Matilda MK I / Mk II

Matilda MK I / Mk II

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Matilda MK I / Mk II

The idea of the 'infantry tank' first arose in April 1934 when the idea for a tank that could work well with infantry was proposed. This was basically the role of World War I tanks - a vehicle slow enough for the infantry to keep up with and providing heavy firepower and protection. This concept was seriously flawed as later events would show. To keep down costs the A11 as the Matilda was first known was very simple with a Ford V8 engine and components adapted from Vickers light tanks. Some 140 of these had been built by the time production was stopped in 1940.

This Mk I carried only a .50 cal machine gun and this limited armament led to the development of the MK II or A12 Infantry tank which had been designed in November 1936 with the mock up ready by April 1937. The total output of Matilda II's was 2,987 by the time production ceased in 1943. Although not easy to mass produce and very slow the MK II's very heavy armour made it virtually immune to anti tank weapons until the arrival of the German 88mm guns in mid 1941 and made the Matilda the Queen of the Desert in the Western Desert Campaigns in Libya in 1940.

(Data is for the MKII)
Weight; 26.5 tons
Maximum speed; 15mph (24km/h)
Crew; 4
Range 169 miles (256km)
Weapons; 1x 2 pdr, 1x Besa MG.

Matilda I (tank)

The Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11) [2] was a British infantry tank of the Second World War. Despite being slow, cramped and armed with only a single machine gun, the Matilda I had some success in the Battle of France in 1940, owing to its heavy armour which was proof against the standard German anti-tank guns. However, it was essentially useless in an attacking sense, as its weak armament made it toothless in combat against enemy armour, and the tank was obsolete before it even came into service. [3] [4] The Battle of France was the only time the Matilda I saw combat. [4] The tank was cheaply built as the British government wanted each of the tanks to be built on a very restricted budget in the build up to the Second World War. [4] It is not to be confused with the later (more successful) model Tank, Infantry Mk II (A12), also known as the "Matilda II", which took over the "Matilda" name after the Matilda I was withdrawn from combat service in 1940. They were completely separate designs.

Development history

The split between the infantry tank and cruisers had its origins in the World War I division between the first British heavy tanks and the faster Whippet Medium Mark A and its successors the Medium Mark B and Medium Mark C. During the interbellum, British tank experiments generally followed these basic classifications, which were made part of the overall doctrine with the work of Major-General Percy Hobart and the influence of Captain B.H. Liddell Hart.

In 1934 Hobart, the then "Inspector, Royal Tank Corps", postulated in a paper two alternatives for a tank to support the infantry. One was a very small, heavily armoured, machine gun-armed model that would be fielded in large numbers to overwhelm the enemy defences. The other was a larger vehicle with a cannon as well as machine guns and heavier armour proof against enemy field artillery. [9] Vickers designed a tank to a General Staff specification based on the first option as the A11 Matilda. Within the limitations of military finances, the Master-General of the Ordnance, Hugh Elles, went for the smaller machine gun tank and the larger cannon-armed version did not proceed. [10] This requirement was passed to Vickers-Armstrongs which had a prototype (A11E1) but with armour proof against current anti-tanks guns ready by September 1936. [9]

Vulcan received a contract for two wooden mock-ups and two mild-steel prototypes in November 1936. The first mock-up was delivered in April 1937 and the A12E1 prototype in April 1938. The prototypes proved excellent in a 1,000 miles (1,600   km) test, resulting in only a few changes to improve the gearbox, suspension and cooling. When war was recognised as imminent, production of the Matilda II was ordered and that of the Matilda I curtailed. The first order was placed shortly after trials were completed, with 140 ordered from Vulcan in June 1938. [14]


The Mk. I Churchill ARV appeared in 1942. This initial model was based on the Churchill Mk. I and Mk. II. Initially, both of these Churchill types shared the same turret and 2-pounder (40 mm) gun main armament. The difference was that the Mk. I featured a bow-mounted 3 in howitzer, while in the Mk. II this was replaced by a BESA 7.92 mm machine gun.

For the ARV Mk. Is, conversion into a recovery vehicle was relatively simple as the only major modification was the removal of the turret. This allowed more stowage room for recovery equipment. A simple, shallow conical tower – for want of a better word – was built over the turret ring with a large rectangular hatch built into it. This tower was often used for the stowage of tow cables, which were loosely wrapped around it. Also installed on this ‘tower’ was a mounting point for two .303 Bren light machine guns in an anti-aircraft mount. Boxy, more angular fenders were also installed over the idler and sprocket wheels, replacing the standard rounded fenders of the gun tanks.

A Mk. I ARV pulling a Churchill Mk. II atop a 45-ton Tracked Recovery Trailer. This trailer was built by Boulton-Paul and featured 4 unpowered Orolo track units with an armored winch compartment at the front. Note also the Matilda II in the background. Photo:

Recovery equipment on the Mk. I consisted of an A-frame jib with an approximately 7.5 long ton (7.6 tonnes) capacity that could be mounted on the front or rear of the hull via eyelets. It was anchored to the hull via a length of high-tensile cable. The jib did not use a powered winch-line rather it would be used in conjunction with a block and tackle or chain hoist, either of which would be carried aboard the ARV. The jib was used to assist in engine lifts and other lighter-duty lifts. The ARV’s main method of recovery was the raw torque of the engine. The vehicle was equipped with a drawbar to facilitate the towing of fellow Churchills or other armored vehicles. When not in use, both the jib and drawbar were carried on the hull.

A three-man crew operated the vehicle, consisting of the driver, bow gunner (the bow-mounted BESA machine gun was retained on the ARV), and commander. All three men would have been REME engineers. The lack of a turret also provided enough room to carry the crew of any tank being recovered.

Churchill ARV Mk. I alongside an A27L Centaur. Note the chain-hoist in use at the end of the jib and the boxy fenders. Photo:

Matilda II

The design began as the A12 specification in 1936, as a gun-armed counterpart to the first British infantry tank, the machine gun armed, two-man A11 Infantry Tank Mark I. The Mark I was also known as Matilda, and the larger A12 was initially known as the Matilda II or Matilda senior. The Mark I was abandoned in 1940, and from then on the A12 was almost always known simply as "the Matilda".

With its heavy armour, the Matilda II was an excellent infantry support tank but with somewhat limited speed and armament. It was the only British tank to serve from the start of the war to its end, although it is particularly associated with the North Africa Campaign. Only two were available for service by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. [8] It was replaced in front-line service by the lighter and less costly Infantry Tank Mk III Valentine beginning in late 1941.

Combat history

French Campaign of 1940

The Matilda was first used in combat by the 7th Royal Tank Regiment in France in 1940. Only 23 of the unit's tanks were Matilda IIs the rest of the British Infantry Tanks in France were A11 Matildas. [27] Its 2-pounder gun was comparable to other tank guns in the 37 to 45 mm range. Due to the thickness of its armour, it was largely immune, but not impervious, to the guns of the German tanks and anti-tank guns in France. [28] The Germans found the 88 mm anti-aircraft guns were the only effective counter-measure. In the counter-attack at Arras of May 21, 1940, British Matilda IIs (and Matilda Is) were able to briefly disrupt German progress, but, being unsupported, they sustained heavy losses. All vehicles surviving the battles around Dunkirk were abandoned, when the BEF evacuated.

North Africa 1940 to 1942

Up to early 1942, in the war in North Africa, the Matilda proved highly effective against Italian and German tanks, although vulnerable to the larger calibre and medium calibre anti-tank guns.

In late 1940, during Operation Compass, Matildas of the British 7th Armoured Division wreaked havoc among the Italian forces in Egypt. The Italians were equipped with L3 tankettes and M11/39 medium tanks, neither of which had any chance against the Matildas. Italian gunners were to discover that the Matildas were impervious to a wide assortment of artillery. Matildas continued to confound the Italians as the British pushed them out of Egypt and entered Libya to take Bardia and Tobruk. Even as late as November 1941, German infantry combat reports show the impotence of ill-equipped infantry against the Matilda. [29]

Ultimately, in the rapid manoeuvre warfare often practised in the open desert of North Africa, the Matilda's low speed and unreliable steering mechanism became major problems. Another snag was the lack of a high-explosive shell (the appropriate shell existed but was not issued). When the German Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa, the 88 mm anti-aircraft gun was again pressed into service against the Matilda, causing heavy losses during Operation Battleaxe, when sixty-four Matildas were lost. The arrival of the more powerful 50mm Pak 38 anti-tank gun and 75mm Pak 40 anti-tank gun also provided a means for the German infantry to engage Matilda tanks at combat ranges. Nevertheless, during Operation Crusader Matilda tanks of 1st and 32nd Army Tank Brigades were instrumental in the breakout from Tobruk and the capture of the Axis fortress of Bardia. [30] The operation was decided by the infantry tanks, after the failure of the cruiser tank equipped 7th Armoured Division to overcome the Axis tank forces in the open desert. [31]

As the German army received new tanks with more powerful guns, as well as more powerful anti-tank guns and ammunition, the Matilda proved less and less effective. Firing tests conducted by the Afrikakorps showed that the Matilda had become vulnerable to a number of German weapons at ordinary combat ranges. [32] Due to the small size of the turret and the need to balance the gun in it, up-gunning the Matilda, without substituting a roomier turret, was impractical. There was at least one instance of the turret from the A24/A27 cruiser tank series being fitted to a Matilda, allowing the 6-pounder to be fitted. As the size of the Matilda's turret ring was 54 inches (1.37 m) vs. the 57 inches of the A27, this would entail either enlarging the turret ring, a drastic measure, or more likely superimposing a larger turret ring on the hull. A better solution might have been possible, as the Churchill Mark III with its 54 inch turret ring was armed with a 6-pounder. [33] It was also somewhat expensive to produce. Vickers proposed an alternative, the Valentine tank, which had the same gun and a similar level of armour protection but on a faster and cheaper chassis derived from that of their "heavy cruiser" tank. With the arrival of the Valentine in Autumn 1941, the Matilda was phased out by the British Army through attrition, with lost vehicles no longer being replaced. By the time of the battle of El Alamein (October 1942), few Matildas were in service, with many having been lost during Operation Crusader and then the Gazala battles in early summer of 1942. Around twenty-five took part in the battle as mine-clearing, Matilda Scorpion mine flail tanks.

Minor campaigns

In early 1941, a small number of Matildas were used during the East Africa Campaign at the Battle of Keren. However, the mountainous terrain of East Africa did not allow the tanks of B Squadron 4th Royal Tank Regiment to be as effective as the tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment had been in Egypt and Libya.

A few Matildas of the 7th RTR were present on Crete during the German invasion, and all of them were lost. [34]

Pacific theatre

In the Pacific Japanese forces were lacking in heavy anti-tank guns and the Matilda remained in service with several Australian regiments in the Australian 4th Armoured Brigade, in the South West Pacific Area. They first saw active service in the Huon Peninsula campaign in October 1943. Matilda II tanks remained in action until the last day of the war in the Wewak, Bougainville and Borneo campaigns, which made the Matilda the only British tank to remain in service throughout the war. [3]

Soviet use

The Red Army received 918 of the 1,084 Matildas sent to the USSR. [3] The Soviet Matildas saw action as early as the Battle of Moscow and became fairly common during 1942. Unsurprisingly, the tank was found to be too slow and unreliable. Crews often complained that snow and dirt were accumulating behind the "skirt" panels, clogging the suspension. The slowness and heavy armour made them comparable to the Red Army's KV-1 heavy tanks, but the Matilda had nowhere near the firepower of the KV. Most Soviet Matildas were expended during 1942 but a few served on as late as 1944. The Soviets modified the tanks with the addition of sections of steel welded to the tracks to give better grip. [3]

Infantry Tank, Mk II, Matilda II

Even before the Infantry Tank, Mk I, Matilda entered series production, a more powerful armament than a single machine gun was already being planned. Because the Matilda I's drive train would be too stressed by the additional weight of a larger turret, the Infantry Tank, Mk II, Matilda II was designed. Matilda II was delayed, first due to delivery problems with mechanical components, and later due to the technically demanding armour castings. As a result, from the time the first prototype was ordered in April 1937 and until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, only two production models had been made.

When Germany invaded France in May 1940, the 7th Royal Tank Regiment of the British Expeditionary Force in France had 23 Matilda II's, along with 27 Matilda I's and 7 Light Tank, Mk VI's. Until British reinforcements arrived in France on 17 May 1940, the Matilda II was the only tank in the BEF armed with more than a machine gun.

The theater which earned the Matilda II its fame, as well as its nickname The Queen of the Desert, was during the battle for North Africa. With its thick armour, the Matilda II was effectively impervious to all German tank guns in 1941. Using standard ammunition, the 5 cm Kw K L/42 of the Pz Kpfw III, the most common German tank in the desert, could only penetrate the Matilda II's rear armour, and only within 100 metres. Even using the relatively scarce Pzgr. 40 APCR ammunition, the rear armour could only be penetrated at 500 metres (less than the average engagement range in the desert), and at even closer ranges for the thicker side and frontal armour. Even the longer-barrelled 5 cm Kw K L/60 of the Pz Kpfw III Ausf. L could only penetrate the frontal armour of the Matilda II using the Pzgr. 40, and only within one kilometer. On its part, the Matilda II could engage the early Pz Kpfw III's at more than one kilometre, completely out-gunning the the German tanks in the first year of the African campaign. Until the arrival of the long-barrelled Pz Kpfw IV in 1942, the only German gun which could reliably engage the Matilda II was the famous 8,8 cm Flak anti-aircraft gun, using anti-tank ammunition.

During the African campaign, the 2 pdr gun was becoming obsolete against the increasing armour of the German tanks. Due to its narrow turret ring, it was impossible to install the more powerful 6 pdr. In stead, the proven Matilda chassis was used for several engineering variants, including the Matilda Scorpion mine clearing tank (later fitted on the Infantry Tank, Mk III, Valentine, as well as vehicle for laying demolition charges, bridging, and trench crossing.

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Matilda I

Matilda I (službeno eng. Infantry Tank Mark I Matilda I) je bio britanski pješadijski tenk projektovan između dva svjetska rata. Prvi je britanski tenk kojem je bila uloga bliska podrška i djelovanje s pješadijom.

John Carden je projektovao tenk, dok ga je Vickers proizvodio od aprila 1937. godine. Prilikom projektovanja najveće ograničenje je bila cijena primjerka, jer je zahtjev britanskog ministarstva bio da bude što jeftiniji. Do 1940. godine činili su veći dio opreme 1. tenkovske brigade u Francuskoj. Maksimalna brzina tenka je bila 13 km/h zato što se u to vrijeme smatralo da pješadijski tenkovi trebaju pratiti pješadiju što znači da ne trebaju imati brzinu veću od brzine ljudskog hoda. Kako bi se smanjila cijena proizvodnje tenk je konstruisan vrlo jednostavno. Ugrađivan je konvencionalni motor Ford V8 i transmisija, dok su ostali dijelovi pogona preuzeti sa Vickersovih lahkih tenkova. Gotovo cijeli tenk je napravljen spajanjem čeličnih ploča zakivanjem osim kupole koja je lijevana. Do augusta 1940. godine proizvedeno je ukupno 140 primjeraka. Ώ] ΐ]

Iako je bio jeftin i pouzdan tenk, ubrzo je postao nadjačan i beskoristan na bojnom polju. Korišten je u samom početku Drugog svjetskog rata, a kasnije samo u svrhu treninga posada.

Watch the video: Matilda - Infantry Tank A12 CAS-AFV-079-3 (December 2022).

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