Wednesday, 8 July 2015
A11E1, the prototype of the Matilda Mk I Infantry Tank which saw service in France with the BEF, with its finest hour as part of the counter attack at Arras in 1940.
Initiated in 1934, the same year as the A9 Cruiser, and designed by Sir John Carden assisted by Leslie Little, who took over all of Carden's tank projects after his death in 1936. The A11 and the A9 were the first to be designed with the distinction between Infantry and Cruiser tanks.
Working under severe cost restraints the A11 used the six-tonner suspension, had armour of 60mm and an armament of one .303 or .05 calibre machine gun. It had a crew of two and top speed of 8 mph.Tests suggested the armour would be proof against the British 2 pdr but might need a greater margin so turret armour was increased to 65mm.
Ultimately a cheap well armoured but slow vehicle with inadequate armament it was designed at a time when the highest annual amount allotted for tank development was £93,750.
In 1934 outline requirements had been issued for two types of infantry tank, both with at least 25mm of armour all round and a speed of 10 mph. The first would be a small tank, mounting a .303 or .5 inch machine gun, inconspicuous and available in large numbers to act as a mobile machine gun post, and the second a heavy tank mounting the 2pdr high velocity anti-tank gun to deal with enemy tanks and protected machine gun positions.
While it was recognised that the A11 was unsatisfactory (mainly because of the two man crew and limited armament- mechanically it was very reliable) 140 were produced as an interim measure as the infantry Tank Mk 1. They formed the major part of the two infantry tank battalions in France in 1940 while production of the A12 Matilda Mk II was built up. The A11 went out of service after Dunkirk.
Suspension was derived from the Medium Dragon Mk IV. It was produced in the numbers it was because this could be done quickly to bulk up the tank force. The fact that it was not produced after Dunkirk reflects the dead end nature of the design, or rather fact that the task for which it was designed did not really exist.