadium, where they arrived at about 6:30 AM on October 4th, 1993—and with it, the battle came to a close.
At the end of the movie, we get some text on screen to explain the outcome of the battle.
Over 1,000 Somalis and 19 Americans lost their lives.
Then we see that Michael Durant was released 11 days after being captured and two weeks later, President Clinton withdrew the Delta Force and the Rangers from Somalia.
The final bit of text says that on August 2nd, 1996, Aidid was killed and the very next day General Garrison retired.
All of that is true, but there’s more to the story.
Let’s start with the casualties.
It’s true that 19 Americans lost their lives. Well, technically there were 18 killed during the battle itself but on October 6th, a mortar round landed at the U.S. base and killed Sergeant First Class Matt Rierson, the 19th casualty attributed to the Battle of Mogadishu.
The Malay forces had one soldier killed as did the Pakistanis.
Another 73 Americans were wounded, with 7 Malays wounded and two Pakistanis.
On the Somalian side, the movie says that there were over 1,000 killed. That’s a number I mentioned in the introduction, too…although the truth is those numbers are all over the place.
The U.N. officially stated it was between 300 and 500 killed. The U.S. military claimed 350 killed with another 500 wounded. The Somali National Alliance, or SNA, that Aidid was the head of claimed there were 500 killed and about 800 wounded. But then I saw other reports saying there were upwards of 3,000 Somalis killed.
So reports vary there.
Then, of course, there’s the title of the movie…there were two Black Hawk helicopters shot down.
As for Michael Durant, the movie is correct in stating that he was released 11 days later. For most of his captivity, he was in the care of Aidid’s physician, a man named Abdullahi Hassan, who went by the nickname Firimbi.
It’d seem that Aidid wanted to trade Durant for some of his men that the U.S. had captured during previous raids. But the U.S. government managed to deliver a message to Aidid, who was in hiding, and basically said they weren’t going to negotiate for Durant. He was to be released immediately.
If he’s not, the U.S. will have to rescue him. If that happens—it’d be a shame to have half the city destroyed over this.
Durant was released the next day, on October 14th, 1993.
Just two days after the battle ended, on October 6th, President Clinton ordered that they stop any and all actions against Aidid unless in self-defense. The Special Operations teams left and the U.S. announced that their forces would withdraw in full on March 31st, 1994—about a year later.
Do you remember Osman Ali Atto? He was the guy played by George Harris that the U.S. soldiers picked up at the beginning of the movie.
Well, even though he was a backer of Aidid during the movie’s timeline, on July 24th, 1996, some of Atto’s men clashed with Aidid’s men. In the gunfight, Aidid was shot. A few days later, on August 2nd, Aidid died of a heart attack while still recovering from the wound.
And just like the movie shows, General William F. Garrison retired the very next day on August 3rd, 1996.
Something the movie doesn’t really mention, though, is that despite things going awry during the Battle of Mogadishu, the mission was a success. The mission was to extract two of Aidid’s top lieutenants from one of the deadliest areas of Mogadishu—and they did.
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