Messerschmitt Me 323
Before going to war in 1939 Germany had explored and developed the use of parachute and airborne troops. Early deployment of airborne forces had shown the need for gliders of greater capability than the DFS 230 used to capture the Belgian fort of Eben-Emael. There were advantages in using gliders as opposed to paratroops.
Messerschmitt's Me 321 VI glide prototype flew first in March 1941 and Me 321A-1 production aircraft entered service in May of that year.
The Me 323 was, in effect, a powered version of the Me 321, basically similar except for strengthening and the installation of engines in nacelles of the same type as those designed for the Bloch 175: four in the original prototype and six in subsequent prototype and production aircraft (201 built). Versions included the Me 323D, E and F (plus variants), with a variety of engines, defensive armament and fuel capacity. The undercarriage was sprung to keep the floor level even on the roughest unprepared airstrips. Construction was mainly fabric-covered steel tubing.
They were no easy machines to fly, often needing rocket or towing assistance to get them airborne. Slow and vulnerable - despite heavy defensive armament - they suffered severe losses when ferrying supplies to the Afrika Korps in the closing stages of the North African campaign.
Even the six-engined Me 323 needed rocket assistance to get airborne with a full load. Maintaining supplies of rocket fuel at forward airstrips was a constant problem. The cabin could take loads as heavy as a Panzer IV tank or 120 soldiers or 60 stretcher patients. One was tested with a 17,700kg bomb, but it broke up in flight.
Due to its low speed and vulnerability to attack, up to six machine guns were carried in various mounts and turrets. A proposed escort version with 11 cannon and four machine guns was tested.
Engines: 6 x G+R 14N, 730kW
Max take-off weight: 43000 kg / 94799 lb
Empty weight: 27330 kg / 60253 lb
Wingspan: 55.0 m / 180 ft 5 in
Length: 28.2 m / 92 ft 6 in
Wing area: 300.0 sq.m / 3229.17 sq ft
Max. speed: 285 km/h / 177 mph
Cruise speed: 218 km/h / 135 mph
Range: 1100 km / 684 miles
Armament: 5 machine-guns
Me 323 E Gigant
Engine : 6 x Gnome Rhône 14N, 1124 hp
Length: 93.504 ft / 28.5 m
Height: 31.496 ft / 9.6 m
Wingspan : 180.446 ft / 55.0 m
Wing area : 3229.2 sq.ft / 300.0 sq.m
Max take off weight : 99225.0 lb / 45000.0 kg
Payload : 108cu.m, 20000kg
Weight empty : 64077.3 lb / 29060.0 kg
Max. speed : 130 kts / 240 km/h
Cruising speed : 121 kts / 225 km/h
Service ceiling : 14764 ft / 4500 m
Wing load : 30.75 lb/sq.ft / 150.0 kg/sq.m
Range : 702 nm / 1300 km
Crew : 2
Armament : 2x MG151 20mm, 7x MG131 13mm