skip to Main Content
Now That’s A Big Gun!

Now that’s a big gun!

The High Altitude Research Project (HARP) was a joint project between the United States Department of Defense and Canada’s Department of National Defence that started in 1961. The objective of the project was to figure out how to fire a payload into earth’s orbit using what was basically an enormous gun. This project was the brainchild of the charismatic and controversial Canadian ballistics scientist Gerald Bull, who eventually went to work for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and then was allegedly assassinated by Mossad in 1990.

What does this have to do with APG? Turns out quite a bit. APG’s Ballistics Research Laboratory (later becoming part of Army Research Laboratory) was the research partner for this project and Bull conducted many tests of this gun at the test fields in Edgewood. Elliot Deutsch, board member of APG Discovery Center and historian, writes in this article about his personal connection to the project and his quest to bring the HARP gun back from Barbados to Aberdeen Proving Ground. See a video on YouTube on the HARP initiative here.

By Elliot Deutsch

Dr. Gerald V. Bull performed early HARP [High Altitude Research Project] tests on one of Edgewood’s back Fields.  HARP experiments expanded to eastern Canada, Barbados, Yuma, AZ and other locations.  Bull eventually went to work for Saddam Hussein to design “The Super Gun” allegedly to bombard Israel.  This led to Bull’s assassination allegedly by Israeli agents.

Through a complex series of events, I was invited to serve as consultant to a plan by Barbados authorities to move one or more of the Barbados HARP guns from their isolated location on Paragon Beach to a more public- accessible site adjacent to Grantley Adams International Airport on the heights above Paragon Beach.

In 1967, I co-founded Maryland Rental Equipment Association [MREA] to lobby for protective legislation for the tool rental industry and also to help “professionalize” our industry.  A few years later, I became active in the American Rental Association [ARA].  ARA national conventions were held in the slow, winter season.  These national conventions were attended by rental people from all around the world.  Likewise, some ARA members attended foreign rental conventions – Elaine and I attended rental shows in Canada and Britain.

Prior to the ARA national convention, each of ARA’s local “regions” scheduled a “regional convention” in their area.  Our 2nd Region met at local conference facilities in Baltimore, Hershey Park, PA and others nearby places.  At a pre-regional planning session in 1988, one smart member suggested a more exotic location for 1989 than Baltimore or Hershey – like maybe Barbados; not only for business discussions but also a winter vacation.  Hoorah!

The owner of a Barbados rental business was also a student of forts – Barbados has some notable examples.  He had learned of my participation in APG’s 16-inch gun restoration from articles in ARA publications in 1988 and also magazines circulated by industrial equipment manufacturers.  He contacted me to see if Elaine and I would be attending the Barbados convention.  If so, ‘YES!’, he asked if I would be willing to examine the HARP guns and estimate the possibility of moving them to a “better” location.  NATURALLY!

When we arrived in Barbados, fall of 1989, we were greeted by the local “rental man” [name forgotten] and Major J. M. (Mike) Hartland a former British artillery officer then serving in the Barbados Defense Force (BDF).  Mike established the Barbados National Cannon Collection and was Secretary of the Garrison Committee dedicated to restoration of the Garrison Historical Area at St. Ann’s Fort (commenced 1703.  Coincident with our visit, BDF was preparing to celebrate Remembrance Day (week) with open house, parade, band concert, and a memorial service at the Military Cemetery.  With encouragement from BDF, I invited several other “military minded” American rental men to join in these military ceremonies.  A wonderful experience for us all!  At a reception at BDF HQ in St Anne’s Fort, I asked a BDF Lt. Col. “how can you stand living in this amazing tropical paradise?”  His reply was something like; “BS!  My idea of paradise is winter skiing in the Alps!”

With Mike as guide, our little group explored Paragon Beach on a cloudy, drizzly day which hindered walking not to mention good photography.

The largest – 17-inch – gun at the Paragon-site is INCREDIBLE!  See images below. Just imagine two navy battleship barrels joined longitudinally to produce a barrel about 100 feet long and mounted so that it could fire into “space” at an elevation of almost 90-degrees!

Picture:   This is the largest HARP gun in Barbados – 17-In. smooth bore.

Several of the reports I collected on HARP/Barbados [see Bibliography] differed in details, possibly due to their classified status, but all contained certain basic details: 4″ [or 5”] , 7″ and 17″ inch bore, “lengthened” smooth-bore barrels.  Bull credited Project HARP with many achievements including: meteorological research, firing 100+-pound payloads thousands of miles into space or into low earth orbit.  Reports also listed “the range of 17” bore guns to have been increased to between 200 and 300 miles with vertical flights to altitudes greater than 100 miles”.  The peak powder charge was 1,269 pounds, almost double the normal service charge.  The greatest altitude reached was 540,000 feet with a muzzle velocity of 7,100 FPS. The projectiles used in most tests were fin‑stabilized and of considerably lesser weight and diameter than standard service rounds.  Light‑weight, discarding sabots adapted the projectiles to the various bores.  Most HARP projectiles were highly instrumented; testing not only the parameters of each firing but the performance of the telemetry equipment.  For attainment of extreme ranges or altitudes, some projectiles were equipped with rocket motors which ignited in flight to provide additional thrust and range.  For the 17″ tests, a family of missiles named “Martlet” was developed.  Some projectiles released luminous clouds for ionospheric research; others, equipped with various rocket motors could place packages into earth orbit, or provide design data for long range glide-missiles.  The HARP project was terminated c. 1970.

At Paragon we saw, but failed to understand the purpose of, two 4″ [or 5”?] Canadian AA guns; one in a single turret See Fig 5 and the other with the armor removed.  There was a 7″ gun see Fig 6 mounted at about 45 degrees elevation on a massive framework with no visible recoil mechanism.  That entire assembly was mounted on a railroad car which could roll on tracks up the hillside to absorb recoil and then roll back down.

The 17” HARP gun in Barbados See Fig 2. is a most-fascinating device.  On a massive concrete base inclined at 45 degrees, is mounted a navy BB turret GIRDER which allow a CRADLE elevation of almost 90 degrees.  The 86‑caliber (118‑foot)-long barrel consists of two modified MK II tubes joined in a massive sleeve by bolted, mating flanges. Four tension bars running from both the breech and from the muzzle to a cruciform spreader midway on the sleeve maintain barrel alignment and prevent droop.  Elevation is accomplished by 4 steel rods running from the lower rear portion of the cradle to a hydraulic cylinder (s) [?] located in the pit but obscured beneath muddy rainwater).  When in the horizontal position, for loading or when not in use, the barrel sleeve rests on a concrete support.  Behind the breech is the loading “rail” about 30 feet long with a hydraulic cylinder of half that length to ram projectiles and powder.  Extending about 100 feet in front of the muzzle, there is a horizontal rail on vertical supports which appears to have been used to mount a barrel cleaning device.

The breech is marked: U S Naval Gun Factory W.NY, 16 In. No. 131, Mk D Mod O, Insp EPA, Wt 283268#.  The barrel started life as a Mk II Mod 1 and was modified internally to be the ballistic prototype for the Mk 7 Mod O guns for the IOWA class ships. Tests established the ammunition characteristics before rifling the first Mk 7 Mod O barrel. For HARP, both barrels were smooth bored to 16.4″, (16.5″ or 16.7″ as described in different articles ‑ I was unable to measure.

Illustration: Unknown source.  This drawing illustrates the major components of the 17-in. HARP gun in Barbados.  When we visited in 1989 some of these components were “hidden” in brush-overgrown or washed-in earth filled trenches or submerged in muddy rainwater.  NB. Some of the illustrated parts are “incorrectly” named possibly due to the difference between army and navy names for the same part.

PROBLEMS WITH MOVING THE GUNS!

Building the HARP test sites was a matter of national defense therefore construction costs were irrelevant.  Whatever transport ships, barges, giant cranes, bulldozers and any and all related equipment and technical personnel were required to complete the project – THESE WERE ALL PROVIDED BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT!  Decades later, it is frightening to even try to estimate what the cost might be to: 1. transport similar giant construction equipment and technical personnel to Barbados; 2. try to disassemble the rusted HARP gun [s]; 3. try to transport the parts “up” to the airport and 4. try to re-assemble the parts.  I tried to convey these immense obstacles to Barbados officials as gently as possible.  Regardless, I think I fulfilled their initial request and would have liked to be present for some of the moving process if it ever happened.

Elaine and I visited Barbados again in 1992 on a CDSG-sponsored cruise to visit Caribbean Island forts.  We had the pleasure of introducing fellow CDSG members to Mike Hartland and some other nice folks we had previously met in Barbados.  Sadly, the HARP guns have been silent now for many decades and are still on Paragon Beach, showing more rust than before.  These HARP guns certainly advanced science and gunnery and should be protected and preserved along with the island’s outstanding cannon collection as important tools in the development of artillery.

Fig. 5  from author’s 1989 visit.  Navy turret gun. Probably not capable of firing to orbital altitude

Fig. 6 from author’s 1989 visit. The 17-inch HARP gun from breech end, obscured by tropical overgrowth

Fig. 7 from author’s 1989 visit.  The 7-inch gun on non-recoiling, railroad-wheel-equipped mount.  Recoil was absorbed by allowing the mount to roll up a hill on railroad tracks and then roll back down.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Dr. G. V. Bull, Director of the Space Research Institute  in WEAPONS TECHNOLOGY, March 1968.           pp 482‑486.

Gen. Trudeau, former Chief of Army R & D, in ARMY, December 1989. pp 26‑29.

Bull, Dr. G. V.  PROJECT HARP  Weapons Technology March-April 1968

Bull, G.V. & Murphy, C.H.  PARIS KANONEN – THE PARIS GUNS      (WILHELMGESCHUTZE)      AND PROJECT HARP 1988 Velag E. S. Mittler & Sohn GmBH, Herford [Germany] ISBN 3-8132-         0304-2 (English)

Kemp, Ian, SUPERGUN AFFAIR Dr Gerald Bull’s deadly legacy  Jane’s Defense Weekly 24             November 1990

Toolis, Kevin   The New York Times Magazine August 26, 1990  The Man Behind Iraq’s        Supergun

Trudeau, Lt. Gen. Arthur G.  PROJECT HARP: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME  ARMY,           December 1989

Dr. Robert Zink, Research Scientist, US Navy – my friend and guiding light on many projects