Matilda II

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This article is about the tank. For the person, see Matilda II of Boulogne. For the earlier tank known as Matilda, see Matilda I (tank).
Infantry Tank Mark II
Matilda Mk II
A Matilda's crew display a captured Italian flag as they enter Tobruk, January 1941
Type Infantry tank[1]
Place of origin United Kingdom[1]
Service history
In service 1939–1945
Used by  United Kingdom
 Nazi Germany
 Soviet Union
Wars Second World War
Production history
Designer Mechanization Board and Messrs Vulcan[1]
Designed 1937[1]
Manufacturer Vulcan Foundry and others
Produced 1937–1943
Number built 2,987
Variants see Variants below
Weight 25 tons[2]
Length 15 ft 11 in (6.0 m)
Width 8 ft 6 in (2.6 m)[3]
Height 8 ft 3 in (2.5 m)
Crew 4 [3] (driver, gunner, loader, commander)

Armour 20 to 78 mm/3.07in max[3]
2 pounder (40 mm),[4]
93 armour-piercing rounds[4]
7.92 mm Besa machine gun[4]
2,925 rounds[4]
Engine diesel 6-cylinder 7 litre engines: 2×AEC[nb 1][4] or 2×Leyland[2]
2×94–95 bhp[5]
Power/weight 6.55 hp/tonne
Transmission Wilson epicyclic pre-selector gearbox, 6 speeds[6]
Suspension Coil spring[2]
160 miles (257 km) [3]
Speed 16 miles per hour (26 km/h) (on road)[3]
9 miles per hour (14 km/h) (off road)
Rackham clutch[6]

The Infantry Tank Mark II, best known as the Matilda, was a British infantry tank of the Second World War.[7][8]

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, Matilda senior or Waltzing Matilda. 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. It was replaced in front-line service by the lighter and less costly Infantry Tank Mk III Valentine beginning in late 1941.

Development history[edit]

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.[11]

The first suggestion for a larger Infantry Tank was made in 1936, with specification A12. The design was produced by the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and Vulcan Foundry was selected as the manufacturer.[12][1] A12 used a number of design elements of the A7, a medium tank that was built in limited numbers in the early 1930s who's mechanical layout was used for many following designs.[13][14] With its greatly increased armor, a lack of power was seen as a problem. The solution was to use two AEC straight-six water-cooled diesel engines, used in London buses, providing up to 87 hp each. These were linked along a common shaft. Suspension was to use the 'Japanese Type' bell crank suspension used on the A7.

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.[15]


The Matilda Senior weighed around 27 long tons (27 t), more than twice as much as its predecessor, and was armed with a QF 2 pounder (40 mm) tank gun in a three-man turret.[16] The turret traversed by hydraulic motor or by hand through 360 degrees; the gun could be elevated through an arc from −15 to +20 degrees.[4][nb 2] One of the most serious weaknesses of the Matilda II was the lack of a high-explosive round for its main gun. A high-explosive shell was designed for the 2 pounder but for reasons never explained, it was not issued and the tank's best weapon against un-armoured targets was its machine gun.[18]

Like many other British infantry tanks, it was heavily armoured. The front glacis was 78 mm (3.1 in) thick, although the nose plates top and bottom were thinner but angled. The sides of the hull were 65 to 70 millimetres (2.6 to 2.8 in), and the rear armour, protecting the engine to sides and rear, was 55 millimetres (2.2 in).[4][nb 3] The turret armour was 75 mm (3.0 in) all round. The turret roof, hull roof and engine deck were 20 millimetres (0.79 in).[17]

Matilda's armor was the heaviest of its era. Contemporary German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks had 30 to 50 millimetres (1.2 to 2.0 in) hull armour, while the T-34 had 40 to 47 millimetres (1.6 to 1.9 in). Matilda's side and rear armor was relatively heavy even at the end of the war, when tanks like the M4 Sherman carried about 40 mm, and late models of the Panther carried 50 mm. The shape of the nose armour was based on Christie's designs and came to a narrow point with storage lockers added on either side.[19] The heavy armour of the Matilda's cast turret became legendary; for a time in 1940–1941, the Matilda earned the nickname "Queen of the Desert".[20]

While the Matilda possessed a degree of protection that was unmatched in the North African theatre, the sheer weight of the armour on the vehicle contributed to a very low average speed of about 6 mph (9.7 km/h) on desert terrain and 16 miles per hour (26 km/h) on roads. At the time, this was not thought to be a problem, since British infantry tank doctrine valued heavy armour and trench-crossing ability over speed and cross-country mobility (which was considered to be characteristic of cruiser tanks such as the Crusader). The slow speed of the Matilda was further exacerbated by a troublesome suspension and a comparatively weak power unit, which was created from two AEC 6-cylinder bus engines linked to a single shaft.[21] This arrangement was complicated and time-consuming to maintain, as it required mechanics to work on each engine separately and subjected automotive components to uneven wear-and-tear. It did provide some mechanical redundancy, since failure in one engine would not prevent the Matilda from using the other.[22]

The tank's suspension system was that which had been developed by Vickers for their Medium C prototype in the mid-1920s.[23] The tank was carried by five double wheel bogies on each side. Four of the bogies were on bellcranks in pairs, with a common horizontal coil spring. The fifth bogie at the rear was sprung against a hull bracket. Between the first bogie and the idler wheel, was a larger diameter vertically sprung "jockey wheel". The first Matildas had return rollers; these were replaced in later models by track skids, which were far easier to manufacture and to service in the field.

The turret carried the main armament, with the machine gun to the right in a rotating internal mantlet. Traverse was by a hydraulic system. As the gun was balanced for ease of movement by the gunner, much of the breech end was behind the trunnions. Two smoke grenade launchers were carried on the right side of the turret.[24] The grenade launcher mechanisms were cut down Lee–Enfield rifles, each loaded with a smoke grenade. Its camouflage scheme was designed by Major Denys Pavitt of the Camouflage Development And Training Centre.( Ref: 'Camouflage' by Tim Newark Published by Thames & Hudson) based on the dazzle patterns of first world war ships. The design incorporated block colours, visually breaking the tank in half.

Production history[edit]

The first Matilda was produced in 1937, but only two were in service when war broke out in September 1939. Following the initial order from Vulcan Foundry, a second order was placed shortly after with Ruston & Hornsby.[25] Some 2,987 tanks were produced by the Vulcan Foundry, John Fowler & Co. of Leeds, Ruston & Hornsby, and later by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Horwich Works; Harland and Wolff, and the North British Locomotive Company Glasgow. The last were delivered in August 1943. Peak production was 1,330 in 1942, the most common model being the Mark IV.[26]

The Matilda was difficult to manufacture. For example, the pointed nose was a single casting that, upon initial release from the mould, was thicker than required in some areas. To avoid a needless addition to the tank's weight, the thick areas were ground away. This process required highly skilled workers and additional time. The complex suspension and multi-piece hull side coverings also added time to manufacturing.[19]

Combat history[edit]

French Campaign of 1940[edit]

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[edit]

A Matilda advancing through Egypt as part of Operation Compass.

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]

A captured Matilda put into use by the German forces, is recaptured and its crew taken prisoner by New Zealand troops, 3 December 1941 during the battle to open the corridor to Tobruk, Operation Crusader.

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[edit]

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[edit]

An Australian, howitzer-equipped Matilda in combat at the Battle of Tarakan (May 1945)

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[edit]

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]

Use of captured Matildas[edit]

Captured Matilda tank, summer 1942

Following Operation Battleaxe a dozen Matildas left behind the Axis lines were repaired and put into service by the Germans.[35] The German designation was Infanterie Panzerkampfwagen Mk.II 748(e) translating roughly as "Infantry Tank Mk.II Number 748 English". The Matildas were well-regarded by their German users[36] although their use in battle caused confusion to both sides, despite extra-prominent German markings.[35]


  • Infantry Tank Mark II Matilda II[4]
First production model[37] armed with a Vickers machine gun.[4]
  • Infantry Tank Mark II.A. Matilda II Mk II[4][37]
Vickers machine gun replaced by Besa machine gun. The "A" denoted a change in armament.[4]
  • Infantry Tank Mark II.A.* Matilda II Mk III[4][37]
New Leyland diesel engine used in place of AEC engines.[4]
  • Infantry Tank Mark II Matilda II Mk IV[37]
With improved engines, rigid mounting and no turret lamp[38]
  • Infantry Tank Mark II Matilda II Mk V[37]
Improved gear box. Westinghouse air servo used.[38][39]
  • Matilda II Close Support (CS)
Variant with QF 3 inch (76 mm) [nb 4] howitzer firing smoke shells. These were generally issued to HQ units.[40]
  • Baron I, II, III, IIIA
Experimental Matilda chassis with mine flail - never used operationally.
  • Matilda Scorpion I / II
Matilda chassis with a mine flail. Used in North Africa, during and after the battle of El Alamein.[clarification needed]
The normal turret was replaced by a cylindrical one containing a searchlight (projected through a vertical slit) and a BESA machine gun.
  • Matilda With 76mm Zis gun
Lend Lease Matilda supplied to the USSR, where an attempt to up-gun it with the T-34's 76.2mm F-34 gun was made. The design was most likely considered impractical due to the small size of the Matilda's turret.[41]
  • Matilda with A27 turret
Matilda with modified chassis and Ordnance QF 6 pounder in an A27 turret.[42] One produced, no documentation other than photographs of it remain.[43]
  • Black Prince
Radio-controlled prototype produced in 1941 using A12E2 with Wilson transmission. Planned uses included use as a mobile target, for drawing fire and so reveal hidden anti-tank guns, or for demolition missions. Planned order for 60 cancelled as it would require conversion of Rackham clutch transmission to the Wilson type. Used a QF 6-pdr Mk. V A gun.[44]
Australian variants
  • Matilda Frog (25)
Flame-thrower tank.
  • Murray and Murray FT
Flame-thrower tank.
  • Matilda Tank-Dozer
Bulldozer tank. A hydraulic operated bulldozer blade of similar design to those fitted to the American M3 s.
  • Matilda Hedgehog (6)
Officially known as the Matilda Projector, Hedgehog, No. 1 Mark I,[45] this fitted a Hedgehog 7-chambered spigot mortar in an armoured box on the rear hull of several Australian Matilda tanks. The projector was elevated by hydraulics adapted from the Logan traversing mechanism used in M3 Medium tank turrets[45] and electrically fired either individually or in a salvo of six, from the 12 o'clock position;[46] the fifth tube could not be fired until the turret was traversed to 1 o'clock,[46] to move the radio antenna out of the bomb's flightpath. Each bomb weighed 65 lb (29 kg) and contained 30 to 35 lb (14 to 16 kg) of high explosive. The range was up to 400 m (440 yd). Aiming was accomplished by pointing the entire tank; the mounting had no independent traverse,[47] so accuracy was not spectacular, but adequate for the task.[46] Trials at Southport, Queensland, in May 1945 were pronounced a complete success, and the Projector would have been impressive against enemy bunkers, but the war ended before it was used operationally.[46]

Surviving tanks[edit]

The Matilda Hedgehog at the RAAC Museum, Puckapunyal, Australia (2007)

Around 70 Matilda IIs survive in various degrees of preservation. Around 30 are in Australia, either in museums, displayed as public monuments or in private ownership. A notable collection is that of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Memorial and Army Tank Museum, at Puckapunyal, Australia, which has five Matilda IIs on display, including a Matilda Frog flame–tank, a Matilda Hedgehog and a Matilda Bulldozer.[48]

Tanks in running condition are owned by The Tank Museum in the United Kingdom and by several private owners in Australia. The Tank Museum at Bovington also displays the only surviving Matilda Canal Defence Light. Other examples are displayed at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Belgium, the Yad La-Shiryon museum in the Latrun, the Musée des Blindés in France, the Armoured Corps Museum at Ahmednagar Fort in India and the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, a private collection in the United States.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ AEC engine model A183 on the left hand side and A184 on the right hand side.
  2. ^ The WWII Equipment states that the gun could move through an elevation arc of −20° to +20°.[17]
  3. ^ The 65 mm was made up of the hull and the side skirt armour.[17]
  4. ^ The shell cartridge was 76.2 x 134R. On the Infantry Tank Mk IV, the Churchill tank, the gun was used for HE
  1. ^ a b c d e Jentz, p. 11
  2. ^ a b c Jentz, p. 13
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Bean, pp. 147–148
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Jentz, p. 12
  5. ^ Jentz, pp. 12–13[verification needed]
  6. ^ a b "Matilda Infantry Tank". Doug's 'Heavy Metal' Gallery. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  7. ^ ""Waltzing Matilda" is 30-ton tank". Evening Standard (London). 4 July 1941. 
  8. ^ ""Waltzing Matilda" is 30-ton tank". Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW). 5 July 1941. p. 6. 
  9. ^ Chamberlain & Ellis p54
  10. ^ Matilda Infantry Tank p 3
  11. ^ Chamberlain & Ellis p54
  12. ^ Fletcher p4
  13. ^ "Arcane Fighting Vehicles - AFVs". Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  14. ^ "Britain's A7 Medium Tanks - World War II Vehicles, Tanks, and Airplanes". 1940-05-10. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  15. ^ Fletcher 1994, p. 8
  16. ^ Fletcher 1994, p. 5
  17. ^ a b c WWII Equipment
  18. ^ Hogg, Ian (1996), Tank Killing, Sidgwick & Jackson, pp. 138–139, ISBN 1-885119-40-2 
  19. ^ a b Fletcher (1994) p. 7
  20. ^ Fletcher (1994) p. 14
  21. ^ Fletcher (1994) p.6
  22. ^ Fletcher p. 6
  23. ^ Fletcher p7
  24. ^ Fletcher p. 8
  25. ^ Fletcher (1994) p8
  26. ^ Boyd
  27. ^ Fletcher p. 10
  28. ^ Sebag-Montifiore, pp. 149, 153
  29. ^ "Defending Position 19". The Crusader Project. [self-published source?]
  30. ^ Orpen[page needed]
  31. ^ Murphy Chapter 14 and 15
  32. ^ "German Firing Trials against the Matilda II". The Crusader Project. [self-published source?]
  33. ^ Fletcher p. 14
  34. ^ Handel, Paul, Matilda Tanks at Retimo on the Island of Crete (PDF), Australian Army 
  35. ^ a b Tucker-Jones, Anthony (2007). Hitler's Great Panzer Heist. Pen and Sword Military. ISBN 1-84415-548-X. [page needed]
  36. ^ Tucker-Jones, Anthony (2007). Hitler's Great Panzer Heist. Pen and Sword Military. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-84415-548-4. 
  37. ^ a b c d e Fletcher pp. 12–14
  38. ^ a b Mark Bannerman, Robert Oehler. Modelling the Matilda Infantry tank. Osprey. p. 6. 
  39. ^ Fletcher, p 14
  40. ^ Fletcher, p. 12
  41. ^
  42. ^ Photo Archived 31 October 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ Fletcher 1994 p14
  44. ^ Fletcher 1994 p40
  45. ^ a b Fletcher, David. Matilda Infantry Tank 1938-45 (Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2002), p.42.
  46. ^ a b c d Fletcher, p.43.
  47. ^ Paul Handel—Dust, Sand and Jungle, 2003 RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum, ISBN 1-876439-75-0.[page needed]
  48. ^ "Vehicle Displays and Exhibits". RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum. Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  49. ^ "Matilda Infantry tanks (A11 and A12)" (PDF). Surviving Panzers. 2013-01-13. Retrieved 2013-05-08. 


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