WW2 British Vehicles in Foreign Service WW2 Soviet Medium Tanks

Matilda II in Soviet Service

Soviet Union (1941)
Infantry Tank – 1,084 Shipped, 918 Received

As a result of Germany’s Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets lost large numbers of their tank forces. From June to December 1941, sources suggest the losses range from 5000 to as many as 15,000 tanks, up to half of the USSR’s approximate 30,000 tanks in service at the time.
In an attempt to fill the large gaps left by these losses, Great Britain, along with the United States, started a Lend-Lease relationship with the Soviet Union. This would allow the stricken Soviet military to bolster its forces while its tank production recovered. Along with the Churchill III, Tetrarch, Valentine and Universal Carrier, the famous ‘Queen of the Desert’ Matilda II soon found itself in the USSR, provided by Britain.
Between 1941 and 1943, some 1084 Matildas were shipped to the Soviet Union. Only 918 were received by the Red Army, however, as the others likely never made it to the end of the Arctic Convoys as a result of German Attacks. The Soviets received one-third of the entire 2987 vehicle production run of the Matilda.

A Matilda II Mk.III fresh of the production line is prepared for shipment to the USSR with a number of Slogans painted on by the factory workers, September 26, 1941. Photo:

Soviet Scrutiny

The Matildas that arrived in the Soviet Union were mostly Mk.IIIs and IVs, with Leyland diesel engines. Diesel being the preferred fuel of the Soviets. They arrived painted in the standard G3 Khaki color, with various instructional markings, including red stripes running the length of the tank to signify its maximum fording depth. British representatives were sent with the first batch of tanks in 1941 to teach Soviet crews how to operate the vehicles. This took place at the Kazan and Gorkiy (Modern day Nizhni-Novgorod) Tank Schools. The British reported how adverse the Soviet crews were to using some methods and favored their own system of flags to communicate rather than the wireless set. They also preferred using the manual turret traverse to the powered traverse.
The Matilda, or the “British Mk.2” as it came to be called, received mixed reviews from the Soviets. Its armor, comparable to that of their own KV-1 Heavy Tanks, was much appreciated. One Soviet Matilda crew member claimed his tank received 87 non-penetrating hits. Its general reliability was also highly regarded. At the time, the Matilda and the Valentine were considered to be light tanks and actually fell in between the Soviet definition of Light and Medium tanks. They had less firepower than the Soviet’s medium and heavy Tanks, but more armor than their light tanks. The Matilda certainly didn’t have the speed of a light tank, which Soviet crews were not too happy with.
A major problem with tank, the Soviet crews found, was how ill-suited it was too harsh winter conditions. The tank was designed to operate down to 0 Degrees C, but temperatures in Russian could drop as low as -50 Degrees C. Indeed, even during shipping across the Arctic route, the coolant in the tanks radiators would freeze. Following complaints by the recipients, later tanks were shipped with an antifreeze solution in the radiators. The cold weather also affected the mobility of the tank. Snow and mud would frequently clog the drivetrain and suspension, making it hard to shift when built up behind the armored side skirts. It was found that just 30 cm (12 in) of snow was enough to stop the tank. Matildas shipped to the USSR were equipped with the T.D.5910 “Spud” tracks. Its narrow tracks with smooth, rounded metal treads were also an issue when crossing icy terrain, as they provided little to no grip. Crews devised a simple solution by welding sections of steel to each link for better grip in the snow.
The Matilda’s 2 Pounder (40 mm) gun was also a problem. The Soviets saw it as no improvement over their own 45 mm 20-K tank gun (found on the BT tanks for instance) and were disappointed that it wasn’t equipped with a HE (High-Explosive) round. One attempt to provide a solution was the re-casing of the 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft rounds but was not successful.
There was a more extensive proposal, however. The Soviet’s turned to one of their best weapons engineers, Vasily Grabin, who came up with a design to introduce a 76 mm anti-tank gun into the Matilda’s turret. This gun was the F-96, a specially designed variant of the ZiS-5. Not only would this have increased the vehicles anti-armor capability, but also granted it an effective High-Explosive round. This project did not go far, however, with just one prototype built.
The HE problem would prove to rectify itself, however, with later deliveries of the tank bringing the Close-Support Matilda armed with an Ordnance QF 3 inch (76 mm) Howitzer. This gun fired both an effective HE round and smoke shells. A total of 156 of this version were sent, but only around 120 were received. They were not very common, with only a few units being equipped with them. The 5th Mechanized Corps of the 68th Army were one such unit for example. The 5th Mechanised was the only Soviet armored corps to be entirely equipped with British tanks.

Matilda CS tanks of the 5th Mechanized Corps, 68th Army. Photo: Osprey Publishing

The Desert Queen in a Winter War

The Soviet Army had formed six tank battalions by late November 1941 out of 20 Matildas and 97 Valentines, or the “British Mk.3” as they called it. These battalions were deployed on the Western Front for the defense of Moscow. The 146th Tank Brigade (146-ya tankovaya brigada) of the 16th Army fought here. This brigade consisted of two tank battalions with a total of 40 Valentines and two Matildas. The first unit to be equipped with the Matilda was the 136th Separate Tank Battalion (136-y otdelniy tankoviy batal’on).
The tanks played an extremely important frontline role in the defense of Moscow as the Soviet’s own tank supply was running thin due to the heavy losses in the summer of 1941. Put in perspective, there were between 607 and 670 tanks at the Soviet’s disposal for the defense of the city and only 205 of these were indigenous T-34 Medium Tanks and KV-1 Heavy Tanks. The rest were a mix of light tanks and Lend\Lease vehicles.
By the end of 1941, some 182 British tanks had been committed to combat operations, of which around 80 would be lost in action. By this time, there were only 46 Lend/Lease tanks still operational on the Western Front, this consisted of 38 Valentines and only eight Matildas. Many Matildas were pulled back from frontline service due to the Matilda’s shortcomings in harsh winter weather.

A Matilda freshly covered in the White-Wash winter camo. You can see just how roughly it is applied, with drips running down the head lamps and even the tracks. Photo: Osprey Publishing
The 1942, Operation: Blau was the next major combat operation that Soviet Matildas would see action in. This operation was a direct response to the drive towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus oil fields. The 10th Tank Corps, formed in Moscow’s military district in April had six tank battalions at its disposal, two of these battalions were made up solely of Matildas, with a total of 60. The 11th Tank Corps formed in May also had four of its six battalions equipped with Matildas. This corps was joined to the 5th Tank Army and took part in the July battles on the Don River. They began the campaign with 181 tanks, 88 of which were Matildas. After 10 days of hard fighting, the Corp lost 51 Matildas, had 22 under repair, and just 37 still in operational condition.
As mentioned above, the 5th Mechanised were the only Corps to be fully equipped with British Tanks. The 5th was formed in September and November 1942 in the Moscow Military District. The Corps was equipped exclusively with Valentine and Matilda (Including the Close Support variant) tanks. It first saw combat in that December 1942 in Stalingrad, but was almost completely wiped out by Manstein’s February 1943 counter-offensive. The Corp was rebuilt, however with a force largely comprised of Valentines.
By 1943, most Matildas had been withdrawn from frontline service on the Western Front. Thanks to the restart of the USSR’s own tank production, they were churning tanks by the battalion load. Some remaining Matildas did see action late in the war against the Japanese on the Manchurian front.

Two unfortunate Soviet Matilda II Mk.IIIs that have somehow flipped onto their turrets. Date and location unknown. Photo:

Russian Matilda of the 38th Armored Brigade, southwest front, May 1942.

A Matilda with provisional washable white paint used for winter cammo, Leningrad sector, winter 1942/43.
Mathilda 2CS in Russian service
Illustration of a Matilda II Close Support, based on the tank in the photo in the left column, of the 5th Mechanized Corps, 68th Army.
The lend-lease Matilda Mk.II the Soviets re-armed with the ZiS-5 gun. All illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

A Soviet Hero

It is believed that a well-known Soviet hero, Andrei Fokin, was part of a Matilda crew in a tank named Tank chetyrem geroyev (Tank of Four Heroes) of the 182nd Separate Tank Battalion, 202nd Tank Brigade. Fokin was later awarded the “Hero of Soviet Union” decoration for his actions in a KV-1 with the 6th Tank Brigade, where he took out 16 German Tanks in may 1942.

Crew of the “Tank chetyrem geroye” with their vehicle, the man on the extreme right is Andrei Fokin.


The lend/lease military aid program, and the Matilda’s role in it, was hardly decisive to the Soviet Union’s subsequent victories on the Eastern or Western front. The political fog of the Cold War often marred the truth about the vehicles received.
It was said that the Matilda was inferior to the T-34, and in truth it probably was. But it should not be forgotten that the British sent the best tanks they had at the time to the USSR. The Matilda was certainly a much better tank than the troublesome T-60 and T-70 light tanks. 14 Percent of Britain’s entire tank production went to the Soviets.
As stated in this article the Matilda, and the other lend/lease vehicles for that matter, fought hard where it was needed. If nothing else this bought time for the USSR to restock its own tank force in the huge numbers that helped them to win their campaigns later in the War. Regardless of post-war politics, the tanks were an important aid to the Soviets.

Beutepanzer and Czechoslovakia

One Soviet Matilda was captured and used by SS units in their military training area at Benešov near Prague. After the War, the tank was acquired by the new Czechoslovak army. It is believed it was scrapped. Other tanks were found in the Benešov training area along with it such as an M4 Sherman, M3 Lee, Churchill, Valentine and even a Crusader. They were also scrapped.

Surviving Tanks

Despite the publicly apparent loathing of the Matilda by the USSR after the Second World War, a large number of the tanks still survive in Russia to this day. They can be found in museums such as the Kubinka Tank Museum, and the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War.

Matilda II Mk.III CS Close Support Tank in the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War 1941 – 1945, Park Pobedy, Moscow. The turret is a reproduction, only the hull is original. Photo:, Craig Moore

Matilda II Mk.IV CS Close Support Tank in the Kubinka Tank Museum Russia. Photo:, Craig Moore

An article by Mark Nash

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 II Specifications, by J.S. DODD The Vulcan Foundry Ltd, Locomotive Works, 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
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #247: Soviet Lend-Lease Tanks of World War II
Davis-Poynter Publishing, Comrades in Arms: British Aid to Russia 1941-45, Joan Beaumont.
Soviet Matildas on
The upgraded Matilda in an article by Yuri Pasholok. (Russian)

Report from British Pathe on tanks being sent to the Soviet Union.
nfantry Tank Mark II Specifications, by J.S. DODD The Vulcan Foundry Ltd, Locomotive Works, August 1940

By Mark Nash

Member since 2016. Specializes in weird. 120 articles & counting...

16 replies on “Matilda II in Soviet Service”

There was a women from the Soviet Union who became a widow after her husband died. She decided to let her angry out in war by driving customized Sherman tank. She drove with the Soviets, helping them out in battle. I think it was called Lowzes Sherman. Correct me if i am wrong.

she just drove around in her own “customized Sherman” “helping the Soviets out” as she pleased, as a freelancer? the tank was a gift from a friend, no doubt, and she did all the maintenance and paid for her own fuel and ammunition? sounds totally legit.
or she was a Soviet tankist like all the rest, except she was a female, which means she was just serving as a Soviet soldier, not “helping them out”, and she followed the same orders as all the rest. her husband died and she entered service, it’s that simple. which wasn’t even unusual for the Soviets, they had many females in combat units. 100% that’s a propaganda story, or more likely something fabricated by an internet troll who knows people will believe anything if they want to believe it and never question the story at all. like her crew, who were they? did they just volunteer to serve in her private tank while she waged a private war outside the command structure of the army, and no one objected? if she existed she was operating in the same role and under the same regulations as anyone else.

There’s numerous completely fabricated Allied (mostly Soviet) war “heroes” that have been spread around the internet to the point that they’ve become “real”. Every time you read such a story you can be certain it was posted to “own the nazis!!1” on twitter.

Ask them official documented proof of their existence and suddenly their great war hero falls apart like a sand castle.

I don’t see how also providing a few tanks armed with howitzers “rectified the problem” with the lack of an HE shell. unless they were coupled into pairs, the regular crews still didn’t have an HE shell, and it’s wasn’t that easy to just summon a CS version every time you suddenly found an HE shell would be useful.
I also find your choice of words interesting:
” Put in perspective, there were between 607 and 670 tanks at the Soviet’s disposal for the defense of the city and only 205 of these were indigenous T-34 Medium Tanks and KV-1 Heavy Tanks. The rest were a mix of light tanks and Lend\Lease vehicles.”
so almost a third of the tanks were T-34 and KV tanks, and the rest “were a mix of light tanks and Lend/Lease”. since the Soviets had such a huge number of light tanks, we will assume that at least half the balance was their own light tanks, and thats probably conservative. that’s approximately 250 light tanks, and 250 Lend/Lease tanks, of all types. the implication seems to be that the Matilda played a key role, but it could have been any number of them. there were clearly less Matildas specifically than Soviet tanks, not even counting the light tanks, which mostly at least had guns as powerful as the Matilda and were much faster.
and before any Brits get too butthurt, I am personally a big fan of the Matilda. I just think that it didn’t save the USSR from the Germans.

I note that the “spud” tracks seem to be replaced in these images by tracks that are remarkably like those used by Australian Matildas in Borneo. Were these the same type of tracks? For Borneo tanks could I use a Soviet Matilda model kit by Tamiya instead of a British Matilda kit? – the “spud” tracks on the latter are wrong for Australian Matildas.

UK: So how do you like my tanks?
USSR: I bloody hate them, cmon, give me some more!

Yeah, its pretty obvious that they couldnt just publicly say “your devilish imperialistic Queen of the desert just saved our capital city”.

they were pretty open about it when they liked equipment, and not being crazy about a machine didn’t mean that they weren’t happy to take as many as they could get. they weren’t going to say “ah, never mind, we aren’t crazy about these tanks, they have some issues, so don’t send us any more, no tanks are better than ones that aren’t perfect”. you need whatever you can get when you are doing almost all the actual fighting and dying alone for a couple years. and by all means, take all the credit. it definitely wasn’t the Soviet troops fighting in desperate conditions and dying by the hundreds of thousands which saved Moscow, it was definitely you, because you sent them a few tanks, which went out and beat the Germans all by themselves with no input or help from the Soviets.
I mean they must be wrong, who ever heard of anyone finding any sort of fault with any WW2 British armor? absolutely superb machines without flaw, all of them.

“sources suggest the losses range from 5000 to as many as 15,000 tanks, up to half of the USSR’s approximate 30,000 tanks in service at the time.”
15,000 is half of 30,000. couldn’t you just say “5 to 15,000 out of the approximately 30,000 in service”?

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