Take two bus engines, a two pounder cannon and stick them into a hugely armoured chassis and you have the Matilda MK II, the British Infantry tank of WW2. Designed very much around the principles of WW1 rather than WW2, she was slow, but very hard to take out. Her off road speed was 6 MPH, barely faster than walking pace. She was not equipped with high-explosive shells, so against infantry her only effective weapon was the machine gun.
Initially when the Matilda appeared in France in 1940 she gave the Germans some concern. The Panzer III’s had 37mm guns and the up-gunned Panzer IV had a 50mm gun and neither could penetrate the Matilda armour. The germans then figured out that they could use their 88mm anti-aircraft guns as tank killers and the Matildas were all lost to the British in France. They may have contributed in their own small way to the escape from Dunkirk. The encounter with the Matilda convinced the German High Command that they needed to up-gun their tanks further to 75mm and beyond.
It was in December 1940 against the Italians in “Operation Compass” the Matilda earned the nickname “Queen of the Desert”. The Italians had nothing like the German 88mm and could not stop the relentless march of the Matildas down the coast road from Egypt to Libya. A British force of only 31,000 men under General Richard O’Connor (good Irish stock of course) took out an Italian army under General Graziani that was five times their size.
O’Connor was then set to drive right across Libya and oust the Axis forces from the continent of Africa. But Churchill intervened and ordered the British to stop the advance, and divert troops to a failed defence of Greece.
The collapse of the Italians led to Hitler sending General Rommel and the Afrika Corps in March and Rommel quickly demonstrated that he was a very different kind of opponent. The reign of the “Queen of the Desert” was over. Rommel was a modern tank commander with fast moving tanks operating as cavalry, not as infantry.
Amazingly the Matilda remained in service all through the war. I’m sure the infantry appreciated a large armored barricade that could not outrun them.
Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death; by Hilaire Belloc
Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away,
It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out–
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street–
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidnce) — but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.