U.S. Army 160th SOAR Rangers
U.S. Army Rangers ride the External Personnel Pods of an MH-6 Little Bird of the 160th SOAR.

Black Hawk Down: 160th SOAR Rescue

After both Black Hawks were shot down, the 160th SOAR rescue mission relied on the power of their AH-6J Little Birds to keep their Deltas and Rangers alive.

Special operators who were involved in the Battle of Mogadishu agree that, without 160th SOAR Little Birds’ ability to hunt at night, many of them would not have made it out of the bloody city. The battle in October of 1993 started as a snatch of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid but ended as a battle for survival against thousands of his armed militia supporters.

The 160th SOAR had both Black Hawks and Little Birds available for the operation—a total of 16 helicopters. During the initial assault on one of Aidid’s headquarters, four AH-6J Little Birds, each carrying four snipers, two per side, and armed with 7.62mm miniguns and 70mm rockets, hovered in front and back of the building for overwatch and fire support. Two other AH-6Js brought in the Delta assaulters who fast-roped onto the building. Rangers fast-roped from Black Hawk helicopters to secure the city block around the building. Two dozen of Aidid’s lieutenants were captured and extracted in trucks by the Rangers.

However, 37 minutes into the mission, a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Ranger and Delta operators on foot immediately headed for the downed chopper to extract any survivors. Once the Rangers had secured the crash site, though tenuously, a Little Bird came in to extract two survivors. The Rangers and Delta operators, however, became pinned down by enemy fire near the crash site. Making things even more difficult, a second Black Hawk was shot down at another location.

FIGHTING BY NIGHT

Cut off near the crash site, the Rangers and Deltas were constantly attacked that night. However, the Little Birds flew mission after mission, making gun runs and killing hundreds of Somali militiamen. The 160th SOAR pilots and crew were about the only personnel at Mogadishu that had night-vision goggles (NVGs), and they used them to good effect. Little Bird passes were so close that Rangers remember the spent brass hitting their helmets like rain. When the Little Birds were out of ammo, they would often keep making passes so that enemy combatants would stay behind cover. In addition to gun runs, the Little Birds would drop ammo, medical supplies and even a few NVGs.

When the relief force arrived, Little Birds continued to fly overwatch as the Americans were extracted from the chaos. Many current 160th SOAR tactics evolved form lessons learned in Somalia, and U.S. special operators learned not to go into combat in the future without NVGs and a plentiful supply of water. The 160th SOAR has two mottos: “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit” and “Death Waits in the Dark.” They proved both during the Battle of Mogadishu.

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