The Messerschmitt Me 323 was a transport aircraft that was used by Germany during World War II.
The first production model of the Messerschmitt Me 323 was the D-1. It had six Gnome-Rhône engines that were capable of propelling it at speeds of up to 231 km/h. The 323 also had a crew of 5-7 men and an armament that consisted of five MG 81 machine guns and six MG 34s. However, initially only two machine guns were mounted on the aircraft.
Its total weight was around 43,000 kg and its total length was around twenty-eight metres. The aircraft's maximum operational range was 1,100 kilometres while ita service ceiling was about 4,000 metres. The air frame itself was based upon the earlier Messerschmitt Me 321.
The aircraft could carry up to 13.6 metric tons of cargo which translated to about one FlaK 18 along with its transport half track or a single medium tank. It could also carry around 120 passengers onboard if being used in such a role. The gigant was noted by its crews to be a highly reliable design that could still fly despite taking heavy damage. This can be attributed to the fact that the aircraft was made of a wooden superstructure which lessened the weak points of the aircraft. Although, even a high damaged resistance could not save all of the aircraft which were commonly shot down because of their slow speed.
The first variant of the Me 323 was the D-2 which had modified engines and propellers. Following was the D-5 which had the five machine guns mounted in the nose replaced by 13mm autocannons. The D-6 though was more similar to the D-2 except that it had a three propeller design.
Developed as part of a secondary production series, the E-1 model featured largely improved armor protection and was the first to implement wing mounted turrets. The E-2 model featured two other wing mounted autocannons.
The final variant in the series was the Weapons Carrier modification which turned the original E-1 model into a flying gunship. It had an immense armament, was not capable of carrying ant cargo, and had a crew of 21 men.
The Messerschmitt Me 323 was first developed in 1942, following the issuing of a requirement for a powered version of the original 321 glider, resulting in structural strengthening, and redesign of the wing to incorporate mountings for four - later six - piston engines and their fuel supply, while retaining the large single fin and rudder of the 321.[N 1]
Produced via conversion of Me 321 c/n 456, to act as the prototype Me323C,[N 2] the first Me 323 began flight tests in April 1942, powered by four 1,140 hp Gnome/Rhone 14N 48/49 supercharged air cooled radials. Due to the lack of available power, this aircraft was quickly followed by the six engined second prototype, which in turn led to ten pre-production Me 323D-0s.
By 1943, the design was already completed and issued for service. Most 323s were used in the Mediterranean theater and in North Africa but some were eventually put into service in the Soviet Union. In total, around 200 models were produced by the end of the war.
- A twin fin/rudder assembly had initially been proposed for the Me 323.
- The sub-series designations A and B had been used for the Me 321.
- Kay, Antony L and J R Smith. German Aircraft of the Second World War. Putnam Aeronautical Books. 2002. ISBN 0 85177 920 4 Page 270