Gerald Bull

From Academic Kids

Gerald Vincent Bull (March 8, 1928 - March 22, 1990) was an engineer who many consider to have developed long range artillery beyond what anyone else has accomplished. He was a driven man, who moved from project to project always chasing his dream of launching a satellite using a huge artillery piece. To this end he designed the Project Babylon "supergun" for the Iraqi government, during which he was killed (allegedly by Israeli Mossad agents) outside his home in Brussels, Belgium.


Canadian Armament and Research Development Establishment

Bull was born in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. Originally intending to study medicine, he switched over to engineering. He graduated from the Aerospace Engineering department of the University of Toronto in 1951, the youngest Ph.D. in the history of the university. After graduation Bull took his first job at CARDE, the Canadian Armament and Research Development Establishment. In the post-war era CARDE was researching supersonic flight, and Bull suggested the use of a "sabot" type artillery gun to shoot models to supersonic speeds instead of using an expensive supersonic wind tunnel. The system was built and used for research on CARDE's Velvet Glove missile, but when this project was cancelled in 1956 the system fell out of use. Bull then moved on to hypersonics research in the field of ballistic missile defense (Anti-ballistic missiles, or "ABMs"), primarily the study of infrared and radar cross-sections for detection.

Bull was very outspoken (and tactless) and generally detested by most people at CARDE. However his abilities were obvious, and he was eventually promoted to head of the Aerophysics department of CARDE in 1958. Here he continued to chafe and spoke to the press about how he'd run the place with more money. Eventually he alienated enough people that he was forced to leave.

High Altitude Research Program

In 1960 he left to become a professor at McGill University, where he was soon detested by a new group of people. He also interested the US, however, in using guns to loft missile components for re-entry research, a task that was otherwise very expensive and time-consuming on rockets. With money from the Pentagon he set up Project HARP (for High Altitude Research Program) on a large plot of land in Quebec near the US border. There he began working with 5" and 7" artillery pieces.

When basic research was completed he transferred operations to Barbados, where shells could be fired over the Atlantic Ocean. The new gun was a 16" (41 cm) naval piece, which normally fired a 700 kg shell to about 30 km. The barrel was bored out to make a smoothbore of about 17" (43 cm), and the barrel length was extended with the addition of thinner piping at the end. Using special shells and propellant it could fire a 150 kg projectile at over 10,000 ft/s (3600 m/s).

In 1963 Bull started a series of test-firings using specialised discarding-sabot rounds and then finned projectiles known as Martletts. By June these had been replaced by a dart-like shell known as the Martlett-2, which was soon reaching altitudes in excess of 100 km. More tests of the Martlett-2 continued in 1964, while work on a rocket-powered projectile started as Martlett-3. At the same time the gun itself was improved with the addition of a second length of barrel welded to the end of the existing one. Extensions like this continued until the gun eventually reached 125 feet (38 m) in length. With this new gun and the added boost of the rocket engine in the Martlett-3, it was expected to be able to reach orbit.

Space Research Corporation

However funding for the project was cut in 1967 and Bull, now embittered, returned to his Quebec range, having transferred the project's assets to his own company Space Research Corporation (SRC) setting himself up as an international artillery consultant. Incorporated in both Quebec and Vermont, a number of contracts from both the Canadian and US military research arms helped the company get started.

Over the next decade SRC worked for a number of governments including the People's Republic of China, Chile, Taiwan and especially South Africa. SRC's main product was a modification of the US-standard 155 mm (6") artillery piece, adapted like his HARP system into a slightly larger smoothbore. The result was the GC-45 howitzer (GC stood for Gun, Canada), firing either NATO-standard 155 mm rounds, or, more typically, a new shell of his own design. The new "pointy" shell offered considerably better aerodynamics than the original; it was spun up by fins on the shell rather than rifling in the barrel, allowing the middle of the shell to be designed for flight rather than "driving". The result was a gun that could outrange the original by up to 50%, while at the same time being far more accurate.

The GC-45 work was paid for by the South Africans, but it has been claimed that Bull undertook the work largely at the urging of the United States Central Intelligence Agency who saw South Africa as a bulwark against Soviet operations in Angola. Used in South Africa as the G5 howitzer, the new guns were put into use near the Angolan border where there was apparently a minor revolution in the war, and Angolan actions were stopped dead.

However at this point Bull was arrested for illegal arms dealing after the administration in the US changed, and he spent six months in a US jail in 1980. On his return to Quebec he was sued and fined again, to the tune of $55,000, for arms dealing. Gerald Bull lived a few years in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec.

European Poudreries Reunies de Belgique

Now even more embittered he left Canada and moved to Brussels, where a subsidiary of SRC called European Poudreries Reunies de Belgique was based. He soon secured work with the Chinese, and then Iraq. He designed two artillery pieces for the Iraqis: the 210 mm Al Fao; and the 155 mm Majnoonan, an updated version of the G2. The guns were built and sold through Austria.

At this point Bull convinced the Iraqis that they would never be a real power without the capability for space launches. He offered to build a cannon capable of such launches, basically an even larger version of the original HARP design. Saddam Hussein was interested, and work started on "Project Babylon".

A smaller 45 metre, 350 mm calibre gun was completed for testing purposes, and Bull then started work on the "real" PC-2 machine, a gun that was 150 metres long, weighed 2100 tonnes, with a bore of one metre (three feet). It was to be capable of placing a 2000 kg projectile into orbit. However at this point the Iraqis told Bull they would only go ahead with the project if he would also help with development of their longer ranged Scud-based missile project. Bull, never the politician, agreed.

Construction of the individual sections of the new gun started in England at Matrix Churchill and also in Spain, Holland, and Switzerland. Meanwhile Bull worked on the Scud project, making calculations for the new nose-cone needed for the higher re-entry speeds and temperatures the missile would face. At this point someone started "warning" him to stop working on the missiles; over a period of a few months his apartment was broken into several times but nothing was stolen. He nevertheless continued to work on the project, and in March 1990 he was shot five times in the back of the neck while opening his door.

The most common theory is that the Israeli Mossad was responsible, and Mossad representatives have uncharacteristically all but claimed responsibility for his murder. Others, including Bull's son, believe that the Mossad is taking credit for an act they did not commit to scare off others who may try to help enemy regimes. The alternative theory is that Bull was killed by the CIA. There are some reports that Bull was demanding both a presidential pardon and money from the CIA or he would disclose all he knew about illegal CIA activities in South Africa. Unwilling to be extorted, it is claimed that the CIA thus killed Bull. A fictionalised version of this story is in the movie ``Doomsday gun.

The supergun project was stopped when its parts were seized by Customs in the United Kingdom in November 1990, and most of Bull's staff returned to Canada. The smaller test gun was later broken up after the Gulf War.

See also

Further reading

  • William Lowther, Arms and the Man: Dr. Gerald Bull, Iraq, and the Supergun (Presidio, Novato, 1991)
  • James Adams, Bull's Eye: The Assassination and Life of Supergun Inventor Gerald Bull (Times Books, New York, 1992)

External links


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