Guest Writer: Kenzie Fitzpatrick There’s a brutal difference between fact and fiction. The things we see in the…
As we approach another anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, let’s take a look at the guns of Black Hawk Down. This American military operation in Somalia was part of the wider Somali civil war, which had been going on since 1991. Meant as a raid to capture self-proclaimed president Mohammed Farah Aideed and two of his lieutenants, the attack was supposed to be a 90-minute mission. By the end of the 14-hour “routine” operation, eighteen Americans were dead, 84 were wounded, and one pilot had gone MIA. It would become the most intense U.S. military operation since Vietnam and before Afghanistan.
It all began on October 3, 1993, when 160 U.S. Army Rangers and other special forces launched the raid. However, it started badly as two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters went down early in the operation via rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). The soldiers defended the downed helicopters as we sent in additional American troops to protect survivors of the crashes. The fighting dragged on through the night as U.S. forces were overwhelmed by thousands of heavily armed Somali militia.
A battle ensued to save the survivors, and enemy gunfire killed two Delta Force soldiers, Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randall Shughart. They posthumously received the Medal of Honor in 1994. The following day, a U.N. armored convoy fought to the helicopters, suffering more casualties but rescuing the surviving troops. Our guys eventually captured Aidid’s lieutenants.
Commemorating the Battle of Mogadishu
In 1999, journalist Mark Bowden documented the Unified Task Force’s attempts to capture Aideed and his lieutenants in Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. The well-received book was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
The 2001 movie version, directed by Ridley Scott, featured notable actors such as Josh Harnett, Sam Shepard, Tom Sizemore, and Eric Bana. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau portrayed Gary Gordan, and Johnny Strong played Randy Shughart. A host of rifles, handguns, machine guns, grenades, and launchers accompanied the cast.
Although over thirty various types of weapons appear in the film, we’ll focus on the following six:
Guns Of Black Hawk Down
Colt Model 733
Several Army Rangers and Delta Force operators carry the short-barreled (11.5”) 5.56x45mm Colt Model 733. Some are standard models, while others have camouflage paint and Aimpoint red-dot sights. Gary Gordon used the latter weapon while defending the second helicopter’s crash site, and CWO3 Mike Durant (Ron Eldard) fired it after Gordon died. Some of the other 733s have an XM177-style flash-hider instead of the standard barrel with an A2 flash-hider.
For historical accuracy, Gary Gordon’s carbine would have been a Model 723 with an OPSINC suppressor sleeved over the barrel. It’s the model all US Force Deltas used back then. The 723 features a 14.5″ barrel, (M4 or pencil profile), thin CAR-15 handguards, and a collapsible stock. If you want to find out more about the model 723, check out this great video covering all the features.
Delta Force SFC Randy Shughart carried the M14 and used it to defend the second crash site at Mogadishu. The successor to the M1 Garand, the M-14 stayed the U.S. armed force’s standard-issue rifle from 1959 to 1964, when the M-16 replaced it. Shughart’s M14 has camouflage paint and an Aimpoint CompM2/M68 reflex sight. Its legend lives on and Fulton Armory makes a M14 Black Hawk DMR Tribute rifle for those wanting to own a similar gun.
The M14 has a mixed history on the battlefield. It’s a long, heavy rifle that fell from favor during the jungle fighting in Vietnam. Its original form was ill-suited for the country’s moist environment as the wooden stocks swelled, affecting the rifle’s accuracy. However, 7.62x51mm NATO’s firepower and long range were ideal for the Somalian desert. The updated polymer stock, accessory rail, and 20-round magazines made it a force to be reckoned with in Somalia.
Guns Of Black Hawk Down: Colt M16A2
Although Randy Shughart mostly carried an M14, he switched briefly to the Colt M16A2 while defending the downed Black Hawk. Rangers using the rifle include Sergeants Eversmann, Goodale, Yurek, Joyce, and PFC Blackburn.
The US Marine Corps requested the 5.56x45mm Colt M16A2’s development due to combat experience in Vietnam. The modifications adopted in 1982 were extensive. They included:
- New, faster rifling that allowed the use of the heavier SS109 round
- A heavier barrel to resist bending and overheating
- An adjustable rear sight for sighting-in for ranges between 300 and 800 meters.
Heckler & Koch G3A3
The local militia loyal to Mohammed Farah Aideed had 7.62×5.1mm NATO Heckler & Koch G3 German Battle Rifles, among other weapons. The newer G3A3 variants also appear in the film. Drum sights distinguish them with an improved sight, a muzzle brake capable of firing NATO standard rifle grenades, a fixed plastic buttstock, and a plastic handguard that doesn’t touch the free-floating barrel. The handguard comes in a slim, vented, and wide version, with the latter allowing the attachment of a bipod.
M60 Machine Gun
The M60 is a belt-fed 7.62mm general-purpose fully automatic machine gun capable of firing 600 RPM. In the movie, Ranger Specialist Shawn Nelson (Ewen Bremner) fires it with the bipod extended and folded under.
The U.S. military adopted the M60 in 1957 to replace the Browning Automatic Rifle and the M1919, hoping for a more mobile weapon fired from the shoulder. The M60 became infamous for fouling and having mechanical issues in Vietnam’s jungle environment. Many criticized the gun’s design which featured a mounted barrel, gas regulator, bipod, and front sight as a single unit without a handle, making barrel changes much more difficult.
GE M134 Minigun
The M134 Minigun is a six-barreled, electrically-driven rotary gun chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. The MH-60 Black Hawks and AH-6 Little Birds both have miniguns—as a door gun on the Black Hawks and pylon-mounted on the Little Birds. A fire rate of up to 6,000 rounds per minute makes them far more effective than any single-barreled weapon.
Designed by General Electric during the Vietnam War, the M134 provides a high volume of fire and is suitable for helicopter mounting. As a side note, one of the pilots in the film (Keith Jones) was a veteran of the Battle of Mogadishu.
Guns Of Black Hawk Down: Movie Fiction?
The guns of Black Hawk Down do an excellent job of showing the tools Army Rangers and Delta Force troops used fighting for their lives. This after all the plans of a seemingly straightforward mission went astray, leaving them “hanging out to dry.”
By anyone’s estimation, the raid was a catastrophe that quickly deteriorated into bloody chaos. The film helps the moviegoer understand the frightening experience of combat troops caught in an untenable position.
Thankfully, the film did not devolve into a gung-ho adventure complete with heroic speeches and unrealistic acts of bravery. Instead, it portrays well-trained soldiers displaying perseverance and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s definitely worth a watch.
If you’re interested in learning more about the events of Black Hawk Down, check out our historical article on The Battle of Mogadishu.