The Story Behind Saddam's Supergun

Gerald Bull was assassinated after designing it
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2016 4:45 PM CDT
The Story Behind Saddam's Supergun
Ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reacts in court in this 2006 file photo in Baghdad, Iraq.    (AP Photo / Nikola Solic, pool, FILE)

In the 1980s, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was amassing an impressive arsenal. The crown jewel of the collection would have been Big Babylon—a supergun designed to fire a projectile of more than 1,300 pounds from Iraq into Kuwait or Iran. But the supergun, which was being developed by Canadian artillery expert Gerald Bull, never came to fruition. In a lengthy BBC article, William Park takes a close look at the "tale of hubris, thwarted ambitions, and military secrets" that ultimately lead to Bull’s death at the hand of an assassin. Bull began researching supergun technology with the Canadian and US governments in the 1960s. His goal was to use the massive guns as a less expensive way to launch satellites into space. That project, known as HARP, was abruptly ended in 1967 and left Bull “devastated,” according to a New York Times article from 1990.

Frustrated by Western powers' lack of interest in his project, Bull devised a way to fund it himself by designing and selling weapons to countries including South Africa (which led to prison time for Bull), Iran, Taiwan, and China. By the mid-80s, he was selling weapons to Iraq as well. Iraq then shelled out $25 million to fund Project Babylon in 1988, which included building two 1000mm caliber guns more than 500 feet long and weighing some 1,500 metric tons; the mega-weapon would be mounted on a hillside. But before the guns could be assembled, Park writes, "it would all come to an end." In March 1990, Bull was shot in the back and head as he entered his Brussels apartment. Some believe Israel was behind the assassination, or perhaps the US or Britain. Project Babylon ultimately fizzled. Read Park’s fascinating account here. (More Saddam Hussein stories.)

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