Matilda I (tank)

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Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11)
Matilda Mk I
A11E1 pilot model
Type Infantry tank
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1938-1940
Production history
Designer Sir John Carden, Vickers-Armstrongs
Designed 1935
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
Number built 140
Weight 11 Long tons
Length 18 ft 5 in (4.85 m)
Width 8 ft 6 in (2.28 m)
Height 8 ft 3 in (1.86 m)
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)

Armour 10–60 mm
Vickers .303 or Vickers .50 machine gun
4,000 rounds
Engine 3.6 Litre V8 Ford Model 79 petrol
70 hp (52 kW)
Power/weight 6.36 hp/ton
Suspension Sprung bogie
80 miles (130 km)
Speed 8 mph (12.87 km/h),
off road: 5.6 mph (9 km/h)

The Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11)[1] was a British infantry tank of the Second World War. It is not to be confused with the later model Tank, Infantry Mk II (A12), also known as the "Matilda II", which took over the "Matilda" name after the early part of the war, when the first Matilda was withdrawn from combat service. They were different designs and did not share components but did have some similar traits, because they were both designed to be infantry tanks, a type of tank that tended to sacrifice speed for increased armour protection.

Development history

The driver of a Matilda I in France during the winter of 1939–40. This shows the cramped driver's compartment and how the hatch obstructs the gun turret.

The development, of the design by Sir John Carden at Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd, began in 1935. The General Staff specification required a cheap tank, requiring the use of commercially available components. It resulted in a small two-man vehicle with a low hull and a small cast turret. The turret was fitted with a single heavy machine gun, either a .303 Vickers machine gun or a larger, Vickers .50 machine gun. Designed for quick delivery as well as low cost, the A11 used many stock parts from other vehicles: a Ford V8 engine, a Fordson gearbox, a steering mechanism similar to the one used in Vickers light tanks and suspension adapted from the Mk IV Dragon artillery tractor, that was based on the Vickers 6-Ton Tank Model E.

The hull and turret were well protected against contemporary anti-tank weapons but the tracks and running gear were exposed and more vulnerable than on tanks that had protected tracks. The lack of a gun with anti-tank capability severely limited its utility on the battlefield. Besides operating the machine gun, the commander had to direct the driver and operate the wireless. There being no room in the turret for the wireless, it was placed in the hull and the commander had to duck down inside to operate it. The driver's position was equally cramped and the turret could not be traversed forwards while the driver's hatch was open. The top speed of 8 mph (13 km/h) was thought to be sufficient for supporting an infantry advance.[2]

General Hugh Elles, the Master-General of the Ordnance, is credited with giving the tank the name Matilda "due to the vehicle's diminutive size and duck-like shape and gait."[3] However the codename "Matilda" for the project was created for Vickers at the time of drawing up the specification in 1935.[4][5] The "Tank, Infantry, Mark I" name was an Army Council decision of June 1940.

Production history

The first order of sixty Matilda tanks was placed in April 1937, followed by an order for a further sixty ten days later and another 19 were ordered in January 1939.[6] The tank remained in production until August 1940, a total of one hundred and forty were produced, including the prototype, some of them with the heavier .50 inch Vickers machine gun, instead of the .303 inch Vickers machine gun.

Combat history

Matilda I tanks equipped the 4th Battalion and 7th Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR). In September 1939 on the outbreak of World War II, the 4th RTR deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force. They were joined at the start of May 1940 by 7th RTR and formed the 1st Army Tank Brigade.[7] Apart from light tanks assigned to the various British infantry divisions, this was the only British armoured force on the Continent at the start of the Battle of France on 10 May 1940. 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.[8] The heavy armour of both types of British tank proved to be resistant to the standard German 37 mm anti-tank gun and the attack was only halted by a gun line hastily formed from 105 mm howitzers and 88 mm anti-aircraft guns, personally directed by Rommel.[9] On the following day, only 26 Matilda Is and two Matilda II tanks were still serviceable.[10]

On 23 May, tanks from 7 RTR fought a rearguard action at Souchez before joining the general withdrawal towards Dunkirk. The surviving tanks of both battalions were formed into a composite unit, which fought another counter-attack at La Bassée. Only two tanks reached Dunkirk in the closing stages of Operation Dynamo.[11]

Further south in France, five Matilda Is and a few other tanks which had been in various depots or had arrived as late reinforcements, formed the Divisional Tank Company of the Beauman Division, an improvised formation which had been hastily put together to defend the British logistic bases at Rouen and Dieppe.[12] On 8 June, the tanks supported the force, which was mainly infantry, in their unsuccessful defence of the rivers Andelle and Béthune.[13] The division was subsequently evacuated from Cherbourg during Operation Ariel; although 22 tanks of various types were brought back during these evacuations, there were no infantry tanks among them.[14] A Matilda I was selected by the German Army for evaluation and it was destroyed in the process.[15] Matilda Is left in the United Kingdom were withdrawn for training purposes.


Matilda I at The Tank Museum's tankfest

Three tanks are preserved at The Tank Museum. One (possibly T3447) is in running condition, though not with authentic engine or gearbox, one is on display in the museum and the third is a severely damaged wreck that was used as a gunnery range target.[16]

See also


  1. A11 was the General Staff number
  2. Fletcher, Matilda Infantry Tank p.4
  3. Chamberlain, Peter; Ellis, Chris (1975). British and American tanks of World War II; the Complete Illustrated History of British, American and Commonwealth tanks, gun motor carriages and special purpose vehicles, 1939–1945. New York: Arco Pub. Co. [1969]. p. 54. ISBN 0-668-01867-4. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Fletcher The Great Tank Scandal p. 42
  5. Fletcher, Matilda Infantry Tank p. 4
  6. Fletcher, Matilda Infantry Tank p. 5
  7. New, Laurence. "A Pictorial History of the 4th and the 7th Royal Tank Regiments ~ 1918–1939". 4th Royal Tank Regiment Old Comrades Association. Retrieved 11 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. *Ellis, L. F. (1954) The War in France and Flanders 1939–1940. J. R. M. Butler (ed.). HMSO. London (p. 89)
  9. Thompson, Julian (2009), Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory, Pan Books, ISBN 978-0-330-43796-7 (p. 91)
  10. Thompson p.98
  11. New, Laurence. "A Pictorial History of the 4th and the 7th Royal Tank Regiments ~ 1940–1941". 4th Royal Tank Regiment Old Comrades Association. Retrieved 11 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. British Army, 1939-1945: British Expeditionary Force, 10 May 1940: Tables of Organisation and Equipment: Orders of Battle: Volume 2, Alan Philson, Military Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-85420-936-1 (pp 38-40)
  13. Ellis, pp. 280–282
  14. Ellis, p. 327
  15. Fletcher, Matilda Infantry Tank p. 43
  16. Tank Museum accession record


  • Fletcher, David; Sarson, Peter (1994). Matilda Infantry Tank 1938–45. New Vanguard. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-457-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Forty, George; Jack Livesy (2006). The World Encyclopedia of Tanks & Armoured Fighting Vehicles. Lorenz Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7548-1741-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links