1/35 Tamiya Matilda Mk. III/IV

Gallery Article by Jeff Brundt on Jan 25 2012

 

History
The first suggestion for a larger infantry tank for the British Army to replace the Matilda I was made in 1936 and given the specification A12. The design was based on the A7 (which had started development in 1929) rather than on Matilda I, which was a two man tank with a single machine gun for armament.

When war was recognized as imminent, production of the Matilda II was ordered and that of the Matilda I curtailed. The first order was placed for 140 tanks shortly after trials were completed from Vulcan Foundry in mid 1938. 

The Matilda II weighed around 27 tons, more than twice as much as its predecessor, and armed with a QF 2 pounder (40 mm) tank gun in a three-man turret. The turret traversed by hydraulic motor or by hand through 360 degrees; the gun itself could be elevated through an arc from -15 to +20 degrees. One of the most serious weaknesses of the Matilda II was the lack of a high explosive round for its main gun. A high explosive shell was designed for the 2 pounder but for reasons never explained it was never put in production. With its heavy armor the Matilda II was an excellent infantry support tank, but had to rely on its machine gun when operating with infantry units. 

Like other infantry tanks it was heavily armored; from 20mm at the thinnest it was 78mm at the front, much more than most contemporaries. The turret amour was 75mm all round, the hull side amour was 65 to 70mm and the rear armor, covering the engine, was 55mm. The frontal Armour was 75mm, although the nose plates top and bottom were thinner but angled. The turret roof was the same thickness as the hull roof and engine deck: 20mm. The German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, of the same period, only had 30 to 50mm thick hull armor. The shape of the nose armor was based on the US Christie design and came to a narrow point with storage lockers added on either side. The heavy amour of the Matilda's cast turret became legendary; for a time in 1940–41 the Matilda earned the nickname "Queen of the Desert" although its other weaknesses made this nickname difficult to justify. At the time it was designed, this armor protection was impervious to the 37mm and 50mm anti-tank guns employed by the German forces, as well as the 47mm used by the Italians in North Africa; only the 75mm PAK 40 and 88mm anti-aircraft gun could tackle it reliably.

The weight of the amour, together with the relatively weak twin-engine power unit (the engine was adapted from that of a bus) and complex, troublesome suspension severely limited the speed of the vehicle. In the desert terrain of North Africa the Matilda could average only about 6 mph. This was not thought to be a problem because the Matilda was specifically designed in accordance with the British doctrine of infantry tanks (heavily-armored but slow-moving vehicles designed to provide support to infantry) and a speed equal to the walking speed of a man was considered sufficient.

Each engine had a coolant and lubrication system. The radiators were to the rear of the engine compartment over the transmission. The twin engine design doubled the maintenance effort for crews and often resulting in uneven wear–and–tear of components. The twin engines however, gave some redundancy – if one engine broke down, the tank could "limp along" on the other.

 

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The tank was carried by 5 double wheel bogies on each side. Four of the bogies were paired on a common coil spring. The fifth, rearmost, bogie was sprung against a hull bracket. Between the first bogie and the idler wheel was a "jockey wheel". The turret housed the main armament with the machine gun to the right in a rotating internal mantlet. Two smoke grenade launchers were carried on the right side of the turret. The grenade launcher mechanisms were cut down Lee-Enfield rifles, each firing a single smoke grenade.

The Matilda was difficult to manufacture. For example, the pointed nose was a single casting that, upon initial release from the mold, was thicker than required in some areas. To avoid a needless addition to the tank's weight, the thick areas were ground away. This process required highly skilled workers and additional time. The complex suspension and multi-piece hull side coverings also added time to manufacturing. 

In the war in North Africa the Matilda proved highly effective against Italian and German tanks, although vulnerable to the larger caliber and medium caliber anti-tank guns.

In late 1940, during Operation Compass, Matildas of the British 7th Armoured Division wreaked havoc among the Italian forces in Egypt. The Italians were equipped with L3 tankettes and M11/39 medium tanks, neither of which had any chance against the Matildas. Italian gunners were to discover that the Matildas were impervious to a wide assortment of artillery. Matildas continued to confound the Italians as the British pushed them out of Egypt and entered Libya to take Bardia and Tobruk. Even as late as November 1941, German infantry combat reports show the impotence of ill-equipped infantry against the Matilda.

Ultimately, in the rapid maneuver warfare often practiced in the open desert of North Africa, the Matilda's low speed and unreliable steering mechanism became major problems. Another problem was the lack of a high-explosive shell (the appropriate shell existed but was not issued). When the German Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa, the 88 mm anti-aircraft gun was again pressed into service against the Matilda, causing heavy losses during Operation Battleaxe, when sixty-four Matildas were lost. The arrival of the more powerful 50mm Pak 38 anti-tank gun also provided a means for the German infantry to engage Matilda tanks at combat ranges. Nevertheless, during Operation Crusader Matilda tanks of 1st and 32nd Army Tank Brigades were instrumental in the breakout from Tobruk and the capture of the Axis fortress of Bardia. The operation was decided by the infantry tanks after the failure of the cruiser tank equipped 7th Armoured Division to overcome the Axis tank forces in the open desert. 

As the German army received new tanks with more powerful guns, as well as more powerful anti-tank guns and ammunition, the Matilda proved less and less effective. Firing tests conducted by the Afrika Korps showed that the Matilda had become vulnerable to a number of German weapons at ordinary combat ranges. Due to the "painfully small” size of its turret ring (54 inches) the tank could not be up-gunned sufficiently to continue to be effective against more heavily armored enemy tanks. It was also somewhat expensive to produce. Vickers proposed an alternative, the Valentine tank, which had the same gun and a similar level of amour protection but on a faster and cheaper chassis derived from that of their "heavy cruiser" tank. With the arrival of the Valentine in autumn 1941, the Matilda was phased out by the British Army through attrition, with lost vehicles no longer replaced. By the time of the battle of El Alamein (October 1942), few Matildas were in service, with many having been lost during Operation Crusader and then the Gazala battles in early summer of 1942.

Assembly 
Assembly is straight forward if you follow Tamiya’s well thought out instructions. The lower hull is assembled first with the bogies, drive gear and return rollers. I chose to use the link and length track. I painted the track with Alclad II steel. I decided to install the track before painting the entire tank so this required painting the drive gear, return rollers, bogies and the sloping mud chutes behind the side skirts first, then installing the track followed by the side skirting. Then I masked the track off for later painting.

I sprayed the interior white (even though most of it can’t be seen) and assembled the upper hull. The driver’s hatch is designed to slide back and forth so be careful with the glue here. The turret is a rather complex assembly with a lot of small details and you need to pay attention to what needs to go on it depending on the version you’re building.

Once the assembly was completed I started painting. I used Tamiya’s recommended colors (colors which I have since found out to be incorrect after posting pictures on some armor forums….and I have found some of these modelers to be quite forceful in their opinions and absolutely thrill to point out how wrong I was, quite forcefully, I might add…..and I thought airplane modelers were bad….). I chose to model the 42nd Royal Regiment, 1st Army Tank Brigade, North Africa, 1941 scheme. This involved quite a bit of masking. However, I think the result is well worth it (even if it is wrong….)

A gloss clear was applied to the areas where the decals needed to go. The Tamiya decals went down very well and some Solvaset was needed but they took to it perfectly. I removed the masks off the treads and began weathering with enamel washes and some light dust. I didn’t go hog wild on this one and left the weathering a bit mild. I finished the model off with a coat of flat acrylic. 

Painting figures isn’t my strong point but I did the best I could. I think they add some life to the model. You could make a nice little vignette with the ones included and perhaps another small British vehicle on a desert base.

All in all it was an enjoyable build……even if it took almost two years…….

Jeff Brundt

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Photos and text © by Jeff Brundt