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The Ditsong National Museum of Military History, Saxonwold

The Ditsong National Museum of Military History

Formerly known as the South African National Museum of Military History, the museum is ultimately a memorial for all South Africans who have died in or as a result of military actions. Opened in 1947 by then Prime Minister, Field Marshall Jan Smuts, the museum is a treasure-chest of all things military – with the history and hardware to back it up.

Located on an 80ha site next to the Johannesburg Zoo, in Saxonwold, the Ditsong National Museum of Military History is one of South Africa’s most undervalued attractions. It is the only one of its kind in the country, and is considered the “spiritual and symbolic home of regular and reserve soldiers and veterans in South Africa and throughout the world”.

Although the Museum has a glorious display of war machinery, its purpose is not to glorify war

The museum offers an exciting display of past weaponry and is an inspiring memorial to the past with its collection of World War 1 and 2 fighter planes, tanks, armaments, medals, military insignia and uniforms.

The Ditsong National Museum of Military HistoryA popular feature of the museum is the many aircraft on display, including aircraft used in the two world wars, some of which are the only ones of their kind left in the world. There is a very special item on display, fondly known as the “Mona Lisa”. It is the first jet engine fighter plane, designed and manufactured by the Germans towards the end of World War 2. It was the first two-seater night fighter, called the ME 262, and this one is the only existing plane of its kind in the world.

Among the museum’s hardware are some of the first modern weapons, such as the Maxim machine gun, the howitzer, automatic handguns, magazine-fed rifles and guns used in the Anglo-Boer War in the 19th century. Armoured fighting vehicles, uniforms and medals are also among the 40 000 items on display.

The development of warfare weaponry is also exhibited, such as combat uniforms and medicines

There is a fascinating section on resistance to war, including the Rebellion of 1914, the Ossewa Brandwag, and the End Subscription Campaign, as well as the resistance movement Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC.

The Museum’s library has an exceptional collection of books, journals and archival material, as well as official South African World War 2 art and photographs.

If you’d like to purchase a little token of your day out, then pop into the War Store; located in the grounds and offering a selection of badges, weapons, uniforms, helmets and books. If you’re feeling peckish, then just opposite the War Store you’ll find the Vargas Café, named after Alberto Vargas who painted voluptuous women on the noses of World War 1 planes.

Address: 22 Erlswold Way, Johannesburg. Next to the Johannesburg Zoo and Zoo Lake. Hours 9am to 4.30pm everyday. Phone: 011 646 5513

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