Messerschmitt Me 321: Wikis


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Me 321
Role Cargo glider
Manufacturer Messerschmitt
First flight 25 February 1941
Status retired
Primary user Luftwaffe
Produced June 1941 – April 1942
Number built ca. 150
Variants Messerschmitt Me 323

The Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant was a large German cargo glider developed during World War II.



During the preparations for a possible invasion of Britain during World War II (Operation Sealion) it became obvious to the Luftwaffe's Transport Command that there was a need for a larger capacity cargo- and troop-carrying aircraft than its mainstay, the Junkers Ju 52.[1]

When the plans for Operation Sealion were shelved in December 1940, and planning began for the invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa), it was decided that the most cost-effective solution to the need for transport aircraft was to use gliders. Accordingly, the Technical Bureau of the Luftwaffe issued a tender for rapid development of a Grossraumlastensegler (large-capacity transport glider) to the aircraft manufacturers Junkers and Messerschmitt. The specification called for the glider to be capable of carrying either an 88 mm gun plus its tractor, or a medium tank. The codename Projekt Warschau ("Project Warsaw") was used, with Junkers being given the codename Warschau-Ost and Messerschmitt Warschau-Süd.

However, the Junkers design, the Ju 322 Mammut was unsuccessful due to the company opting to use all-wood construction. Messerschmitt's design, the Me 263, consequently secured the contract for the company.


The Me 263 had a framework of steel tubing provided by the Mannesmann company, with wooden spars and a covering of doped fabric. This allowed for quick construction and easy repair when needed and also saved weight. The Me 263 was redesignated the Me 321 and was nicknamed Gigant ("Giant") due to its huge size.

Its nose stood over 6 m (20 ft) high, and was made up of two clamshell doors. The doors could only be opened from the inside, when ramps would be used to allow vehicles to drive in or out. Compared to the Ju 52, the Me 321 offered a load area six times larger, at around 100 m2 (1,100 sq ft), and could accommodate a gross cargo weighing up to 23 t (23 long tons). The cargo space had been designed to replicate the load space of a standard German railway flatcar, allowing any cargo that could travel by rail to fit into an Me 321. Alternatively, if used as a passenger transport, 120-130 fully equipped troops could be accommodated.[2]

The Me 321 was fitted with a jettisonable undercarriage comprising two Bf 109 tailwheels at the front and two Junkers Ju 90 main wheels at the rear and was intended to land on four extendable skids.

The first flight of the prototype Me 321 V1 took place on 25 February 1941, towed into the air by a Ju 90. It was piloted by Messerschmitt test pilot Karl Baur, and carried 3 tonnes (3 tons) of ballast. Baur reported that the controls were heavy and responses sluggish and it was decided to enlarge the cockpit to accommodate a co-pilot and radio operator and dual controls were fitted. Electric servo motors were also fitted to assist in moving the huge trailing edge flaps and further tests caused a braking parachute to also be added.

The test flights were plagued by takeoff difficulties, since the Ju 90 was not powerful enough, and as an interim measure three Bf 110 heavy fighters were used, in a so-called Troikaschlepp. This was a highly dangerous manoeuvre and Ernst Udet asked Ernst Heinkel to come up with a better tug. Heinkel responded by creating the Heinkel He 111Z Zwilling ("Twins"), which combined two He 111 aircraft with a fifth engine added. RATO (Rocket assisted takeoff) units were also used to assist takeoff from rough fields.

Service history

The first Me 321A-1 production aircraft entered service in May 1941 with Grossraumlastensegler 321 at Leipheim, initially towed by Ju 90s and later by the He 111Z and the Troikaschlepp arrangement of three Bf 110s.[3] The later Me 321B-1 variant had a crew of three and was armed with four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine guns.

The Me 321 was less than successful on the Eastern Front for various reasons:

  • As a glider, the Me 321 lacked the ability to make a second or third approach to a crowded landing strip.
  • It was impossible to move on the ground without specialized vehicles.
  • Before the introduction of the He 111 Zwilling, the dangerous Troikaschlepp arrangement gave a one-way range of only 400 km (250 mi) which was insufficient for a safe operating zone.[4]

In spring 1942, the remaining Me 321s were withdrawn from service in Russia in anticipation of the planned Operation Herkules, the invasion of Malta, in which a fleet of the gliders hauled by He 111Zs were to be used. The plan was abandoned due to a lack of towing aircraft.

In 1943, the Me 321s were returned to Russia to be used in a projected operation to relieve General Friedrich Paulus' besieged army at Stalingrad, but by the time they reached the front line, no suitable airfields remained and they were sent back to Germany.

Following the cancellation of the Stalingrad operation, the Me 321 gliders were either mothballed or scrapped, though some were converted into the powered variant, the Me 323. A further proposed operation - in which the remaining Me 321s would have landed troops on Sicily - was also abandoned, due to a lack of suitable landing sites.

Ultimately, only around 150 Me 321s were produced. There was also a powered variant of the Me 321, the Me 323, with six 895 kW (1,200 hp) engines. This was the biggest land-based cargo aircraft of World War II.


  • Me 321A-1 :
  • Me 321B-1 : had a crew of three and was armed with four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine guns

Specifications (Me 321)

General characteristics

  • Crew: two, pilot and co-pilot
  • Capacity: 130 troops
  • Length: 28.15 m (92 ft 4 in)
  • Wingspan: 55 m (180 ft 5 in)
  • Height: 10.15 m (33 ft 4 in)
  • Empty weight: 12,400 kg (27,300 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 34,400 kg (75,800 lb)



See also


  1. ^ Zabecki, David T. (1999). World War II in Europe. Taylor & Francis. pp. 992. ISBN 0824070291.  
  2. ^ Staerck, Christopher (2002). Luftwaffe: The Allied Intelligence Files. Brassey's. pp. 202–203. ISBN 1574883879.  
  3. ^ Staerck, p. 202
  4. ^ Hyland, p. 83

External links

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