10 Things “Black Hawk Down” Got Wrong About the Battle of Mogadishu
If you’re a millennial or older, you’ve probably seen the movie “Black Hawk Down.” It was a hit movie in 2001. In fact, it was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two of them. It greatly influenced how people remember and perceive the Battle of Mogadishu. Unfortunately, like many historical films, its portrayal isn’t 100% accurate. The writers, director, and editors took quite a few creative liberties in order to tell a very complex story in just two short hours and wove in a little bit of their own commentary in that process.
We’re gonna set the record straight in this article because our October Monthly Mission is the Mogadishu Mile. Its purpose is to honor the men who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu.
Before we dive into what the movie “Black Hawk Down” didn’t tell you, let’s level set on the significance of this battle.
On 3 October 1993, a US Special Operation forces mission (Salad Meeting) was executed in Mogadishu, Somalia as part of Operation Gothic Serpent. During this mission, two UH-60 (Black Hawk) helicopters were shot down, starting a battle for the city that lasted nearly 24 hours. Eighteen soldiers lost their lives and 70 were wounded. Over 500 Somalis died and over 1,000 were injured. The Battle of Mogadishu was the biggest, bloodiest, single firefight for U.S. troops since Vietnam.
It was a significant battle and the men involved deserve to be honored for their bravery and sacrifice.
With this in mind, here are 10 things “Black Hawk Down” didn’t tell you about the Battle of Mogadishu.
The Battle of Mogadishu is the official name of the event.
The Somalis call it the “Day of the Ranger” and the men who participated in the operation call it the “Battle of the Black Sea” because the helicopters were shot down near the Black Sea Market. But the official name is the Battle of Mogadishu.
The book and movie get their title from the radio call that went out after the first of two Black Hawk helicopters had been downed.
Because the movie was so popular, the Battle of Mogadishu is often referred to as “the Black Hawk Down incident.”
The Battle of Mogadishu was part of Operation Gothic Serpent.
The movie “Black Hawk Down” doesn’t accurately convey why American troops were in Somalia. They were there to execute Operation Gothic Serpent.
Operation Gothic Serpent, 22 August - 13 October 1993, was an operation conducted by Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia during the Somali Civil War.
The goal of the operation was to arrest Mohammad Farrah Aidid.
The film leads viewers to believe the purpose of the operation was to destabilize the Somali government and bring humanitarian aid to the people. And that’s not an accurate representation of the history.
In 1992, Marines deployed to Somalia as part of a United Nations (UN) hunger relief effort. They left in May 1993. Shortly thereafter, Mohammad Farrah Aidid - the warlord who led the coup against Somali President Siad Barre in 1990 that caused the humanitarian crisis - declared war on the remaining UN forces and began attacking them.
The situation escalated in June 1993 when Pakistani soldiers were killed in a raid on an Aidid radio station. In response, the UN issued Resolution 837 which authorized Aidid’s arrest. That’s when the tide turned for Aidid and Operation Gothic Serpent began. Its goal was to capture Aidid and bring him to justice.
Task Force Ranger isn’t an elite military unit.
This may not surprise the military community, but may be new information for civilians.
Task Force Ranger was put together by the Clinton administration specifically for Operation Gothic Serpent. The Task Force consisted of one company of US Army Rangers, one squadron of Delta Force Operators, a contingent of helicopters from Task Force 160, 4 Navy Seals, several Air Force Pararescuemen, and medical personnel.
The units that made up Task Force Ranger were tier 1 units - the most elite units in the US Military.
Navy Seals and Air Force Pararescuemen were involved, too.
As mentioned above, Task Force Ranger was a joint operation that involved all branches of the US military. The movie primarily focuses on the US Army Rangers and Delta Force Operators involved in the operation. The Navy Seals and Air Force Pararescuemen deserve recognition as well.
American troops had been killed in Somalia prior to the Battle of Mogadishu.
On 8 August 1993, four US soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine that was remotely detonated by Aidid’s military. Task Force Ranger units began arriving just a couple weeks later on 25 August 1993.
On 25 September 1993, a Black Hawk was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed. It killed three US servicemen and injured the remaining 6 on board (3 US troops and 3 Pakistani troops).
Black Hawks weren’t the only helicopters used in the operation.
Helicopter support for Operation Gothic Serpent was provided by the 160th SOAR, which is designed specifically to conduct missions with special operations units.
The Black Hawk helicopters supporting Operation Gothic Serpent were heavily modified versions called Direct Action Penetrators (DAPs). The modifications included advanced night navigation systems and M134 machine guns mounted on each side. But they weren’t the only helicopters sent as part of Task Force 160. A-H6 and M-H6 helicopters, “Little Birds,” were also sent. And, like the Black Hawks, were heavily modified to support the operation.
Task Force Rangers executed several missions in Somalia before the Salad Meeting.
Even though they’d only been in Somalia a little over a month, Task Force Rangers had executed six prior missions. These missions all had different targets and were conducted at night which is the preference for special operations missions.
The Salad Meeting mission’s goal was to raid a house across the street from the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu, abduct Aidid and several of his top Lieutenants, and return to base.
On 3 October 1993, an opportunity presented itself and General Garrison decided to seize it. As a result, the mission was launched during the day.
It’s during this mission that the two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down and the Battle of Mogadishu begins.
The movie only represents a small fraction of the servicemen involved.
There were 450 men who were deployed to Somalia as part of Task for Ranger to execute Operation Gothic Serpent.
Mark Bowden’s book focuses on about 90 of their stories in his book, Black Hawk Down. The movie really only focuses on about 20. Many of the characters in the movie are actually representations of several individuals involved in the operation. It happens a lot in historical movies because the writers only have an hour and half, maybe two, to capture and convey complex narratives.
A key example is seen in SSG Matt Eversmann’s portrayal in the film. Eversmann is a real person. However, his character, played by Josh Hartnett, is a composite of the personality and actions of three soldiers - Eversmann, Perino, and DiTomasso.
The battle lasted 24 hours.
The movie is two hours and 24 minutes long. The actual battle lasted between 18 and 24 hours, depending on the source. It took the men involved in the first Black Hawk crash several hours to traverse roughly a mile to the second helicopter crash site, under enemy fire with little ammunition, little water, and poor comms. Once they got there, they had to traverse another mile to an extradition point as quickly as possible. It’s that last mile that’s referred to as the Mogadishu Mile.
The Mogadishu Mile began at 0542 and ended at 0630 when all soldiers were exfiltrated. The soldiers ran this mile under enemy fire and many were wounded.
4 October 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu. Join us in honoring the brave men who were part of Operation Gothic Serpent by taking on our Mogadishu Mile Monthly Mission.
Dimuro, Gina. The Battle of Mogadishu: The Harrowing True Story Behind ‘Black Hawk Down.’ Available here.
Dos Santos, Clayton and Perdue, James. “Battle of Mogadishu: The Mission Command Perspective.” NCO Journal. Available here.
Ringgenberg, Dirk. “Hollywood vs. History: ‘Black Hawk Down’” lecture. Available here.