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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.1 With its large size special aircraft had to be developed to tow the Me 321, but there weren't enough.1,4 It was decided to make the Gigant powered with six engines.1,3,4,5

Engines

Large quantities of the French Gnome-Rhône engines were available after the fall of France in 1940.1

Undercarriage

Early models of the glider version of the Messerschmitt Me 323 had wheels the jettisoned after takeoff and then landed on skids.1

Powered Me 323s had multiple wheels that were useful during landings on rough fields.1

Fuselage

The fuselage was made from steel tubes and fabric coverings.1

The nose of the Me 323's cargo hold had clamshell doors and a low bed that made it easy to load large cargos.1,5

Wings

The wings were wooden framed with a fabric cover.1

Tail

The Me 323 was difficult to fly as the flaps and rudders required a lot of force to operate.1

Rocket Boosters

To get a loaded Messerschmitt Me 323 into the air rocket boosters were used.1

Prototype

The Me 323V1 prototype first flew in May 1942.2

Production

Production stopped in March / April4 1944.3

  • Messerschmitt Me 323: 1982,4
    • Manufacturer: Messerschmitt A.G.4

Variants

  • Messerschmitt Me 321: Glider.1
  • Messerschmitt Me 323V1: Prototype.2 Had four Gnome-Rhône 14N radial engines (1,140 HP).2
  • Messerschmitt Me 323V3: Prototype.2 Had six Gnome-Rhône 14N radial engines (1,140 HP).2
  • Messerschmitt Me 323: Powered.1
  • Messerschmitt Me 323D-1: First production version.2,4 Arrived at units in September 1942.2,4 Had five 7.92 mm MG in the nose and ten 7.92 mm MG in the sides of the fuselage.2
  • Messerschmitt Me 323D-5: Arrived in January 1943.2 Had five 13 mm machine guns in nose.2
  • Messerschmitt Me 323D-6: Arrived in December 1942.5
  • Messerschmitt Me 323DF-1: First used in November 1942.2
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E: Had more armor protection.3 Structure was strengthened.3,4
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E-1: Had six Gnome-Rhône 14N engines (1,200 HP).2 Had 20 mm guns in turrets on top of each wing.2
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E-2: Had two turrets in upper wing.3
  • Messerschmitt Me 323E-3: Had Junkers Jumo engines (1,340 HP).2 There was a nose turret.2 Inboard and outboard of the engine nacelles were four 13 mm guns in turrets.2

Usage

The Gigants were used on the Eastern Front as well as in North Africa.1

Unfortunately for the crews, the Me 323s were slow and not maneuverable so were fairly easy to shoot down.1,4

Sicily

In November 1942 the Me 323DF-1 first joined the Kampfgruppe zur besonderen Verwendung 323.2,4

During the evacuation of soldiers back to Italy, one Gigant carried 140 soldiers in the cargo hold and then another 80 in the wings.1

North Africa Supply

The Me 323s were used to supply North Africa but suffered heavy losses.3 Fourteen were shot down by Beaufighters in one mission.3

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.2

Specifications

  Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant
Type Transport3,6
Crew 56
Pilot, co-pilot, flight engineers (2)6, radio operator6
Passengers 1306
Cargo 36' x 10' 3" x 11'6
3,530 cu ft6
Engine (Type) 6: Gnome-Rhône 14N 48/493
Cylinders Radial 143
HP 1,140 each3
Propeller blades 2 or 3 each3
Dimensions  
Span 180' 5.5"3, 181'6
55 m3, 55.2 m6
Length 93' 4"3,6
28.45 m3, 28.46 m6
Height 31' 6"3
9.6 m3
Wing area 3,230 sq ft6
300 sq m6
Weight  
Empty 61,700 lb6
28,010 kg6
Loaded 99,000 lb6
45,000 kg6
Performance  
Speed at Sea Level 136 mph6
218 kph6
Speed at 5,000' / 1,525 m 129 mph6
206 kph6
Speed at 10,000' / 3,050 m 110 mph6
176 kph6
Climb at Sea Level 710'/min6
216 m/min6
Climb at 10,000' / 3,050 m 236'/min6
72 m/min6
Armament 5: 13 mm MG 1316
7.9 mm MG3
OR 20 mm3
  Messerschmitt Me 323D-1 Gigant
Type Transport4
Crew 5 - 74
Passengers 1204
OR 60 litters4
Cargo 15 tons4
Engine (Type) 6: Gnome-Rhône 14N4
Cylinders Radial 144
Cooling Air4
HP 1,140 each4
Dimensions  
Span 180'4
Length 93' 6"4
Height 31' 6"4
Weight  
Loaded 96,050 lb4
Performance  
Speed 144 mph4
Service ceiling 13,120'4
Range 810 miles4
Armament 6: MG4
  Messerschmitt Me 323D-6 Gigant
Type Heavy Transport2
Crew 52,5
Passengers 1302,5
OR  
Cargo 35,030 lb2
15,890 kg2
Engine (Type) 6: BMW 801A piston2
6: Gnome-Rhône 14N5
Cylinders Radial2
14N: Radial 145
Cooling 14N: Air5
HP 14N: 1,140 each5
1,600 each2
Propeller blades  
Dimensions  
Span 180' 5.4"5, 180' 5.5"2
55 m2,5
Length 92' 4.25"2, 92' 4.3"5
28.15 m2,5
Height 27' 2.8"5, 31' 6"2
8.3 m5, 9.6 m2
Wing area 3,229.3 ft2 2,5
300 m2 2,5
Weight  
Empty 60,251 lb2, 60,252 lb5
27,330 kg2,5
Loaded 94,797 lb2, 94,799 lb5
43,000 kg2,5
Performance  
Speed @ sea level 177 mph2,5
285 kph2,5
Climb 708'/minute2
216 m/minute2
Range 683 miles2, 684 miles5
1,100 km2,5
Armament 5: 13 mm MG2
10: 7.92 mm MG2
10: 7.92 mm MG345
OR 10: 7.92 mm MG425
  Messerschmitt Me 323E Gigant
Type Transport1
Crew 171
Passengers 1201
Engine (Type) 6: Gnome-Rhône 14N 48/491
Cylinders Radial1
Cooling Air1
HP 1,140 each1, 1,200 each4
Propeller blades 3 each1
Dimensions  
Span 180'1
55 m1
Length 93'1
28.5 m1
Height 31'1
9.6 m1
Wing area 3,228 ft2 1
300 m2 1
Weight  
Empty 69,932 lb1
29,060 kg1
Loaded 99,000 lb1
45,000 kg1
Performance  
Speed @ 4,900' /
1,500'
157 mph1
253 kph1
Service ceiling 18,730'1
4,500 m1
Range 682 miles1
1,100 km1
Armament  
Wing turrets 1: 20 mm each1
Nose doors 2: 13 mm MG1
Flight deck 5: 13 mm MG1
  Messerschmitt Me 323E-2 Gigant
Type  
Passengers 1203
OR 60 litters3
Cargo 21,500 lb3
9,752 kg3
Weight  
Empty 64,066 lb3
29,060 kg3
Loaded 99,210 lb3
45,000 kg3
Performance  
Speed 157 mph3
252 kph3
Cruising speed 135 mph3
217 kph3
Climb 866'/minute3
264 m/minute3
Service ceiling 14,760'3
4,500 m3
Range 683 miles3
1,100 km3
Armament  
Wing turrets 1: 20 mm each3

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
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