I recently had the opportunity to visit the South African Armour Museum in Bloemfontein. The Museum is located at the South African School of Armour, a fully operative training unit forming part of the huge military base of Tempe.
Initial approval for the opening of a museum came from the Chief of the South African Army in 1994, but no funds were granted. After numerous fund raising projects by arms manufacturers and private businesses, sufficient funds were raised to obtain several objects for the museum. Objects were also donated by the Armoured Corps and the museum was officially opened on 13 September 1996.
Today the museum consists of an indoor and outdoor exhibition area, as well as a reference library and shop. The historical building housing the indoor exhibits was declared a national monument in 1995, and dates to the early 1900s. Through the years the museum has grown, and vast quantities of various hems have been accumulated. These include radio equipment in use over the years, scopes, headgear, hearing protection (including some very unconventional methods, like cartridges inserted in the ear channe!!), numerous models and uniforms. At the entrance to the museum hall, there is a 'Wall of Remembrance' dedicated to those members who have died. Adjacent to the museum hall is the aptly-named 'Gun Barrel', the shop where the curator, of the museum, W01 Sieg Marais encouraged me to part with some of my money.
The outside displays, covering different eras and wars, are numerous, and involve a bit of walking, as the vehicles are displayed across the base. Emphasis is placed on the many variants that were developed during South Africa's isolation. Also on display are some very special and current world-leading developments in rmour and weaponry.
I was fascinated by the many exhibits of Cold War hardware captured during the Border War (1966-1989), such as the BTR-152 APC, Gaz-66 truck, and Zil-137 truck. Some of these exhibits were used by the SADF to develop their own Weapons' platforms. Others were purchased for evaluation, like the T-72 MBT (main battle tank) from Poland. Some exhibits, including vehicles like the T-62 MBT and the BTR-60 armoured personnel carrier were captured by Israel and gifted to the armoured corps. There are also a number of prototype platforms developed by Armscor on display, including the 'Skokiaan' MBT (Centurion Mk V), the Class 2B and 3 New Generation armoured car (forerunner to the Rooikat APC), and the Class 2C armoured weapons' platform, precursor to the Ratel lCV (infantry combat vehicle).
The First and Second World Wars are also represented by some of the vehicles on display. This era includes versions of the Comet, Churchill, Sherman, 'Honey' tank (Stuart), as well as the popular 'Bren carrier' widely used during the Second World War. There is also a Russian T-34 tank on display, which is reckoned by some to be the best all-round tank of the Second World War.
A hangar, appropriately named 'Lesakeng' (meaning the corral for old horses), was opened in 2001 and currently houses examples of ttracked and other vehicles, several which are in runnirlg erder.
The (indoor) museum is only open during weekdays, although the many outdoor exhibits (on their own worth the visit!) are accessible. This museum is highly recommended and easy to find, thanks to good sign posting.
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