Project Babylon: Iraqi Super Cannon
- uploaded: Dec 25, 2008
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Project Babylon was a project allegedly commissioned by the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War to build a series of superguns. The design was based on research from the 60s Project HARP led by the Canadian artillery expert Gerald Bull. Although the details are sketchy, it appears that there were four different devices in total included in the program.
The project was supposedly halted in 1990 after Gerald Bull was assassinated and parts of the superguns were allegedly seized in transit around Europe. However, during the 1991 Gulf War the UK Government announced that the parts it had seized were oil pipes and not parts for a gun, as Iraq had claimed throughout. The remaining components in Iraq were allegedly destroyed by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War. he first, \"Baby Babylon,\" was a horizontally-mounted device which was simply a prototype for test purposes, with a bore of 350 mm (13.8 inches), and a barrel length of 46 metres (151 feet).
The second, \"Big Babylon,\" of which a pair were planned (one to be mounted horizontally at least initially, 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). Originally intended to be suspended by cables from a steel framework, it would have been over 100 m (300 ft) high at the tip. The complete device weighed about 2,100 tons (the barrel alone weighed 1,655 tons). It was supposedly 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 relatively useless for direct military purposes, unless some form of terminal guidance could be used to direct the fired projectile onto its intended target.
In addition, there were also planned very large cannons which would be capable of being elevated and trained, and made from special alloys discovered during the work on Baby Babylon that were unusually strong and light. The first had 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 750 kilometers (about 470 miles); some sources indicate that there was a second (and larger) with a bore of 600 mm (23.6 inches) and a barrel length of about 60 meters (200 ft).
There is still disagreement about the exact aims of the project, no doubt some of it caused by confusion between the different devices. It may be that Big Babylon was intended to both launch satellites and serve as a weapon, but its utility in the latter role would have been very limited: in addition to being incapable of being aimed, 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 could then be easily destroyed. Also, Iraq already had Scud missiles which would have been far more effective than the dated supergun technology. The gun however offered greater ranges than the Scud variants then used by the Iraqis and although impractical may have been intended more as an intimidation weapon much like the German V-weapons of World War 2.
All of the required metal tubes for the barrels and gun cradles were purchased from firms in the United Kingdom, including Sheffield Forgemasters, South Yorkshire. 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 killed (allegedly by Mossad agents) in March 1990, removing the lead designer, and the project failed.
Most of the barrel sections for Big Babylon were delivered, and it was assembled on a site excavated out of the side of a hill, after calculations showed that the support framework would be insufficiently rigid. However, it was never fully completed.
At the same time, intelligence agencies in the West had been slowly waking up to Project Babylon (according to one source, Bull had briefed several of them, emphasizing that Big Babylon was intended solely to launch satellites), and shortly after Bull\'s death they moved in on the project\'s suppliers.
In early April 1990, United Kingdom customs officers confiscated several pieces of a barrel for 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 as they were being shipped via truck to Iraq. Other components, such as slide bearings for Big Babylon, were seized at manufacturers in Spain and Switzerland.
Finally, in the wake of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Iraqis admitted the existence of Project Babylon, and allowed U.N. inspectors to destroy all of the hardware in Iraq as part of the disarmament process after the war.
Several of the barrel sections seized by UK customs officers are currently on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson, Portsmouth site. Another section is on display at Firepower - The Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich, London.