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Category: Armour/Allied WW2

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The British Made MATILDA

The Pacific war did not lend itself to the huge armoured units and tank battles that marked the western desert, France and the Russian steppes. However small and medium tanks were used by both sides. They were used mostly as mobile gun platforms for close infantry support. The Aussies adapted some of them to become bulldozers and flame-throwers.

Infantry Tank Mk II Matilda (British) 

Click to enlarge. BOUGAINVILLE, 1945-05-16. A Matilda tank of B Squadron 2/4 Armoured   BOUGAINVILLE. 1945-03-28. A Matilda tank being driven ashore from an American  Click to enlarge.
Regiment, supported by infantry crossing the Hongorai river during the  advance south along the Buin road. operated landing craft tank during the landing of portion of B Squadron, 2/4 Armoured Regiment.

Crew of 4

 (Commander, gunner, loader, driver).


 1 x 2pdr Main Gun, 1 x 7.92 Besa MG

Armour Thickness

 Maximum 78mm

Turret Traverse

 360 degrees

Maximum Speed

 15 mph on roads, 8 mph cross-country


 160 miles


 93 rounds -2 pdr shells, 2925 rounds 7.62mm bullets

Technical Details

Length: 5.61 m, Width: 2.59 m, Height: 2.51 m, Weight: 25 tonnes
Crew: 4 Power-plant: Two AEC 6 cyl. diesels or two Leyland cyl. diesels, producing 87 hp and 95 hp respectively.
Armament: 1 x 2 pdr. Gun and 1 x 7.92 Besa mg. or 1 x 3 in. Howitzer and 1 x 7.92 Besa mg. A Bren .303 anti-aircraft mg. could also be fitted. Two 4 in. smoke dischargers either side or the turret.
Armour: 14-78 mm Speed: 25 kph
Range: 250 km. Maker: Vulcan Foundry, Warrington UK. (and some others)


This tank was a development of the Matilda I Infantry Tank whose main armament consisted of no more than either a .303 or a .50 Vickers mg. Such was the thinking behind pre World War II tank development in many Countries (including Britain) that it was considered that the fitting of larger calibre weapons was not warranted.

The Matilda Mark II arose out of a need to provide a better armoured and armed vehicle, which could act in the role of an infantry support tank. For its time, the Matilda II was a heavily armoured vehicle and it was particularly successful in the early years of WW II at Arras, France 1940 and in the Western Desert during 1940-1941.

Unfortunately, its performance was hindered by its small calibre gun and relatively slow cross country performance.  Despite its shortcomings, it was more than capable of being used aggressively. This was especially demonstrated in the Western Desert where it was virtually immune against anti-tank and tank guns of the day. In its early conflicts in the Western Desert, its value as a shock assault weapon was significant and it soon earned the title "Queen of the Battlefield". Unfortunately, it was soon outclassed by better enemy tanks and the German's 88m gun. However, it found a renewed operational life in the Pacific.

Although the design ideas were sound for their time, the Matilda could not be up-gunned as the turret ring was too small to accept a larger tank gun. However, it was found that a low velocity 3 in. howitzer could be fitted as a substitute for the tank gun. Such a weapon proved invaluable when operating against infantry, light skinned vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.

Mechanically, the Matilda possessed a hydraulic, power operated turret. Its twin engines were linked through an epicyclical gearbox, which in turn drove a pair of rear sprockets. The suspension consisted of sets of bogies which were linked together and worked against horizontal compression springs.

Australian Service History

The Matilda filled an urgent need for a tank to operate in New Guinea. Approximately 140 tanks were provided by Britain in early 1942, and these vehicles subsequently proved suitable for jungle operations.

In 1943, a flamethrower version was produced, known as the Frog. Frog's were used in Borneo by 2/1 Armoured Brigade. A bulldozer version was also developed.

Many of the tanks were fitted with a variety of battle-field modifications, including wire mesh over the engine covers, spare track links on the hull and/or pierced steel planking (PSP) which was normally used in the construction of aircraft runways. It was also a common practice to festoon the exterior of vehicles with additional stores and personal items of equipment.

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 Museum). On this occasion, a tank assisting the infantry was engaged and disabled at a range of less than 50 meters, 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.

During the South Western Pacific Campaign, the Matilda served with distinction as part of the 1st Australian Tank Battalion (The Royal New South Wales Lancers). With their war service completed, Matilda's were relegated to a training role and were in service with the 1st RSL until 1955, when they were finally retired.

This Exhibit

The vehicle on display at the Museum is fitted with a 3 in. howitzer in place of the 2 pounder gun. It was officially dedicated as a War Memorial on the Sunday nearest to Cambrai Day in November 1969 with Anglican, Catholic, and OPD Clergy officiating. Prior to the service the Regiment had a march through Parramatta. As a Memorial it cannot be supplanted or destroyed and must be kept for its original purpose. The bronze plaque notes that it was a gift of the NSW Branch of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Association.

Originally, the tank was obtained from the Australian Government for the purpose of establishing it as a memorial in the park at the junction of Parramatta Road and Station Street in Ashfield. The choice of location was because Ashfield was the home of the 2nd Armoured Car Regiment, 2nd AIF; later it became 2nd Army Tank Battalion AIF. A deed was drawn up and signed. by both the Association and Ashfield Council and the RAAC Association began to collect funds to build the plinth on which the tank would be placed. Funds were very slow in coming in and the delay gave local residents the opportunity to organize objections to it, finally in desperation the RAAC Association offered the tank to the Regiment specifically as a memorial. Prior to all this the tank had been on Green Hills Firing Range (near Liverpool NSW) as an intended target when it arrived at the Barracks (and for years) it had a large target marker painted on each side of the hull - which mystified a lot of people.

tank-matilda-smoke.jpg (32425 bytes) Singleton, NSW. 1943-01. The smoke shell discharger attached to a Matilda tank of the 2nd army tank battalion. The firing mechanism is that of a .303 Lee Enfield rifle with trigger removed and a cable substituted, leading to the inside of the tank, from where it is fired. The propellant charge is detonated by a blank cartridge of .303 ammunition. The barrels may be fired simultaneously or singly.


Most information from

John Howells
Secretary and Webmaster
NSW Lancers Memorial Museum Inc
Lancer Barracks 2 Smith Street
Parramatta NSW 2150 AUSTRALIA
ABN 94 630 140 881
Tel: +61 (0)414 886 461
Fax: +61 (0)2 4733 3873


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