The Tank Mk I “Matilda I” (A11) and Tank Mk II “Matilda II” (A12) were both different designs and did not share components but shared the name and did have some similar traits, because they were both designed to be infantry tanks based upon the experiences of the First World War. Both of them sacrificing speed for greater protection.

According to Maj. Gen. Percy C.S. Hobart, then the Inspector, Royal Tank Corps (RTC), the features of a new infantry support weapon that would be “moderately well-armoured and equipped with a machine gun, available in large numbers to swamp the enemy defences; or a larger type, mounting a cannon and armoured sufficiently to be proof against field artillery”. 

The Mark I, nicknamed the Matilda, was designed in 1934 and was armed with a single .30 caliber machine gun, which was later up-gunned to .50 caliber. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) showed how ineffective a slow-moving, lightly gunned, and lightly armored tank could be. The Mark II Infantry Tank, called the Matilda II, was Britain's improvement. Trials on the new tank design had been completed by 1938 when rearmament began in earnest. The machine gun was replaced by a two-pounder (40mm) gun. Armor thickness was increased to 3 inches and speed from eight to 15 miles per hour.

  • The “Matilda I” got its name when General Sir Hugh Ellis, while watching a prototype, commented that it waddled like Matilda the Duck, a comic strip character of the time, because the tank’s 27 tons of metal moved about as elegantly as an overweight waddling duck.

[Via World War Photos]

  • Tank “Matilda I” was a cheap tank to manufacture and used commercially available components. It was designed for quick delivery as well as low cost, the Mk 1 used many stock parts from other vehicles, even artillery tractors and Vickers light tanks. This was an important consideration at the time.

[Via World War Photos]

  • Tank “Matilda I” remained in production until August 1940, a total of one hundred and forty were produced. It was removed from service by 1940. Matilda Is left in the United Kingdom were withdrawn for training purposes

 [Via © IWM (KID 1081)]

  • Tanks “Matilda I” fought only in French campaign of 1940. A “Matilda I” captured in France was selected by the German Army for evaluation and it was destroyed in the process.

A11E1, the pilot model for the Matilda I series, on trials [Via]

Matilda I, 1st Army Tank Brigade, defense of Arras, 15 May 1940. This unit fought against Panzer IIIs and IVs of general Rommel's 7th Panzer Division. Many surviving Matildas were left in France, most sabotaged, before and during the evacuation of Dunkirk [Via]

  • Matilda is and Matilda IIs fighting together in France: 58 Matilda Is and 16 Matilda IIs spearheaded the counter-attack in the Battle of Arras on 21 May, temporarily discomfiting the 7th Panzer Division under Rommel. It was the only real tactical shock received by Germans in de the invasion of France. The heavy armor of both types of British tank proved to be resistant to the standard German 37mm anti-tank gun and the attack was only halted by a gun line hastily formed from 105mm howitzers and 88mm anti-aircraft guns, personally directed by Rommel, who described the situation at one stage “an extremely tight spot”.

4th Royal Tank Regiment (Scottish), Matilda tank in France, January 1940 [Via]

  • Tank “Matilda II” was the only British tank to serve from the start of the war to its end, beginning with the British and ending with the Australians. Some 2,987 tanks “Matilda II” were produced in different factories. Due to the usefulness of the Matilda II in the Far East and the large numbers that were to be sent to Russia the Matilda was still in production in 1943. The last were delivered in August 1943.

Work is finished off on a Matilda tank, at a factory somewhere in the United Kingdom. Note the grinding down of rough surfaces, which is being done by a worker on the rear deck. Source: IWM (D 9191) [Via]

  • Tank “Matilda II” was difficult to manufacture and was relatively costly. Assembly process of different parts of tank required highly skilled workers and additional time.

Vulcan Foundry: Matilda tanks being assembled in the locomotive erection shop [Via]

  • Tank “Matilda II” earned the nickname "Queen of the Desert" during earlier years of North Africa campaign, in 1940–1941, because of its ability to withstand so much fire.

The Matilda, queen of the desert [Via Wikipedia]

  • Tank “Matilda II” demonstrated its invulnerability to virtually every Italian gun in the Western Desert during Operation Compass. "Matilda II" had a prominent effect on destroying the morale of the Italian infantry, artillery, and armored troops as the Matilda’s 2-pounder outclassed any Italian tank or antitank artillery gun. An Italian Army doctor referred to the Matilda tanks as “the nearest thing to hell I ever saw.”

British Infantry Tank Mark II Matilda, 7 Real Tank Regiment, having strong Nibeiwa during the course of the operation Compass in December 1940 [ Via Histomil]

  • Of the 50 Matildas engaged in the battle at Sidi Barrani, only one Matilda was destroyed when a tank driver opened the armored visor of his viewing port and an Italian artillery shell went through it at that very moment.
  • As testament to its durability against Italian armor and artillery, one "Matilda II" was hit 38 times and was still fully operational. 
  • One "Matilda II" commander described the state of his armored vehicle after storming the Italian coastal fortress with the comment, “Anything breakable, radio aerials, water cans, lights, etc. had vanished, and evidence of no less than 46 direct hits, which says a lot for the Matilda.”
  • Tank “Matilda II” because of its resistance to anti-tank fire, it was wrongly used as a cruiser tank during North Africa Campaign, for which it did have the speed.

Matilda tanks at Tobruk, September 1941 [Via Wikipedia]

  • It wasn't until the arrival of the Germans in North Africa in February 1941 that a weapon capable of dealing with the "Matilda II" was available - the 88mm Flak gun, it must be remembered however that the Germans did not have a tank capable of penetrating the Matilda II's armour at range until the Summer of 1942,  after over two and a half years of war.
  • The German 50mm Pak 38 AT gun could penetrate the front of a Matilda using composite rigid shot; the heaviest Panzer IVs, which carried 75mm guns, too.

Infantry of the 2nd New Zealand Division link up with Matilda tanks of the Tobruk garrison, 2 December 1941 [Via Wikipedia]

  • The first really one-sided defeat for the British when spearheaded by Matilda IIs came with Operation Battleaxe in June 1941. German skill, and use of their 88's, shot the British offensive to pieces, wrecking over one hundred tanks of all types, including Matilda IIs.
  • Following Operation Battleaxe in June 1941, a dozen Matilda IIs that had been left behind the Axis lines, were picked up, repaired, and put into service by the Germans. Infanterie Panzerkampfwagen Mk.II 748(e) translating roughly as "Infantry Tank Mk.II Number 748 English" was the nicknamed of the Matilda IIs was the codename. The Matilda II’s were well respected by their new German drivers, who had faced them in the Desert Campaign. However, despite extra, prominent marking painted onto the tanks, their use in battle caused confusion on both sides.

Matilda IIs captured by Germans [Via Taringa]

  • The 7th Royal Tank Regiment lost its last Matilda IIs during the gallant defense of Tobruk in 1942.
  • Tanks “Matilda II” fought in French campaign of 1940, in North Africa campaign from 1940 to 1942, in East Africa campaign of 1941, in Battle of Crete in 1941, during Italy campaign and on D-Day assault. In the Pacific Theatre, Matilda IIs belonging to the Australian Army, fought in Huon Peninsula campaign in 1943, Bougainville and Borneo campaigns from 1943 to 1945.

Matilda al Royal Australian Armoured Corps Tank Museum de Puckapunyal, Austràlia [Via Wikipedia]

  • In the Pacific, though, where the Japanese lacked powerful anti-tank weapons and the rate of advance was governed by infantry pace, the "Matilda II" proved to be very reliable. Only the heaviest Japanese artillery or mines could seriously damage a Matilda and it remained in service for the rest of the war.
  • During the service with Australian Army, an example of the strength of the tank was shown in an action at Pabu Hill near Sattleberg (NB: There is a fine sculpture of a Matilda, titled "The Sattleberg Tank" in the Royal New South Wales Lancers). On this occasion, a tank assisting the infantry was engaged and disabled at a range of less than 50 metres, by a Japanese 37 mm gun. Later a 75 mm gun, anti-tank mines and grenades were used against the tank. Although it was hit more than 50 times, the crew continued to fight the vehicle until its ammunition had been expended. They then managed to escape from the vehicle and return to it the following day. It was subsequently repaired and put back into action one day later.

Sattelberg, New Guinea. 1944-07-06. A tank of the 4th Armoured Brigade Group [ Via © AWM 080167]

  • The Red Army received 918 of the 1,084 Matilda IIs sent to the USSR, under the terms of Lend-Lease. The Soviets used it as early as the battle for Moscow, and though most were expended in 1942, a few survived into 1944.
  • Soviet crews did not like the Matilda, finding it too slow and unreliable. The armored skirts, fitting to protect the tracks, tended to clog with mud and snow, not a good characteristic for a fighting vehicle on the Eastern Front.

Soviets atop British Matilda tanks, also provided through the lend-lease service. The Matilda was not actually liked by Soviet tankers [Via imgur]

  • Tank “Matilda II” was ideally suited to be adapted in many variants. They were designed 16 “Matilda II” versions using its chassis, some of them assuming different roles such as the Matilda Scorpion I / II, with a mine flail (old Matildas fitted with revolving drums and chains to detonate mines by thrashing the ground ahead of the remaining armor and infantry); Matilda Frog as Flame-thrower tank (armed with flamethrowers, instead of a main gun, and had a crew of three people. The tank could propel a liquid-fuel flame range of 80 to 100 metres); or Matilda Tank-Dozer as Bulldozer tank (had a dozer blade mounted on its front. It could clear tracks under fire, level steep gradients, or construct river crossings).

Matilda mine flail Scorpion [Via]

A Matilda II Frog (flame-throwing variant) supports the infantry, very likely during the Balikpapan action [Via]

  • During late 1944, modified Matilda CDLs (Canal Defense Light versions) were posted along canals, for night patrols against possible German counter-attacks. But they were a rare sight.

Tank Infantry Mark II A12, Matilda CDL (Defence Light) [Via Wikipedia]

Old draw Matilda II CDL [Via]

    Source: | | | Wikipedia | | | | | Imperial War Museum | World War Photos | | | | Histomil | | Australian War Memorial | |

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