The Me 321 glider was used to transport heavy weapons during the invasion of Russia.

The Me 321 glider was used to transport heavy weapons during the invasion of Russia.

The Me 321 required three aircraft to pull it off the ground as well as assistance from rocket motors.

At first the Me 321 required three aircraft to pull it off the ground as well as assistance from rocket motors. Later specialist tugs were developed – here the Glider is pulled by another unusual aircraft – the Heinkel 111Z or Zwilling. Two Heinkel 111 aircraft were joined together with the addition of another engine.

The following film shows the Me 321 glider in operation in Russia, including extraordinary footage of the take off when it is pulled by three aircraft flying in formation. There was no room for error here. It concludes with a short combat sequence of a Me 323 plane being shot down by a USAAF P-38, probably in the Mediterranean:

The Me 321 glider was developed into the Me 323 Gigant transport aircraft with the addition of 6 engines.

The Me 321 glider was developed into the Me 323 Gigant transport aircraft with the addition of 6 engines.

The Illustrated London News overview of the Me 323, drawn by G H Davis.

The Illustrated London News overview of the Me 323, drawn by G H Davis, published in 1943. Allied fighter pilots would have been fully aware of where the fuel tanks were located within the wooden frame.

The profile of the Me323 as produced for the Illustrated London News in 1943.

The profile of the Me323 as produced for the Illustrated London News in 1943.

While the Germans had complete command of the skies the Me 321, and later the Me 323, were to prove their worth in transporting heavy equipment over the vast distances of Russia. When the German campaign in North Africa began to unravel, the Me 323 was pressed into service to transport men and munitions between Tunisia and Sicily. Although the German campaign in Tunisia was doomed, Hitler chose to continue re-inforcing the Afrika Korps rather than consider an evacuation.

Sea transports were becoming increasingly vulnerable to Allied attack. It was a desperate move to try to supplement these with the Me 323 which was inevitably even more vulnerable to Allied air attack than shipping convoys.

A Me 323 delivers a  renault tracked vehicle to the Tunisian front.

A Me 323 delivers a Renault tracked vehicle to the Tunisian front.

German casualties from Tunisia arriving in Italy March 1943.

German casualties from Tunisia arriving in Italy March 1943.

On the 22nd April 1943 the airlift programme from Sicily to Tunisia was brought to a dramatic halt when a fleet of 27 Me 323 transport planes was attacked by Allied fighters. Although escorted by German fighters they were little better than sitting ducks. 22 were shot down into the Mediterranean.

The huge size and lumbering speed of the Me 323 made it an obvious target for Allied aircraft.

The huge size and lumbering speed of the Me 323 made it an obvious target for Allied aircraft.

Footage of the Me 323 in operation:

South African pilots at Kairouan North/Temmar, Tunisia

South African pilots at Kairouan North/Temmar, Tunisia, recount the events of 22 April 1943, when Curtiss Kittyhawks of No. 7 South African Wing, and Supermarine Spitfires of No. 1 Squadron SAAF, intercepted and shot down a large formation of Messerschmitt Me 323 transport aircraft and their fighter escorts, which was attempting to reinforce the beleaguered Axis forces in North Africa, off Cap Bon, Tunisia. They are, (left to right): Major J D W Human (Sweep leader of No. 7 Wing), Major J E Parsonson (Officer Commanding No. 5 Squadron SAAF, credited with shooting down two Me 323s), Lieutenant R W Humphrey and Lieutenant F A Weingartz (both No. 5 Squadron SAAF, each of whom was credited with two Me 323s).

{ 5 comments }

Apr

21

1943

Spitfires versus Focke-Wulf 190s over France

21st April 1943: Spitfires versus Focke-Wulf 190s over France

I identified it at once-it was a Focke-Wulf 190. I had not studied the photos and recognition charts so often for nothing. After firing a burst of tracer at me he bore down on Martell. Yes, it certainly was one – the short wings, the radial engine, the long transparent hood: the square-cut tail-plane all in one piece!

Apr

20

1943

Indian and Gurkha troops attack Germans in Tunisia

20th April 1943:Indian and Gurkha troops attack Germans in Tunisia

I was challenged in a foreign language. I felt it was not the British language or I would have recognised it. To make quite sure I crept up and found myself looking into the face of a German. I recognised him by his helmet. He was fumbling with his weapon so I cut off his head with my kukri. Another appeared from a slit trench and I cut him down also. I was able to do the same to two others, but one made a great deal of noise, which raised the alarm.

Apr

19

1943

The first Warsaw uprising – a desperate Jewish rebellion

19th April 1943: Warsaw uprising – desperate Jewish rebellion

I wait at my post anxiously but not for long. I cock my ears and hear the heavy tread of the uniformed killers. A detachment of murderers is marching down Zelazna toward Leszno, into the ghetto: one-two, one-two, more blood, more blood. But then comes the most beautiful moment in my life. A tremendous explosion rends the air. Crash! They’re falling to the ground. Again, Crash! All of a sudden the Ukrainians are rolling in puddles of blood. Blood for blood! The murderers disperse in a wild panic, seeking shelter in the entranceways.

Apr

18

1943

An English girl’s love letter for the Gestapo

18th April 1943: An English girl’s love letter for the Gestapo

Bill darling, do let me know as soon as you get fixed and can make some more plans, and don’t please let them send you off into the blue the horrible way they do nowadays – now that we’ve found each other out of the whole world, I don’t think I could bear it.

Apr

17

1943

USCGC Spencer’s mid Atlantic attack on U-175

17th April 1943: USCGC Spencer’s mid Atlantic attack on U-175

At 1138 a submarine [U-175] surfaced to conning tower depth at 2,500 yards, drawing slowly right, still underway but apparently damaged. At 1140 Spencer commenced firing all guns and observed many hits on the conning tower and at its base. The crew of the submarine was observed to be abandoning ship via the conning tower.

Apr

16

1943

Parachuting out of bomber shot down over France

16th April 1943: Parachuting out of bomber shot down over France

Then the pilot came on pleading, “Please get out!” and so forth. We went down to about 7,000 feet I think at that time. And so I quickly unbuttoned my intercom and my helmet and I just stood up and I jumped on the edge of the door and out it went and I went out too. And my first impression was just the black tail of the aircraft going over the top of my head.

Apr

15

1943

Eisenhower tours the Tunisian front line

15th April 1943: Eisenhower tours the Tunisian front line

When we reached the scene of destruction of twenty-seven tanks, many of which could still be seen on the hillsides, we had to take a one-way dirt track across a field. The track was marked by white tape and along it were signs, ‘Mines-Verges.’ Because of possible presence of booby traps, there was a noticeable reluctance to prod into the innards of the Tiger tanks or to touch the articles lying around them.

Apr

14

1943

U.S. troops on the lessons from combat in Tunisia

14th April 1943: U.S. troops on the lessons from combat in Tunisia

I got my men used to the German flares by getting all I could, including those I could borrow from the British, and we fired them all night at Jerry. Now we take flares with us and fire them at Jerry at night. We do this on all the nights that we don’t use them for signals, then we use them only for signals. But my men now pay no attention to the enemy flares.

Apr

13

1943

Nazis announce Katyn massacre of Polish officers

13th April 1943: Nazis announce Katyn Wood massacre of Polish officers

He told me that he had proofs that the Soviet Government had murdered the 15,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in their hands, and that they had been buried in vast graves in the forests, mainly around Katyn. He had a wealth of evidence. I said, “If they are dead nothing you can do will bring them back.”