Model Quarter Scale German First World War Aircraft donated to the Ditsong National Museum of Military History

Model Quarter Scale German First World War Aircraft donated to the Ditsong National Museum of Military History

Allan Sinclair, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

Two ¼ scale model aircraft were donated to the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History (DNMMH) in 2021. The models are true working depictions of the Albatros D Va fighter and the Gotha G.II bomber, both operated by the German Imperial Air Service during the First World War (1914 – 1918). The models were designed, built and flown by the donor, Mr Herman Grobler of Secunda.

The Importance of the donation

The model aircraft provide a visual comparison of the relative size of the Gotha G.II, the first strategic bomber produced during the First World War, as opposed to the single seat Albatros D Va fighter. The D Va is also an example of the improvements that took place in aircraft construction during that war as it was designed using monocoque (shall loadbearing) construction techniques.
The historical significance of the two aircraft will be discussed further.

The Albatros D Va

Model Albatros D Va (Courtesy: Mr H Grobler).

The Albatros D I and D II were the first of a new generation of fighter aircraft to enter service in October 1916 with the German Air Services. The aircraft were designed by Albatros-Werke and were far superior to Allied fighters at that stage of the war. The main feature was the streamlined monocoque fuselage built around the 160 hp in-line Mercedes engine. Monocoque implies that the chassis was integral with the body of the aircraft.  The propeller spinner was also precisely contoured into the nose of the fuselage and the aircraft was equipped with two machine guns which fired through the arch of the propeller.[i]


An updated version, the Albatros D III, was introduced following test studies carried out on a captured French Newport fighter. This aircraft was a sesquiplane version, which is described as a bi-plane with the lower main plane designed to be half the size of the other.[ii]

While the D IV was originally earmarked to succeed the D III, problems experienced with the design of the engine precluded this model from entering service. The D V, which became the next production version in 1917, was also plagued with complications. It had a lighter airframe, was slow in manoeuvring and the design of the assembly of the wings onto the fuselage led to many cases of wing failure. The response to this was the development of the D Va which provided a much stronger and reinforced design of both the fuselage and the wings as well as a more powerful 180 hp engine.[iii]

Despite the many improvements, the D Va was still beset with various structural problems. The German Air Service had no alternative at the time but to make use of the aircraft until new fighter design variants could be brought into service. By May 1918 a total of 1512 D V and D Va aircraft were operating along the Western Front in France and Belgium. Even so the aircraft was soon out-performed by newly developed Allied aircraft also introduced by that time – these being the Scout Experimental Se 5a and the Sopwith Camel – and heavy losses were experienced in action against these aircraft. While the numbers of D Va had decreased significantly by 1918, a few continued to fly in action until the armistice in November 1918.[iv]

The model Albatros D Va being placed on display at the DNMMH

The general characteristics of the ¼ scale model are as follows:
Length – 1.83 m (original 7.33 m)
Wingspan – 2.26 m (original 9.05 m)
Height – 0.67 m (original 2.7 m)
Weight – 6.7 kg (original 937 kg)
Construction – Beech, ash wood and aluminium. Covering polyester doped.
Scale features – Instruments, armament, radiator (with shutters and lever) and functional flight controls which consist of the following: Roll and pitch (controlled by control stick), rudder from the rudder bar.

The Gotha G. II

Model Gotha G. II (Courtesy: Mr H Grobler).

The Gotha heavy bomber was developed by Gothaer Waggonfabriek in response to a major strategic objective of the German High Command. This was to attack and bomb the United Kingdom across the North Sea. Initial bombing raids were carried out by the Imperial German Navy using Zeppelin lighter-than-air airships. The losses incurred in such raids and the realisation that airships were completely exposed to hostile fire led to an acceleration in the development of G-Type bomber.  By May 1917 these aircraft possessed the essential endurance, speed, manoeuvrability, ability to fly at high altitude and load bearing capacity to carry out operations required to meet the strategic objective.[i]

After eighteen initial G. I aircraft had been designed, Gothaer chief designer, Hans Burkhard, introduced further modifications to the fuselage which improved the centre of gravity and wing-fuselage assembly. This became the G. II model which was also powered by two 220 hp Mercedes D.I.V. engines and fitted with a standard four-wheel undercarriage and conventional tailskid. The latter reduced the danger of over-turning on landing. Fuel was stored in tanks located in the large streamlined engine nacelles while special bomb racks inside the fuselage could carry up to fourteen 10 kg bombs.  A second machine-gun mounted behind the wings provided defence against enemy fighters attacking from behind and below. The various sections of the aircraft were designed to be self-contained and the fuselage, engines, wings and undercarriage could be dismantled and fitted onto three railway flatcars for transport.[ii]

Although production of the G. II commenced in April 1916, only ten were eventually constructed.  According to Cooper not much is known of the performance of the G. II in combat operations.  It is believed that eight of the ten aircraft produced were used on the Balkan Front. The cause of this limited service was the technical problems experienced with the engines and the weak structure of the ailerons.[iii]

The successor models of the G. II were the G. III and the G. IV. The G. III had a much stronger design with a reinforced fuselage built out of plywood, two 260 hp engines and ailerons fitted to both the upper and lower main planes. White states that this model served as the test prototype for the G .IV which became the main production model in 1917.[iv]

All four models of the G-Type bomber were designed with a large, spacious open cockpit with three interconnected sections complete with walkways between them for the crew. At the front of the aircraft was the commander’s position which was fitted with a machine gun on a ring mounting and the Goertz bomb site. This section also had the opening for the crew to enter and leave.  Directly behind was the pilot’s section which was equipped with a large wheeled column and a brass instrument panel. The rear-gunner’s section was immediately aft of the trailing edge of the lower main plane. Later models also featured an open tunnel inside the fuselage behind the rear gunner’s position from which the gunner could reposition himself to fire from the tail of the aircraft.[v]

Daylight raids on London and south-eastern England took place between May and September 1917. The formations of bombers in each of these raids were relatively small with only 28 aircraft forming the largest group assembled together at one time. The bombing campaign did initially lead to the withdrawal of two Royal Flying Corps squadrons from the Western Front to assist in the defence of London. Cooper believes that this dissipation of aerial forces from France, together with the effect on the moral of the local British population which found themselves in the firing line, provided a certain amount of success for these bombing raids. He adds, however, that the effect of the bombing raids began to weaken as the numbers of British fighters and anti-aircraft defences increased. By September 1917 the Germans had been forced to turn to night time bombing raids.[vi]

The front of the model Gotha G. II.

The general characteristics of the ¼ scale model are as follows:

Length – 3.1 m (original 12.36 m)
Wingspan – 5.9 m (original 23.7 m)
Height – 1.1 m (original 4.3 m)
Weight – 7.8 kg (original 3 975 kg)
Construction – Beech, ash wood and aluminium. Covering polyester doped.
Scale features – Instruments, armament, bomb release and functional flight controls consisting of the following: wing warping controlled by steering wheel, pitch through steering wheel and rudder from the rudder bar.

The model Gotha G. II being placed on display at the Museum.


Both the Albatros D Va and the Gotha G. II were not as successful in air operations as had been anticipated. Nevertheless, they epitomise advancements made in the design of aircraft which ensued as a result of the First World War. These improvements in design techniques would be tested further and introduced into more innovative designs of aircraft that would emerge as the 20th century progressed.

The Aviation Collection at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History is considered to be one the finest in the world and provides examples of the history and usage of military aviation from 1914 to present day. The two new exhibits are the first examples of working German First World War ¼ scale model aircraft to be included in this collection. Mr Grobler must be commended for considering the Museum as a repository for his detailed examples of an Albatros D Va fighter and a Gotha G. II bomber.

[i] Chris Grant, The Pictorial History of Air Warfare (London: Octopus Books, 1979), 24.

[ii] “Albatros DVa”

[iii]  John H Morrow, The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921 (Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1993), 162.

[iv] John H Morrow, The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921 (Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1993), 162.

[i]  C M White, The Gotha Summer: The German Daytime Air Raids on England, May to August 1917 (London, Robert Hale, 1986), 38.

[ii] Gotha G. II, G. III “Model Fan” Magazine”

[iii] Bryan Cooper, The Story of the Bomber, 1914 – 1945 (London, Octopus Books, 1974), 40.

[iv] C M White, The Gotha Summer: The German Daytime Air Raids on England, May to August 1917 (London, Robert Hale, 1986), 43.

[v] C M White, The Gotha Summer: The German Daytime Air Raids on England, May to August 1917 (London, Robert Hale, 1986), 43, 44.

[vi] Bryan Cooper, The Story of the Bomber, 1914 – 1945 (London, Octopus Books, 1974), 40.

Grobler correspondence, dated 12 April 2021.

Personnel Correspondence
Herman Grobler, correspondence dated 12 April 2021.

Cooper, B. 1974. The Story of the Bomber, 1914 – 1945. London: Octopus Books.
Grant, C. 1979. A Pictorial History of Air Warfare. London: Octopus Books.
Morrow, J H. 1993. The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921. Shrewsbury: Airlife.
White, C M. 1986. The Gotha Summer: The German Daytime Air Raids on England, May to August 1917. London: Robert Hale.

Internet Sources

“Albatros DVa”

Gotha G. II, G. III “Model Fan” Magazine”

The T-34 Russian Medium Tank

The T-34 Russian Medium Tank

Michael Tobolo, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History


The T-34 Russian tank was probably one of the most powerful and greatest tanks used during the Second World War (1939-1945). It was introduced in the 1940s and was more powerful than its contemporaries.

Many of these Russian tanks were produced in a remote area of Siberia (the vast region of Russia and northern Kazakhstan) in a place called Tankograd (tank city). The T-34 was reliable in all aspects in that it could stand and dictate the battle to the mighty German Panzers and it fought in some of the greatest tank battles on the Eastern Front.

Figure 1: A heavily gunned T-34 in action during the invasion of Russia in 1941.

History of the Russian T-34 tank

In the 1930s the Soviet Union was a vast country with a population of 180 million, but its defence was weak and less sophisticated. As a result, the Soviet Union developed and improved its industries so that it could be on the same level as those of the western countries. Because of a lack of technology and resources the Soviet Union reproduced or copied from western countries.

They came upon an American engineer, inventor and designer by the name of J. Christie Walters. Although Walter’s inventions were rejected by the American Army, the Soviet Union was eager and open to anyone who introduced new ideas. Walters designed the fastest tank by revolutionising the tank technology, designing the independent sprung system on the road wheels known as the Christie suspension used in a number of World War II-era tank designs.

The most notable were the Soviet BT and T-34 series. The BT cruiser tanks developed in the 1930s by Christie were brought as tractors by the Russians and the BT became the foundation of Russian tanks.

The poor performance of the Soviet tanks and the effectiveness of the German tanks in the Winter War in Finland was the main motivation for the Soviet military command to stop being concerned about high production cost. The Winter War also known as the First Soviet-Finnish War was a war between the Soviet Union (USSR) and Finland. It began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II.



Figure 2: A Soviet war bond financing the T-34 tank during World War II. (Source:

Mikhail Koshkin (chief designer), Kharkiv Morozov (machine building designer) and Alexandria Alexadrovich Morozov were the most prominent designers of the T-34. The production of the first innovative T-34 medium tanks was completed in September 1940. It replaced the T-26, BT series and the multi-turret T-28 medium tank.

The T-34 was a five crew tank with a combat weight of 32 000 kg, maximum speed of 55km/h, road- range of 400 km, combat range of 265 km, 7.62 mm machine gun, 270 L fuel tank and V-12 373 water-cooled diesel engine. The most striking aspect of the T-34’s appearance was its angled surfaces. Rather than being a basic metal box like earlier tanks, the T-34 was carefully designed to present sloping armour faces to incoming shells. Striking at an angle had two effects: it increased the thickness of armour that a shell had to penetrate, and the oblique angle meant a shell was likely to glance off rather than going through. The sloping armour which most countries copied increased protection and made it impossible for the German Panzers to pierce through.

The Christie suspension remained mobile in the terrible harsh weather conditions while some of the greatest German tanks could not handle the harsh weather conditions. 

Combat history 

The speed and the agility of the T-34 medium tank made it possible for the Soviet Union to use the military tactic called pincer attack. It is a military manoeuvre in which forces simultaneously attack both sides of an enemy formation. Adolf Hitler’s army speeded into Russia during Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in history in June 1941. The Red Army was badly organized, under-prepared, and overwhelmed by a rapid Blitzkrieg. It destroyed their air force on the ground and even entire army groups. However, not everything went the Germans’ way. Nazi forces were taken by surprise by the new T-34 Soviet tank, which advanced on German forces and shrugged-off fire from half a dozen German tanks. Because of its resistance, the T-34 was able to destroy German tanks with ease.  Although the Red Army still took heavy casualties, they stemmed the German advance. The Battle of Kursk (the largest tank battle in history, involving some 6,000 tanks, 2,000,000 troops, and 4,000 aircraft), which lasted from 5 July 1943–23 August 1943 marked the decisive end of the German offensive capability on the Eastern Front and cleared the way for the great Soviet offensives of 1944–45. It was the end of the German strategic offensive and the Russians advanced to Hitler’s capital, Berlin and to final victory.

German General von Kleist (field-marshal during World War II) called the T-34 “the finest tank in the world” and suggested that the German Reich should copy it rather than designing their own. Although his suggestion was not approved, the T-34’s sloping armour was a strong influence on the next German tank, the Panther.

Many of the T-34/85 were later sold to third world countries and have been used in action in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and Angola where the one illustrated in Figure 3 was captured by the South African forces.

Figure 3: An example of a T-34/85 tank, on display at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.


David Hambling, “The Soviet Tank that changes the World”, Popular Mechanics, May 19, 2020.

Dr Guy Finch (Kings College, London).

Prof Ronald J. Barr (University College Isle of Man)

Major Gordon Corrigan (A historical writer and a former British soldier).

The impact of Military Communication during the second World War (1939 – 1945) Military Equipment of the Soviet Union : The A-7 VHF Transceiver

The impact of Military Communication during the second World War (1939 – 1945) Military Equipment of the Soviet Union : The A-7 VHF Transceiver

Abraham Mohale, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History 

What is a military communication?

Military communication is the transmission of information from reconnaissance and other units in contact with the enemy and the means for exercising command by the transmission of orders and instruction of commanders to the subordinates. Military communication has for a very long time played an important role in warfare.

The military services learned from their wartime experiences the importance of scientific research and development in all fields, including communication electronics. Advances were made in the communication capacity of wire and radio relay systems and in improved electronic aids for navigation. The radio was the cheapest form of entertainment and it was the most popular medium during the Second World War. The accessibility and availability meant it fuelled propaganda and could reach a large number of citizens. The radio helped to entertain and inform the population and to encourage citizens to join in the war. It was mainly used to send electromagnetic signals over a long distance, to deliver information from one place to another.

Military communications or military signals involve all aspects of communications or conveyance of information, by armed forces. Military communications span from pre-history to the present. The earliest military communications were delivered by runners. It later progressed to visual and audible signals, and then advanced into the electronic age. Examples include text, audio, facsimile, tactical ground-based communications, naval signalling, terrestrial microwave, tropospheric scatter, satellite communications systems and equipment, surveillance and signal analysis, security direction finding and jamming.

Primitive methods of communication derailed messaging and always created uncertainty and authenticity of the received messages. The introduction of radio equipment made life easier and faster because radios use transmitters. A transmitter is an electronic device used in telecommunications to produce radio waves in order to transmit or send data with the aid of an antenna. The transmitter is able to generate a radio frequency alternating current that is then applied to the antenna, which, in turn, radiates this as radio waves.

Communication troops of the Ministry of Defence of the Soviet Union

The communication troops of the Ministry of Defence of the Soviet Union were generalized names for special forces intended for the deployment and operation of communication systems in order to provide command and control of troops and forces subordinate to the ministry of defence of the Soviet Union in all types of their activities. As a branch of the special forces, the communication troops were an integral part of all five branches of the armed forces of the Soviet Union (Ground Forces, the Navy, the Air Force, Air Defence Forces and Strategic Missile Forces). The general command of the communication troops of all five branches of armed forces, was carried out by the Chief of the Communication Troops of the Ministry of the Soviet Union. That is how the whole communication army troops was aligned under the Ministry of Defence.

The A-7 VHF transceiver.

When I started working as junior curator at DITSONG: National Museum of Military History, the Soviet A-7 VHF radio transceiver captured my interest and it resulted in this article. The Soviet A-7 VHF radio transceiver (later models include the A-7a and A-7b) was developed during the Second World War and used for communication in rifle brigades and regiments. The complete station was designed to be transported by individual soldiers. The A-7 is a portable man-pack radio transceiver with narrow-band frequency modulation. The set can be used as a radio telephone in a wired network and managed remotely. Setting the frequency of the receiver and transmitter circuits is adjusted in tandem by one control handle. The antenna and buffer oscillator are common for the receiving and transmitting circuits.

The transceiver with power supplies and accessories is housed in a wooden box with shoulder straps for carrying as a backpack. For long distances, the set is carried by two soldiers. The set only requires one radio operator. The deployment time is typically not more than five minutes.

Design and features of the Soviet A-7VHF transceiver

  • Frequency range is 27-32 mn2
  • Number of frequency channels is 101
  • Transmitter output power is 1W
  • Sensitivity of the receiver is 1-1.5μv
  • Intermediate frequency is 1100 kHz
  • Antennas – a whip with a height of 2.5 m or a flexible wire 6.4 m long
  • Range of action:

On a rough terrain – up to 7-8 km

On urban conditions – 3-4 km     On slightly cross-country terrain outside of buildings – 10 km and more

  • Power source is about two dry anode batteries bas -80, with a total voltage of 160v and two 2 NKN 10 nickel- cadmium batteries. The time of continuous operation from one set is 35-40 hours
  • Dimensions of the packing box – 210 x 385 x 330 mm
  • Mass of the radio station – 15.5 kg, the battery weighs 6 kg


Without doubt, the Soviet 1-7 VHF developed and used by the Soviet Union during the Second World War, was a masterpiece radio communication equipment. It involved high technology, but in a simplified form. The portable design features were almost of an advanced nature. With the development and advancement of technology it was possible for the creators to make more additions.


Garthoff, Raymond L.  1953. Soviet Military Doctrine. Muriwai Books.

Sešego sa Mabele, the Food Bank

Sešego sa Mabele, the Food Bank

Motsane Getrude Seabela

Curator Anthropology, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

Figure 1. Sešego, storage grain basket (photograph by author)

Pictured above is a grain storage basket, Sešego in Sepedi language. It was bought from Phineas Phelego of the Hananwa people at the southern foot of the Blouberg, Leipzig in the Limpopo Province. This basket is currently part of the Anthropology Collection of the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History and was collected in 1966. The basket was used to store maize and wheat. Such large grain baskets are usually buried in the cattle kraal as follows: a large hole is excavated in the centre of the kraal and lined with grains (called ditokole) at the bottom of the hole, one or two foot thick. The basket is then placed in the hole so that the bottom rests on the wheat. Two poles on which a crossbar rests are planted opposite sides of the hole. A strap is fastened to the transverse pole, while the other end which is fastened to a strong beam of about 3 metres, is placed in the basket so that the transverse one passes in front of the mouth. A further two poles of about 3 by 4 metres are planted in the beam about 2 metres apart. At these two poles two ends of a cowhide are blurred so that the other end runs through into the basket.

The cowhide serves as a funnel on which the grain is poured so that it enters the grain basket. Beaten wheat grains are also placed around the grain basket. The grain is crushed inside the basket with a stick called thata. When the basket is full, the jaw, sekhurumelo is fastened around the mouth with wooden pegs. On top of the closed mouth, threshed wheat is also thrown so that the whole basket is covered with it, and the hole is finally covered further with dry cow dung. Sometimes the lid is filled with threshed wheat because the water or moisture that otherwise would have gone through the month soaks into the grain and rots. The cow dung also absorbs a lot of water and helps keeping the ants away. Sometimes in areas where many ants occur, a large fire is made in the hole before the basket is placed in it, which also prevents the ants from eating the basket and grain. This particular basket took Phineas Phelego about two months to complete. The grass from the base of the basket was sewn together with the bark of a tree, which is firmer than the grass rope, modi with which the rest of the mouth was sewn together.

Although the history of basket making in South Africa has not been completely researched, areas that have been covered so far are sufficient to enable the contemporary researcher to link recent developments to past traditions. Basket making is a form of creative production, defined as a “craft,” and “was encouraged among Black South Africans under the apartheid regime. It fell within the ambit of what was derogatorily labelled “Bantoekuns” (Bantu art) in Afrikaans, because it was seen as inferior to European arts and crafts”. Oddly, the efforts made by Jack Grossert, who was in charge of “native” education in Natal in the 1950s and 1960s, to promote the teaching of such crafts in the rural schools, may have contributed greatly to the preservation of basket making traditions in that province in particular. The preservation of basket making has given rise to the development of new cooperatives in the production of such objects, primarily for sale in the urban areas. Similarly, extensive traditions of basket making were documented by Margaret Shaw, especially in the Eastern Cape, but these have not survived to the present.

Figure 2. Some of the storage grain baskets in the Museum’s Anthropology Collection (photograph by author)

Sorghum could be stored for over 10 years in the sešego and still maintain its quality and an improved taste. Because of the material used in weaving it, sešego is able to absorb any possible sweating that might exist due to embryonic breathing of the sorghum grains. Aloe ash was applied to some of the sorghum for prevention of weevils. “Historically, most African baskets were made as vessels for containing various foodstuffs, from grain to vegetables. They were made in a wide range of sizes, from the very small beer pot covers (imbenge) made by Zulu and Ndebele speakers, to woven grain storage baskets made by speakers of Northern Sotho (sešego) and Zulu, in varying sizes, the largest being big enough to hold an adult human. Flaring conical baskets were made in calibrated sizes by Tsonga-speakers”. Basketry has a long history and in the past it involved the use of only locally available materials and techniques of making grass were passed down from one generation to another. Thus, this is one of the crafts that can be used as a vector for an African identity.


Anthropology Collection Accession Register, 1934-1979. DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History.

Masekoameng, M. 2007. Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Food Gathering and Production in Selected Rural Communities in Sekhukhune District of the Limpopo Province, Unpublished Master’s Dissertation: 4-27.

Nettleton, A. 2010. Life in a Zulu Village: Craft and the Art of Modernity in South Africa, The Journal of Modern Craft, 3(1): 56-60.

The USSR in the Great Patriotic War: A New Set of Displays

The USSR in the Great Patriotic War: A New Set of Displays

David Rilley-Harris, Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

As Britain once called The Napoleonic Wars “The Great War” and later adopted that name for the First World War, Russia once called the Napoleonic Wars “The Great Patriotic War” and later adopted that name for the Second World War. For the Soviet Union (USSR), and since 1991 the Russian Federation, “The Great Patriotic War” is the name given to the USSR’s western front against Germany between 1941 and 1945. More often referred to as Germany’s eastern front, the 1941-1945 front line between the USSR and Germany is where Nazi Germany was defeated. The Germans were turned around at the Battle of Stalingrad, and defeated at the Battle of Berlin. It was from this epic front line movement that the USSR suffered most of their roughly 26 million deaths (17 million civilians and 9 million military personnel). By contrast Germany lost 7 million people in the war and less than 1 million lives were lost by the USA and the UK combined. None of the Allied powers could have defeated Germany alone, but the USSR undisputedly made the greatest sacrifice. Despite this fact, the animosities of the Cold War left the USSR’s contribution in the Second World War understated in many histories and museums. It was with this injustice in mind that the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History (DNMMH) was proud to find partners with whom to work on a pair of display windows depicting USSR in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945).

The two new display windows in the Adler Hall of the DNMMH.

The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), and the DNMMH, were brought together by an organisation called the Volunteers of Victory with help from the Embassy of the Russian Federation. The Volunteers of Victory work throughout the world to properly present the USSR’s sacrifice in the Second World War and they were represented in that work at the DNMMH by volunteer David Kochukov.

A pleasing moment came when searching for a location in the DNMMH in which to place the new display. By the neatest coincidence, the ideal space was located in the Adler Hall and would require the dismantling of a Nazi German display and a Fascist Italian display. These were not the Museum’s only displays presenting Germany and Italy in the Second World War and there was remarkably little representing the USSR. The DNMMH had relied mostly on captured Russian weaponry from the Cold War to present Soviet presence in the Second World War. The German and Italian displays had been up for decades and were replaced with displays presenting the Russian battles of Germany’s eastern front. In Historical Methodology the concept of “selection” refers to the choice of presented material on any topic considering that it is physically impossible to present all information about any one topic. The selection can reveal bias (often unintentional) and can be the subject of criticism of any presentation of history. The creation of the new Russian displays at the DNMMH improved the Museum’s overall selection in both topic and nomenclature of the Second World War.

The unveiling ceremony for the new displays was organised primarily by the Rossotrudnichestvo and was attended by Russian Ambassador Ilya Rogachev. While Victory in Europe (VE) Day is held on 8 May each year, the Russian Federation holds their Victory Day on 9 May and so the unveiling of the new displays was held on Sunday 9 May 2021 (the 76th Anniversary of Germany’s defeat). David Kochukov represented the Volunteers of Victory, and Pavel Novozhilov represented the Rossotrudnichestvo. During the ceremony Ambassador Rogachev presented the DNMMH with a certificate of gratitude from the Rossotrudnichestvo, which now hangs proudly in the DNMMH entrance.

The Rossotrudnichestvo certificate.

A poignant but proud part of the ceremony took the form of a Parade of the Immortal Regiment. This march is traditionally organised as a part of 9 May Victory Day commemorations and involves relatives of those who worked or fought for the USSR in the war carrying photographs (often like placards above their heads) as they march along a route on behalf of their loved ones. At the DNMMH the route was from the Adler Hall around the perimeter of the Museum and past the South African War Memorial before returning to the Adler Hall. Into the 21st century, the Parade of the Immortal Regiment started to be promoted as a more prevalent and global event as the number of people marching on Victory Day was dwindling with ever more war veterans passing away.

The head of the Parade of the Immortal Regiment passing nearby the South African War Memorial.

The Victory Day ceremony also included the planting of three birch trees in the Museum gardens as part of the Gardens of Memory Campaign. The campaign was launched on the 75th anniversary of the victory over Germany and sought to plant 27 million birch trees around the world in memory of the number of people from the USSR killed during the Second World War. The birch tree is a patriotic and romantic symbol in Russia where hugging a birch tree will bring you good luck. The three birch trees were planted alongside one another by Ambassador Rogachev, David Kochukov and Pavel Novozhilov. The birch trees are planted near two Russian Second World War field guns and across the grass from the Delville Wood tree which commemorates South Africa’s sacrifice in the First World War.


The planting of the trees at the DNMMH

Alongside the new displays in a small container nailed to the wall are the traditional Russian black and orange ribbons for anybody to take and wear in commemoration of Russia’s sacrifice in the Second World War. Known as the St George ribbon, it was first approved for use in CE 1769 by Empress Catherine II. The USSR incorporated the ribbon into medals as the “Guards Ribbon” and it was used to represent special distinction in the service of a Soviet soldier. The orange and black stripes represent fire and smoke. In this small way at least, the DNMMH now incorporates Victory Day with the long standing commemoration of VE Day.

Military equipment named after animals The Atlas (AERMACCHI) Impala Aircraft

Military equipment named after animals The Atlas (AERMACCHI) Impala Aircraft

Allan Sinclair, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

Throughout the history of the South African Air Force many of its aircraft have been given the names of African animals.  The Atlas (Aermacchi) Impala trainer / close support aircraft is possibly one of the most well-known examples. This aircraft is named after southern Africa’s most common antelope, the Impala.

The impala antelope

The impala (scientific name Aepyceros Melampus) is a medium size antelope common to eastern and southern Africa. It generally reaches a size of 900 m at the shoulders with the males weighing on average 60 kg while the females are lighter at around 40 kg. Only the males of this species grow horns.


The medium build of the impala allows it to be nimble and athletic in flight and it can jump to a height of 3 m and a distance of 12 m. This behaviour is suited to the indigenous bush environment as the antelope is able to leap over bushes and shrubs rather than having to navigate around them while escaping from predators. The impala also has a rocking horse gait which allows it to rock between its fore and rear limbs in a slower canter for the purposes of escape. This gait is indicative of the health of the impala as it rocks from side to side at speeds of up to 90 km.





The impala is equipped with excellent senses with large eyes providing exceptional vision and prominent ears that allow the animal to detect a wide range of sounds with ease. Like most antelope the impala has side-positioned eyes which provide an almost 180 degree peripheral vision when being pursued.

Atlas (Aermacchi) Impala Mk II located at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History (DNMMH Acq 39738)

The Atlas (Aermacchi) Impala (MB 326) jet aircraft

The South African Air Force Atlas Impala was developed locally from the Italian Aermacchi MB 326 trainer and became one of the most successful military aircraft of its type. Italian aircraft designer at Aermacchi, Ermanno Bazzochi, took a decision to design and produce a single-engine light fighter aircraft in 1954 due to the fact that Italy could not afford a supersonic interceptor or bomber at the time. The eventual design was robust, all-metal, simple and cheap to produce and fly. A well-equipped, pressurized tandem cockpit together with a low bubble canopy and an aerodynamic fuselage made the aircraft a perfect choice for jet flight training. Aermacchi soon established its supremacy in the development of jet trainers through this aircraft.


The Mk I version of the impala was produced as a two-seater, close support combat / trainer. Close air support is defined as air strikes against hostile targets in support of ground operations by both fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft.  Following its initial construction in Italy, local production of the Impala began at Atlas Aircraft Corporation (today known as Denel Aviation) in South Africa in 1966. 125 aircraft were built in South Africa. According to Potgieter and Birns, pilots referred to the Mk I as a docile, forgiving, stable and easily controlled aircraft in comparison to the North American Harvard piston engine trainer also in service with the SAAF at the time.[1]

The Mk II version was developed as a single seat close support variant of the Mk I.  Manufacture of this model began in 1974 and the aircraft incorporated additional fuel tanks, advance avionics and two 30 mm cannon on each side of the fuselage. Its six underwing hard points could carry up to 4 000 lbs (1 814 kg) in ordnance, fuel or photo-reconnaissance pods.

[1] . Potgieter, W & Birns, L. 1995. More Than Game: A Salute to the South African Air Force. Johannesburg, Air      Report.

Keyter writes that those who served on the Namibian / Angolan border between the years 1975 and 1989 became well acquainted with the Impala Mk II as the aircraft often flew over the forward bases on close support operations.[2]


Although much slower than other SAAF jets of the period such as the Dassault Mirage III and F1, the excellent manoeuvrability of the Impala Mk II gave it the ability to outfox many anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles deployed by enemy forces in southern Angola. The aircraft was also able to operate from basic airfields in the operational area. At times it would be required to fly at low altitudes to avoid interception by enemy aircraft.


A former Impala Mk II pilot recorded that the aircraft was said to be a pleasant handling aircraft even though it was light in pitch. Apparently, once one got used to this, the aircraft became a pleasure to fly.[3] Pitch in this context refers to the movement of the aircraft in an upward or downward motion. Consequently, when an aircraft is light in pitch it is inclined to automatically increase its altitude.

In total the SAAF had on strength 62 Italian built MB 326 aircraft, 125 Impala Mk I trainers and 73 Impala Mk II close support aircraft. For a period of 30 years these aircraft served in seven combat squadrons as well as No 85 Advanced Flying School and the famous Silver Falcons Aerobatics Flying Team. By 2000 all Impala aircraft had been withdrawn from service and replaced with the British Aerospace Hawk Mk 120 lead in fighter/ trainer.


The Atlas Impala Mk II at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History


The Impala Mk II on display at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History was provided with the serial number 1045.  It was delivered to 15 Air Depot, SAAF, from Atlas in September 1976. A year later it was issued to No 8 Squadron based at AFB Bloemspruit in Bloemfontein. The aircraft was detached from the squadron on four occasions for service in the operational area on the Namibian / Angolan border but it essentially remained with No 8 Squadron until it was retired from service in 2000. The unit emblem of No 8 Squadron is located on the tail.


An interesting observation is that there are no SAAF markings on the aircraft. Originally the SAAF identification insignia was the castle emblem with the leaping springbok in the centre as is found on the Dassault Mirage IIICZ and the Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer S Mk 50 located at the Museum. After 1994 the leaping springbok emblem was replaced with the SAAF eagle emblem.  However, at the time the Impala was discharged from service, the SAAF was in the process of receiving the new nine pointed star insignia and the existing markings were deleted.


[2] . Google. Classic Aircraft – The Impala Aermacchi M B 326. Last edited 28 July 2021.

[3] . Potgieter, W & Birns, L. 1995. More Than Game: A Salute to the South African Air Force. Johannesburg, Air      Report.

Specifications of the Impala Mk II

Engine:                         Rolls Royce Viper Mk 540 turbojet delivering 1 547kg static thrust

Maximum speed:           Mach 0,82 (843 km/h) at 6 100 m

Service ceiling:              11 900 m

Maximum range:            1 665 km

Armament:                    2 x 30 mm DEFA cannons with six underwing hard points for up to 1 814kg of bombs or rocket pods. The aircraft also had the capacity to carry air-to-air missiles.


Why was the aircraft named after this particular animal? The reason is not well documented. While the aircraft was an aggressive fighter capable of delivering a vast amount of fire on enemy ground forces, the antelope was a timid peaceful herbivore.  The writer believes that the aircraft was called the Impala purely because it had similar traits to its antelope namesake. Notwithstanding its status as a fighter, the Impala aircraft was small and in no position to take on larger and more technologically advanced fighters. It was therefore designed to be capable of quick manoeuvrability and use its medium air frame to escape from danger in a similar fashion to the antelope.

Whether operating at high altitude or at a low level, the Impala was an agile aircraft and an effective weapon in the SAAF arsenal.



Herman Potgieter & Linden Birns, More Than Game: A Salute to the South African Air Force Johannesburg, Air Report, 1995.

Herman Potgieter & Willem Steenkamp, Aircraft of the South African Air Force, Cape Town, Struik, 1980.

Internet Sources

Google. Impala / Wildlife South Africa. Last edited 2018.

Google. Impala. Last edited 2021.

Google. Impala Mk II – South African Air Force. Last edited 2021.

Google. Classic Aircraft – The Impala Aermacchi M B 326. Last edited 28 July 2021.