Flying Whale – The Messerschmitt 323 Gigant in 26 Photos

 
A Me 323 unloads a Renault UE in Tunisia, January 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-554-0872-07 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
A Me 323 unloads a Renault UE in Tunisia, January 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-554-0872-07 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
 
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The German Messerschmitt Me 323 was a giant transport aircraft which served the German military during the Second World War.

It was a powered heavy transport aircraft, a swift replacement of its unpowered earlier version, the Messerschmitt Me 321 military glider. During the war, it stood out as the largest terrestrial transport aircraft on the scene.

Me 323 Gigant taking off. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-596-0367-05A / Menzendorf / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Me 323 Gigant taking off. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-596-0367-05A / Menzendorf / CC-BY-SA 3.0

About 213 Me 323s were recorded to have been manufactured.

The Me 323 was built following a request by the German Luftwaffe for a large assault glider which would serve in Operation Sea Lion, the planned invasion of Great Britain. They needed an aircraft which could fly vehicles and other heavy equipment during the expedition. Operation Sea Lion was, however, annulled. But the Me 323 was still required–this time for Operation Barbossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Me 323 near Pisa, Italy, c. 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-303-0589-27A / Otto / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Me 323 near Pisa, Italy, c. 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-303-0589-27A / Otto / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Messerschmitt, along with Junkers, was given a 14 day ultimatum to submit a proposal detailing a large transport glider with emphasis on its assault role. The heavy transport glider was to have an 8mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun along with a Panzer IV medium tank. Junkers’ prototype was scrapped, and Messerschmitt’s prototype was adopted.

Borrowing the designs of the long-range Messerschmitt Me 261, it was designated Me 261w. Its name evolved from Me 261w to Me 263 and eventually became Me 321. This Me 321 served as a transport in Russia but never played its intended role as an assault glider.

Feedback from Transports Command pilots in Russia, in early 1941, led to the decision to manufacture a motorized version of the Me 321, which was produced between 1942 and 1944. After about 198 were built, the Me 323 was introduced.

Me 323 Gigant taking off with a little help. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-03 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Me 323 Gigant taking off with a little help. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-03 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The key identifiable feature of the Me 323 was its six engines, three on each wing, for its propulsion.  The Me 323s had a maximum speed of only 136 miles per hour at sea level, and its speed dropped with an increase in altitude. Its defensive armament consisted of 5 13 mm MG 131 machine guns firing from a dorsal position just behind the wings and from the fuselage. Each aircraft was manned by a crew of five comprising two pilots, two flight engineers, and a radio operator.

The first variants of the Me 323 included the V1 which was the first prototype, powered by Gnome-Rhone 14N-48/49 engines; and V2 which was the second prototype, which used six engines and became a standard for the D series. The production variants included the D series which ran from D1 to D3, the V13, V14, V16 and V17, and the E series which ran from E1 to E2.

Crew of Me 323 Gigant resting in a shade under its wing, Russia, 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-667-7148-35A / Kunstmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Crew of Me 323 Gigant resting in a shade under its wing, Russia, 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-667-7148-35A / Kunstmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

By September 1942, M323s were deployed for the campaign in Tunisia. The M323s joined the Mediterranean stage in November 1942, supplying Rommel’s Afrika Korps with equipment.

On April 22nd, 1943, a formation of 27 M323s was being escorted across Silica Straits when they were intercepted by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s. In the aerial skirmish that ensued, 21 M323s were lost.

Despite being limited in numbers, the M323 aircraft was an invaluable asset to the Germans and was used extensively.

Photos

Me 323 somewhere in Russia, c 1942. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-331-3026-31 / Liedke / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Me 323 somewhere in Russia, c 1942. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-331-3026-31 / Liedke / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

View into the cockpit of the Me 323. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-27 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
View into the cockpit of the Me 323. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-27 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

 

Gigant wing, showing wing gun positions and counter-rotating propellers on each wing panel. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-16 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Gigant wing, showing wing gun positions and counter-rotating propellers on each wing panel. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-16 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Front view of Me 323, Tunisia, 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-558-1051-18, Tunesien, Flugzeug Me 323 Gigant
Front view of Me 323, Tunisia, 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-558-1051-18, Tunesien, Flugzeug Me 323 Gigant

 

Interior of Me 323, somewhere in Tunisia, c. 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-552-0822-17 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Interior of Me 323, somewhere in Tunisia, c. 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-552-0822-17 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Interior of Me 323. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-552-0822-22 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Interior of Me 323. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-552-0822-22 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

 

Close-up on Me-323 Gigant’s landing gear. Photo: FORTEPAN / Vojnich Pál
Close-up on Me-323 Gigant’s landing gear. Photo: FORTEPAN / Vojnich Pál

 

An Me 323 transporting wounded personnel in Italy, March 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-561-1142-21 / Seeger, Erwin / CC-BY-SA 3.0
An Me 323 transporting wounded personnel in Italy, March 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-561-1142-21 / Seeger, Erwin / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Ju 53 und Me 323 Gigant. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-11 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Ju 53 und Me 323 Gigant. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-668-7197-11 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Me323 Gigant in flight
Me323 Gigant in flight

 

Me 323 unloading its cargo, Tunisia, c. 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-552-0822-36 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Me 323 unloading its cargo, Tunisia, c. 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-552-0822-36 / Pirath, Helmuth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

 

Photo of Luftwaffe Me-323 being shot down by a B-26 Marauder of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force near Cap Corse, Corsica.
Photo of Luftwaffe Me-323 being shot down by a B-26 Marauder of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force near Cap Corse, Corsica.

 

Opel “Maultier” truck leaving Me 323, Italy, 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-559-1085-07 / Reschenberg / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Opel “Maultier” truck leaving Me 323, Italy, 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-559-1085-07 / Reschenberg / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

 

Me 323 Gigant in Russia, c. 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-667-7148-32A / Kunstmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Me 323 Gigant in Russia, c. 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-667-7148-32A / Kunstmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

 

Me 323 and Fw 58 during repairs. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-670-7418-33 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Me 323 and Fw 58 during repairs. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-670-7418-33 / Sierstoopff (pp) / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

 

Wrecked German planes at El Aouiana airport, Tunis, Tunisia, in May 1943. In front lies the wing of a Junkers Ju 52/3m transport, one which is also visible in the background. The prominent structure are the remains of a Messerschmitt Me 323D Gigant transport.
Wrecked German planes at El Aouiana airport, Tunis, Tunisia, in May 1943. In front lies the wing of a Junkers Ju 52/3m transport, one which is also visible in the background. The prominent structure are the remains of a Messerschmitt Me 323D Gigant transport.

 

Wreck of a Me323D, Tunisia, May 1943.
Wreck of a Me323D, Tunisia, May 1943.

 

Me 323 Gigant loading FLAK 8,8 cm, somewhere on the Eastern Front.
Me 323 Gigant loading FLAK 8,8 cm, somewhere on the Eastern Front.

 

Messerschmitt Me323 in winter, eastern front.
Messerschmitt Me323 in winter, eastern front.

 

Camouflaged Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant in the field
Camouflaged Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant in the field

 

Me 323 on the ground.
Me 323 on the ground.

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German soldiers posing in Me 323.
German soldiers posing in Me 323.
 
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