Even before the Infantry Tank, Mk I, Matilda entered series production, a more powerful armament than a single machine gun was already being planned. Because the Matilda I's drive train would be too stressed by the additional weight of a larger turret, the Infantry Tank, Mk II, Matilda II was designed. Matilda II was delayed, first due to delivery problems with mechanical components, and later due to the technically demanding armour castings. As a result, from the time the first prototype was ordered in April 1937 and until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, only two production models had been made.
When Germany invaded France in May 1940, the 7th Royal Tank Regiment of the British Expeditionary Force in France had 23 Matilda II's, along with 27 Matilda I's and 7 Light Tank, Mk VI's. Until British reinforcements arrived in France on 17 May 1940, the Matilda II was the only tank in the BEF armed with more than a machine gun.
The theater which earned the Matilda II its fame, as well as its nickname The Queen of the Desert, was during the battle for North Africa. With its thick armour, the Matilda II was effectively impervious to all German tank guns in 1941. Using standard ammunition, the 5 cm Kw K L/42 of the Pz Kpfw III, the most common German tank in the desert, could only penetrate the Matilda II's rear armour, and only within 100 metres. Even using the relatively scarce Pzgr. 40 APCR ammunition, the rear armour could only be penetrated at 500 metres (less than the average engagement range in the desert), and at even closer ranges for the thicker side and frontal armour. Even the longer-barrelled 5 cm Kw K L/60 of the Pz Kpfw III Ausf. L could only penetrate the frontal armour of the Matilda II using the Pzgr. 40, and only within one kilometer. On its part, the Matilda II could engage the early Pz Kpfw III's at more than one kilometre, completely out-gunning the the German tanks in the first year of the African campaign. Until the arrival of the long-barrelled Pz Kpfw IV in 1942, the only German gun which could reliably engage the Matilda II was the famous 8,8 cm Flak anti-aircraft gun, using anti-tank ammunition.
During the African campaign, the 2 pdr gun was becoming obsolete against the increasing armour of the German tanks. Due to its narrow turret ring, it was impossible to install the more powerful 6 pdr. In stead, the proven Matilda chassis was used for several engineering variants, including the Matilda Scorpion mine clearing tank (later fitted on the Infantry Tank, Mk III, Valentine, as well as vehicle for laying demolition charges, bridging, and trench crossing.
|Mk I||Mk II||Mk III CS|
|Speed (max)||26 km/h|
|Primary weapon||QF 2 pdr (1)||QF 3 inch howitzer (1)|
|Secondary weapon||.303 cal. Vickers Machine Gun (1)||Besa 7.92 mm machine gun (1)|