The slow, heavily armoured Matilda II tank was specifically designed to support the infantry. During the early years of the Second World War, the Matilda was used with some success by British units in France in 1940 and in the Middle East in 1941. However, the rapid movement of the desert war and the presence of more heavily armed German tanks meant the Matilda was outdated by 1942; most were replaced by the time of the battle of El Alamein. In the Pacific, though, where the Japanese lacked powerful anti-tank weapons and the rate of advance was governed by infantry pace, the Matilda 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.
Matildas began arriving in Australia from the United Kingdom during March and April 1942, and continued to be delivered until the second half of 1943. In all, 409 Matildas were delivered to Australia.
The first Matildas were issued to the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, Puckapunyal, Vic., before being used to equip the 2nd Tank Battalion in October 1942. Following the lack-lustre performance of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment at Buna with Stuart light tanks, it was considered that a heavier tank, with thicker armour able to penetrate through jungle, was needed. Consequently, regiments from the 4th Armoured Brigade were equipped with Matildas.
Some Matildas were modified into specialist vehicles. The Matilda Dozer was developed in 1944 and had a dozer blade mounted on its front. It could clear tracks under fire, level steep gradients, or construct river crossings. Several Matilda Dozers were used in operations on Borneo in 1945, as were Matilda Frog Flamethrowers. “Frogs” were Matilda tanks 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.
Infantry Tank Mk II Matilda (A12)
Armament: 2 pdr gun or 3 pdr Howitzer, 7.92 in. Besa machine-gun, and two 4 in. smoke discharges on either side of turret
Armour: 14–78 mm
Power plant: two AEC 6-cylinder diesels or Leyland 6-cylinder diesels, producing 87 hp and 95 hp respectively
Speed (max.): 25 kp/h
Length: 6 m
Height: 2.51 m
Width: 2.59 m
Weight: 25 t
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