Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Messerschmitt 323

I am finally able to address the two interesting points I have been wanting to share.  One dealing with the German WWII Messerschmitt 323 “Gigant” cargo plane found submerged off Sardinia in September.  The second deals with the 2,000 year old tomb and artifacts discovered in China’s Shaanxi Province.

The head of the crew that found the Messerschmitt, diver and amateur historian Cristina Freghieri, relayed a few bits of information to me.  I had asked her how she went about finding the aircraft, what she saw to indicate what it was, whether the plane is in danger of further corrosion and what the next stage is in relation to the plane.  The important thing to keep in mind is that only about 200 were produced for the war and that according to the Imperial War Museum in London, no complete surviving Messerschmitt 323 Giant is in existence.  The “Gigant” had a normal crew of 5, weighed 30 tons when empty, had six Gnome-Rhone engines and a wingspan of 180 feet.  Historical records indicate many 323’s were lost in the last weeks of the North African campaign in April and May of 1943 and this particular one went down July 26, 1943 flying from Sardinia to Pistoia in Tuscany and crashing off the Maddalena islands of Italy.  

 Messerschmitt 323

 Messerschmitt 323 with its rear end open

Ms. Freghieri explained that to find the plane, in January 2012 she lowered a wire-guided camera into the seas to see if it would be necessary for her to put together a team for the dive.  Apparently that turned out to be necessary.  (My words, not hers.)  Once she went down to find it, she saw that the wings of the plane and the six engines were fully visible.  She also explained that the sea water had fully stripped the aircraft and no further damage to it is expected. Except of course for any future man made damage  if someone were to go looking for souvenirs, hopefully not.  As for the future of the plane, Ms. Freghieri indicated that is a confidential matter.  Perhaps then we can look forward to greater attention given to the plane and more interesting historical information gleaned from it.

I tried to find a little information that might indicate what the plane’s mission might have been when it was shot down.  I found nothing for the plane but noted  Maddalena appeared to be a small naval port of some importance, protected by established minefields and anti-submarine nets during the war.  Also of interest, the US Navy used La Maddalena as a submarine base from January 1973 to January 2008.

US Navy Submarine tender USS Orion in port La Maddalena, 1983

Some other bits of information I found suggest the 323 might have flown out of Villacidro (Trunconi) in Sardinia or Venafiorita.  However, after doing a bit more research, I have decided to keep my information a secret for now because I actually think I may have stumbled on to something very interesting regarding our Messerschmitt.  We shall see.  And the Shaanxi information shall wait until tomorrow.   

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