In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movie: Black Hawk Down, Sergeant York, and Che!
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October 3, 1993. Mogadishu, Somalia.
We’re in the middle of town. There’s dirt street lined with buildings on either side. Driving down the street is a line of American Humvees, each vehicle is equipped with a machine gun at the top and manned by a soldier in full uniform. As they move forward, people in the streets start running the opposite direction as the Humvees. Whatever is about to go down, these civilians don’t want to get involved and I don’t blame them.
The camera changes angles now and we’re transported to the helicopters flying over the city, offering air support to the Humvees below. It looks like there are four helicopters, each of them loaded full of American soldiers so much so they we can see them sitting partially hanging out the open doors on either side of the helicopters.
Down on the ground, we’re inside a local resident’s car now. He watches as the four helicopters touch down in a line on the street. As the helicopters touch down, the soldiers jump out with their weapons ready. Another helicopter touches down on the top of a nearby building, the soldiers inside hopping out to get an overhead view of the street.
Almost immediately, these soldiers open fire on armed men across the way on another building. The four helicopters lift back off, leaving the soldiers on the ground. Or, well, some on the rooftops, as I just mentioned, but you know what I mean—they’re not on the helicopters anymore.
The camera angle shows us the helicopters leaving and then behind them we can see three more larger helicopters arriving.
But we don’t see much more of that yet as the camera changes again, following some of the soldiers who are entering one of the buildings. Weapons hot, they open fire on people inside. We can’t even see who they are before the soldiers shoot them, although it looks like they’re carrying weapons.
Back outside, the three larger military helicopters are taking up a triangle sort of positioning around a single building. On that building is the word “Olympic.”
These helicopters don’t touch down, but instead, they’re hovering low to the ground as ropes are thrown out either side. By this point, the blades on the helicopters have kicked up so much dirt and dust from the streets below that the normally blue sky has a tint of orange to it as we see from ground level the American soldiers rappel from the ropes.
Back with the Humvees, that line stops now. It’s hard to tell where they’re located from what we’re seeing in the movie. Quickly the movie cuts to another scene of American soldiers kicking in a door. Inside, a bunch of men put their hands up at the sight of the soldiers pointing their rifles at them.
There is someone firing at the Americans, forcing them to take cover.
One of the soldiers from the Humvees looks around the corner to see a helicopter hovering in the street with more American soldiers rappelling down the ropes. So, I guess the Humvees must be just around the corner from the helicopters by the “Olympic” building.
The four smaller helicopters from earlier aren’t anywhere to be seen, and now the three larger helicopters are flying away, too. Except they’re not going far. We can hear what must be the pilots talking to each other, talking about how chalk’s on the ground, so now they’re going to go into a holding pattern to provide sniper cover from the air.
Down below, things are getting more intense as a truck filled with armed men shows up and begins firing back at the American soldiers on the ground. Among the machine gun and rifles, we can see some of the men running up the stairs to a rooftop carrying rocket-propelled grenades: RPGs.
Back inside one of the helicopters, a soldier sees the RPG coming right at them. The pilot manages to move the helicopter out of the way just in time. A soldier on the ropes who was rappelling to the ground loses his grip and falls to the ground—we can’t see him hit because there’s so much dirt being kicked up by the helicopters that he just falls into the abyss.
Another soldier hops out to help his fallen comrade. The soldier who fell isn’t moving. The Americans and Somalis continue shooting at each other. After a while, the action shifts and we can hear the soldiers talking about as it’s time for extraction. We can see some men who seem to be prisoners from one of the rooms the soldiers burst into being guarded as they walk back to where the helicopters pick them up.
The armed resistance is increasing, though, and we can see an armed man leading a couple others with RPGs. Finding a view from below, he instructs them to shoot at one of the helicopters. The Americans inside see the RPG, but not before the tail is hit. A burst of flame and smoke pours out of the tail as the helicopter starts spinning around. Inside, alarms are beeping. Back at the command post, we can see the man in charge of the American’s mission stand up as he watches a screen with the smoking helicopter.
“Wolcott’s bird is hit,” we can hear someone saying.
Down below the American soldiers look up in disbelief as the helicopter continues to spin out of control.
“Super six-one is going down,” we can hear one of the soldiers saying.
Inside the helicopter, the pilot yells at the other men to hold on. Alarms continue beeping as he tries to control the ‘copter. The spinning helicopter manages to make it to a clearing between buildings before it crashes in a huge plume of smoke and dirt.
The true story behind that scene in the movie Black Hawk Down
That sequence comes from the 2001 film directed by Ridley Scott called Black Hawk Down, and it depicts an event that really did happen this week in history when not one but two Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down on October 3rd, 1993 in what we now know as the Battle of Mogadishu.
Or, I guess, because of the movie and the book it’s based on it’s also often referred to simply as the Black Hawk Down Incident.
What we didn’t get to hear in the brief description leading up to the events of October 3rd was the reason the American soldiers were there that day.
In a nutshell, Somalia had just had a military coup by a group called the Somali National Alliance, or SNA, led by a man named Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Soon after, the United Nations launched an operation to offer food and relief supplies to the country’s affected citizens. So, from an overall perspective, that’s why the American soldiers were there as a part of the United Nations’ mission.
The mission for that particular day, October 3rd, 1993, was to try and capture some of the SNA’s senior leadership. If you recall, the movie shows a building with the word “Olympic” on it. That would be point for the movie’s historical accuracy, because it is true that intel had placed some of Aidid’s leadership in a building near the Olympic Hotel.
The movie also got the timing right.
By 3:40 PM, the four helicopters we see at first in the movie arrived. The movie doesn’t say exactly what they are, but they’re Boeing MH-6 Little Bird light helicopters. Their purpose that day was to carry rockets and ammo while authorized to kill any SNA soldiers who shot at them.
Down below, the noise of the helicopters had alerted Somalis in the city of their presence. The Americans’ mission was all about speed and by 4:00 PM, the Delta Force commandos had completed their mission and successfully captured 24 of Aidid’s senior leadership.
“Laurie” was the code word given to let everyone know the prisoners were secured and it was time to go home.
And just like we see in the movie, that’s when everything went wrong for the Americans when an RPG hit one of the Black Hawk helicopters. That was at 4:20 PM, so not long after the prisoners were secured.
In the movie, we hear them talking about Super Six-One, which is true because that was the designation for the MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that was shot down.
All of a sudden, the mission wasn’t just about getting out of there with the prisoners anymore. They had to rescue the soldiers in the downed helicopter. While most didn’t know it yet, both pilots had already been killed in the crash and a couple other soldiers were badly wounded. The remaining two soldiers inside set up to defend their ground until help came.
Oh, and one of those pilots was who we heard mentioned in the movie when they’re referring to “Wolcott’s bird.” That would be Chief Warrant Officer 3 Clifton Wolcott, one of the pilots of Super Six-One who was killed in the crash.
The line of Humvees we see in the movie were tasked with making their way to Super Six-One, while one of the smaller helicopters we saw in the movie, an MH-6 Little Bird, went to cover the crash site until the ground forces could get there.
But that posed a logistical problem because even though the helicopter crashed about 300 yards from the target building, the forces on the ground couldn’t see that. So, they asked for help from the helicopters still in the air and slowly made their way in the direction of the crash site.
Another Black Hawk designated Super Six-Eight was sent to the crash site. While the rescue team was rappelling from Super Six-Eight, that helicopter was also hit by an RPG. It didn’t crash, thankfully, but it was forced to return to base.
Another Black Hawk, Super Six-Four, went to the crash site to help both support the soldiers on the ground while also giving a visual indicator to the troops trying to find the crash site from below.
Things went from bad to worse when, at 4:40 PM, Super Six-Four was hit by an RPG, sending it crashing down into some buildings below.
There were now two crashed Black Hawk helicopters. It was the start of what would be a 15-hour rescue mission that would leave 80 American soldiers wounded, 18 American soldiers dead and an estimated 1,000 or more Somali fighters killed.
As you can tell, there’s a lot more to the story of what happened on October 3rd and 4th, so if you want to take a deep dive into the true story, scroll back to episode #105 of Based on a True Story where we covered the movie Black Hawk Down.
If you just want to watch the movie, of course, we started our segment about 43 minutes into the movie, but really, pretty much the entire movie takes place this week in history.
October 8, 1918. Northeastern France.
Our next movie is in black and white. We’re on a World War I battlefield. Some American soldiers are capturing a bunch of German soldiers as prisoners. They’re behind a machine gun nest, and once the German soldiers in the nest notice their comrades being taken prisoner, they turn the machine gun around.
With a word indicating all the Germans to get down, the machine gun opens fire on the Americans left standing. Many of them are killed immediately while others are pinned down.
One of the men pinned down is Gary Cooper’s character, Alvin York. Joe Sawyer’s character, Sgt. Early, seems to be badly injured, too. He tells York that he’s the only non-com left, so York will have to take charge.
Hearing this, York tells everyone to stay under cover and guard the prisoners while he crawls closer to the nest. Sgt. Early asks where York is going. York simply replies, “You gave me command.”
He takes aim and shoots one of the Germans in the machine gun nest. Then, he crawls a little closer. It doesn’t take long for another German hop on the machine gun and the sound of it firing picks right back up.
Americans and captured German soldiers alike are pinned down by the machine gun now, as York continues crawling a little closer. We see a couple more shots at the machine gun nest, and another German soldier goes down. With a short break before the machine gun starts firing again, York gets up and runs to behind a dead tree. From there, he takes two more shots. Two more German soldiers are hit.
Embracing the break in the machine gun fire, York sprints across an open portion of the field. The machine gun starts firing again, but York is still running in the open. We can tell now that he’s behind the machine gun nest as he shows up on the ridge just behind it. The Germans who have taken over the nest have no idea he’s there until it’s too late. He shoots one of them, then the other.
Next, he rushes into the nest using its cover to look at yet another machine gun nest nearby. He can’t quite get an angle on the soldiers inside, so with his rifle aimed he makes a turkey gobble noise.
The confused German soldiers in the nest look toward the sound of the noise—which provides just enough visibility for York to shoot them. Two quick succession shots, and the machine gun nest is silent.
The true story behind that scene in the movie Sergeant York
That segment was from a film made back in 1941 simply called Sergeant York.
That was Gary Cooper’s character, Sergeant Alvin C. York. Well, at the time he wasn’t a Sergeant yet. The part we just heard described is depicting an event that happened this week in history. More specifically, it was on October 8th, 1918, when then-Corporal York’s 328th Infantry Regiment was tasked with capturing Hill 223 in the Argonne Forest in France.
For a bit of geographical context, that’s about 120 miles or 200 kilometers east of Paris.
What we see in the movie is a decent interpretation of what happened, although we have to take into account that, well, it’s a movie, but also it’s a movie made in the 1940s.
But, the basic idea is there, because we see the American soldiers capturing a bunch of German soldiers before a machine gun nest turns on them.
And that is true.
The Americans were on the offensive and came across an area filled with German medical personnel. The Germans almost immediately surrendered, but a German machine gun nest at the top of the hill saw what was happening and opened fire.
With pretty much everyone pinned down by the barrage of flying bullets, Corporal York led a counterattack himself. I doubt it looked exactly like what we see Gary Cooper’s version of York doing with the turkey calls, but it is true that before the war Alvin York had honed his marksmanship by hunting turkeys. His family didn’t have much money, in fact he’d quit school to help put food on the table, and hunting turkeys was something he learned to do quite well.
But back in the war, after York took out some of the German soldiers manning the machine gun, the Germans realized they couldn’t hit him from their position. So, they charged at him with bayonets. York shot all the Germans coming at him with his pistol, then advanced his own position. His new vantage point gave him a view down the German trenches and from there, he pulled out his rifle again to pick off the Germans one by one.
What we don’t see in the movie is the German side of things.
The Prussian 210th Reserve Infantry Regiment had just arrived to the command post where a Lieutenant named Paul Jürgen Vollmer was in charge of the 1st Battalion of the 120th Württemberg Landwehr Regiment. The 210th was intended to help offer reinforcements for Vollmer’s men.
But the 210th had marched all night to get there, so when they arrived they had breakfast and rested. Vollmer didn’t like this, especially since they had put their weapons down and weren’t on high alert with the enemy nearby.
He ordered them to move out, when all of a sudden some other Germans came running to announce Americans were coming! Vollmer noticed some of the 210th who already hadn’t been very well prepared because of the aforementioned resting and eating, and now they had dropped their weapons and had their hands in the air.
When a few more American soldiers came running down the hill, the Germans assumed it was a huge offensive and the 210th surrendered. One of the Americans who was running down the hill? Corporal Alvin C. York.
When York marched the prisoners back, at first the Americans thought it was a German counterattack. But, upon closer inspection, they realized the Germans didn’t have any weapons. At the head of the crowd of German prisoners was Corporal York.
In all, York had led the attack on a machine gun nest, killing at least 25 German soldiers in the process. He and his men captured 132 German prisoners. His actions earned him a Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor while Corporal York was promoted to Sergeant York.
If you want to see this depicted in a movie, look for the 1941 film simply called Sergeant York. We started our segment today at about an hour and 46 minutes into the movie. And this is another movie we’ve done a deep dive into here on the podcast! So, if you want to learn more about the true story, look for episode #107 of Based on a True Story in your podcast app of choice or you can always find it on the podcast’s home on the web, basedonatruestorypodcast.com/107
October 8, 1967. Bolivia.
We’re inside a room with a shirtless man’s body lying on a table. A group of men, some in suits and others in military uniforms, are crowded around. One of them points to a bullet wound on body, saying this was the fatal shot less than 24 hours ago.
The camera pans over to the corner of the room where we can see the man in the three-star beret breaking the fourth wall as he talks to the camera. I guess we can give him a name…that’s Albert Paulsen’s character, Captain Vasquez. He explains that the raid on Alto Saco was the beginning of the end for Guevara. Vasquez says they ambushed his rear guard in La Higueras and encircled him in the Churro Ravine.
We’re no longer in the room with the dead body, now, as the scene shifts to what Vasquez is explaining. Rebel soldiers are being shot at by the Rangers in rocks surrounding the ravine. It’s not just rifles, but the Rangers have mortars as well. One of the rebels is killed. Then another. They’re firing back, and some of the Rangers are shot, too.
The intense fighting continues for a few more moments until we can see Omar Sharif’s version of Che Guevara climbing to get out of the ravine. The rebel machine gun is captured, silencing most of the firing. Che and another man seem to be the only two left, and Che is obviously in a lot of pain.
The Rangers close in as the two rebel soldiers fire back from the cover of rocks. The other man is shot and killed. Che, too, is shot, although he’s not killed. Wounded, he lies back and the shooting stops. The Rangers stand up, walking slowly to where Che is lying on the ground.
Che is still breathing as Captain Vasquez reaches him. Pulling out a photo, Vasquez looks at it and then back down at Che. Then, over the radio, Vasquez announces: Puma to Lancer. Puma to Lancer. We’ve got Papa. Alive. Repeat, we’ve got Papa.
The true story behind that scene in the movie Che!
That sequence comes from the 1969 film simply called Che! and while the movie got the basic gist right, there were plenty of details changed. For example, remember the guy leading the Rangers in the movie? We talked about him earlier, he’s the guy with the three stars on his beret. The actor playing him Albert Paulsen, and that’s a character named Captain Vasquez.
In the true story, the leader of the Bolivian Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion was Gary Prado Salmón, who was later promoted to General and a national hero in Bolivia for Che’s capture.
The 2nd Ranger Battalion was trained especially to target the guerilla fighters. While we didn’t cover it in our movie segment this week, a bit earlier in the film Captain Vasquez tells the camera that the CIA was not involved in any way.
Well, most sources that I found say that even though the 2nd Rangers were from the Bolivian Army, they did get help from the CIA, as well training from the 8th Special Forces Group from the U.S. Army. I’ll add a link to the show notes for this episode with a fascinating article by Marco Margaritoff over on the website All That’s Interesting that gives a nice overview of a man named Félix Rodríguez, who was the CIA agent tasked with helping in the capture of Che Guevara.
Something else the movie changes from the real story is the number of soldiers involved. In the movie, it looks like Captain Vasquez has maybe a dozen or so Rangers with him. Granted, they’re often among the rocks and moving around the terrain so it’s hard to track down an exact number.
With that said, though, the 2nd Ranger Battalion had 650 soldiers in it and about 180 to 200 of them were involved in the capture of Che Guevara on October 8th, 1967. So, there were a lot more soldiers involved than we see in the movie.
In the true story, the Rangers received word during the early morning hours of October 8th of a little over a dozen men who had walked through a local farmer’s field the night before. They were going toward a canyon area nearby, so that’s where the Rangers went.
The movie was right to show mortars being used, though, as they used mortars and machine guns along with sections, or platoons, of soldiers set up at different areas in the canyon to help seal off the entrances and exits to the canyon while other soldiers in the Battalion closed in on their targets.
It was a tactic that worked, as before long the Rangers pushed back the guerrillas to where they had nowhere else to go. As for Che Guevera himself, somehow his rifle was destroyed—or at least, rendered unusable, and he was shot in the leg. It was in his right calf, so not a mortal wound but between that and not having a weapon, he was forced to surrender when the Rangers came upon him.
Although this, too, seems to have happened differently than what we see in the movie. I say that because in the movie we see the Captain Vasquez character look down at Che and pull a photo out of his pocket to verify that’s who it is. In the true story, though, one of the Rangers, a Sergeant, later told Che’s biographer that Che was the one to identify himself to them.
Either way, Che Guevara was captured on October 8th, 1967. The next day, the President of Bolivia ordered Che be put to death. And so, on October 9th, 1967, the revolutionary Che Guevara was executed at the age of 39.
As a last little side note, when the movie shows Che’s body, we can see a bullet wound in his chest that one of the bystanders mentions as being the fatal shot. Even though Che was executed, that sort of shot would still be accurate because according to some sources, it was the CIA agent Félix Rodríguez who suggested they don’t shoot Che in the head to make it obvious he was executed, but rather to shoot him in a way that would look like he’d been a casualty of a run-in with the Bolivian Army.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 1969 movie called Che! That’s not to be confused with the 2008 two-part series from Steven Soderbergh that’s also called Che. While that’s another good one to watch this week, the movie we talked about today is the 1969 film with an exclamation point at the end: Che!
We started our segment today at about an hour and 21 minutes into the movie.
And if you want to learn even more about the true story, we covered that movie back on episode #115 of Based on a True Story.