Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant (Giant) Heavy Transport
The Messerschmitt Me 323 Giant had its origins in the massive Me 321 unpowered military glider.
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No sooner had the Messerschmitt Me 321 unpowered glider entered service that a powered version was being requested by the German Luftwaffe. Messerschmitt responded with two distinct prototype forms, both based on the earlier Me 321 glider prototype. The new aircraft was assigned the designation of "Me 323" and the first prototype - the Me 323 V1 - was fitted with four French Gnome-Rhone GR14N radial piston engines of 990 horsepower each along her wing leading edges. The second prototype - the Me 323 V2 - was given six such Gnome-Rhone engines. The use of six engines (as well as rocket-assisted take-offs - known today as "RATO") in the latter prototype meant that the Me 323 would no longer require the use of tug aircraft to get airborne. The Me 323 V1, on the other hand, still required use of a tug plane or, in the case of the dangerous "Troikaschlepp" arrangement, 3 x tethered Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters. As such, German authorities selected for the Me 323 V2 for serial production and netted ten pre-production forms under the designation of Me 323 D-1. The Me 323 "Gigant" was formally introduced for service in 1943 with some earlier forms being conversions of existing Me 321 gliders and some even fitting two-bladed propellers over the more conventional three. Production spanned from 1942 to 1944 to which some 200 or so were produced.
Messerschmitt Me 323 Walk-Around
The lines of the Me 323 followed closely to that of the preceding Me 321 glider, the key identifiable feature being its use of six engines, three to a wing, for its own propulsion. To not tax the German need for viable aircraft engines to arm their fighters and bombers, the selection of a French-made powerplant made sense in the production process as these French facilities were now under German control. The type still exhibited a slow and ponderous nature but her wheeled landing system was now fixed (the Me 321 made use of a jettisonable wheeled dolly and landed on skids), her defensive armament was further addressed and her internal carrying capacity remained larger than what was offered through the older Junkers Ju 52 three-engined workhorse. She could haul over 100 soldiers, a tank, armored vehicle, large caliber field gun or medical patients with support staff as needed. Construction remained as on the Me 321 before it - steel tubing along the fuselage and wood covered over in fabric along the wings - the latter to save on weight. Defensive armament consisted of 5 x 7.92mm machine guns and the aircraft operated by two personnel, specialists and gunners. The Me 323 was still a large and heavy airframe and lacked any sort of defensive agility which eventually made her fodder to Allied guns.
The Changing German Situation in Africa
By this time in the war, German General Erwin Rommel faced an ever-changing situation against British and Commonwealth forces in North Africa. His supply lines ran down through the Mediterranean from Italy, across nearby Malta and ended at Tunisian ports. However, the British still maintained control of Malta and targeted the German convoys at any chance - at times resulting in only one of every four vessels making it to Tunisia. Despite a massive Luftwaffe bombing campaign, Malta would eventually claim to never have fallen under Hitler's sphere of influence throughout all of World War 2.