It was the figment of imagination, the moonshot. An idea which possessed one man.
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“The fist of God”
(“Thousand and one nights” Episode 3 – August 1991) There had been a lot of hush hush and excitement around what was seen as either one of the most revolutionary delivery systems the world had ever seen or the pipe dream of a mad scientist. On one hot morning in early August 1991 the UNSCOM 8 team I was a part of would get to see it first hand and within weeks the world would see the picture proof.
It had been around 500 days since the 22nd of March 1990 when the “mad” scientist was assassinated outside his home in Brussels, Belgium. His dream never came through. The US/Canadian scientists name was Gerald Bull and he was a “loose rocket”. The US and Canada had rebuffed him after his long range gun HARP project. He had helped South Africa develop long range artillery which landed him in jail for violating sanctions against the apartheid regime. He may have failed to deliver on promises to Saddam or been a threat to Israel as he helped Saddam. He sold his skills to whoever would fund his unconventional projects, which did not win him any popularity contests. So he was stopped literally dead in his tracks. As so often in politically motivated murders the assassins were never found but speculations of Israeli Mossad or Iraqi Mukhabarat involvement were rife. Other suspects included Iran, Syria, South Africa, Chile, CIA and MI6 who all may have had reasons.
His involvement with Saddam had lasted almost ten years during which he had helped Iraq with their program to extend the range of SCUDs to reach Teheran during the Iran – Iraq war. Saddam had also gotten an edge in the production and procurements of Bull’s long range artillery guns for use in the same war. This “in” gave him the opportunity to sell Saddam on “Project Babylon” an audacious idea, the stuff of Jules Verne. He promised Saddam the biggest gun yet, a gun which could launch satellites into orbit at a fraction of the cost of rocket launches. However it was other possible projectiles that caused concern across the globe as Iraq had functional chemical weapons and biological and nuclear weapons programs at advanced stages. The end to Gerald Bull would also be the end to the program.
It was hot and the onboard AC in Mohammed’s red and silver bus was not functioning (because of the sanctions…) as it made its way up the mountain side on a poorly graded gravel road. Sweat beads made their way down my fore head and neck and the view down the slope outside the bus window added to the perspiration. Eventually the bus came to a halt and I and the other team members disembarked relieved at making it safe this far. At 10:00 the heat had ways to go to reach the peak but it was dry, very dry and soon all that was left on our shirts were white salt marks. Nigel our doctor pulled out the Wetbulb thermometer and it indicated a relative humidity of 8%. I laid my sweat soaked hankie across my palm and could literally feel the moist being sucked out of the thin cotton cloth. Tim and Robert the team’s coms techs headed up the mountain to confirm the location with a GPS the size of two bricks as the rest of us listened to the Iraq explanations of the site. In front of us a roughly 45 degree mountain slope on which a long pipe partially covered by flimsy tarp was laid out, at the bottom, wrapped in tarp, a massive chunk of steel. This was the “Baby Babylon” the 45 meter long test gun with a 350 mm bore.
SCI-FI and SCR
This was the stuff of Jules Verne, this massive gun leaning on the mountain side. A wooden ladder led from the breach to the top. I climbed ahead of the team to get some pictures showing the size of this thing. At the top staring into the dark barrel it felt unreal, weird and a bit scary.
The ballistics experts on the team were soon all over it examining the gun parts, the breach, the barrel and the recoil mechanism all delivered by western companies. At the top of the barrel a chard of steel was missing, a mishap during the horizontal test firing was the explanation from the Iraqi’s. A wooden mockup of a 4 meter multistage projectile was shown in the fire control building.
At the end of the inspection the verdict was that it has to go, to be dismantled and the parts destroyed as it violated the Security Council Resolutions on delivery systems.
The Baby was never tested in situ and was almost a 1:3 scale model of the real thing. The intention was two larger guns in two different locations each with a 150 meter barrel and a 1000 millimeter bore. Most of the gun parts had been imported as “oil field” equipment by the Iraqi Petrochemical Project 2 (PC2), one of many cover organizations for the Iraqi WMD programs. It was hard to grasp the actual size but during an over flight of the concrete foundations of a bigger gun (much later) it became obvious how big these guns actually were supposed to be.
Launching a car
The projectile weight was estimated to about 2 tons or as the Iraqi’s said the gun could launch a Volkswagen Beatle into space. Therefore it was befitting that the gun barrel segments for the Big Gun was stored at Iskanderiyah Mechanical workshops which also housed a partially built Chrysler car manufacturing plant. The barrel segments were produced by the Iraqi controlled UK company Forge Masters in Sheffield, UK as a part of the elaborate procurement network set up by Saddams’s Military Industrial Complex (MIC).
Stuff of legend
At the end the whole “Project Babylon” idea might seem a figment of imagination but in this case art actually imitated reality. Soon the pictures I took that day were released by the UN to world media. The British thriller writer Fredrick Forsyth penned the novel “The Fist of God” based on the news of the gun, HBO used UNSCOM press pictures for the movie “Doomsday Gun” and James Adams inserted pictures into his biography “Bull’s eye”. The project now only lives on in history and I still remember that hot dry day in the Jabal Hamrin mountain.
Coming soon the “The most dangerous place on Earth”
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