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British Infantry Tank of the Second World War Mark II (Matilda II). Британский танк "Матильда" | by Peer.Gynt
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British Infantry Tank of the Second World War Mark II (Matilda II). Британский танк "Матильда"




The Infantry Tank Mark II known as the Matilda II (sometimes referred to as Matilda senior or simply an 'I' tank) was a British infantry tank of the Second World War. It was also identified from its General Staff Specification A12.


It served from the start of the war to its end and became particularly associated with the North Africa Campaign. It was replaced in service by the Infantry Tank Mk III Valentine.


When the earlier Infantry Tank Mark I which was also known as "Matilda" was removed from service the Infantry Tank Mk II simply became known as the Matilda.


Development history

The first suggestion for a larger Infantry Tank was made in 1936, with specification A12 and contractor decided around the end of the year.

The Infantry Tank Mk II was designed at the Royal Arsenal, to General Staff specification A.12 and built by the Vulcan Foundry. The design was based on the A7 (which had started development in 1929) rather than on the Infantry Tank Mk I, which was a two-man tank with a single machine gun for armament.

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 order from Vulcan Foundry in mid 1938.


The Matilda Senior weighed around 27 tons (27 tonnes or 60,000 lb) 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. The turret traversed by hydraulic motor or by hand through 360 degrees; the gun itself could be elevated through an arc from -15[nb 2] to +20 degrees. 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 never placed in production. With its heavy armour the Matilda II was an excellent infantry support tank, but had to rely on its machine gun when operating with infantry units.

Like many other British infantry tanks, it was heavily armoured; from 20 mm at the thinnest it was 78 mm (3.1-inch) at the front, much more than most contemporaries. The turret armour was 75 millimetres (3.0 in) all round, the hull side armour was 65 to 70 millimetres (2.6 to 2.8 in), and the rear armour, covering the engine, was 55 millimetres (2.2 in). The frontal armour was 75 millimetres (3.0 in), although the nose plates top and bottom were thinner but angled. The turret roof was the same thickness as the hull roof and engine deck: 20 millimetres (0.79 in). The German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, of the same period, had 30 to 50 millimetres (1.2 to 2.0 in) thick hull armour. The shape of the nose armour was based on the US Christie design, and came to a narrow point with storage lockers added on either side. The heavy armour of the Matilda's cast turret became legendary; for a time in 1940–41 the Matilda earned the nickname "Queen of the Desert". The sheer thickness of its armour made the tank impervious to the 37 mm and 50 mm calibre anti-tank guns that were then commonly used by the Germans, as well as the 47 mm used by the Italians in North Africa; only the 75 mm PAK 40 anti-tank gun and 88 mm anti-aircraft gun could penetrate its armour reliably.

While the Matilda possessed a degree of protection that was then unmatched in the North African theatre, the sheer weight of the armour mounted on the vehicle contributed to a very low average speed of about 6 mph (9.7 km/h) on desert terrain. At the time, this was not thought to be a problem since British infantry tank doctrine prioritized 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). This was further exacerbated by a troublesome suspension and a comparatively weak power unit, the latter of which was actually created using two bus engines linked to a single shaft. This arrangement was both complicated and time-consuming to maintain, as it required technician crews had to work on each engine separately and subjected automotive components to uneven wear-and-tear. It did however, provide some mechanical redundancy, since failure in one engine would not prevent the Matilda from travelling under its own power using the other.

The tank was carried by 5 double wheel bogies on each side. Four of the bogies were paired on a common coil spring. The fifth, rearmost, bogie was sprung against a hull bracket. Between the first bogie and the idler wheel was a "jockey wheel". The first Matildas had return rollers; these were replaced in later models by track skids, which were far easier to manufacture.

The turret carried the main armament with the machine gun to the right in a rotating internal mantlet. Two smoke grenade launchers were carried on the right side of the turret. The grenade launcher mechanisms were cut down Lee-Enfield rifles, each firing a single smoke grenade.


Production history

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.

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. 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 to the guns of the German tanks and anti-tank guns in France. The famous 88 mm anti-aircraft guns were pressed into service as the only effective counter. In the counter-attack at Arras, although British Matilda IIs (and Matilda Is) were able briefly to disrupt German progress, being unsupported their losses were high. 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.[25]

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 problem 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 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 .[26] 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.


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 .[28] Due to the "painfully small" size of its turret ring - 54 inches (1.37 m) - the tank could not be up-gunned sufficiently to continue to be effective against more heavily armoured enemy tanks. 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 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

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

Foreign use

The Red Army received 1,084 Matildas.[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

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


Type Infantry tank[1] Place of origin United Kingdom[1] Service history In service 1939-1945 Used by United Kingdom


Soviet Union Wars Second World War

1948 Arab–Israeli 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 Specifications 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 max Main

armament 2 pounder (40 mm),

93 armour-piercing rounds[5] Secondary

armament 7.92 mm

2,925 rounds[5] Engine 2 diesel, AEC 6-cylinder engines[nb 1][5] or 2 diesel Leyland engines[2]

94 Brake horsepower – 95 Brake horsepower[6] Power/weight 6.55 hp/tonne Transmission Wilson epicyclic pre-selector gearbox, 6 speeds[4] Suspension Coil spring[2] Operational

range 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) Steering

system Rackham clutch


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Taken on July 4, 2009