When Hitler led the Nazis, he made sure that they were properly equipped for the global chaos at the time, that is the World War II. Under his command, the Nazis gained possession of various military technologies. With all that they had, the Me-323 was certainly one of their biggest military possessions. The Me-323 is an aircraft giant. With wings that span 55 meters (181 feet), the distance from one wing tip to the other spans the length of a football field. It can transport 43 metric tons of military gear as far as 675 miles. In addition to its enormous size and payload, its six massive engines sealed its fate as an incredible feat in aviation history.
The Me-323 had a detachable nose which was opened when military gear and personnel get into the aircraft. However as one would expect, the aircraft was incredibly slow. Since military aircraft are generally preferred to be as fast and swift as possible, the Me-323 had a fatal flaw.
Nevertheless, the Me-323 was important in its own ways. At the time, transporting a huge volume of military gear and personnel was an issue for the Germans. They wanted to take their army across the English Channel in order to take over London.
Luftwaffe, the air force under Hitler’s command, gave aircraft manufacturers and Messerschmitt 14 days to come up with an idea that could enable them to travel with that much military payload across the English Channel. Interestingly enough, they had a proposal on time and Messerschmitt went on to head the realization of the idea. It was an idea that gave birth to the Me-321, a lower version of the Me-323.
Hitler eventually forfeited the plan to invade England, which was referred to as Operation Sea Lion. However, he still utilized the Me-321 aircraft during his battles on the Eastern Front.
Later in 1941, the pilots started requesting for an upgrade to the Me-321. Out of the 200 or so units of the Me-321 aircraft built, a couple were taken and upgraded into what would now be known as the Me-323. Me-323 became the largest land-based aircraft of World War II, according to Daily Mail.
Foxtrot Alpha has some details about the Me-323:
The final production configuration of the Me 323 had a high wing made of wood and fabric that was braced near the center of the wing and fuselage. The fuselage was built out of a tubular metal skeleton with wooden crossbeams and fabric covering.
The cockpit sat high atop the aircraft’s bulbous nose, which was a clamshell door design, allowing it to open wide for outsized cargo to be loaded and unloaded. The cargo hold was cavernous for the time, measuring 36 feet long, 10 feet wide and 11 feet high, which is very roughly the size of a first-generation C-130’s cargo hold. All said, the Me 323 could carry a wide variety of items.
For example, it could haul a pair of 4-ton trucks or 52 drums of fuel or 130 fully outfitted combat troops.
Just because it could lift a lot didn’t mean it could do so quickly. The Giant’s maximum speed was a paltry 135 mph at sea level, and that figure got only worse as it climbed. This was helped somewhat by replacing wooden propellers on early models with metal variable pitch propellers on later ones. A crew of five was used on most missions, which included two pilots, two engineers, and a radioman.
During flights through areas that were of high risk, the radioman and the engineers could man three of the aircraft’s five MG 131 machine guns, although dedicated gunners were often carried for these higher-risk missions, allowing the crew to concentrate on flying and navigating while still employing all five guns against Allied fighters. The Giant’s five 0.51-inch machine guns were located on the aircraft’s upper wings and in the nose and tail.
How did the Me-323 perform you ask? Here are a couple of things you need to know.
The aircraft was ready for dispatch in 1943 and a fleet was sent to the German base in Tunisia. Germany had a lot of allied ships in the sea lanes at the time so Tunisia seemed like a reasonable dispatch location. Unfortunately for Hitler though, he failed to realize that since the Me-323 was a giant aircraft, it was a very easy target for the opposition. Coupling its size with the fact that it was very slow, with a top speed of about 135 miles per hour, shooting it down was as easy as making cereal.
Of course there were weapons of self defense and offense on board the Me-323 but that didn’t seem to make any difference to the fate of the aircraft. In fact, World War II Today claims that out of 27 Me-323 aircraft that tried to fly from Sicily to Tunisia, only 5 of them survived. Not only that, all the Me-323 aircraft were so badly damaged during their lifespan that by 1944, none of them was capable of flight. At the moment, there is not one single Me-323 that survived although the German Air Force Museum has a wing on display.
Here is the good news: the crash locations of the aircraft became pretty cool diving spots as divers found several parts of the airplane underwater. If you are looking for treasure in the sea, this might probably not be the place to look at.