British customs officials in April seized eight Iraq-bound crates containing 300 tons of steel tubes allegedly intended as the barrel of a cannon capable of shoving a two-ton shell 900 miles.
The barrel, when assembled, would have a 99cm diameter bore, weigh 140 tons and be over 150 metres long.
This "Doomsday Gun" made worldwide news. Would such a gun work?
In 1453 the Turks had a 7.9 metre long gun of internal calibre 107cm that fired 544kg stone balls against the walls of Constantinople.
In March to June 1918 the Kaiser Wilhelm gun (callibre 22cm) fired at Paris from 75 miles away. This gun is sometimes called "Big Bertha" which name actually referred to howitzers used in 1916 which fired one-ton shells nine miles.
The biggest guns ever built were Dora and Gustav – also named Big Bertha by the Allies. The barrels were 29 metres (95 feet) long and of callibre 80cm. They were carried on 24 railway cars and required a crew of 1,500. When fully assembled the guns weighed 1,323 tons each and could fire an 8¼-ton projectile 29 miles.
Japan's largest World War II battleship, the Yamato, carried nine 46cm guns, each 162 tons, 22.8 metres long, which fired 3-ton projectiles 30 miles.
The greatest range ever achieved by a gun took place on November 19 1966 in Arizona, USA. An 84 kilogram projectile was fired to a height of 112 miles. The gun was 36 metres long, weighed 150 tons and of calibre 42cm.
Obviously, the hypothetical Iraqi gun would be a major leap in technology if it worked.
The length and weight of the barrel of Iraq's gun would result in droop. Therefore the barrel would need to be braced by numerous struts and pylons. The tubes forming the barrel would have to be bolted together and would likely rupture on firing. The whole weight and size of such a gun would require that it be encased in concrete and steel – therefore immobile in one place and vulnerable.
The piping seized in April could be used as a barrel of one or more large guns but not a gun so large as to be able to fire a two-ton shell 900 miles.
The Germans considered boosting the performance of Dora using rocket attachments to propel the charge after firing. Iraq, however, already has medium range ballistic missiles which could reach Israel to its West or Tehran, capital of Iran, to the East.
(Investigator 16, 1991 January)
I read with interest the article "Doomsday Gun" in Investigator No. 15.
In it the World War 2 guns "Dora" & "Gustav" are mentioned as having been the world's largest. This is correct as far as weight is concerned, but the U.S. artillery piece "Little David", built in 1944 had the largest calibre of any modern gun – some 91.4 cm as opposed to only 80cm for the German leviathans.
Also the term "Big Bertha" dates from 1914 not 1916 as stated in the article. During the opening months of WW1 the Germans employed several howitzers of 42cm calibre to destroy the Belgian fortresses at Liege. These guns fired a shell weighing about 1,000kg and were called by the Allies "Big Bertha". However, a more accurate rendering of the German name would have been "Fat Bertha".
Investigator Magazine does a wonderful job informing the public about pseudoscience, the category that probably best describes the Iraqi super-gun.
Anonymous c.1974 Ammunition, In How It Works, Volume 1, p.93.
Duffy, C. c.1969 The Liege Forts, In History of the First World War, Volume 1, p. 131, Purnell, London.
M J Vivien