If truth, as the famous saying goes, is the first casualty of war, then war movies are its body bags. So when Hollywood portrays a real-life episode in which American soldiers come under heavy fire, it’s useful to separate fact from fiction.

Which is certainly the case for Black Hawk Down, which opens wide Jan. 18 and stars Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor. The actual events surrounding the ill-fated 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia (in which two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, 18 soldiers killed, and more than 70 injured), are so gruesome that even director Ridley Scott—the renowned master of Gladiator duels and Hannibal dinners—was hard-pressed to portray the bloodbath in all its ferocity. Mark Bowden, author of the book from which the film is adapted, says Scott went ”all the way.” Still, the film takes the Army’s POV lock, stock, and barrel—ignoring some 500 Somalians who also died that day. For more perspective on the Battle of Mogadishu, peruse one of these websites.

BLACK HAWK DOWN OFFICIAL SITE ( The diagrams of the UH-60 Black Hawk, along with dossiers on the history of the Army Rangers and the top secret Delta Force, make Sony’s encampment a decent staging area for the mission ahead. There are ample links to military sites, including the home of the elite Night Stalkers unit formed after the failed Iranian hostage rescue in 1980. B

BLACK HAWK DOWN: AN AMERICAN WAR STORY ( somalia) Bowden’s 1997 articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer read like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan— except the carnage never lets up. A team of documentary filmmakers acquired Somalian video footage, included on the website, of the firefights and an interview with a warlord. All 29 gripping chapters are annotated with maps and biographies, making it by far the most comprehensive description of the battle. A+

FRONTLINE: AMBUSH IN MOGADISHU ( PBS’ investigative news series offers a geopolitical primer on the battle. Highlights of the text interviews include Sen. Richard Lugar on why the U.S. entered the beleaguered country to begin with and a Somalian commander disclosing that his militia trained in Islamic countries—after being schooled by both the U.S. and Russia. B+

EYES OVER MOGADISHU ( Mike Horan, an Airborne imagery intelligence specialist, offers a firsthand account of life in Somalia from 1992 to 1995. Horan’s book, Eyes Over Mogadishu: Photos and Stories From a Soldier’s Life in Somalia, is a reality check for the hypersaturated action movie. And it serves as a reminder of the daily sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces. A