A tip o' the hat to Glen W. for sending me the link to this outstanding collection of photographs of aircraft of the German Luftwaffe during World War II. There are some amazing shots there that I've never come across before, as well as some that are more familiar. Here are a few that may be new to many of you. Click each image for a larger view.
First, the six-engined Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant, the biggest German transport aircraft of the war. It began life as the Me 321 glider, and was then redesigned as a powered aircraft. It could carry up to 12 tons of cargo, or 130 men, or 60 patients on stretchers. (Compare that to the most common US cargo aircraft of the war, the C-47 Skytrain, which could carry up to 3 tons of cargo or 28 men, including the crew.)
The slow, lumbering Me 323 featured in one of the greatest German aviation disasters of the war. As Wikipedia reports:
On 22 April 1943, a formation of 27 fully loaded Me 323s was being escorted across the Sicilian Straits by Bf 109s of JG 27 when it was intercepted by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s. Twenty one of the Me 323s were lost while three of the P-40s were shot down by the escorts.
My late father had a role in that Allied victory; he was an engineer officer in the Royal Air Force, and fighters from his airfield were among those involved that day. He described the party in the pilots' mess that night as being 'epic'.
Here are a couple of less well-known German seaplanes. First, the Heinkel He 115, often used as a torpedo bomber against the Arctic convoys to and from the Soviet Union.
Next, the Arado Ar 196, standard equipment on German Navy capital ships. They were carried for communication, reconnaissance and gunfire 'spotting' purposes. The famous battleship Bismarck carried four of them on her one and only voyage, and tried to launch one just before she was sunk to carry important records to safety. Unfortunately, shellfire damaged the launching mechanism, preventing the aircraft from taking off.
Finally, here's a very famous individual, one of the finest fighting men of any age. Hans-Ulrich Rudel was a legend in his own lifetime, respected by fighting men around the globe despite his ardent and unwavering devotion to Hitler and the Nazi cause. His combat record is well-nigh incredible: he flew 2,530 combat missions and destroyed over 500 enemy tanks (among many other victories). He was shot down or forced to land 32 times, several of them behind enemy lines, and was wounded in action five times, including the loss of one leg (which didn't stop him flying and fighting). He was the only person in the entire German armed forces to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. I highly recommend his book 'Stuka Pilot'. Here he's shown demonstrating how to attack the Soviet T-34 tank, using a model to illustrate his points.
There are many more images at the link. Fascinating viewing for aviation and military history buffs.