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German Balkenkreuz

Germany's Messerschmitt Me 323 "Gigant" transport

Photos

  • Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant transport
  • Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant transport

Design

The Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant originally started out as a glider (Me 321) that was to deliver troops and vehicles into combat zones. With its large size special aircraft had to be developed to tow the Me 321, but there weren't enough. It was decided to make the Gigant powered with six engines.

Engines

Large quantities of the French Gnome-Rhône engines were available after the fall of France in 1940.

Undercarriage

Early models of the glider version of the Messerschmitt Me 323 had wheels the jettisoned after takeoff and then landed on skids.

Powered Me 323s had multiple wheels that were useful during landings on rough fields.

Fuselage

The fuselage was made from steel tubes and fabric coverings.

The nose of the Me 323's cargo hold had clamshell doors and a low bed that made it easy to load large cargos.

Wings

The wings were wooden framed with a fabric cover.

Tail

The Me 323 was difficult to fly as the flaps and rudders required a lot of force to operate.

Rocket Boosters

To get a loaded Messerschmitt Me 323 into the air rocket boosters were used.

Prototype

The Me 323V1 prototype first flew in May 1942.

Production

Production stopped in March / April 1944.

  • Messerschmitt Me 323: 198
    • Manufacturer: Messerschmitt A.G.

Variants

  • Messerschmitt Me 321: Glider.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323V1: Prototype. Had four Gnome-Rhône 14N radial engines (1,140 HP).
  • Messerschmitt Me 323V3: Prototype. Had six Gnome-Rhône 14N radial engines (1,140 HP).
  • Messerschmitt Me 323: Powered.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323D-1: First production version. Arrived at units in September 1942. Had five 7.92 mm MG in the nose and ten 7.92 mm MG in the sides of the fuselage.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323D-5: Arrived in January 1943. Had five 13 mm machine guns in nose.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323D-6: Arrived in December 1942.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323DF-1: First used in November 1942.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E: Had more armor protection. Structure was strengthened.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E-1: Had six Gnome-Rhône 14N engines (1,200 HP). Had 20 mm guns in turrets on top of each wing.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E-2: Had two turrets in upper wing.
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E-3: Had Junkers Jumo engines (1,340 HP). There was a nose turret. Inboard and outboard of the engine nacelles were four 13 mm guns in turrets.

Usage

The Gigants were used on the Eastern Front as well as in North Africa.

Unfortunately for the crews, the Me 323s were slow and not maneuverable so were fairly easy to shoot down.

Sicily

In November 1942 the Me 323DF-1 first joined the Kampfgruppe zur besonderen Verwendung 323.

During the evacuation of soldiers back to Italy, one Gigant carried 140 soldiers in the cargo hold and then another 80 in the wings.

North Africa Supply

The Me 323s were used to supply North Africa but suffered heavy losses. Fourteen were shot down by Beaufighters in one mission.

Eastern Front

Me 323s were sent to the I/TG 5 and II/TG 5 on the Eastern Front in 1944 to be used in supplying the retreating soldiers.

Specifications

  Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant
Type Transport
Crew 5
Pilot, co-pilot, flight engineers (2), radio operator
Passengers 130
Cargo 36' x 10' 3" x 11'
3,530 cu ft
Engine (Type) 6: Gnome-Rhône 14N 48/49
Cylinders Radial 14
HP 1,140 each
Propeller blades 2 or 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 180' 5.5", 181'
55 m, 55.2 m
Length 93' 4"
28.45 m, 28.46 m
Height 31' 6"
9.6 m
Wing area 3,230 sq ft
300 sq m
Weight  
Empty 61,700 lb
28,010 kg
Loaded 99,000 lb
45,000 kg
Performance  
Speed at Sea Level 136 mph
218 kph
Speed at 5,000' / 1,525 m 129 mph
206 kph
Speed at 10,000' / 3,050 m 110 mph
176 kph
Climb at Sea Level 710'/min
216 m/min
Climb at 10,000' / 3,050 m 236'/min
72 m/min
Armament 5: 13 mm MG 131
7.9 mm MG
OR 20 mm
  Messerschmitt Me 323D-1 Gigant
Type Transport
Crew 5 - 7
Passengers 120
OR 60 litters
Cargo 15 tons
Engine (Type) 6: Gnome-Rhône 14N
Cylinders Radial 14
Cooling Air
HP 1,140 each
Dimensions  
Span 180'
Length 93' 6"
Height 31' 6"
Weight  
Loaded 96,050 lb
Performance  
Speed 144 mph
Service ceiling 13,120'
Range 810 miles
Armament 6: MG
  Messerschmitt Me 323D-6 Gigant
Type Heavy Transport
Crew 5
Passengers 130
OR  
Cargo 35,030 lb
15,890 kg
Engine (Type) 6: BMW 801A piston
6: Gnome-Rhône 14N
Cylinders Radial
14N: Radial 14
Cooling 14N: Air
HP 14N: 1,140 each
1,600 each
Propeller blades  
Dimensions  
Span 180' 5.4", 180' 5.5"
55 m
Length 92' 4.25", 92' 4.3"
28.15 m
Height 27' 2.8", 31' 6"
8.3 m, 9.6 m
Wing area 3,229.3 ft2
300 m2
Weight  
Empty 60,251 lb, 60,252 lb
27,330 kg
Loaded 94,797 lb, 94,799 lb
43,000 kg
Performance  
Speed @ sea level 177 mph
285 kph
Climb 708'/minute
216 m/minute
Range 683 miles, 684 miles
1,100 km
Armament 5: 13 mm MG
10: 7.92 mm MG
10: 7.92 mm MG34
OR 10: 7.92 mm MG42
  Messerschmitt Me 323E Gigant
Type Transport
Crew 17
Passengers 120
Engine (Type) 6: Gnome-Rhône 14N 48/49
Cylinders Radial
Cooling Air
HP 1,140 each, 1,200 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 180'
55 m
Length 93'
28.5 m
Height 31'
9.6 m
Wing area 3,228 ft2
300 m2
Weight  
Empty 69,932 lb
29,060 kg
Loaded 99,000 lb
45,000 kg
Performance  
Speed @ 4,900' /
1,500'
157 mph
253 kph
Service ceiling 18,730'
4,500 m
Range 682 miles
1,100 km
Armament  
Wing turrets 1: 20 mm each
Nose doors 2: 13 mm MG
Flight deck 5: 13 mm MG
  Messerschmitt Me 323E-2 Gigant
Type  
Passengers 120
OR 60 litters
Cargo 21,500 lb
9,752 kg
Weight  
Empty 64,066 lb
29,060 kg
Loaded 99,210 lb
45,000 kg
Performance  
Speed 157 mph
252 kph
Cruising speed 135 mph
217 kph
Climb 866'/minute
264 m/minute
Service ceiling 14,760'
4,500 m
Range 683 miles
1,100 km
Armament  
Wing turrets 1: 20 mm each

Sources:

  1. Aircraft of WWII, General Editor: Jim Winchester, 2004
  2. Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Editor: Karen Leverington, 1995
  3. Aircraft of WWII, Stewart Wilson, 1998
  4. World War II Airplanes Volume 1, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  5. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Chris Bishop, 1998
  6. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, 1989
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site