Matilda II Tank
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.
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 the anti-tank role as the only effective counter. In the counterattack 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.
Up to early 1942, in the war in North Africa, the Matilda again proved highly effective against Italian and German tanks, although vulnerable again to the larger caliber and medium caliber 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. In addition, 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.
Ultimately, in the rapid manoeuvre warfare often practiced 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 capability (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 the anti-tank role 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 to 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 successful breakout from Tobruk and the capture of the Axis fortress of Bardia .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 .Due to the "painfully small"size of its turret ring - 54 inches (1.37 m) - the tank could also 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, 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 still 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.
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
In the Pacific, however, 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 entire war.
The Red Army received 1,084 Matildas. 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 slow speed 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.
Following Operation Battleaxe a dozen Matildas left behind the Axis lines were repaired and put into service by the Germans. The Matildas were well regarded by their German users although their use in battle caused confusion to both sides, despite extra-prominent German markings
iwm london 11/9/10
Matilda II pictures:
Picture added on 01 November 2010 at 16:37