Infantry Tank Mk.II Matilda (A12)
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Matilda mkII
Infantry tank (A12) Matilda II Mk.I preserie, "Gamecock", 7th RTR, 1st Armoured brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), western Belgium, may 1940. This is an early "long" version, equipped with the trench-crossing tail, mufflers, and Vickers coaxial machine-gun, protected by a large armoured mantlet.

Matilda mkII
Infantry tank (A12) Matilda II Mk.I, "Good Luck", 7th RTR, 1st Armoured brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF). "Good Luck" was not to be faithful to its crew. It blew up after a direct hit through the frontal hull by a German 88mm, during the counter-attack of Arras, in may, 21, 1940.

Matilda IIA mkII Libya
Matilda IIA Mark II, Libya, 1941 (one of the first delivered with the new compact Besa machine-gun, without mantlet). This a tank from the first armoured division, the blue lozange meaning a tank from a major of a junior regiment.

Matilda II mkII Libya
Matilda IIA Mk III, Lybia, fall 1941. This a tank from the 7RTR, the white and red markings identifying the Royal Armoured Corps. The three colors pattern with straight separations became mandatory. They were studied after tests of Visual disruption adapted to desert warfare.

Matilda II mark II Libya 1941
Matilda IIA Mk II in Libya, 1941, now preserved at Bovington. Notice the three-tone camouflage with dark olive green variant.

Beute Matilda II Libya 1942
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e), Libya, early 1942.

Another captured Matilda II
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e), (Captured Matilda), 8th Panzer-Regiment, XVth panzerdivision, Libya, 1942. Notice the makeshift camouflage and the absence of any Balkankreuz. I some cases a simple flag was displayed instead.

Matilda II mkIII Egypt 1942
Matilda IIA Mk III "Gulliver II", 7th RTR (Royal Tank Regiment), Libya, fall 1941. The camouflage is a variant of the same above, with dark-grey or dark-blue. In some cases this was dark olive.

Matilda II mark III Malta 1942
Matilda IIA Mk III at Malta, 1942. These tanks has a particularly unique livery, with large spots of sand color over a olive green factory color. The most well known is the "Griffin", of the 4th independent tank platoon of the Malta tank squadron, RTR.

Matilda II mkIV Egypt 1942
Matilda IIA Mk IV with a particular spotted camouflage, reminiscent of the "Malta" livery seen above. This in particular was photographed towing a crashed Boston hull, probably between Egypt and Libya.

Matilda II mkIV late 1942
Many Matildas has been lost during the battle of Gazala, operation crusader, and the first battle of El Alamein. Surviving ones were placed in the reserve, or reinforcements, like this Mk.IV (late production) "Defiance" of the 4th Royal armoured regiment, part of the VIIIth army. Second battle of El Alamein, october 1942.

Matilda 2 mkII Russia 1942
Russian Mark II Matilda of the 38th armoured brigade, south-west front, may 1942. USSR received 908 of the 1048 shipped Matilda II through lend-lease. Losses at sea explained the difference.

Matilda 2 mkIV Russia 1942
A Lend-lease Russian Mark IV, with provisional washable white paint, Leningrad sector, winter 1942/43.

Matilda Frog
Matilda CDL 49th RTR - 35Th Tank Brigade, North-eastern France, september 1944. The CDL (Canal Defence Light) was fitted with a new turret housing a powerful carbon-arc searchlight, for night operations. They served during the crossing of the Rhine, together with US Army LVT-4s.

Matilda 2 mk.V Tarakan 1944
Matilda II Mk.V of the ANZACS 2/9th Armoured Regiment at the battle of Tarakan, Borneo, may 1945.

Matilda Frog
Matilda Frog (flame-thrower version), ANZACS 1st Tank Battalion (support) at the battle of Huon (New guinea), October 1943.

Matilda II CS
Matilda II CS (close support), ANZACS 1st Tank Battalion, battle of Huon (New guinea), January 1944. CS were also used in North Africa before, but they were used more extensively, together with Frog and Murray flamethrower versions, during this mercyless campaign.

Matilda II Gallery

Captured Matilda II Libya 1941 Matilda II IIA during Operation Compass Matilda II Libya 1941 Matilda II Libya 1941 Matilda II Libya 1941 Matilda Baron Matilda Frog Borneo 1944-45 Matilda CDL Matilda II CS Matilda Hedgehog during tests in 1945

Specs. Matilda Mk.II
Dimensions : 15ft 11in x 8ft 6in x 8ft 3in (5,99 x 2,60 x 2,50 m)
Total weight, battle ready : 25 Tons
Crew : 4 (driver, gunner, loader, commander)
Propulsion : 2 diesel 6-cyl AEC/Leyland 94/95hp
Speed (on/off road): 16/9 mph (26/14 kph)
Range : 160 mi (257 km)
Armament : Main : 2-Pdr QF (40mm), 94 rds
1 x Besa 0.303 Mg. 2925 rds
Armour : From 20 to 78 mm
Total production 2987 1937-1943

Links about the Matilda II infantry tank

On the Matilda II on Wikipedia
About captured Matildas (and other British tanks) in German service : Beutepanzers.


Infantry Tank (1937) United Kingdom.
2987 built total.

A complete overhaul of the infantry tank concept.

The former Matilda, or Matilda I was a product of the 1929 financial crisis, a rather limited and compromising vehicle, more suitable for peacetime than real battlefield operations. By 1936, it was in production, and the very same year, another parallel specification (A12) asked for a larger, better armed model, derived from the A7 prototype. In fact, the A12 was completetly different from its "little brother" A11 (Now known as the "Matilda"), in size, weight, drivetrain, armament and crew. Development at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (which already designed the A7) lasted until 1938, when war seemed highly plausible, and the final A12 prototype trials were passed in urge, and an order came soon after to Vulcan Foundry, for a first batch of 140 units by mid-1938.

Design of the Matilda II.

A7 medium tank

The previous A7 was in fact limited to three prototypes, built by Vickers on internal request for the Army and potential customers. They were built from 1929 to 1933, incorporated elements which largely influenced the A9 Cruiser Mk.I (notably the turret), and the the A12 Matilda, for the drivetrain, suspension, and part of the armor design, but also later the A14, A17 and ultimately the Valentine. The third and last prototype A7E3 (1933-37) was probably the biggest influence for the Matilda II, as it incorporated a twin diesel AEC C1, and a QF 3-pdr (47mm) antitank gun. However, it was too lightly protected to serve as an infantry tank.

The Matilda Mark II or rather "Matilda II" (to avoid confusion with the sub-Mark versions), or "Matilda Senior", was a 60 000ibs machine, armed with the new QF 40mm, one of the many derivatives of the licence-built Bofors, which had an excellent rate of fire. The caliber seemed sufficient against most tanks of the time, generally equipped with a 37 or 47mm gun. The hydraulic-powered three man fully traversing turret was almost cast in one solid piece of hardened steel, almost cylindrical (sloped in reality), and tall enough to accomodate the main gun and a coaxial machine-gun, as well as the commander. The gun elevation was -15 +20 degrees. It was only fed with anti-tank rounds. The lack of HE ammunition was somewhat compensated by the machine-gun. But emphasis was put on armour. And indeed, this compensated easily for all its drawbacks during the war. With a 78mm frontal glacis and turret, far beyond any production of the time (and even late into the war), the Matilda II was thought immune to most antitank guns, and naturally other tanks as well. This tank became almost legendary precisely for this rare quality. By comparison, the contemporary Panzer III and IV protection was 30mm strong, and the French B1, the most heavily armoured tank on the continent, "only" 60mm... This glacis was completed by thinner, but sloped nose plates, in a design largely influenced by the Christie tanks. The sides were 65-70mm and the rear glacis 55mm strong. The turret roof, hull roof and engine deck were all 20mm thick.

Such weight of armor conditioned features in the design, starting with a twin-diesel AEC engine arrangement and Wilson epicyclic pre-selector gearbox, 6 speeds transmission, with a Rackham clutch for steering. This imposed also the numerous double wheel bogies, with paired bellcranks with a common coil spring suspension, a rather classical solution based on the old Vickers Medium C design, which was intended for managing the sheer mass of steele with moderate ground pressure rather than for speed. By logical conclusion, its overall performances were quite limited, only infantry pace, which was precisely the task given to the A12 type : Infantry support. However, the most troubesome piece of equipment was the paired "double decker" buses engines, linked to a common shaft, a solution which proved complicated to maintain, with many redundancies which often prevented any move when one of the two engines was damaged or broken down...

Production of the Matilda II.

The very first model, a preserie, was equipped with several features which will disappear with the production Mark I and Mark II. First, the suspension has three return rollers. They were replaced later by track skids, to ease production and maintenance. The turret was equipped (on the right) with a set of three smoke grenade launchers, in fact modified Lee Enfield mechanisms. On the turret left side took place a set of leather belts, to suspend a large protecting, rolled canvas. Later, these were replaced by a simpler metal tubular structure. When the war broke out in september 1939, only two Matildas II were serviceable. The others deliveries were pressed into service quickly after training. The same year, another order was placed to Ruston & Hornsby, and in 1940, to John Fowler & Co. of Leeds, and later, in 1941-42, to London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Harland & Wolff (Belfast, the famous shipbuilder of the Titanic), and eventually the North British Locomotive Company in Scotland. The total production ended in august 1943 with a total of 2,987 units. It was a relatively costly tanks, and difficult to manufacture, requiring some special skills.

Evolution from the MK.II to the Mk.V.

The Mk.I was never really officialised, this was the first, early batch delivered in 1939. Most were lost during the French campaign, in may 1940. They were characterised by a massive trench-crossing tail, as it was sought that a stalemate type of warfare was still possible. This feature was proved useless, and the tail was never mounted on the first large-scale production variant, the Mark II. Like the Mark.I, it was equipped with a Vickers Machine-gun, characterised by a large armoured mantlet.
By late 1940, this model was replaced by the lighter and more recent Besa model, of the same caliber, without mantlet. This was known as the Matilda IIA Mk.II. The Besa was a British version of the Czechoslovak ZB-53. It was compact, air-cooled and belt-fed.
The next model, Mark III (still a Matilda IIA), see the replacement of the old AEC engines for more modern twin Leyland diesel engine. This was sturdier and increased the range significantly.
The Mark IV (1941-42) introduced an improved Leyland Diesel, and the turret leather belt fixation replaced by a fixed tubular mounting. The turret lamp was also removed. It was the main production version, throughout 1942, with perhaps 1200 units.
The mark V (1943), was the last version, fitted with and improved gear box and Westinghouse air servo. Some attempts were made to replace the old QF-2pdr by a more efficient 6-pdr (76mm), high velocity, already tested on the Cromwell, Cavalier and Centaur. In this hope, a Cromwell turret was tested with the Matilda hull, but production never materialized. Despite promising characteristics, combining firepower to a still efficient armor, the age of the model, suspension design and speed, led to the cancellation of any other developments... (see prototypes)

Matilda II chassis adaptation and derivatives :

The sturdy and largely available chassis of the Matilda seemed ideally suited to produce many variants, but in fact, its slow speed and small turret ring prevented any development of many upgrades. Although through special adaptation, the Matilda survived in many forms until the end of the war, despite the fact it has been retired of active duty in Africa by the end of 1942.

Matilda II CS: (Close support), a variant produced in small quantities and attached generally to the mobile HQs. It was equipped with a 6-pdr (76mm) Howitzer, firing inocuous smoke shells. But its was also capable of firing HE shells as well. Conversions unknown, widely used also in Europe, and later in Asia by Australian forces.

Matilda Scorpion: An operational Mine-flail version, produced into two sub-versions, used at El Alamein, and in some British and Canadian operations in 1943 and 1944.

Matilda CDL: (Canal Defence Light), a late conversion, by mid 1944, with a new cylindrical turret containing a powerful searchlight. The CDL were converted either from Mark II or V.

Matilda Hedgehog: An Australian regular Mk.V fitted with a folded 7-chambered spigot mortar, mounted on the rear engine hood. 6 were built, tested in may 1945, but never used operationally.

Matilda Frog & Murray, Murray FT: Australian flamethrower versions used on the fear east. Only 25 Frog conversions. Murray figures are unknown.

Matilda Tank-dozer An Australian bulldozer variant, mostly used by the genie to clean obstacles on roads and to clear terrain on forested areas.

Other experiments : The Matilda Baron (three protoypes - A mine-flail version); the Matilda-Zis, a Lend-Lease Soviet prototype equipped with the high velocity Zis 76mm; the Matilda with A27 turret, to test the Ordnance QF 6 pounder; and the Black Prince, a radio-controlled planned to be used for spotting antitank gun positions and demolition tasks. The conversion cost surged because of the fitting of a Wilson transmission, and the 60 order was cancelled.

The Matilda II in action : The campaign of France

When war broke out, only two Matilda II of the preserie type were recently put in active service. They were soon joined by 20 others, passed the year in drilling exercizes, before beeing shipped in France, were they came to serve with the 7th RTR, part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) armoured division. They represented the minority of this unit strenght, the bulk of infantry tank companies beeing taken by the older A11 Matilda "minor" (Matilda I). However their armor was superior to the formidable French B1 bis, and they proved it during a single battle, at Arras. The entire Matilda II force available was committed during the hopeless attack of Arras, in the afternoon of may, 21, 1940, and after some success due to the lack of German efficient response, they were ultimately terminated by a handful of German 88mm FlaK 18 and 105mm field guns. Rommel has just remembered how these AA guns were used in spain years before. The surviving units withdrawed from the field and were stockpiled with hundred of trucks and light vehicles left from the campaign at Dunkirk. They were sabotaged, but the Germans captured two of them, later repaired for testings (seel later).

The "Queen of the desert" :

When the war developed in Africa, the Matilda II truly became legendary, beeing nicknamed there, the "queen of the desert" by its crews. The Matilda II armor was still a powerful argument in all tank-to-tank engagement against both italian armour and AT guns during the early stage of the war (Operation Compass, late 1940), and time and on again against the DAK XVth Panzerdivision, still largely equiped after its arrival with supplies of light Panzer II and early models of the panzer III and IV, using inadequate guns. But Rommel imaginative ambushing tactics using AT guns proved a serious threat for the Matilda II, hampered by its slow speed and a somewhat troubesome, overheating engine, and troubesome steering under the harsh conditions of this specific theater of war. The already famous 7th RTR, reborn in Britain, fully reequiped with Mark IIs, took part both in the late 1940 campaign, and still ruled the battlefield until late 1941. Battle records included the conquest of Libya, seizing of Tobrouk and Bardia, and laterly, the Operation Battleaxe.

By then, the Germans used well placed AA batteries of 88mm guns with full efficience against the Matilda : No less than 64 were lost during a single day of the attack. Such heavy toll raised questions about Matilda fighting capabilities, but neverthess, it proved still efficient were opposing forces had nothing to respond with. The Pak-36, Pak-41, Pak97/38 and sPzB 41 were all but useless. But the rapid-firing, accurate 88mm, combined with skilled crews, flat ground with good visbility, and Matilda slow motion, all conspired to condemn large-scale frontal attacks, using the Matilda. Another factor played for its demise : Like the Crusader, it was armed with a 1939-standard AT gun, good against 20 to 30mm armor, but not against the upgraded versions of the panzer III and IV which came in Africa by late 1941. However, with their limitations well-understood by the British command, they were once more succesful during Operation crusader, especially the 1st and 32nd Army Tank Brigades, which were pivotal in the battle.
Matilda II Libya 1941
Matilda II tank on its way into Tobruk, displaying an Italian flag, 24 January 1941, during Operation Compass.

By mid-1942, the Germans now has devised efficient infantry tactics using the PaK-38, and the long-barrel 50mm version of the Panzer III (Ausf J), which made the Matilda more vulnerable. One solution was to upgrade the main gun, but with a turret ring of only 1.37m, no superior gun could be mounted without a major overhaul of the entire hull. Such project was attempted by 1942, but after a single prototype beeing tested, the production was dropped for more modern late-generation cruiser tanks. In Africa, the Maltilda was gradually phased out by the Valentine. Damaged and worn out Matildas were just retired and replaced by other models. Some were shipped in less threatening theaters, like in South and eastern Africa for operations against Italian Somaliland and Erythrea by 1941. They were part of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, taking part in the battle of keren and all other operations in this sector. But the mountaineous terrain prevented any large-scale efficient use. Other were shipped in Greece (during the Balkan campaign), Crete, and Malta, to prevent any German landing there.

Matildas took part in the battle of Gazala (summer 1942) and the first battle of El Alamein, with further losses, and just like the Crusaders, which were their opposite (fast, lightly armored, low silhouette), many were converted for other uses. It was no surprise that, when the second battle of El Alamein began in october 1942, around 25 Matilda Scorpion (equipped with mine-flail) were only used in front-line. When the M3 Lee and M4 Sherman, faster, and equipped with much potent guns came in numbers, the remaining Matilda were shipped back to Britain, some for training, others as a reserve for further conversions.

In Russia :

Already by early 1942, the British supplied the red army with Matildas, and Many as 1084 Mk.II, III and IV were shipped on the perilous arctic sea trip to Mourmansk, until 1943. Mines, submarines, E-boates and the Luftwaffe inditectly "sunk" 166 of them to the bottom of the sea. As a consequence, Matildas were more current by mid-1942. Most were of the diesel type, a kind of propulsion favoured by the Russians. The first batch is reported to have taken part in the battle of Moskow in january 1942. Other fought around Leningrad (Group North), Center, and gradually South, were more weaker German satellites armoured forces were more common. Their crews dislike it for its slow speed and unreliable propulsion, and it compared badly to the KV-1 or the T-34. One of its major flaws was the abundance of snow and mud which seemed to passed the side skirts mud chutes and gradually clogging the drivetrain and suspension. Its narrow tracks was also an issue during the winter and the Russian devised a simple expedient while wielding sections of steel to each link for a better grip in the snow. As the losses rises, and were not replaced, the Matildas practically disappeared by 1943 on the eastern front. However, the "queen of the desert" career was not over yet.

Matildas in Europe :

The bulk of last version, Mark V, were shipped in Eastern Asia by 1943, where they had a second active life, serving well until the end of the war. However in Europe, surviving units were converted to other uses : In Italy, specialized version for mine-warfare (Scorpion Mark.I and II), HQ close defence versions armed with a smoke-firing howitzer, took part in the allied offensive, and again at D-Day. During late 1944, modified Matildas CDL (canal defence versions) were posted along canals, for night patrols against possible german counter-attacks. But they were a rare sight. At the later stage of the war in Africa, plan were drawn for a heavy artillery support version, equipped with a 152mm howitzer protected by a half-turret, like the Bishop. But its slow speed and large supplies of US-built Priest stopped the project before any prototype beeing built.

The Matilda II in asia :

The last chapter of the Matilda II wartime career came in 1943, when allied forces were once more in the offensive. Large supplies of the MkIV and MkV were shipped to Australia. They took part in many operations throughout the reconquest of the south-eastern pacific, favoured by the lack of Japanese adequate AT guns or tanks... The Australian 4th Armoured Brigade took advantage of its sturdiness in the battle of Huon (october 1943), but also 1944 and 1945 Wewak, Bougainville and Borneo campaigns. The Australian forces also modified many of them to other purposes, like the flamethrowers Frog and Murray, the genie Tank-dozer. A heavy rocket-carrying version came too late for active operations. They also used extensively CS (close support) conversions.

Captured Matildas :

In may 1940, the Germans already seized two Matildas hastily sabotaged during the days of Operation Dynamo, and shipped them to Kummersdorf Heer Test Center. They were fully aware of its armour thickness and devised appropriate tactics. An experimental conversion, the "Oswald", fitted with a shielded 5cm KwK L/42 gun and two Mg42s, fought during the Balkan campaign. Later, with the fortune of war in Africa, the DAK managed to capture a dozen more in may-june 1941. They were repared and affected to the 5th Pz.Rgt. of the 21th Pz.Div., and the 8th Panzer-Regiment of the 15th Panzer-Division. They were popular with the crews because of its armor but caused confusion in the battlefield, despite profusion of large painted crosses, large nazi and army flags, and makeshift camouflages in some cases. Under the crude light of the desert, its silhouette was unmistakable, but the associated symbols difficult to spot. Those captured in too bad shape for refittings were kept as spare parts reserves, and for at least two ot three, their turrets removed and mounted in concrete pillboxes, guarding strategic road junctions. On the eastern front, records of captured tanks are even more difficult to appreciate. But at least a dozen or so were seen with the balkan cross in 1942-43, as testifies photographs on a german facility in Budapest, and in the field, or in Russian archives.