Me 323 Gigant
|Maiden Flight||1 November 1941|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseOn 18 Oct 1940, German aircraft manufacturers Junkers and Messerschmitt were given two weeks to submit a proposal for a large transport glider, which would be used to remedy the lack of heavy equipment during the initial stages of airborne offensives. The requirement called for each of them to have the capacity for an 88-millimeter gun plus a half-track tractor, or a Panzer IV medium tank. The Messerschmitt Me 261w design, later renamed Me 263 and then Me 321, was put into production and the aircraft saw considerable service.
ww2dbaseIn early 1941, a decision was made to produce a powered variant of Me 321 glider transports. A few Me 321 glider transports were taken as prototypes for this new project. They had their wings strengthened to take on six engines, permanent landing gears were installed, among other modifications. When the design entered production, they were designated Me 323 Gigant ("Giant") heavy transports. They would become the biggest land-based cargo transports of WW2.
ww2dbaseThe production variants of Me 323 Gigant aircraft (as opposed to those converted from Me 321 gliders) had high-mounted wings made of plywood and fabric. Their fuselages were made of composite metal, wood, and fabric. Wood and fabric were chosen as much for weight savings as for cost savings. Their engines were Gnome-Rhone GR14N radial engines made in occupied France, selected to avoid placing any additional demand to German aircraft engine industry charged with manufacturing engines for combat aircraft. Their cargo capacity, rated at 15 tons, was great; in terms of heavy equipment, they were each capable of carrying either two four-ton trucks or an 88-millimeter Flak gun with its entire compliment of equipment, ammunition, and gun crew. The heavy cargo capacity sometimes strained the six engines, thus they were sometimes equipped with four rockets to assist with takeoffs.
ww2dbaseMe 323 Gigant heavy transports were introduced into military service in 1943. They were first used to ferry men and equipment from Italy to North Africa. On 22 Apr 1943, a flight of 14 Me 323 Gigant transports escorted by 7 Bf 109 fighters were intercepted by a flight of P-40 Warhawk fighters; despite the presence of escorts, the transports were so vulnerable that glancing shots from the attacking fighters were enough to down all 14 of them. This by no means suggested their structures were weak, however. Contrastingly, they were actually known to absorb a great deal of damage when encountering hostile fire, although that characteristic was greatly affected by the flammability of the cargo they were transporting at the time.
ww2dbaseProduction of Me 323 Gigant heavy transports lasted from mid-1941 until Apr 1944, with a total of 213 built. Although most of them saw very heavy use, it was generally believed that none of them served beyond mid-1944.
Last Major Revision: Apr 2008
|Machinery||Six Gnome et Rhône 14N 48/49 14-cylinder air cooled radial engines rated at 950hp each|
|Armament||18x7.92mm MG 81 machine guns|
|Wing Area||300.00 m²|
|Weight, Empty||27,330 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||29,500 kg|
|Weight, Maximum||43,000 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||285 km/h|
|Speed, Cruising||218 km/h|
|Rate of Climb||3.60 m/s|
|Service Ceiling||4,000 m|
|Range, Normal||800 km|
|Range, Maximum||1,100 km|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945