Canadian Designed Saddam's SUPERGUNS!


Nominee Member
Aug 26, 2002
Canadian designed Saddam's superguns
Former Pentagon researcher helped arm Iraq before his assassination

Peter C. Newman
National Post

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Among the prime targets of the UN weapons inspectors' doomsday mission to Iraq will be the deadly "superguns" built for Saddam Hussein by the famous Canadian ballistician Gerald Bull a dozen years ago.

If that sounds improbable, it is. Except for this: The only journalists free to roam Iraq and report on what's happening are from Russia, which continues to supply Saddam with military equipment. Earlier this year, Sergey Borisov published a feature in Pravda, based on disclosures by DEBKA, a Middle East intelligence news service, claiming that Iraq's arsenal currently includes several modernized versions of Bull's jumbo cannons. The largest of them, mounted on railway tracks, is reportedly capable of hitting targets in the Gulf, Middle East, Red Sea and Mediterranean, as far away as southern Italy.

"U.S. and Israeli intelligence were taken aback to discover that not one, but three or four superguns have just turned up in Iraq's arsenal, advanced and more effective versions of Bull's invention," Borisov reported.

Although one of the superguns was seized and dismembered by UN inspectors in 1991, the Russian dispatch noted that its clone was broken down into 35 pieces and hidden underground, so that it couldn't be spotted by UN inspectors or U.S. satellites.

"Iraq has recently started re- assembling the super-cannon, and it will become a major target for the U.S. military operation against Iraq," claimed the Russian journalist. He added that three of the guns are smaller versions of the original Bull design.

When the article was published, Michael Bull, the inventor's son and co-worker, retorted that he is "not really sure if Iraq could create such a weapon. A country in such a hard economic state is not likely to do something of that kind."

True enough. But so much of the Bull story reads like, well, bull, that nothing is impossible.

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Born in North Bay, Ont., in 1928, and assassinated in Brussels 62 years later, Gerald Vincent Bull was a man-child obsessed with Jules Verne's 1865 fantasy, From the Earth to the Moon, about a gun large enough to send its passengers on a rocket-powered lunar journey. Bull never succeeded in that, but in the process, he revolutionized modern artillery and became a pawn in the armaments chess game of the big powers. He spent three hectic decades designing his supergun, at the same time inventing artillery pieces and howitzers with radically increased firepower and accuracy. These earned him the title "Ballistician of the Century," awarded by Jane's Journal of Armaments and Defence, the bible of the arms world.

A PhD in aerodynamics at age 23, and a professor of aeronautical engineering at McGill soon afterwards, Bull later became a full-time weapons designer with a dozen client countries. His technical exploits and political naïveté made him, in turn, a national hero, a revered space researcher, a convict, a bankrupt and a millionaire arms dealer. William Lowther, who wrote a book about him, claims Bull believed "that in order to be a good Canadian ... you had to be anti-Communist, you had to stop 'em at the gates, before they're in Nova Scotia. He really didn't know what was going on in the world."

After a decade with Canada's Defence Research Board, building wind tunnels to prove his theories, the Pentagon hired him at 10 times his Canadian salary to build a large gun as a launch platform to test nose cones for orbital re-entry. Thus was born the High Altitude Research Program (HARP), co-sponsored by McGill University and the U.S. military. Bull set up his guns at Highwater, on the Quebec-Vermont border, but because he was working in a populated area, the scope of his experiments was confined.

Then he got the idea of moving to Barbados, 5,000 empty miles distant from Africa. That was how I came to learn about him. I recently wintered in Barbados, working on my autobiography, and kept hearing about the supergun built by a Canadian, still mounted on a ledge overlooking the southeast coast, on the water side of the island's airport. When I went there, I found a ghostly scene. Bull's fortifications were crumbling. The supergun itself is a rusty skeleton of the graceful white cylinder it once was. Now forlornly pointing out over the Atlantic, only its length and width betray its power. The giant 16-inch diameter, 36-metre-long weapon, made out of two U.S. battleship barrels welded end-to-end, was intended to fire three-stage rockets outside Earth's atmosphere.

When the U.S. and Canadian governments dropped out of the $10-million Barbados project in the late 1960s, Peter Bronfman took over sponsorship under the corporate wing of Space Research Corporation. He sent his Montreal lawyer, Stanley Hartt (later chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney), to negotiate for ownership of the site with the prime minister of Barbados; they agreed the radars Bull needed to trace the flights of his projectiles would also provide air-traffic-control services to the then-primitive Barbados airport.

"I recall that one of [the] local employees used the air-control service to find out when flights were due to land, so he could pick up stewardesses," Hartt told me. "Whenever the gun went off, a few chickens suffered heart attacks, and this same fellow went around, paying their owners 50¢ for every dead hen." Richard Hoad, a Barbados writer, claims that whenever the gun was fired, his front door would automatically open.

"We'd fire about eight shots every night," Carlton Braithwaite, the general manager of the Barbados operation, recalled during an interview. "There was more research done over the skies of Barbados than in Cape Canaveral or any other part of the globe. One time we got a 185-pound projectile up 122 miles. Another few miles and it would have gone into orbit." At the time, nearly half of the world's knowledge of upper-atmosphere conditions was derived from the Barbados experiments. "Bull was running the only privately owned ballistic research company and when you have the world's longest firing gun, everybody comes to your back door," I was told by Angela Cole, a Barbados writer who befriended Bull. "The HARP project was actually a prototype of a space gun, the forerunner of weapons of the future." Guns are guns, and the Bajan Big Bertha attracted its critics. "Some doubt existed as to whether the project's main or only raison d'être was to use its gun for upper atmosphere testing, or whether it was intended to test the technology required in the use of large guns in the development of anti-ballistic missile weapons," recalls Trevor Carmichael, the island's leading lawyer.

Certainly, Bull devoted the next phase of his career to the profession of arms. The Vietnam War was raging, and he invented ammunition that would allow the U.S. Navy to cruise off North Vietnam and shell the enemy beyond the reach of coastal guns. Senator Barry Goldwater sponsored an act of Congress to make him a U.S. citizen, so that he could qualify for the highest security clearance, an extremely rare honour. His extended-range ammunition and killer guns were bought by the Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Venezuela, Chile, Thailand, Austria, China and Somalia. He also delivered guns that Israel could fire deep into Syria to defend the Golan Heights. Bull's installation on the Quebec-Vermont border had its own customs station and at one point employed 300 specialists, manning equipment worth $15-million.

In 1980, the CIA encouraged Bull to sell his artillery pieces, which could fire 155-millimetre mortar shells with 50% more range than standard guns, to South Africa, then fighting a Communist-inspired incursion from Angola. The Carter administration charged Bull with violating the anti-apartheid embargo against arms sales to South Africa, and Bull was sentenced to a year at a minimum-security prison. He served less than six months and redesigned the jail's heating system, but by the time he was freed, his business was bankrupt, and he bitterly departed to Brussels, where he set up as a freelance arms dealer.

In November, 1987, Bull was flown to Iraq, which had been waging a bloody war with Iran since 1980, with the help of Bull's magic howitzers. Iraq had spent $80-billion on new weapons, but Saddam Hussein was unhappy with the range and accuracy of his Scud missiles. Bull didn't want to risk jail by breaking the Western embargo against selling arms to Baghdad, so he was relieved when Saddam suggested he build his super-cannon to push his country into the space race. He hoped to launch satellites that would intercept their U.S. cousins that were making passes over Iraq, blinding them by spraying their cameras with opaque adhesive substances.

Saddam promised him $25- million over five years to build the supergun. His design, Project Babylon, was to have a barrel 500-feet long and weigh 2,100 tonnes, its rocket-assisted shells firing telephone-booth-size satellites up to 2,000 miles. A model went on display at the Baghdad International Exhibition for Military Production in 1989, and two were built at Sheffield Forgemasters, a British foundry. A grateful Saddam presented Bull with a pair of miniature superguns, fashioned in gold. Three smaller models were also completed, but in return for allowing him to build the satellite launchers (which could quickly be switched to deadlier payloads), Saddam demanded the Canadian gun maker redesign the Iraqi Scuds into three-stage rockets that could carry nuclear or biological payloads for long distances. And that was how Gerry Bull signed his own death warrant.

On March 22, 1990, Bull was confronted outside his Brussels apartment by an assassin who pumped five shots into his head and neck from a 7.65-mm automatic pistol armed with a silencer. The murderer was never caught, but the crime was blamed on Mossad, the Israeli secret service, presumably incited by their victim's potential to help Iraq become a more effective enemy. (In 1980, a Mossad hit team had cornered Yahya el-Meshad, an Iraqi nuclear scientist in a Paris hotel room, and cut his throat.)

General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, a high-ranking Iraqi defector, later confirmed that his country was working on space weapons that could be launched from Bull's supergun. He also revealed that the weapon could launch shells with nuclear payloads. Much is made of the fact that the supergun destroyed by the United Nations inspectors in 1991 was pointed at Israel.

"There are some people you shouldn't kill," says Angela Cole. "They give you more trouble dead than alive."