Messerschmitt Me 321 & Me 323 Gigant

Although the Operation Sealion invasion of England was put on hiatus in October 1940, this was, at the the time, considered to be a temporary postponement until the forthcoming operation against Russia could be concluded. As a key piece of any future operation against England would be an airborne assault, and given Germany’s lack of specialized landing craft that could handle heavy equipment, the need was seen for a superheavy cargo glider, one that could transport a Mk.IV Panzer, a 88mm Flak piece, or 100 troops. Both Junkers and Messerschmitt were directed to design such an aircraft with all due haste, and within several weeks both firms had completed their design work. By February 1941 the Me 321 V1 prototype was ready for testing; the 321 was easily the largest aircraft of its day, and had a 10×10 foot cargo hold some 36 feet in length, loading/unloading being facilitated by a large clamshell nose.

The initial 321 flight was accomplished on 25 February 1941, with the V1 being towed aloft (with difficulty) by a Ju 90. The later Troika-Schlepp arrangement using a trio of Bf 110s proved to be both demanding and dangerous, and the He 111Z Zwilling tug was introduced.

Me 323E-2: The Gigant’s immense vulnerability to fighter attack led to efforts to improve the lumbering transport’s self defense capability. The E-2 model featured a pair of electrically-powered EDL 151 turrets in the upper surfaces of the wings.

Me 323E-2/WT: Waffentrager armored gunship version, with a nose-mounted 20mm turret, an additional pair of wing turrets, ten hand-operated machine guns. Two examples.

Me 323F: Heavyweight version with six Jumo 211R engines, and the E-2’s turrets. Prototype was the Me 323 V16.

Me 323G: Heavyweight version with six GR14R engines; Me 323 V17 prototype was never completed.

Bibliography:

Bob Archer, Dave Wegner “Giant Messerschmitt” Scale Modeler February 1974 Building the 1/72 Airmodel Me 321/323 vacuform kit – includes large Me 321B and Me 323D 3-views, and a color artwork depicting two Gigants under attack by an RAF B-26.

“Die Giganten…Mersserschmitt’s Monsters” Air International May 1983 includes an Me 323E cutaway and Me 321B-1, Me 323 V2, D-1, E-1, and E-2 side view drawings

Color profiles, including two Me 323D-1s, a D-2, and two Me 323E-2s. Air International January 1986 p.42

Michael Wuyek Review of the Italeri 1/72 Me 323 kit from Italeri Scale Aviation Modeller International 04-2007 p.328

Philip Kaplan Big Wings: The Largest Aeroplanes Ever Built p.212-213: photos of Me 321s under construction, Me 323 cockpit; p.219: Me 323 fuselage wreckage.

Warplanes of the Luftwaffe David Donald, editor includes an Me 323E cutaway diagram and an E-2 color 3-view.

German Aircraft in the Soviet Union and Russia p.179: photos of a Me 323 captured by the Soviets