Ditsong Museum of Military History – Johannesburg South Africa

By Tony Dill

 

The Ditsong Museum of Military History is located in the suburb of Saxonwold, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Lying adjacent to the Johannesburg Zoo, it is easily reached by both private and public transport. It is open daily from 09.00 until 16.30 except for public holidays.

Once one arrives at the site, one is greeted by an imposing monument erected to the fallen British soldiers of the Anglo-Boer Wars. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and although dedicated to all British fallen soldiers of the second Anglo Boer War was originally called the Rand Regiments Memorial, it was rededicated as the Anglo Boer Monument in 1999, to commemorate all the fallen of that conflict.

Strolling through the peaceful surroundings, which to this writer only served to not remind him of the engines and honours of war that surrounded him, but also as homage to those of all races and creeds who had given up their lives for the greater struggle, so that their fellowmen might be free? These strangely peaceful surroundings are brought starkly home by the sounds of various animals emanating from the neighbouring zoo, as well, as the monuments and plaques erected to the Fallen.

Originally there was no great movement to preserve the considerable military history of South Africa, and all might well have been lost were it not for foresight of Captain Agar-Hamilton who in the dark days of 1940 had already started gathering artefacts with an eye to the future. Eventually he received backing from the authorities including General Jannie Smuts, who was to dedicate and open the museum.

As the Visitor enters the immaculately kept grounds and halls he will find that the museum is divided into halls and display areas.

The Main Courtyard contains, a memorial erected in honour of fallen members of the airborne forces of 44 Parachute Regiment, 44 Parachute Brigade ,the South African Special Forces as well as a memorial honouring members of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group.

Then moving on we come to what many, me included, regard as the Crown Jewels in the entire Museum collection. We find ourselves magnetically drawn to the Group Captain 'Sailor' Malan Hall with its displays. Firstly is a Bf 109 E3, 'Red 2' that crashed on a farm in Sussex during the Battle of Britain. The pilot is known to be Uffz. Heinz Wolf who spent the rest of the war as a POW. The Bf 109 was scavenged after crash landing for souvenirs and what remained made its way to South Africa.

Next I could not help but notice the looming bulky Fw 190-A6 that was captured intact and looks as if it will start up any second, in such a good condition, is it. Interesting, one will note that she still bears her factory codes, and is also fitted with the aerials of a FuG217 system. She is fitted with two cannons in under wing gondolas, served at Leck and after capture was eventually sent to South Africa in 1946

And then finally, there she is, dominating the entire hall with her shark like, menacing presence. The only Me 262B-1a/U1 Nightfighter that has survived from her birth during the waning days of the Second World war, till the present day. She stands there in a very accurate camouflage, Red 8, looking as if she is ready to down the runway at Magdeburg, where she was stationed as part of Hauptman Welter’s 10/NJG11. She moved to Lubeck and fell into Allied hands after capture at Schleswig. Indeed, a great prize as she was fully operational with a Neptun FuG 218 radar. It was brought to South Africa by Captain Jack Meaker along with various other aircraft he had acquired for South Africa in 1947. It was eventually moved to the Museum in 1972.

Another priceless relic is the instrument panel from a Heinkel He-111 bomber displayed on a wall behind the aircraft.

Moving on we come to the rather large GE Brink Hall, an actual Bellman hangar with many interesting exhibits including again rare and interesting aircraft.

There is Hawker Hurricane IIC issued to the SAAF in 1944, among its interesting features is the large Vokes filter. Currently displayed suspended is a Mosquito PR.IX, which admittedly is looking a bit sad. But it is still to be seen.

Also on view from WW2 is a Bf 109F-2 which was captured in Libya.

Although South Africa operated many Spitfires during WW2, only one example is preserved, a Spitfire Mk VIII, and strangely enough it is the only Mk VIII to ever serve with the SAAF. At the moment she has been stripped down to bare metal.

Prepared to be thrilled because in this hall of marvels, we will find a number of even older aircraft, namely a DH-9, a Hawker Hartebees (Audax), and a Wolseley built SE5a. The Hartebees claims to have seen action against Italian Forces in Ethiopia

All this is arrayed amongst medals and uniforms from various veterans of the armed forces such as General Jan Smuts.

Very thought provoking artefact’s from South Africa's involvement in various world conflicts, such as the Korean War and the two World Wars are on display as well as many exhibits covering the Anglo Boer wars.

Also to be seen are exhibits detailing major events in South African History between the Boer Wars and the 1994 South African general elections. Events covered include the political divisions in the country during the first and second world wars, the Rand Rebellion (1921-1922), the sabotage campaign of the Ossewabrandwag during the Second World War and South Africa's involvement in the Angolan Civil War.

The FB Adler Hall is another large hall which is actually housed in a Bellman Hangar. Amongst the small displays we will find, something for the armour fundi’s. A Sexton SPG looms large as does a 105mm gunned Sherman and an M3 Stuart. Large numbers of small arms and other weapons of war, swords, bayonets and the like provide a suitable back drop to a small SA Navy and Border War Display.

The Dan Pienaar Gun Park is an artillery man’s delight and scattered around the grounds are  various artillery pieces, including an immaculate German Flak 36/37 aka the notorious 88mm, the bane of many tankers lives, and interestingly enough a 4.7in twin mounting from a SA Navy Loch Class frigate as well as a practice 21in torpedo.

Moving outside we find aircraft from the Border War, a Dakota that has been repainted in its RAF WW2 colours, and perhaps more topically is a Mirage IIICZ, a Impala Mk.2 and a Buccaneer S.50 in Maritime strike colours.

A rare catch is a German WW2 one man submarine, the Molch, or Salamander, the hatch of the conning tower has been sealed with a Perspex cover and one can only marvel at the resolve of these brave men.

For those with interest in the recently released Takom G-6 SPG, there is also an example of this very imposing vehicle. Note that this is the prototype and not the production vehicle. Another large vehicle soon threatens to overwhelm us and we stare in wonder at the Recovery version of the Olifant MBT. Equally imposing is a Churchill AVRE MkIV, standing next to it. Arranged under cover are more afv’s some captured on the Border from Angolan or Cuban forces. There is a PT-76, T-34/85, T-55, vehicles from late war and post WW2, a Comet plus its power pack, a Centurion Mk III,  then from WW2, a Firefly Mk1C Composite hull, a Valentine, Crusader, a German Sdkfz 251 half-track still bearing a penetration in its engine compartment, and finally there smaller afv’s, a Bren gun carrier, an Italian CV-33 tankette, A Ford GPA amphibious jeep(just look at the weathering), a row of Marmon Harrington armoured cars from Mk1 to 4. This cornucopia is rounded off by a very rare 1920 Crossley armoured car.

Also on the grounds is a small shop selling books and Militaria as well as another  selling refreshment.