Project Babylon

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For the video game called The Babylon Project, see FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project#Notable projects.
Two sections of Big Babylon that have been bolted together at Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.

Project Babylon was a project with unknown objectives commissioned by the then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to build a series of 'superguns'. The design was based on research from the 1960s Project HARP led by the Canadian artillery expert Gerald Bull. There were most likely four different devices in the program.

The project began in 1988; it was halted in 1990 after Gerald Bull was assassinated, and parts of these superguns were seized in transit around Europe. The components that remained in Iraq were destroyed by the United Nations after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Devices[edit]

A section of the Iraqi supergun from Imperial War Museum Duxford

Baby Babylon[edit]

The first of these superguns, "Baby Babylon", was a horizontally mounted device which was simply a prototype for test purposes. It had a bore of 350 mm (13.8 inches), and a barrel length of 46 metres (151 feet),[1] and weighed some 102 tonnes. After conducting tests with lead projectiles, this gun was set up on a hillside at a 45 degree angle. It was expected to achieve a range of 750 km. Although its mass was similar to some World War II German "superguns", it was not designed to be a mobile weapon and therefore it was not considered a security risk by Israel.[2]

Big Babylon[edit]

The second supergun, "Big Babylon", of which a pair were planned (one to be mounted horizontally, at least for test purposes), was much larger. The barrel was to be 156 metres (512 feet) long, with a bore of 1 metre (3.3 feet).[3] Originally intended to be suspended by cables from a steel framework, it would have been over 100 metres (300 feet) high at the tip. The complete device weighed about 2,100 tonnes (the barrel alone weighed 1,655 tons). It was a space gun intended to shoot projectiles into orbit, a theme of Bull's work since Project HARP. Neither of these devices could be elevated or trained, making them useless for direct military purposes, unless some form of terminal guidance could be used to direct the fired projectile onto its intended target.

It is possible that Big Babylon was intended both to launch satellites and to serve as a weapon, but its ability to fire conventional projectiles in the latter role would have been very limited: in addition to the impossibility of aiming it, it would have had a slow rate of fire, and its firing would have produced a very pronounced 'signature' which would have revealed its location. Since it was immobile, it suffered from the same vulnerability as Germany's V-3 cannon, which the RAF readily destroyed in 1944. Also, Iraq already had Scud missiles which would have been far more effective than the dated supergun technology. However, the gun would have offered greater ranges than the Scud variants then used by the Iraqis, and its projectiles would have been more difficult to intercept.

Future plans[edit]

Very large cannons, which would be capable of being elevated and trained, were also planned. The first was to have a bore of 350 mm (13.8 inches) and a barrel length of about 30 metres (100 feet), and it was expected to have a range of up to 1000 kilometers (about 625 miles),[2] making Israel and central Iran well within reach of Iraqi artillery fire; some sources indicate that there was a second cannon planned, with a bore of 600 mm (23.6 inches) and a barrel length of about 60 metres (200 feet).[citation needed]

Outcome[edit]

The metal tubes for the barrels and gun cradles were purchased from firms in the United Kingdom, including Sheffield Forgemasters of South Yorkshire, and Walter Somers of Halesowen. Other components, such as breeches and recoil mechanisms, were ordered from firms in Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy. Baby Babylon was completed, and test shots were fired from it, revealing problems with the seals between the barrel segments. However, as those were being worked on, Bull was assassinated in March 1990, possibly by Mossad, halting the project.[4]

Most of the barrel sections for Big Babylon were delivered to, and assembled on, a site excavated from the side of a hill; instead of being suspended by cables from a steel framework as originally planned: calculations had shown that the original support framework would be insufficiently rigid. However, it was never completed.

In early April 1990, United Kingdom customs officers confiscated several pieces of the second Big Babylon barrel, which were disguised as "petrochemical pressure vessels". The parts were confiscated at Teesport Docks. More pieces were seized in Greece and Turkey in transit by truck to Iraq. Other components, such as slide bearings for Big Babylon, were seized at their manufacturers' sites in Spain and Switzerland.

Finally, after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Iraqis admitted the existence of Project Babylon, and allowed U.N. inspectors to destroy the hardware in Iraq as part of the disarmament process.

Several barrel sections seized by UK customs officers are displayed at the Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson, Portsmouth. Another section is on display at The Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich, London.

In fiction[edit]

  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
  • This project provides the backstory for Frederick Forsyth's novel The Fist of God.
  • The events of Project Babylon are dramatized in the 1994 HBO movie Doomsday Gun starring Frank Langella as Gerald Bull, with Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, and Clive Owen in supporting roles.
  • A fictive attempt to resurrect the project forms the plot of the Golgo 13 story The Gun at Am-Shara.
  • SAS novel n°100 Les canons de Bagdad of Gérard de Villiers is based on the end of Project Babylon and the assassination of Gerald Bull.
  • The weapon is the basis for a mission in the video game Conflict: Desert Storm II.
  • The weapon is the main plot detail in The Punisher vol. 2 comic book issue #47 published in April 1991, monikered as the Brattle Gun. The gun is named after the fictional creator of the gun Morris Brattle who worked for the government of Zukistan build a supergun in the war against their neighbour Trafia. After his discovery as a foreign agent, The Punisher is strapped to the muzzle of the cannon, only to escape moments before death with his diamond-coated fingernails.
  • One of the missions of the original F/A-18 Hornet game by Graphsim Entertainment involves bombing the Project Babylon cannon.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Arms and the Man: Dr. Gerald Bull, Iraq and the Supergun; William Lowther, Presidio 1991. Page 187
  2. ^ a b Astronautix: Babylon Gun
  3. ^ Arms and the Man. Page 187
  4. ^ Lapidos, Juliet (2009-07-14). "Are Assassinations Ever Legal? - slate.com". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 

References[edit]

  • William Lowther, Arms and the Man: Dr. Gerald Bull, Iraq, and the Supergun (Presidio, Novato, 1991) (now Doubleday Canada Ltd) Published in England as:
  • William Lowther, Iraq and the Supergun: Gerald Bull: the true story of Saddam Hussein's Dr Doom (Macmillan, London 1991) (Pan paperback, London 1992) ISBN 0-330-32119-6
  • James Adams, Bull's Eye: The Assassination and Life of Supergun Inventor Gerald Bull (Times Books, New York, 1992)
  • Eric Frattini, Mossad, los verdugos del Kidon (La Esfera de los Libros, Madrid, 2004)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°30′00″N 44°30′00″E / 34.5000°N 44.5000°E / 34.5000; 44.5000