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Bat twenty one ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Markle
Produced byMichael Balson
Gary A. Neill
Jerry Reed
Screenplay by William C. Anderson
George Gordon
Based onBAT-21: Based on the true story of Lieutenant Colonel Iceal E. Hambleton, USAF (book)
by William C. Anderson
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Mark Irwin
Edited by Stephen E. Rivkin
TriStar Pictures
Vision PDG
Eagle Films
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
  • October 21, 1988 (1988-10-21)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.1 million [1]

Bat*21 is a 1988 American war film directed by Peter Markle, and adapted from the book by William C. Anderson, novelist and retired United States Air Force colonel. [2] [Note 1] Set during the Vietnam War, the film is a dramatization based upon the rescue of a U.S. air navigator shot down behind enemy lines in Vietnam. The film stars Gene Hackman and Danny Glover with Jerry Reed, David Marshall Grant, Clayton Rohner, Erich Anderson and Joe Dorsey in supporting roles.



During the last days of the Vietnam War, USAF Lieutenant colonel Iceal E. "Gene" Hambleton (Gene Hackman) call sign BAT-21 Bravo, is flying on board an EB-66C electronic warfare aircraft, engaged in electronic countermeasures preparatory to a major bombing strike. Without warning, a number of SA-2 Guideline SAMs are launched from North Vietnam, targeting their aircraft. A massive SAM explosion tears off the tail and Hambleton, in the navigator's position, ejects as the sole survivor of the six-man crew.

While still coming down by parachute, Hambleton makes radio contact with Captain Bartholomew "Birddog" Clark (Danny Glover), the pilot of a Cessna O-2 Skymaster, flying a forward air control mission near where the EB-66 was destroyed. Birddog becomes Hambleton's link to rescue.

Hambleton, an expert on electronic weapons systems and who holds valuable information, is known to the North Vietnamese, who begin an all-out search, attempting to capture him. An effort to steal supplies from Vietnamese villagers is not successful, as Hambleton is discovered and kills an aggressive peasant farmer, apologizing to his grieving family as he escapes.

Knowing that his current location is too dangerous for rescue aircraft, Hambleton devises a plan to reach safer territory. He plots a course to the river which is the boundary of the target area, then communicates his intended path to Clark in a code composed of various golf courses he knows well. This will allow the rescuers to keep track of his progress, making it easier for them to pick him up.

Several attempts are made to recover Hambleton. Two helicopters are lost and members of its crews are killed or captured. Clark ultimately flies a "Huey" helicopter rescue mission, but as he retrieves Hambleton, the pair are shot down by ground fire, with Clark being wounded. An F-100 bombing raid both assists and hinders their progress through the jungle, as North Vietnamese irregulars are trailing them. In the end, Hambleton and Clark are rescued by a US river boat patrolling nearby on the Cam Lo River.

Historical accuracy

Portions of Bat*21 were highly dramatized, including the climactic battle. Some characters were composites of real people, while others were created for the film. However, some other details were accurate, including that rescuer Captain Larry Potts was African American. [3]

The actual rescue took over 11 days, during which a major attack was delayed, resulting in numerous South Vietnamese soldiers being killed and wounded. A Forward Air Observer aircraft was shot down and USAF 1Lt Bruce Walker and USMC 1Lt Larry Potts parachuted to the ground safely, eluding capture. In an ensuing attack, six more Americans lost their lives attempting to rescue him. The North Vietnamese, alerted by the intense efforts to find the flyer, increased their efforts to find Hambleton. Walker was discovered and killed by the Vietnamese forces. During a nighttime, covert operation from more than 2 miles (3.2 km) behind enemy lines, Hambleton was finally rescued in a land operation by U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. j.g Thomas R. Norris and VNN Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet. [4]



A Cessna O-2 Skymaster featured prominently in Bat*21. O-2A over Laos 1970.jpg
A Cessna O-2 Skymaster featured prominently in Bat*21.

Bat*21 was filmed entirely on location in Sabah, Malaysia, with the assistance of the Malaysian government. Resources, locations and other assistance were supplied by the Malaysian Army and the Royal Malaysian Air Force, which also supplied aircraft and pilots, including the services of Captain V. Thiagarajah, who flew both on- and off-camera. [5]


The film premiered in the Philippines on September 8, 1988, [6] a month before it premiered in the United States on October 21.


Film historian Alun Evans in Brassey's Guide to War Films, considered the production an unusual look at "... the perspective of a service non-combatant." [7] In a contemporary review, Roger Ebert noted: "'BAT*21' is the kind of lean, no-nonsense war film Hollywood used to make back before the subject became burdened with metaphysical insights." [8] Listed in the "best" category of "The Best (and Worst) War Movies of All Time", Popular Mechanics , characterized Bat*21 as the "Best Vietnam War Movie." [9]

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  1. BAT-21: Based on the true story of Lieutenant Colonel Iceal E. Hambleton, USAF was also published as Bat-21 and Bat-21: Sam on the Scope; also released as an Ebook.


  1. "Money: Bat 21." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  2. Anderson 1980, Cover.
  3. "Walker, Bruce Charles (FAC-POW/MIA), Capt." Retrieved: October 31, 2011.
  4. Cutler, Thomas J. "Lest We Forget: Larry Fletcher Potts; VF-126." Proceedings Magazine (, September 2004. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  5. "Original print information: Bat 21." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  6. "Grand Opening Today". Manila Standard . Standard Publishing, Inc. 8 September 1988. p. 14. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  7. Evans 2000, p. 18.
  8. Ebert, Roger. "BAT*21.", October 21, 1988. Retrieved: December 23, 2014.
  9. Pappalardo, Joe. "Best Vietnam War Movie: Bat 21 (1988)" Popular Mechanics, January 2014. Retrieved: December 23, 2104.


  • Anderson, William C. BAT-21: Based on the true story of Lieutenant Colonel Iceal E. Hambleton, USAF. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1980. ISBN   0-13-069500-9.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN   1-57488-263-5.