Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant Cargo

Diorama bait!  For those modelers who want to bring something different to the show, few things fit the bill quite like an Me 323 Gigant loading or unloading cargo.  Big and unusual, this subject combines aircraft and vehicles into a display worth remembering.  Here are a few combinations to consider.

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A nice color shot of a Marder II being unloaded in Tunisia.  The Marder II was built on a Panzer II chassis and mounted a PAK 40 7.5 cm gun.  Approximately 650 were built between June 1942 and June 1943, when production shifted to the Wespe self-propelled howitzer.  With a total cargo capacity of 23 tons, the Gigant could easily handle the Marder II’s 12 ton weight.
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The Sd.Kfz. 2 Kettenrad makes for a small load in itself, but the Me 323 could carry a dozen at a time, or a few as part of a mixed load.  The Kettenrad could also be carried by the standard Junkers Ju 52 transport.  The officer trying his hand at backing this example into the Gigant seems to lack confidence.
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Here is a load which barely fits.  This appears to be a workshop or command van built upon a MAN diesel truck, but I have been unable to identify the specific sub type.  Nonetheless, an interesting vehicle which illustrates the Gigant’s ability to carry an oversized load.
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8.8 cm flak guns were often photographed being loaded, usually along with their prime movers.  This one is being man-handled, the log leading off out of frame to the left implies a vehicle of some kind is giving a push.
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Luftwaffe troops seated aboard.   The Me 323 could carry up to 175 full equipped troops, seated on two levels within the fuselage.  Some troops were even accommodated within the wings.
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A fully loaded Sd.Kfz. 3 Opel Maultier disembarking in Italy, towing what appears to be a 10.5 cm Feldhaubitze 18/40.  The Maultier (“Mule”) was a conversion of the standard Opel Blitz truck made by removing the rear axle and installing Panzer I type running gear.   The conversion weighed in at six tons, leaving the Gigant plenty of capacity to carry additional vehicles or supplies.  (Bundesarchiv photo)
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A mock-up showing one example of just how much equipment could be crammed into a Gigant fuselage.  Here we see a Sd.Kfz. 10 light halftrack, a Horch 830 staff car, a motorcycle with side car, and a 5 cm PAK 38.
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Looking aft into the interior showing details of the internal structure.  Note the fuel drums secured to the deck at the rear.
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A variation of the theme, here two vehicles in tandem are being used to tow a loaded Gigant onto the runway in Tunisia.  For a modeler wanting to incorporate several vehicles into a display, many different combinations of cargo and towing vehicles could be used.
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Wounded being evacuated in Italy, March 1943.  Casualty evacuation was a common mission for a returning Me 323, several photographs show ambulances waiting outside the Gigant’s huge cargo doors.
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Unloading a standard Opel Blitz, the Me 323 could accommodate two of these trucks in a single load.  This photograph provides a good view of the ramps used.
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Sd.Kfz 7 with 15cm sFH18 heavy field howitzer.  Guns and their prime movers were common loads for the Me 323.

Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant Transport

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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)
Reichsgebiet, Flugzeug Me 323 Gigant
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)
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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)
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A fine view of a Gigant coming in for a landing, with several others parked in the background.  (Bundesarchiv photo)
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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.
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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.

Heinkel He 111Z Zwilling

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After the fall of France in 1940 German planners realized they would need to enhance the Luftwaffe’s airlift capability prior to the invasion of England.  Messerschmitt designed an enormous glider designed to take a load the size of of a standard German railway flat car with a weight limit of 23 tons.  This was the Me 321.
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While the glider design was successful, the Luftwaffe lacked a suitable towing aircraft.  The largest German transport in service at the time, the Ju 90, struggled with the Me 321.  Three Bf 110 fighters were tried along with rocket assistance, but this arrangement proved extremely dangerous.  At the behest of Ernst Udet, Heinkel designed the He 111Z as a towing aircraft.
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The He 111Z Zwilling (Twin) was constructed by taking two He 111H-6 airframes and rebuilding them as a single twin-fuselage aircraft around a new common center wing section which contained three Jumo 211F engines, for a total of five engines.
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The new design proved successful, and was reported to have good flying characteristics.  It was able to remain flying with three of the five engines shut down as long as the remaining two powered engines were arranged symmetrically.
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Total fuel capacity was 2,260 gallons (8,570 liters), and it could carry an additional 640 gallons (2,400 liters) in four external tanks.  This gave the He 111Z an endurance of 10 hours while towing a glider.
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A rare in-flight photograph of an He 111Z towing a Me 321 glider.  This view gives an interesting size comparison of two enormous aircraft.  Wingspan of the He 111Z was 115 feet 6 inches (35.2 meters), wingspan of the Me 321 was 180 feet 5 inches (55 meters).
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The Zwilling carried a crew of seven, four in the port fuselage and three in the starboard.  The pilot flew the aircraft from the port fuselage.  The tow line attachment points can be seen in this picture.
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Twelve He 111Z were built, two prototypes and ten production aircraft.  These were converted from standard Heinkel He 111H-6 and H-16 airframes.  The Me 321 gliders proved difficult to handle on the ground, and eventually they were converted into Me 323 transports by adding six Gnome-Rhone GR14N radial engines.
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The Zwilling could be used to tow other types of gliders.  Three Go 242 gliders were towed simultaneously during trials, but usually no more than two were towed at a time operationally.
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A Go 242 at rest while a Zwilling takes off overhead.  Like the larger Me 321, the Gotha glider was also converted to a powered transport using two Gnome-Rhone GR14N radial engines.
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A poor photograph, but an interesting view of a He 111Z as seen from the second of two Gotha Go 242 gliders while under tow.
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Due to a chronic shortage of transport aircraft, the Zwillings were used extensively as transports on the Eastern front.  Here is one on a rather muddy airfield with white temporary camouflage.
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Of the twelve Zwillings constructed, eight were lost during the war.  None of the four remaining airframes were preserved, all being scrapped.