The Tank Museum | E1949.350

Tank Infantry Mark I A11 (E1949.350)

Tank Infantry Mark I A11
vehicle info
Precise Name
Tank Infantry Mark I A11
Other Name
Matilda I
Main Utility Type
Country of Use
1940, Vickers Armstrongs Ltd., United Kingdom
World War 2
location in the museum
TYPE HISTORY: In September 1935, the General Staff formally required infantry-support tanks for the four tank battalions, and specified pedestrian speed and heavy armour. Sir John Carden of Vickers started design immediately. The name Matilda appears on a document dated October 1935. The word in Old German means “strong in battle.” Subsequently, a story appeared that the Master General Ordnance (Hugh Elles) commented during a demonstration, presumably in late 1936, that the pilot tank’s waddling approach reminded him of a comic duck called Matilda.

In January 1936, the War Office ordered a pilot (A11E1). However, effective 1 February 1936, Cyril Deverell (1874-1947) replaced Montgomery-Massingberd as the CIGS, when he put on hold the restructuring of the tank battalions. Nevertheless, Sir John Carden was allowed to proceed with A11E1 and A11E2, at a cost of about £25,000 each. Production vehicles would be contracted later at £6,000 each. However, Vickers seems to have started a rumour that it received only £15,000 for development, and £5,000 per tank.

Initially, Vickers had agreed an armour basis of just one inch (25.4mm), a speed of just 10mph, and main armament of either a 40mm 2-pounder gun or a 0.5 (12.7mm) machine-gun, plus one or two 0.303 inch (7.7mm) machine guns. In March 1936, A11’s armoured basis was re-specified at 60 mm, when Vickers renegotiated the armament down to just one Vickers machine-gun (either 7.7mm or 12.7mm).

The Royal Tank Corps complained to Elles, who passed the requirement to the Director of Mechanization, who, on 7 September 1936, ordered the Mechanization Board and Superintendent of Design to develop an A12 to the Tank Corps specifications, which ended up as Matilda II (see E1949.349). Nevertheless A11 would proceed to production.

Vickers delivered A11E1 for trials in September 1936. The automotive parts were common with the latest tractors and carriers from Vickers: a V8 3.62 liters engine by Ford was centrally disposed in the hull; a commercial gearbox by Fordson drove a cross shaft by a mitre gear; the cross shaft carried the steering brakes and clutches, which used the same parts as on light tanks, and outputs on the extremities of the cross shaft were connect to spur pinions, which with spur wheels attached to the sprockets; the suspension and tracks were adapted from those on the Medium Dragon Mark IV tractor, except that the bogie assemblies were carried on brackets offset from the hull sides instead of on tubular cross members.

At a meeting on 23 December 1937 to discuss tank requirements, the General Staff agreed that the A12 was best, and ordered 65 immediately, but agreed to a secondary order of 60 A11s if they could be produced quicker. On 10 May 1938, the War Office contracted with Vickers for 60 Matilda Is. Given delays in the Matilda II, on 14 September 1938 the War Office contracted for another 60, and on 1 December for another 19, for a total of 139.

Vickers delivered the first 60 from July 1938 to April 1939. Production paused before production restarted in August 1939. The final delivery was on 2 August 1940, after 139 production vehicles and 1 pilot.

In late September 1939, 4th RTR gathered 50 available Matilda Is from other battalions of 1st Army Tank Brigade, and shipped to France. 7th RTR landed with 27 Matilda Is just before the German invasion on 10 May 1940. By 14 May, 1st Army Brigade, with only these two battalions, was in defense of Belgium with 77 Matilda Is and 23 Matilda IIs. Another 20 Matilda Is were in store or reserve, for a total of 97 in France. For the counter-attack at Arras on 21 May 1940, only 58 of the Matilda Is, and 16 of the 23 Matilda IIs reached the assembly area. The Matildas shot up lots of trucks until the Germans deployed their 88mm hybrid anti-aircraft/-tank guns. In June, the personnel were evacuated without tanks. The Germans used captured tanks as domestic security vehicles in France and Poland.

THIS VEHICLE: was delivered in March 1940, making it one of the last 19 to be delivered. While 97 Matilda Is were in France, this vehicle stayed in Britain. Given production through August, 42 Matilda Is should have survived in British hands, although at least one was probably sent to each of Egypt and Poland. In any case, only 27 were serving with 1st Tank Brigade as of February 1941, shortly before complete displacement by Matilda II and Valentine infantry tanks. This vehicle went to the School of Tank Technology, before transfer to the Tank Museum in 1949. In the 1980s, it was restored to running order, but thereafter exchanged tracks with E1993.184, which was maintained as the only running Matilda I. It has been painted to represent a tank in the service of 4th RTR in France, May 1940. The Chinese Eye is a 4th RTR symbol, dating back to World War 1, when a Chinese businessman donated money towards the costs of tanks, and said they needed an eye to see where they were going.

LABEL: In September 1935, the General Staff formally required infantry-support tanks, and specified pedestrian speed and heavy armour. Sir John Carden of Vickers started design immediately, but as the armour standard was raised to 60 mm, Vickers brought the armament down to just one machine-gun. While the Tank Corps required a more capable infantry tank (eventually Matilda II), the Matilda I was produced first, from July 1939, until completion of 139 vehicles in August 1940. 97 of these were lost in France without much use. The rest were deleted from British service in 1941, but captured vehicles stayed in German service in domestic security roles.

Bruce Newsome, Ph.D.
Full Tracked
Machine Gun - .303 or .50 Vickers Machine Gun
Armament - Main Weapon Type
Ford V8 90 degree, model 79, water cooled
Leaf springs
4 Forward, 1 Reverse
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