Back in April 2015, I wrote on a similar topic “Australian Matilda Tank vs Japanese Guns” available here: http://ritastatusreport.blogspot.com/2015/04/australian-matilda-tank-vs-japanese-guns.html
It generated some interesting response and it made me curious as to whether the World of Tanks game could tolerate another premium Matilda tank. We already have the Russian Matilda, the regular British tech tree Matilda and the ‘Matilda Black Prince’ so to have another one it’ll need to be different and interesting. In the process of looking at this I’d like to bring you the following which is yet another set of tests by Australia on the Matilda tank and it leads to the prospect of another premium offering as an Australian vehicle which would work nicely alongside the most famous Australian Sentinel tanks.
In the focus on the war against the Japanese in the Pacific theatre it is the USA which gets the most attention and the efforts of Australian, British and Commonwealth countries are often ignored. The Australians in particular in New Guinea fought a long and vicious campaign against the Japanese in extremely difficult terrain which generated some unique modifications.
A view of the terrain fought over in December 1943 in New Guinea showing the dense undergrowth.
Given the nature of the terrain combat ranges were very short and Japanese gunners unable to penetrate the Matilda’s thick armour would instead cripple them by shooting the tracks off. The tanks would be vulnerable if they were tracked so the Australians embarked on some experimental firings to look at the problem.
On the 21st of December 1943 an Australian Matilda – One which had already been damaged beyond use was subjected to multiple shots from a 37mm gun. It’s not clear whether this was a Japanese 37mm like the 37mm Type 94 (about 2 inches of penetration with AP under 250 yards) or an allied 37mm gun.
There were 16 or more strikes against the front and corners but here in the sponson top corner which has been patched up with a piece cut from another vehicle of the 11 or so shots have hit the side armour which has resisted at least 4 of them, the rests penetrating could damage the tank track disabling the vehicle.
Here you can see that the front right stowage bin has been penetrated. These bins don’t appear in the collision model in-game (for the regular Matilda but do for both premium versions). Thanks to the New South Wales Lancers Memorial Museum ( http://www.lancers.org.au/ ) who very kindly measured their Matilda tanks boxes for me I can confirm for you that these armoured boxes are cast steel 14mm thick with a 20mm thick reinforcing bar to attach them to the hull. Of note here is the fact that the towing eye has actually deflected a shot too.
Out of necessity the Australians have also shot the drivers rolling hatch with the 37mm and also tried a Japanese magnetic mine on it as well.
Here the big white circle denotes the dent caused by the mine and the small one the nick from the ricocheting 37mm AP round.
Faced with the real threat of being disabled by a gun which otherwise couldn’t penetrate the main armour the Australians developed these rather brutal looking cast track guards which back in 2013 ( http://ftr-wot.blogspot.com/2013/05/buff-my-tank-matilda-ii.html ) I had christened as ‘knuckles’ and estimated them to be an 25mm thick. I’m pleased to say I am wrong; the Australian archives confirm these as cast armoured steel 1 ⅞ inches thick (47.625mm) – nearly twice my guesstimate. As such they are rather formidable providing very valuable protection over the front of the tracks but also when the tank is angled significantly reducing the angle from which the front can be hit. They are attached via these large lugs welded to the track guard tops.
All together a simple and rather smart solution to a problem. The Australians did not stop there however. You will see in the next black and white photo above that the hull has a collar. The same type as shown on the ‘Matilda Black Prince’ and protecting the turret ring from fire by deflecting shots away from it.
This one is being welded on the 27th of December 1944 as is this one on the same date having armoured boxes (yes that what it says) welded onto the back of the turret.
Still more was being done to the Matilda with additional armour welded over the front and sides to protect from enemy fire in the form of track links on small metal brackets.
Dated 22nd May 1945 this Australian Matilda features the collar and additional armour from track links too.
As well as extra links to the side and across the glacis the Australians also protected the backs of the tanks and made modifications.
This montage shows a variety of shots of the modifications including pierced metal matting over the whole back end to keep off suicide charges and magnetic mines, raised exhausts (those hoses sticking up) and the addition of a crew/infantry telephone to the back (top right image) to allow infantry behind to coordinate with the crew. The bottom right image shows a modified scraper (the upside down Y-shaped black bit) which cleared the “tenacious” coral mud from the sprocket which was causing significant problems for the Australians given the appalling conditions they were fighting in.
Another change is that the Australians fitted the British No.19 Mk.II Wireless Set with some difficulty as it didn’t fit without modification.
That last shot shows a lovely view inside the cupola. One thing which is apparent is the lack of vision when buttoned up in such close fighting terrain. Driving with your head out for visibility is extremely dangerous in such situations so to counter this the Australians tested a new design of higher and more protected cupola. This would allow more situational awareness with better protection for the commander. The need for this cupola was explicitly demanded by troops in the field sometime prior to November 1943 as the cupola had been made and tested by November that year. This new cupola was a very hefty thing and due to the weight (some 900 pounds) of it cross country the cupola rotating lock failed on more than one occasion but overall the ball race coped with the tremendous increase in weight. A new slightly larger cupola lock pin was thus added to fix the problem but even so was hard to control rotation wise across rough country and that it was advised to just not bother unless the vehicle was on the level.
It featured a much thicker casting and narrower vision slits but giving all round visibility. Fitted with vision blocks and hatches this new cupola was subjected to firing trials fitted to a removed spare Matilda turret in New Guinea on 15th March 1944 .
At first they used small arms such as the Japanese service rifle, Owen submachine gun and the Bren gun. Some splash did enter through the vision slots but that’s to be expected and that’s what the protective glass blocks are for behind the slit. Next was firing with the .55 calibre Boys Anti-Tank rifle. The hits here are obvious and the rounds penetrated to a depth of 1 ¼” (31.75mm). At least two rounds though did penetrate the slit directly and the glass blocks behind.
Next was something more severe.
These shots above are using the 3” Howitzer firing High Explosive shells at a range of 75 yards but they “had little effect” so finally they tested it against the 2 pounder gun.
Fired from a range of 70 yards these three 2 pounder armour-piercing shells all completely penetrated and passed through the cupola penetrating the opposite side to a depth of ¼ to ½”
For general interest this shows the versatility of a pre war tank in the form of the Matilda which even right to the end of the war was ideal for supporting Australian forces in the jungle. It is also ‘different’ enough to warrant serious consideration for WG to develop as a premium vehicle. Better visibility than the standard tier 4 Matilda in-game, better in-mud mobility, better radio range and a lot more armour across the front. Offset this with a bigger cupola and the lack of the Littlejohn device for the 2 pounder. Given that WG already has the ‘Matilda Black Prince’ hull modelled it would require just a little more to add the visual differences across the back and the extra track link armour on the front and sides. The turret is also already modelled along with the 2 pounder or even the 3” howitzer and save for armoured boxes at the back and this new larger cupola there is little to do to have a uniquely Australian tank. Australia day 2017 would seem like a smart day to release it. What do you think? Comment below.
Japanese Tank and Anti-Tank Warfare, Special Series No.34, 1st of August 1945, Military intelligence Division, US War Department http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/wwIIspec/number34.pdf
National Archives of Australia
Australian War Memorial
Test Instruction No.837 – Cupola, Commander’s, Tank Infantry Matilda Mk.IV – November 1943
Test Instruction No.1007 – Cupola, New Type ex. Matilda Tank – May 1944