By Luzanne Keyter

The DITSONG: National Museum of Military History, situated in Johannesburg, is home to the largest collection of military heritage in southern Africa, displaying war material from all military conflicts in which South Africans have taken part.

After the First World War (1914-1918) the Imperial War Museum was established in London to serve as a war memorial. No such effort was made in South Africa and much of the war material collected during WWI was dispersed. During the Second World War (1939-1945) Captain J Agar-Hamilton was appointed official historian to the Union Defence Forces, forming a Historical Research Committee. The committee ensured the preservation of documents and materials of military interest, laying the foundation for the establishment of this museum.

On 29 August 1947, Prime Minister Jan Smuts opened the South African National War Museum in Saxonwold. In 1975, the museum's name was changed to the South African National Museum of Military History.

The museum has an important educational function and qualified professional tour guides are available for subject based tours. A reference library, archives and photographic archives hold a large collection of books, pamphlets, journals, archival documents, photographs, audio-visuals and maps.

Some of the world-renowned aircraft on display in the museum's two original Bellman hangars include the German Messerschmitt Bf 109E3, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-6/R6 and the Messerschmitt Me 262B-1a/U1.

The Supermarine Spitfire F VIII, the most famous fighter aircraft from Great Britain during the Second World War, came to fame during the Battle of Britain (1940). The Mark F VIII high altitude version of the aircraft was built in 1942 and came to South African at the direct request of Field Marshal Smuts for a special exhibition in 1944.

Most aviation enthusiasts know and love the sound a Spitfire, and at the museum visitors are given the opportunity to see the famous Rolls-Royce engine from up close.

Almost just as famous as the Spitfire is the Hawker Hurricane. Entering the service in 1937, the Hurricane became one of the best known aircraft in WWII. A total of 14, 231 Hurricanes were built between 1936 and 1944.

The first military aircraft to be built in South Africa, the Hawker Hartbees, is also on display in the museum. Even though it was of British design, the Hartbees is a variation on the Hawker Audax and was specifically designed for operation under South African climatic conditions of heat and high altitude. Reaching a maximum speed of 181km/h (176 mph), the Hartbees saw service in East Africa and Abyssinian campaigns before being replaced by more modern aircraft after which they returned to South Africa for training duties.

The museum houses a large collection of military armour, artillery, medical, naval and engineering equipment, small arms such as swords, knives and guns, as well as a number of military uniforms and different items of clothing from all military conflicts in which South Africans have taken part.

Reading up on any aviation veterans and you will come across abbreviations such as Group Captain Adolf Gysbert 'Sailor' Malan DSO (with bar), DFC (with bar). A large collection of military medals are on display, explaining what each of the different medals mean and what they were awarded for.

1. DSO - Distinguished Service Order
2. DSC - Distinguished Service Cross
3. DFC - Distinguished Flying Cross

Outside the main hangars, a wide rage of artillery, heavy artillery and armoured fighting vehicles are on display, as well as modern aircraft and anti-aircraft equipment, including a DC3 and a Mirage.

A memorial dedicated to the memory of the men, women and children of all races and all nations who lost their lives in the Anglo-Boer war from 1899 to 1902 is also a major attraction.

With an admission fee of only R25 per adult (at the time of publication), this museum is a must-visit attraction for any aviation enthusiast and is perfect for a family outing.

For more information, visit www.ditsong.org.za.

SAAF Museum

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