WW2 British Infantry Tanks

A.12, Infantry Tank Mk.II, Matilda II

United Kingdom (1937)
Infantry Tank – 2,987 Built

A complete overhaul of the infantry tank concept

The former Infantry Tank Mk.I was a product of the 1929 financial crisis, a rather limited and compromised vehicle, badly suited to real battlefield operations. In 1936 it entered production. During the very same year, another parallel specification (A.12) asked for a larger, better-armed model, derived from the A.7 prototype. In fact, the A.12 was completely different from its “little brother” in terms of size, weight, drivetrain, armament and crew.
Development at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (which already designed the A.7) lasted until 1938 when war seemed highly plausible. The final A.12 prototype trials were passed with urgency. A production order came soon after, Vulcan Foundry having to build the first batch of 140 units until mid-1938.

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The Matilda II?

Many sources claim that the Infantry Tank Mark I was also known as the Matilda, with several name variations being given, like Matilda Mk.I, Matilda I or Matilda Junior. However, there is little proof that such designations were used for this vehicle officially before 1941. By that time, the Infantry Tank Mark I was out of production and relegated as a training vehicle only.
There are similar designations used for the Infantry Tank Mark II as well, being called the Matilda Mk.II, Matilda II or Matilda Senior.
There is a document, “‘Cabinet Officer Papers 120/354 August 1940 to September 1942: Tank Nomenclature and Classification”, that shows the Infantry Tank Mark I as being named the Matilda after June 1941 and proposing the use of Matilda I instead. It similarly shows the Infantry Tank Mark II being named Matilda, with the proposal to redesignate it as the Matilda II.
The two vehicles shared almost nothing from the design or development points of view. They are completely different vehicles. All that can be said is that they share a vague visual resemblance.
This article will use the Matilda designation for the Infantry Tank Mark II (A.12). The A.11 will be called Infantry Tank Mark I.

Design of the Matilda

Three prototypes of the A.7 Medium Tank were built by Vickers, requested internally for potential Army contracts. They were built from 1929 to 1933, incorporating elements which largely influenced the A.9 Cruiser Mk.I (notably the turret), and the A.12 Matilda, including the drivetrain, suspension, and part of the armor design. It also had an impact on the A.14, A.16 and ultimately the Valentine.
The third and last prototype, the A.7E3 (1933-37), probably had the biggest influence on the Matilda. It incorporated twin diesel AEC C1 engines and a QF 3-pdr (47 mm/1.85 in) antitank gun. However, it was too lightly protected to serve as an infantry tank.
The Matilda was a 60,000 lbs (27 tonnes) machine, armed with the new Ordnace QF 2-Pounder (40 mm, 1.57 in) gun. This was one of the many derivatives of the licence-built Swedish Bofors gun, which had an excellent rate of fire. The caliber seemed sufficient against most tanks of the time. Generally, tanks of the time were equipped with a 37 or 47 mm (1.46-1.85 in) gun. Secondary armament varied. Early models of the Tank were equipped with a coaxial Vickers Water-Cooled .303 (7.92 mm) Machine Gun. These models are identified by a large armored block to the right of the gun, and a cast outlet on top of the turret for the steam given off by the Vickers MG to vent through. Later models would have this replaced by the famous BESA 7.92 mm Machine Gun. This was a simpler set up which did not require the huge armored box to the right of the gun, it also meant the deletion of the steam port on the turret roof.
The hydraulically-powered three man fully traversing turret was cast in one solid piece of hardened steel. It was almost cylindrical (slightly sloped) and large enough to accommodate the main gun and a coaxial machine-gun, as well as the gunner, loader, and commander. The gun elevation was -15 +20 degrees. The gun’s elevation was not mechanical or geared in any way. The Gunner elevated and depressed the gun by hand, supporting the weight on his shoulder with a large shoulder pad. The small size of the 2-Pounder gun meant it was not an uncomfortable task to manipulate as needed. It also had the added bonus of providing rudimentary the gun stabilization, as the gunner could easily keep the gun on target while the tank was moving.
The tank was only supplied with anti-tank rounds. The lack of HE ammunition was somewhat compensated by the machine-gun. But the emphasis was clearly put on armor. And indeed, this compensated easily for all its drawbacks during the war. With a 78 mm (3.07 in) thick frontal glacis and turret, far beyond any tank produced at the time (and even late into the war), the Matilda was thought immune to most antitank guns, and naturally other tanks as well.
This tank became legendary precisely for this rare quality. By comparison, the contemporary Panzer III and IV had only 30 mm (1.18 in) of armor at the time. and The French B1, the most heavily armored tank on the continent, sported “only” 60 mm (2.36 in) of protection.
The Matilda glacis was completed by thinner but sloped nose plates, a design feature largely influenced by the Christie tanks. The sides were 65-70 mm (2.56-2.76 in) thick, while the rear protection was 55 mm (2.17 in) strong. The turret roof, hull roof and engine deck were all 20 mm (0.79 in) thick.
The weight of such armor imposed important conditions on the other features of the design. It had a rather peculiar engine arrangement, with two AEC diesel engines. They were coupled to a Wilson epicyclic pre-selector gearbox, 6 speed transmission, with a Rackham clutch for steering. The weight also imposed the numerous double wheel bogies, with paired bellcranks with a common coil spring suspension. This was a rather classical solution based on the old Vickers Medium C design, which was intended to distribute the sheer mass of steel with moderate ground pressure while sacrificing speed.
Quite logically, its overall performances were quite limited. It could only achieve infantry pace, which was precisely suited to the task given to the A.12 type, infantry support. However, the most troublesome piece of equipment were the paired “double decker” bus engines, linked to a common shaft. This solution which proved complicated to maintain, with many redundancies which often prevented movement when one of the two engines was damaged or broken down.
On the back of some Matildas, near the exhausts, was a so called ‘Door bell’. This bell was designed for infantry men outside of the tank to get the attention of the crew. The Australians would later elaborate on this by adding an infantry telephone in this position.

Production of the Matilda

The very first models formed a sort of pre-series. They were equipped with several features which would disappear with the production Mark II version. First, the suspension had three return rollers. They were replaced later by track skids, to ease production and maintenance. The turret was equipped (on the right) with a set of three smoke grenade launchers, in fact, modified Lee Enfield mechanisms. On the left side of the turret was placed a set of leather belts, meant to suspend a large protecting, rolled canvas. Later, these were replaced by a simpler metal tubular structure.
When the war broke out in September 1939, only two Matilda IIs were serviceable. The other deliveries were pressed into service quickly after training.
The same year, another order was placed to Ruston & Hornsby. In 1940, John Fowler & Co. of Leeds was also contracted, and later, in 1941-42, so were London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Harland & Wolff (Belfast, the famous shipbuilder of the Titanic), and, eventually, the North British Locomotive Company in Scotland. Production ended in August 1943 after a total of 2,987 units. It was a relatively costly tank and difficult to manufacture, requiring some special skills.

Evolution from the Mk.II to the Mk.V

The Mk.I was never really officialised, being the first, early batch delivered in 1939. Most were lost during the French campaign, in May 1940. They were characterized by a massive trench-crossing tail, as it was thought that a stalemate style warfare was still to be expected. This feature proved useless, and the tail was never mounted on the first large-scale production variant, the Mark II. Like the Mark.I, it was equipped with a Vickers machine-gun, characterized by a large armored mantlet.
By late 1940, this model was replaced by the lighter and more recent Besa model, of the same caliber, without a mantlet. This was known as the Matilda Mk.IIA. The Besa was a British version of the Czechoslovak ZB-53. It was compact, air-cooled and belt-fed.
The next model, the Mark III, saw the replacement of the old AEC engines for more modern twin Leyland diesel engines. These were sturdier and increased the range significantly.
The Mark IV (1941-42) introduced an improved Leyland diesel, and the turret leather belt fixation replaced by a fixed tubular mounting. The turret lamp was also removed. It was the main production version, with perhaps 1200 units built throughout 1942.
The Mark V (1943), was the last version, fitted with an improved gearbox and Westinghouse air servo. Some attempts were made to replace the old QF-2pdr (40 mm/1.57 in) with a more efficient 6-pdr (57 mm) high-velocity gun, already tested on the Cromwell, Cavalier and Centaur. In this hope, a Cromwell turret was tested with the Matilda hull, but production never materialized.
Despite promising characteristics, combining firepower with an efficient armor, the age of the model, suspension design and lack of speed led to the cancellation of any other developments.

Matilda chassis adaptation and derivatives

The sturdy and largely available chassis of the Matilda seemed ideally suited to be adapted in many variants. However, in fact, its slow speed and small turret ring prevented the development of many upgrades. Although, through special adaptation, the Matilda survived in many forms until the end of the war, it was retired from active duty in Africa by the end of 1942.
Matilda CS: (Close Support): a variant produced in small quantities and generally attached to mobile HQs. It was equipped with a 3″ (76 mm) howitzer, firing innocuous smoke shells. It was also capable of firing HE shells. The number of conversions is unknown. They were widely used in Europe, and later in Asia by Australian forces.
Matilda Scorpion: an operational mine-flail version, produced in two sub-versions, used at El Alamein, and in some British and Canadian operations in 1943 and 1944.
Matilda CDL: (Canal Defence Light), a late conversion, in mid-1944, with a new cylindrical turret containing a powerful searchlight. The CDL were converted either from a Mark II or a Mk.V chassis.
Matilda Hedgehog: an Australian regular Mk.V fitted with a folded 7-chambered spigot mortar, mounted on the rear engine hood. 6 were built, tested in May 1945, but never used operationally.
Matilda Frog & Murray, Murray FT: Australian flamethrower versions used in the SW Pacific. Only 25 Frog conversions. Murray figures are unknown.
Matilda Tank-dozer:  An Australian bulldozer variant, mostly used by genie units to clear road obstacles and forested areas.
Other experiments : the Matilda Baron, three prototypes, mine-flail version; the Matilda MK.IV ZiS-5, a Lend-Lease Soviet prototype equipped with the high velocity ZiS 76 mm (3 in); the Matilda with A.27 turret, to test the Ordnance QF 6 pounder (57 mm/2.24 in); and the Black Prince, a radio-controlled planned to be used for spotting antitank gun positions and demolition tasks. The conversion cost surged because of the fitting of a Wilson transmission, and the 60 ordered was cancelled.
Matilda II with A.27 turret (Black Prince)
Matilda II with A.27 turret (Black Prince)
The Matilda Black Prince prototype:This vehicle features a 6-pounder gun fitted in the A.27 turret. Only one prototype was produced, after which development was discontinued due to complications with the turret mounting. The vehicle never entered service. Called the Matilda II with A.27 turret. It is sometimes wrongly called the Matilda Cromwell (because of the A.27 Cromwell turret).
So far no documentation has been found, only this photograph of the prototype. It is commonly called the Matilda Black Prince but that name relates to a different radio-controlled prototype produced in 1941 using A.12E2 with Wilson transmission. Planned uses included use for this RC Matilda was as an operational battlefield mobile target, for drawing fire and so reveal hidden enemy anti-tank gun positions, or for demolition missions. Planned order for 60 cancelled as it would require conversion of Rackham clutch transmission to the Wilson type. Fitted with a QF 6-pdr Mk.V A gun.
Although the turret did not enter production a number of hulls were produced and subsequently sent to Australia fitted with standard turrets and guns. The hulls can be identified by the raised rectangular armour collar around the turret ring. Speed, range and weight of this new prototype would have been an issue. The original Matilda II was already slow but the bigger turret, gun and ammo would add 3-5 tons – ie 20% plus to the weight. This would reduce the tanks speed and manoeuvrability even lower.
The Matilda’s parent manufacturing factory was the Vulcan Foundry in Warrington. Vulcan (who were set up in the 1840s to produce railway locos) were taken over by English Electric in the late 1950s. In 1962, EE had a literal bonfire of Vulcan’s paperwork going back over a century, including the wartime documents relating to the Matilda. Sadly, there may be no remaining documents to be found. The Vucan works itself was shuttered shortly afterwards, and demolished in the 1970s. The site is now a housing estate.

The Matilda in action: The campaign of France

When war broke out, only two pre-series Matildas had been barely put in active service. They were soon joined by 20 others, passing the year in drilling exercises, before being shipped to France. There they came to serve with the 7th RTR, part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Armored Division.
They represented a minority of this unit’s strength, the bulk of infantry tanks companies being taken by the older A.11 Infantry Tank Mk.I. However, their armor was superior to the formidable French B1 bis, and they proved it during a single battle, at Arras.
The entire Matilda force available was committed during the hopeless attack of Arras, during the afternoon of May 21, 1940. After some success owed to the lack of an efficient German response, they were ultimately terminated by a handful of German 88 mm (3.46 in) FlaK 18 and 105 mm (4.13 in) field guns.
Rommel had remembered how these AA guns were used in Spain years before. The surviving units withdrew from the field and were abandoned along with hundred of trucks and light vehicles at Dunkirk. They were sabotaged, but the Germans captured two of them, later repaired for tests.

The “Queen of the desert”

When the war enveloped North Africa, the Matilda truly became legendary, being nicknamed the “Queen of the desert” by its crews. The Matilda’s armor was a powerful advantage in all tank-to-tank engagements against Italian armor and AT guns during the early stage of the war (Operation Compass, late 1940). After that it proved itself time and time again against the DAK XVth Panzerdivision, still largely equipped with light Panzer IIs and early models of the Panzer III and IV, using inadequate guns.
But Rommel’s imaginative ambush tactics using AT guns proved a serious threat for the Matilda. It was hampered by its slow speed, a somewhat troublesome, overheating engine and troublesome steering under the harsh conditions of this specific theater of war. The already famous 7th RTR, reborn in Britain, fully reequipped with Mark IIs, took part both in the late 1940 campaign, and still ruled the battlefield until late 1941. Battle records included the conquest of Libya, seizing of Tobruk and Bardia, and later, Operation Battleaxe.
The Germans used well-placed AA batteries of 88 mm (3.46 in) guns with full efficiency against the Matilda. No less than 64 were lost during a single day of attack. Such a heavy toll raised questions about Matilda’s fighting capabilities, but, nevertheless, it still proved efficient where opposing forces had nothing to respond with. The Pak 36, Pak 41, Pak 97/38 and sPzB-41 were all but useless. But the rapid-firing, accurate 88 mm (3.46 in), served by skilled crews and taking full advantage of the flat ground with good visibility and the Infantry Tank Mk.II’s limited mobility, condemned large-scale frontal attacks using the Matilda.
Another factor led to its demise. Like the Crusader, it was armed with a 1939-standard AT gun, good against 20 to 30 mm (0.79-1.18 in) armor, but not against the upgraded versions of the Panzer III and IV, which came in Africa in late 1941. However, with their limitations well-understood by the British command, they were once more successful during Operation Crusader, especially the 1st and 32nd Army Tank Brigades, which were pivotal in the battle.
By mid-1942, the Germans had devised efficient infantry tactics using the Pak 38 and the long-barrel 50 mm (1.97 in) version of the Panzer III (Ausf J), which could deal with the Matilda. One solution for the British design was to upgrade the main gun, but with a turret ring of only 1.37 m (4.49 ft), no superior gun could be mounted without a major overhaul of the entire hull.
Such a project was attempted in 1942, but after a single prototype was tested, the production was dropped in favor of more modern late-generation cruiser tanks. In Africa, the Matilda was gradually phased out by the Valentine. Damaged and worn out Matildas were retired and replaced by other models. Some were shipped to less threatening theaters, like in South and Eastern Africa, for operations against Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, in 1941.
They were part of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, taking part in the battle of Keren and all other operations in this sector. But the mountainous terrain prevented any efficient large-scale use. Others were shipped to Greece (during the Balkan campaign), Crete and Malta, to prevent any German landing there.
Matildas took part in the battle of Gazala (summer 1942) and the first battle of El Alamein, with further losses, and, just like the Crusaders, which were their opposite (fast, lightly armored, low silhouette), many were converted for other uses. It was no surprise that, when the second battle of El Alamein began in October 1942, around 25 Matilda Scorpions (equipped with mine-flail) were the only ones used in the front-line. When the M3 Lee and the M4 Sherman, faster and equipped with more potent guns, became available in numbers, the remaining Matildas were shipped back to Britain. Some were employed for training, others as a reserve for further conversions.

In Russia

Already, by early 1942, the British were supplying the Red Army with Matildas. As many as 1084 Mk.II, III and IVs were shipped on the perilous Arctic sea trip to Murmansk. Mines, submarines, E-boats and the Luftwaffe sent 166 of them to the bottom of the sea. Most were of the diesel type, a kind of propulsion favored by the Russians. The first batch is reported to have taken part in the battle of Moscow in January 1942.

Matildas in Europe

The bulk of the last version, Mark V, was shipped to Eastern Asia by 1943, where they had a second active life, serving well until the end of the war. However, in Europe, surviving units were converted to other uses. In Italy, specialized versions for mine-warfare (Scorpion Mark.I and II) and HQ close defense versions armed with a smoke-firing howitzer, took part in the Allied offensive, and again during D-Day. 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.
At the later stage of the war in Africa, plans were drawn for a heavy artillery support version, equipped with a 152 mm (5.98 in) howitzer protected by a half-turret, like the Bishop. But its slow speed and large supplies of US-built Priests stopped the project before any prototype were built.

The Matilda in Asia

The last chapter of Matilda’s wartime career came in 1943 when Allied forces were once more on the offensive. Large supplies of the Mk.IV and Mk.V were shipped to Australia. They took part in many operations throughout the reconquest of the south-eastern Pacific, favored by the lack of adequate Japanese AT guns or tanks.
The Australian 4th Armoured Brigade took advantage of its sturdiness in the battle of Huon (October 1943), but also 1944 and 1945 during the Wewak, Bougainville and Borneo campaigns. The Australian forces also modified many of them for other purposes, like the flamethrowers Frog and Murray, or the genie tank-dozer. A heavy rocket-carrying version came too late for active operations. They also extensively used CS (close support) conversions.

Captured Matildas

In May 1940, the Germans seized two Matildas hastily sabotaged during the days of Operation Dynamo, and shipped them to the Kummersdorf Heer Test Center. They were fully aware of its armor thickness and devised appropriate tactics. An experimental conversion, the “Oswald“, fitted with a shielded 5 cm KwK L/42 gun and two MG 42s. It was used for training at some point, but its fate is unknown. Later, with the war in Africa turning in their favor, the DAK managed to capture a dozen more in May-June 1941. They were repaired and affected to the 5th Pz.Rgt. of the 21st Pz.Div., and the 8th Panzer-Regiment of the 15th Panzer-Division.
They were popular with their crews because of their armor, but caused confusion on the battlefield, despite the profusion of large painted crosses, large Nazi and army flags, and makeshift camouflages in some cases. Under the crude light of the desert, its silhouette was unmistakable, but the associated symbols difficult to spot. Those captured in too bad shape for repairs were kept as reserves for spare parts.
At least two or three had their turrets removed and mounted in concrete pillboxes, guarding strategic road junctions. On the Eastern Front, records of captured tanks are even more difficult to appreciate. But at least a dozen or so were seen with the Balkan cross in 1942-43, as testified by photographs of a German facility in Budapest, and in the field, or in Russian archives.

Matilda II specifications

Dimensions 18 ft 9.4 in x 8 ft 3 in x 8 ft 7 in (5.72 x 2.51 x 2.61 m)
Total weight, loaded 25.5 tons (25.6 tonnes)
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, loader, commander)
Propulsion 2x Leyland E148 & E149 straight 6-cylinder water cooled diesel 95 hp engine
Max. Road Speed 15 mph (24.1 km/h)
Operational Road Range 50 miles (807 km)
Armament 2-Pdr QF (40 mm/1.575 in), 94 rounds
Besa 7.92 mm machine-gun, 2925 rounds
Armor 15 mm to 78 mm (0.59-3.14 in)
Total production 2,987
Data source Infantry Tank Mark IIA* Specifications, The Vulcan Foundary Ltd by designer Sir John Dodd August 1940


Infantry Tank Mark IIA* Specifications, The Vulcan Foundary Ltd by designer Sir John Dodd August 1940
Infantry Tank Mark II manual, War Department
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #8, Matilda Infantry Tank 1938-45

Britsh Matildas

Infantry tank Mk.II (A.12) Matilda Mk.I pre-series, Gamecock, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), western Belgium, May 1940
Infantry tank Mk.II (A.12) Matilda Mk.I pre-series, “Gamecock”, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), western Belgium, May 1940. This is an early “long” version, equipped with the trench-crossing tail, mufflers, and Vickers coaxial machine-gun, protected by a large armored mantlet.
Matilda Mk.I, Good Luck, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
Matilda Mk.I, “Good Luck”, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The “Good Luck” was not true to its name for its crew. It blew up after a direct hit through the frontal hull from a German 88 mm (3.46 in), during the counter-attack at Arras, on May, 21, 1940.
Matilda Mark II, Libya, 1941
Matilda Mark II, Libya, 1941 (one of the first delivered with the new compact Besa machine-gun, without mantlet). This is a vehicle from the First Armoured Division, the blue lozenge identifying it as a tank of a major of a junior regiment.
Matilda Mk.III, Lybia, fall 1941.
Matilda Mk.III, Lybia, fall 1941. This a tank from the 7th RTR, the white and red markings identifying the Royal Armoured Corps. The three color pattern with straight separations became mandatory. Such schemes, adapted to desert warfare, were adopted after visual disruption tests.
Matilda Mk.II in Libya, 1941, now preserved at Bovington.
Matilda Mk.II in Libya, 1941, now preserved at Bovington. Notice the dark olive green variant three-tone camouflage.
Matilda Mk.III Gulliver II, 7th RTR (Royal Tank Regiment), Libya, fall 1941.
Matilda Mk.III “Gulliver II”, 7th RTR (Royal Tank Regiment), Libya, fall 1941. The camouflage is a variant of the three-tone one, with dark-grey or dark-blue.
Matilda Mk.III at Malta, 1942.
Matilda Mk.III at Malta, 1942. These tanks had a unique livery, with large sand color spots over the olive green factory color. The best known is the “Griffin”, of the 4th Independent Tank Platoon of the Malta Tank Squadron, RTR.
Matilda Mk.IV with a particular spotted camouflage, reminiscent of the Malta livery seen above.
Matilda Mk.IV with a particular spotted camouflage, reminiscent of the “Malta” livery seen above. This vehicle was photographed towing a crashed Boston hull, probably between Egypt and Libya.
Matilda Mk.IV (late production) Defiance of the 4th Royal Armoured Regiment, part of the VIIIth Army.
Many Matildas had been lost during the battle of Gazala, Operation Crusader, and the first battle of El Alamein. Surviving ones were placed in the reserve or used as reinforcements, like this Mk.IV (late production) “Defiance” of the 4th Royal Armoured Regiment, part of the VIIIth Army. The second battle of El Alamein, October 1942.

Captured Matildas

Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e), Libya, early 1942.
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e), Libya, early 1942.
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e) (captured Matilda), 8th Panzer-Regiment, XVth Panzerdivision, Libya, 1942
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e) (captured Matilda), 8th Panzer-Regiment, XVth Panzerdivision, Libya, 1942. Notice the makeshift camouflage and the absence of any Balkankreuz. In some cases a simple flag was displayed instead.


A.7 Medium Tank
The A.7 Medium Tank
Matilda tank on its way into Tobruk, displaying an Italian flag, 24 January 1941, during Operation Compass.
Matilda tank on its way into Tobruk, displaying an Italian flag, 24 January 1941, during Operation Compass.
Captured Matilda, Libya, 1941 - Credits: BundesarchivMatilda during Operation Compass, December 1940 - February 1941Technical drawing of a Matilda's suspensionsMatilda with a 6-pdr in a Cromwell turret, experimental prototype.Matilda Mk.III Griffin at Malta, displaying its unique liveryA Matilda with a spotted pattern, towing a shot down Blenheim bomberMatilda Scorpion Mk.I, mine-flail version, similar to those engaged in the first line during the opening of the second battle of El Alamein, October 1942.Experimental mine-flail Matilda Baron during testsMatilda Hedgehog during tests in 1945

Surviving Tanks

Surviving Matilda II British Infantry Tank A.12 called Defiance at the French Tank Museum
Surviving British Infantry Tank A.12 Matilda Mk.III called Defiance at the French Tank Museum
Preserved Matilda British Infantry Tank A.12 Mk.V at the Imperial War Museum Duxford
Preserved Matilda British Infantry Tank A.12 Mk.V at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

1940 desert camouflage

The official British tank livery camouflage Caunter Colours’ shown in an official document dated July 1940 were Portland Stone (BSC No.64), Light Grey (BSC No.28) or Silver Grey and Slate Grey (BSC No.34). The grey paints were apparently originally from Royal Navy paint stocks in Alexandria, Egypt.
There is no Blue shown in the official document. The Imperial War Museum in London painted their Matilda II tank light blue instead of Light or Silver Grey by mistake. Because the museum used this colour scheme it was copied by the French tank Museum and many Model kit companies.
The confusion may have come from veterans accounts. A tank crew member who had served with 7th RTR in 1940-41,recollected that their tanks being “a god awful shade of blue”. I suspect that given a few weeks in the dust, heat and high UV of the desert, the paints would weather to a very different appearance to their “official” tone.
official British Camoflauge pattern July 1940

Operation Bertram

Another way of hiding your tank was to change its shape. This type of deception tactic had been used by the Royal Navy in WW1. They changed the outline of destroyers to look more like merchant ships. When the WW1 German U-boat surfaced to attack the ship with its main gun the screens would drop to enable a full broadside of high explosive shells to be fired at the submarine. These type of ships were called ‘Q’ boats.
During Operation Bertram in the months leading up to the second Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in September – October 1942 camouflage and dummy vehicles were used to deceive the Germans where the next attack was going to come from. Real tanks were disguised as trucks, using light “Sunshield” canopies. To achieve the deception, trucks were parked openly in the tank assembly area for some weeks. Real tanks were similarly parked openly, far behind the front. Two nights before the attack, the tanks replaced the trucks, being covered with “Sunshields” before dawn.
Real tanks were disguised as trucks, using light Sunshield canopies.
The tanks were replaced that same night with dummies in their original positions, so the armour remained seemingly two or more days’ journey behind the front line. Interviews with captured German senior officers showed that this type of deception was successful: they believed the attack was going to come from the south where they had seen the dummy tanks and vehicles and not in the north. The idea for the Sunshield came from Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Wavell.
T 6947 Dangerous so 4th Btn RTR Matilda II tank.
The first heavy wooden prototype was made in 1941 by Jasper Maskelyne, who gave it the name Sunshield. 12 men were needed to lift it. The Mark 2 Sunshield was made of canvas stretched over a light steel tube frame. On 11th November 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced victory at El Alamein in the House of Common. During his speech, he praised the success of Operation Bertram, “By a marvellous system of camouflage, complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert. The 10th Corps, which he had seen from the air exercising fifty miles in the rear, moved silently away in the night, but leaving an exact simulacrum of its tanks where it had been, and proceeded to its points of attack.” (Winston Churchill, 1942)

Matilda II Tank
Matilda II Tank Operation Bertram

This is not a Matilda II Tank prototype

Italian M-14 tank camouflaged to look like a British Matilda II tank.
The British Army were not the only ones that tried to disguise the identity of their tanks. This is an Italian Carro Armato M13/40 tank camouflaged to look like a British Matilda II tank. The exact reason this was constructed is not known. It may have been a tank recognition aid, a target or to be used in deception on the battlefield.
British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)

By David.B

Tank Encyclopedia's Creator, webmaster and illustrator since 2010.

24 replies on “A.12, Infantry Tank Mk.II, Matilda II”

That strange vehicle is the Object 279, an experimental Soviet tank built in 1959. The vehicle was advanced but not accepted into production. Its only prototype is located at the Kubinka Armor Museum (Moscow), as seen in your picture.

if you look it up on youtube world of tanks has avidio on it telling of how i would have been used

The Besa MG did NOT fire .303 British. All Besas used by British built armour fired the 7.92mm German standard rifle and MG ammunition.

Another small correction.

“They were repaired and affected to the 5th Pz.Rgt. of the 21st Pz.Div., and the 8th Panzer-Regiment of the 15th Panzer-Division.”

Should read attached to

Great work & I love this site! just trying to help

When was the commander’s cupola changed from taller to smaller one? What was the reason for the redesigning?

I think they confused the 6 pdr with the 3″ howitzer. You can see they made the mistake twice once saying the 6pdr is 3″ and the other time saying the 3″ is the 6 pounder on the CS.

The 40mm, ordnance 2pdr had nothing to do with the Bofors 40mm antti-aircraft LAA gun. if it was its range of ammunition would have included HE, but it never had that.
Further, the case is straight sided (though it does angle in) and is not necked. The Bofors round 40 X 311R is necked.

In the Main Gun penetration figures section it says “Official British War Department test figures show that the 6pdr Mk.III anti-tank gun”. Given that the Matilda 2 had a 2pdr is this just a typo or has completely wrong gun data been used?

Hey Kevin!
I can’t find the section you are referring to. Could you be a bit more specific?

Hello Stan
Thanks for the reply. Strangely I can’t see it now but it was just above or below (I forget exactly) the Matilda specifications table at the bottom of the left hand column and I copied and pasted the title from it.
No worries, cheers for an interesting and informative site anyway.
Best wishes

Aha, it had been commented out by another team member and that’s why I missed it.
Okay, clarified it and it was really 6 pdr data. It was meant to be on the Churchill article and landed on the Matilda one as well by mistake.
Thanks for spotting it!

Hi there once again, I’d like to see a correction to the term Far East where it refers to Australia’s use of the Matilda IIs. The SWPacific is nowhere near the Far East. And Australian fighting men never left the SWPArea around New Guinea and the Western edge of the Solomons. Though some Ultra intelligence, and radio intercept units did go with that arsehole MacArthur to the Philippines, that’s still SEAsia. SWPArea will do as a replacement.
The Far East encompasses – Siberia, Mongolia, Eastern China, and Japan and probably other countries.
This is an important site, best if it gets as good as possible!

Hi Tim, poor formulation indeed, it was corrected to SW Pacific, thanks
-David B

There’s a small typo in the third sentence of the third paragraph under the header “The ‘Queen of the Desert'”.
“Such a heavy toll raised questions about Matilda’s fighting capabilities, but, nevertheless, it still proved efficient w[h]ere opposing forces had nothing to respond with.”

A serious error concerning the colour profile no.8, said to be the tank “photographed when towing a crashed Boston hull, probably between Egypt and Lybia”. First – the aircraft on the photo isn’t a Boston; it’s the Bristol Beaufort And second – the photos are described as (and included within the album entitled) “Malta Royal Tank Regiment”
The scene took place on 16th July 1942 at RAF Luqa air base and the tank name (painted white on the hull sides) was Gallant.

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