Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant

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A Führer conference in May discussed the heavy air attacks and noted the loss of a pair of Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant transports near Alghero, Sardinia.

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

A development of the Messerschmitt Me 321 heavy glider, the Me 323 Gigant (Giant) was the largest transport aircraft of the war. They were first deployed in the Mediterranean, where they helped establish German and Italian forces in Tunisia in the wake of Allied victories in Operation TORCH and at El Alamein. These aircraft took on even greater importance as the Italian merchant fleet dwindled in the face of Allied naval superiority in the central Mediterranean.  

Months later, when the Allied navies sealed the Sicilian Strait, these same transport aircraft attempted to maintain an air bridge between Europe and Tunis. They paid a dear price for their efforts. On 22 April 1943, a formation of 27 fully-loaded Me 323s was nearly wiped out when its Bf 109 escort was overwhelmed by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s. Twenty-one of the transports were lost at a cost of just three P-40s.

The German transport fleet (Ju 52s and Me 323s) played an important role during Operation Husky. They airlanded the 1st Parachute Division in Sicily just in time to thwart General Montgomery’s push to Catania and Messina. The transport crews took another thrashing for their efforts and the Germans withdrew them after losing 10 percent of the force to RAF Spitfires on 25 July 1943. By the end of 1943, the Allies had decimated the German transport force and air mobility ceased to be a meaningful Luftwaffe capability.


Specifications (Me 323 D-6)

Type: five-seat heavy transport with accommodation for 130 troops or 10 to 12 tonnes of equipment

Powerplant: six 868kW (1180hp) Gnome-Rhône 14N-48/49 14-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 285km/h (177mph); ceiling 4,000m (13,123ft); range 800km (500 miles)

Weights: empty 27,330kg (60,260lb); maximum take-off 43,000kg (94,815lb)

Wingspan: 55.2m (181ft 0in)

Length: 28.2m (92ft 4in)

Height: 10.5m (33ft 3.5in)

Armament: multiple 7.92mm (0.30in) MG 15, MG 81, or 13mm (0.51in) MG 131 machine guns


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Me 323 Gigant during Operation HUSKY:

  • Transportgeschwader (TG) 1
    • III/TG 1
  • TG 2
    • III/TG 2
  • TG 3
    • IV/TG 3
  • TG 5
    • I/TG 5
  • II Fliegerkorps Transportstaffel
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Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Messerschmitt Bf 110

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The Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter (Zerstörer — “Destroyer” in German) was a pre-war design that went through many upgrades during the Second World War. The aircraft was one of the few long-range fighters the Luftwaffe possessed but, while heavily armed, could not compete with smaller and more nimble Allied planes. Its heavy armament and the extra space its airframe afforded made it a good candidate as a night fighter, fighter-bomber, and long-range reconnaissance aircraft.


Specifications (Bf 110F-2)

Type: two-seat heavy fighter

Powerplant: two 1007kW (1350hp) Daimler-Benz DB 601F 12-cylinder inverted-Vee engines

Performance: maximum speed 565km/h (351mph); climb to 6000m (19,685ft) in 9 minutes 12 seconds; service ceiling 10,900m (35,760ft); range 1200km (746 miles)

Weights: empty 5600kg (12,346lb); maximum take-off 7200kg (15,873lb)

Wingspan: 16.20m (53ft 2in)

Length: 12.10m (38ft 8in)

Height: 4.13m (13ft 7in) with the tail up

Armament: two 20mm (0.79in) forward-firing cannon and four 7.92mm (0.31in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the nose and one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable rearward-firing machine gun in the rear cockpit


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew Messerschmitt Bf 110s in defence of Sicily:

Night Fighters (Bf 110 or Ju 88)

  • Nachtjagdgeschwader (NJG) 2
    • II/NJG 2

Twin-Engine Fighters (Bf 110 & Me 210)

  • Zerstörergeschwader (ZG) 1
    • II/ZG 1
  • ZG 26
    • Gruppenstab ZG 26
    • III/ZG 26
    • X/ZG 26
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Dewoitine D.520

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A Dewoitine D.520 tangles with a Messerschmitt Bf 109E during the Battle of France (Image: QuentinR.deviantart.com on @DeviantArt)

This French fighter was one of few aircraft to serve on both sides during the Second World War. The Dewoitine D.520 first entered service in early 1940, before the German Blitzkrieg rampaged across France. After the fall of France, the fighter served both the Vichy French and Free French air forces. When Vichy French forces in North Africa sided with the Allies in late 1942, a number of these aircraft served briefly in Tunisia. The Allies quickly phased these out in favour of types like the Spitfire and P-39 Aircobra.

The Regia Aeronautica also employed some captured D.520s in the defence of Italy. Its 20mm cannon made it a decent gun platform to take on large American daylight bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. Unfortunately, the French-built cannons were not compatible with Italian-built ammunition, meaning the Italians were dependent on French depots for their supply. After the 8 September 1943 Italian armistice, both the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force and the German-backed Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana used the type.   


Specifications (D.520C.1)

Type: single-seat fighter

Powerplant: one 930hp (693kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Y-45 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 540km/h (336mph); climb to 4000m (13,125ft) in 5 minutes 49 seconds; service ceiling 11,000m (36,090ft); range 1540km (957 miles)

Weights: empty 2125kg (4685lb); maximum take-off 2790kg (6151lb)

Wingspan: 10.2m (33ft 6in)

Length: 8.76m (28ft 9in)

Height: 2.57m (8ft 5in)

Armament: one 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon in the nose, and four 7.5mm (0.29in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing


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The following Regia Aeronautica units used the Dewoitine D.520 in the defence of Sicily and southern Italy:

  • 161 Gruppo Autonomo Caccia Terrestre
    • 162 Squadriglia
    • 164 Squadriglia
    • 371 Squadriglia
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Messerschmitt Bf 109

Toward noon 105 bombers came and destroyed the Jagdgruppe Vibo Valentia, which had about 80 aircraft. Not a machine was left intact, not even the [Junkers] which had just landed. Fuel trucks, hangars, aircraft, autos, everything was burning. The German fighters in Italy have been wiped out.

– Lieutenant Köhler, Luftwaffe fighter pilot, quoted in Eagles over Husky

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Bf 109 G-2/Trop “Black 6” of JG 77 now on static display at Royal Air Force Museum Cosford

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the primary German fighter throughout the Second World War. Initially produced in 1937, the Luftwaffe began the war with the Bf 109E or “Emil” variant. The Bf 109F replaced the Emil in mid-1941, which was subsequently replaced by the Bf 109G or “Gustav” in mid-1942. The Gustav was the model German (and some Italian) fighter pilots flew in Sicily. The aircraft also served as a fighter-bomber on some occasions.


Specifications (Bf 109G)

Type: single-seat fighter

Powerplant: one 1100kW (1474hp) Daimler-Benz DB 605AM 12-cylinder inverted-Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 386mph (621km/h); climb to 5700m (18,700ft) in 6 minutes; service ceiling 11,550m (37,890ft); range 1000km (621 miles)

Weights: empty 2673 (5893lb); maximum take-off 3400kg (7496lb)

Wingspan: 9.92m (32ft 7in)

Length: 8.85m (29ft 1in)

Height: 2.50m (8ft 3in)

Armament: one 20mm (0.79in) or 30mm (1.18in) fixed forward-firing cannon in an engine installation, and two 13mm (0.51in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the upper part of the forward fuselage, plus an external bomb load of 250kg (551lb)


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The following Luftflotte 2 and Regia Aeronautica units flew Messerschmitt Bf 109s in defence of Sicily:

Luftflotte 2

  • Jagdgeschwader (JG) 3
    • IV Gruppe/JG 3
  • JG 27
    • II/JG 27
  • JG 51
    • II/JG 51
  • JG 53
    • Gruppenstab JG 53
    • I/JG 53
    • II/JG 53
    • III/JG 53
  • JG 77
    • Gruppenstab JG 77
    • I/JG 77
    • II/JG 77
    • III/JG 77

Regia Aeronautica

  • 3 Gruppo Autonomo (Aut) Caccia Terrestre (CT)
    • 153 Squadriglia
    • 154 Squadriglia
    • 155 Squadriglia
  • 150 Gruppo Aut CT
    • 363 Squadriglia
    • 364 Squadriglia
    • 365 Squadriglia