One of the largest aircraft of the Second World War, the Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant was a development of the Me 321 glider. Six Gnome-Rhône 14N engines were fitted, giving the Gigant a maximum speed of 177 mph (285 km/h). The French engines were selected as it was felt that using German engines would place an additional burden on the already strained German aircraft engine industry. Note the support structure aft of the landing gear.
For a short time Messerschmitt toyed with the idea of fitting only four Gnome-Rhône engines, resulting in the Me 323C. While in this configuration the Me 323C still had to be towed when loaded, but it could return under its own power when empty. This design was only marginally superior to the standard Me 321 glider and was soon superseded by the Me 323D with six engines.
The Me 323D was a full-fledged transport. Early versions were fitted with two bladed propellers, but most were completed with three bladed Chauvière variable pitch units as seen here. This is a fine color photograph of DT+IT “Himmelslaus” taken at Lvov on 15FEB43.
Another color view of “Himmelslaus” undergoing repairs at Lvov after a hard landing. The port side landing gear covers have been removed revealing the red primer underneath. Note the extent of the yellow identification panel under the wing.
The Gigant towers over crewmen on the ground. Wingspan was 181 feet (55.2 meters). When unloaded the aircraft was a tail-sitter, the front wheels would lift off the ground.
It was common to see Me 323s propped up with the tail skid resting on a fuel barrel, but even with this prop the front wheels were in the air. The exhaust staining under the wing is extensive.
With all six engines turning, the Gigant is towed into position. Initially the crew was five – pilot, co-pilot, radio operator, and two flight engineers. As the design progressed dedicated gunners were added. (Bundesarchiv photo)
In an effort to increase defensive firepower the Me 323E-1 version introduced two EDL 151/20 turrets to the upper wing. These were manned by the two flight engineers, whose normal crew position was in the wings between the two inner engines. (Bundesarchiv photo)
A useful view of the cockpit. The roof of the cockpit could be elevated, which would give a clear view of the interior on a model. (Bundesarchiv photo)
A fine view of a Gigant coming in for a landing, with several others parked in the background. (Bundesarchiv photo)
A Gigant under fire from an RAF B-26 Marauder off Cap Corse, September 1943. Even when flying in escorted formations, the huge Me 323 proved extremely vulnerable to interception.
In an effort to provide an escort capability, the Me323E-2 Waffenträger (weapons carrier) was developed. These aircraft had the nose doors sealed and were therefore incapable of carrying cargo, but they were fitted with eleven MG 151/20 cannon and four MG 131 heavy machine guns. Five of the 20 mm were carried in turrets, four over the wings and one in the nose, seen here. It was long believed that only a single aircraft was converted, but records indicate that several were actually completed. The Waffenträger was protected by 1.3 tons of armor and carried a crew of twenty-one.
Me 323 cargo loads here: