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Infantry Tank Mk I Matilda (A11) Infantry Tank (1938)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/1/2014

The Matilda I Infantry Tank of World War 2 produced only 139 examples.

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The first production "tank" (then known as a "landship") was born in the UK during World War 1. In the conflict, the tank proved a mixed bag of results, fielded to break the stalemate of trench warfare by simply running over defenses, passing over open trenches and overwhelming enemy positions through brute strength while in support of infantry offensives. By this time, tanks were either all-machine gun-armed or fitted with more powerful howitzer-type weapons set within a "lozenge" shaped hull. Interestingly, the primary enemy of the tank at this time was not other tanks but instead long-range, large caliber artillery. It was the French that introduced the concept of the conventional tank arrangement with a 360-degree traversing "turret" (in the Renault FT-17 light tank) mounting the primary armament. The British, however, adopted several variations of their lozenge-shaped types and these went on to see extended service in the years following the war.

During the interwar years (that is the years spanning World War 1 and World War 2), the British Army developed a new armored warfare doctrine that made use of two distinct combat tank types. The first type was to be fast and lightly armored, intended to break through enemy defenses and attack the more vulnerable rear and flank areas, causing as much disruption as possible. The tanks were accordingly named "cruiser tanks" due to their speed requirement. The bulk of the battle force would, therefore, be a type of complementary tank known as the "infantry tank". These vehicles could afford to be larger in overall dimension and sport heavier armor protection. Infantry tanks would be required to directly support accompanying infantry forces in the move to take enemy positions. This "one-two punch" on paper certainly held some merits for the time when combat experience was based in World War 1 armored warfare outcomes. However, combat in the upcoming world war would render such thinking obsolete.

The first infantry tank developed for the British Army became the "Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda" under the project designation of "A11" and this served to fulfill an official British Army requirement listed in 1934. Engineer Sir John Carden of Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd was charged with its design and development though he was forced to work within financial constraints. The type would therefore have to rely on many existing automotive components taken from various sources to promote a logistically-friendly and cost-effective solution. As the threat of war in Europe loomed ever greater in these days, the design would serve as an interim solution until a more purpose-designed vehicle could be developed (this became the "Matilda II"). The development constraints would prove something of the type's undoing for the resulting design became limited in scope, seeing very limited production. Work on the new initiative began as early as 1935.

The end-product was a small tracked vehicle fitting two crew and modest armament. The hull was centered between a pair of tracks which were narrow in their width and ran along completely exposed running gear. Eight small road wheels were divided along two suspended bogies with two track return rollers. The drive sprocket was held at the rear near the engine with the track idler at the front. The hull utilized slab sides with frontal armor 60mm inches thick. The Matilda was given a cast steel turret, however, which made it something of a modern design though armament was limited to a single machine gun. The crew was made up of the driver in the front hull center with the vehicle commander/gunner/loader/radio operator in the turret (note the compounded roles). Power was supplied by a single Ford V8 liquid-cooled gasoline fueled engine of 70 horsepower allowing for a top speed of no more than 8 miles per hour over ideal surfaces and a range of 80 miles. The vehicle could ford up to 28 inch deep water sources allowing for some amphibious capabilities. Overall weight was 12.3 tons, putting her more on par with "light tank" systems of the time.


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Specifications for the
Infantry Tank Mk I Matilda (A11)
Infantry Tank


Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: Vickers-Armstrong - UK
Initial Year of Service: 1938
Production: 139


Focus Model: Infantry Tank Mk I Matilda (A11)
Crew: 2


Overall Length: 15.91ft (4.85m)
Width: 7.48ft (2.28m)
Height: 6.10ft (1.86m)
Weight: 13.6 US Short Tons (12,300kg; 27,117lbs)


Powerplant: 1 x Ford V8 liquid-cooled gasoline engine developing 70 horsepower.


Maximum Speed: 8mph (12.87 km/h)
Maximum Range: 81 miles (130 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None


Armament:
1 x 7.7mm Vickers machine gun OR 1 x 12.7mm Vickers machine gun in turret.


Ammunition:
4,000 x 7.7mm ammunition
1,500 x 12.7mm ammunition (estimated)


Variants:
Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11) - Formal Designation; 139 examples produced; 1 x 7.62mm or 1 x 12.7mm Vickers machine gun in turret; later incorporation of side skirt armor and additional armor at hull bow and turret.


Operators:
United Kingdom