Messerschmitt Me 323: Wikis

  
  

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Me 323 "Gigant"
Role Heavy transport
Manufacturer Messerschmitt A.G.
First flight Late 1941
Introduced 1943
Retired 1944
Primary user Luftwaffe
Produced 1941-1944
Number built ca. 200
Variants Messerschmitt Me 321

The Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant ("Giant") was a German military transport aircraft of World War II. It was a powered variant of the Me 321 military glider and was the largest land-based transport aircraft of the war. A total of 213 are recorded as having been made, a few being converted from the Me 321.

Contents

Development

Me 321

The genesis of the Me 323 was in a 1940 German requirement for a large assault glider in preparation for Operation Sealion, the projected invasion of Great Britain. The DFS 230 light glider had already proven its worth in the famous attack on Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium (the first ever assault by gliderborne troops), and would later be used successfully in the Crete invasion in 1941. However, the prospect of mounting an invasion across the English Channel focused minds on the need to be able to airlift vehicles and other heavy equipment as part of an initial assault wave. Although Operation Sealion was cancelled, the requirement for a heavy air transport capability still existed, with the focus now on the forthcoming Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

On 18 October 1940, Junkers and Messerschmitt were given just 14 days to submit a proposal for a large transport glider. The emphasis was still very much on the assault role: the ambitious requirement was to be able to carry either an 88 mm gun and its half-track tractor, or a PzKpfw IV medium tank. The Junkers Ju 322 Mammut reached prototype form, but was completely unsatisfactory due to its all-wood construction and was scrapped. The Messerschmitt was originally designated the Me 261w, was then changed to Me 263, and eventually became the Me 321. Although the Me 321 saw considerable service in Russia, it was never used for a Maltese invasion, or for any other such aerial assaults.

Me 323

Early in 1941, as a result of feedback from Transport Command pilots in Russia, the decision was taken to produce a motorized variant of the Me 321, to be designated Me 323. It was decided to use French Gnome GR14N radial engines rated at 738 kW (990 hp) as used in the Bloch MB.175 aircraft; using French engines would place no burden on Germany's overstrained industry.[1]

Initial tests were conducted using four Gnome engines attached to a strengthened Me 321 wing, which gave a modest speed of 210 km/h (130 mph) - 80 km/h (50 mph) slower than the Ju 52 transport aircraft. A fixed undercarriage was fitted, which comprised four small wheels in a bogie at the front of the aircraft with six larger wheels in two lines of three at each side of the fuselage, partly covered by an aerodynamic fairing. The rear wheels were fitted with pneumatic brakes, and could stop the aircraft within 200 m (660 ft).

The four-engined Me 323C was considered merely a stepping stone to the six-engined D series; it still required the five-engined Heinkel He 111Z Zwilling or the highly dangerous Troikaschlepp formation of three Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters and JATO to takeoff when full laden, but could return to base under its own power when empty. This was clearly not much better than the Me 321, so the V2 prototype became the first to have six engines and flew for the first time in early 1942, becoming the prototype for the D series aircraft. The six engines were fitted to reduce torque - a trio of clockwise rotation engines mounted on the port wing, and a trio of counterclockwise rotation engines on the starboard wing.

Design

Gigant wing, showing wing gun positions

As per the Me 321, the Me 323 had massive, semi-cantilever, high-mounted wings which were braced from the fuselage out to the middle of the wing. To reduce weight and to save on aluminum, much of the wing was made of plywood and fabric, while the fuselage was of metal tube construction with wooden spars and covered with doped fabric, with heavy bracing in the floor to support the payload.

The "D" series had a crew of five: two pilots, two flight engineers and a radio operator. Two gunners could also be carried. The flight engineers occupied two small cabins, one in each wing between the inboard and center engines. The engineers were intended to monitor engine synchronisation and allow the pilot to fly without worrying about engine status, although the pilot could override the engineers' decisions on engine and propeller control.

Compared to the Me 321, the Me 323 had a much-reduced payload of between 10-12 tonnes (11-13 tons), which was the price that had to be paid for an aircraft that could operate autonomously. Even with the engines, the Hellmuth Walter Werke-designed, liquid-fueled RATO (rocket assisted takeoff) units used on the Me 321 were still frequently required, being mounted beneath the wings outboard of the engines, with the wings having underside fittings to take up to a total of four RATO units. The cargo hold was 11 m (36 ft) long, 3 m (10 ft) wide and 3.4 m (11 ft) high. The typical loads it carried were: two 3.6 tonne (4 ton) trucks, 8,700 loaves of bread, an 88 mm Flak gun and accessories, 52 drums of fuel (252 L/45 US gal), 130 men, or 60 stretchers.

Some Me 321s were converted to Me 323s, but the majority were built as six-engine aircraft from the beginning; early models were fitted with wooden two-blade propellers, which were later replaced by metal, three-blade variable-pitch versions.

The Me 323's powerplants were of differing models of the Gnome-Rhone radials, depending on which wing panel they were mounted on-the starboard wing used a trio of engines and propellers that rotated counterclockwise (as seen from "nose-on") and the port wing's trio used clockwise rotation engine/prop setups.

The Me 323 had a maximum speed of only 219 km/h (136 mph) at sea level and speed dropped with altitude. For defensive armament, it was armed with five 13 mm (.51 in) MG 131 machine guns firing from a dorsal position behind the wings and from the fuselage. They were manned by the extra gunners, radio operator and engineers.[2]

Operational history

The Me 323 transporting wounded personnel in Italy.
The Me 323 unloading a Renault UE in Tunisia.

By September 1942, Me 323s were being delivered for use in the Tunisian campaign, and entered service in the Mediterranean theater in November 1942. The high rate of loss among Axis shipping had made necessary a huge airlift of equipment across the Mediterranean to keep Rommel's army supplied.

On April 22 1943, a formation of 27 fully laden Me 323s being escorted across the Sicilian Straits by Bf 109s from JG 27 was intercepted by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s, with the loss of 21 Me 323s.[3] Three of the P-40s were shot down by the escorts.[4]

In terms of aircraft design, the Me 323 was actually very resilient, and could absorb a huge amount of enemy fire, unless loaded with barrels of fuel – the Afrika Korps' nicknames of Leukoplastbomber ("Elastoplast bomber") or even more derisively as the "adhesive tape bomber", were somewhat unfair. The Me 323 was something of a "sitting duck", being so slow and large an aircraft. However, no transport aircraft can ever be expected to survive without something close to air superiority, and it is believed that no Me 323s survived in service beyond summer 1944.

A total of 213 Me 323s were built before production ceased in April 1944. There were several production versions, beginning with the D-1. Later D- and E- versions differed in the choice of power plant and in defensive armament, with improvements in structural strength, total cargo load and fuel capacity also being implemented. Nonetheless, the Me 323 remained significantly underpowered. There was a proposal to install six BMW 801 radials, but this never came to pass. The Me 323 was also a short-range aircraft, with a typical range (loaded) of 1,000-1,200 km (620-750 mi). Despite this, the limited numbers of Me 323s in service were an invaluable asset to the Germans, and saw intensive use.

Variants

Messerschmitt Me 323
Me 323V1
Prototype, powered by four Gnome-Rhône 14N engines
Me 323V2
Prototype, powered by six Gnome-Rhône 14N engines, became the standard for D production series
Me 323D-1
First production series, powered by six Gnome-Rhône 14N engines, two 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine guns in cockpit fittings provided, field modifications increased defensive armament
Me 323E-1
Second production series, turrets incorporated in the wings
Me 323E-2
Third production series
Me 323E-2WT
Third production series, incorporating a front turret
Me 323V16
Prototype, powered by six Jumo 211 Rs, intended to serve as a master for the Me 323F production series
Me 323V17
Prototype (unfinished), powered by six 984 kW (1,320 hp) Gnome-Rhône GR14R engines, intended to serve as a master for the Me 323G

Survivors

No complete aircraft survives, but the Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr at Berlin-Gatow has a Me 323 main wing spar in its collection.

Specifications (Me 323)

Data from Walter, Yust (1944). Britannica Book Of The Year 1944. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company Limited.. pp. 32–33 (n57-n58 at the Internet Archive). http://www.archive.org/details/britannicabookof030471mbp. Retrieved 2009-07-30.  

General characteristics

  • Crew: 5
  • Capacity: 130 troops or 10–12 tonnes of equipment
  • Length: 28.2 m (92 ft 4 in)
  • Wingspan: 55.2 m (181 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 10.15 m (33 ft 3.5 in)
  • Empty weight: 27,330 kg (60,260 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 29,500 kg (65,000 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 43,000 kg (94,815 lb)
  • Powerplant:Gnome-Rhône 14N, 700 kW (950 hp) each

Performance

Armament

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

References

Notes

  1. ^ Hyland and Gill 1999, p. 78.
  2. ^ U.S. World War II Report on Me 323
  3. ^ Staerck et al. 2002, pp. 202–203.
  4. ^ Weal 2003, p. 92.

Bibliography

  • Hyland, Gary and Anton Gill. Last Talons of the Eagle: Secret Nazi Technology Which Could Have Changed the Course of World War II. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: McArthur & Company, 1999. ISBN 0-74725-964-X.
  • Mondey, David. The Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II. New York: Bounty Books, 1996. ISBN 1-85152-966-7.
  • Staerck, Christopher, Paul Sinnott and Anton Gill. Luftwaffe: The Allied Intelligence Files. London: Brassey's, 2002. ISBN 1-57488-387-9.
  • Weal, John (2003). Jagdgeschwader 27 'Afrika'. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-841765-38-4.

External links








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