Messerschmitt Me-323 "Gigant" Transport
The Messerschmitt Me-323 was ununusal and revolutionary in serveral ways. First, it was developed from a glider, the Me-321 transport glider, second, it was among the largest of aircraft to fly in WWII, third, it loaded through 11 foot high doors in the front of the fusilage, four, it was powered wholly by French engines, and five, it could use Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO). The aircraft was designed with massive, semi-cantilever, high-mounted wings in order to lift the heavy weights desired. As the aircraft technology was not yet sufficiently advanced for this type of wing, they had to be braced from the fusilage 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. The fusilage was of composite metal-wood-fabric with heavy bracing in the floor to hold the weight. In order to get the powered version of the glider airborne it was equipped with six Gnome-Rhone engines. The French engines were chosen as their design was complete and they could be built in occupied France without interfering with German engine production. The landing gear were a set of 10 semi-recessed wheels designed to flex like caterpillar treads for landing on rough terrain and to distribute the weight over a large area. In all, it bore a remarkable resemblance to the heavy-airlift aircraft of today, indeed, it was the forerunner of this type of transport aircraft. The cargo hold was 36 feet long, 10 feet wide and 11 feet high. The typical loads it carried were: two 4-ton trucks, or 8,700 loaves of bread, or an 88 mm Flak gun, it’s equipment, ammunition and crew, or 52 drums of fuel (45 gal/252 L), or 130 men, or 60 stretchers. It was, for it’s time, a remarkable aircraft.
|Loading a 150mm s. FH 18M field gun and it’s halftrack into an Me-323.
The Me-323 transport had a crew of five comprised of two pilots, two flight engineers and a radio operator. Two additional gunners could be carried as well. The pilot’s area was in front of the leading edge of the wing at the top of the cargo area and was armoured. It was powered by six Gnome-Rhone 14N 48/49 14 cylinder radial, air-cooled engines each rated at 990 hp. Four rockets could be mounted on each wing outside of the last engine to assist with take-offs. The left and right side engines had to be counter-rotating to avoid the severe torque that would be generated by six engines rotating in the same direction. It had a maximum speed of only 136 mph (218 km/h) at sea level and speed dropped with altitude. Range is not known, but it was used to quickly build up troops in North Africa flying from Italy. It was armed with five 13 mm machine guns firing from a dorsal position behind the wings and from the fusilage. They were manned by the extra gunners, radio operator and engineers.
Canadian Aces Home Page
Aircraft of the Luftwaffe.
Technical Information From:
Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of WWII. 1995 (orginally published in 1946/47). Crescent Books, New York.
Thanks to Don Goodbrand for technical data on the gun being loaded into the Gigant.