Encircled by the Germans in northwest France, the battle of Arras on 21 May 1940, was a successful Allied counter-attack which delayed the German advance allowing more Allied troops to be evacuated at Dunkirk. It was the first armor attack by the British in WWII and was first combat engagement for the Matilda tank.
The infantry tank was a concept developed by Britain during the years leading up to WWII. They generally had heavier armour than the faster lighter cruiser tanks employed by armour divisions because they did not require a high top speed. They were designed to work as close support for the infantry divisions.
Infantry Tank A11 Mk I (Matilda I)
Basically, the tank was a WWI tank designed twenty years after its conclusion. The engineers who designed the tank were influenced by the belief that combat in the next war would be the same as in WWI, in which tanks would be utilized for breaking through strong, static defensive positions. As a result, the tank was obsolete both in design and in its intended purpose. The first order of 60 Matilda I tanks was placed in April 1937, followed by an order for 60 more ten days later and another 19 were ordered in January 1939. The tank remained in production until August 1940, with a total of 140 built. The Matilda I tanks were only used in combat during the Battle of France in 1940.
Weight: 11 tons
Armament: One Vickers .303 or .50 machine gun
Armour: 10 to 60 mm (0.39 to 2.36 in)
Engine: One 70 hp Ford V8
Max Speed: 8 mph (12.8 km/h)
Range: 80 miles (128 km)
Infantry Tank A12 Mk I (Matilda II)
The Matilda II was the successor to the obsolete Matilda I tank. The A12 was a larger and better armed infantry tank which used a number of design elements of the A7, a medium tank that was built in limited numbers in the early 1930s. It 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 increasing the tank’s weight, the thick areas were manually ground down. This process required highly skilled workers and additional time. The complex suspension and multi-piece hull side coverings also added time to manufacturing. The first Matilda II was built in late 1937, but only two were in service when the war broke out in September 1939.
Weight: 25 tons
Armament: QF-2 pounder (40mm) gun
Armour: 20 to 78 mm (0.79 to 3.07 in)
Engine: Two diesel 6-cylinder 7-litre engines, 87 hp each
Max Speed: 16 mph (26 km/h)
Range: 160 miles (257 km)
A tail skid was fitted to the rear as the high command at the time envisaged the continuation of WWI trench warfare, and it was required that the infantry tanks to be capable of trench crossing and the track suspension was lowered to increase the ground clearance for better maneuvering over rough terrain.
The A12 Mk I was the only variant which had a Vickers .303 water cooled-coaxial machine gun mounted inside an armoured jacket. It is identifiable by the peculiar mantlet and a steam exit port on the turret roof.
The units that were equipped with infantry tanks were battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) of the 1st Army Tank Brigade. There was the 4th Battalion stationed at Famborough; the 7th Battalion at Catterick Camp; and the 8th Battalion at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain. Each battalion consisted of a headquarters (HQ) and three companies. The only battalion that was ready when the war broke out in September 1939 was the 4th which was equipped with 50 Matilda I tanks and 7 light tanks. On September 19. the 4th Battalion (4th RTR) was sent to France to support the infantry divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). This was during the beginning of the Phoney War or Sitzkrieg (“the sitting war”.)
Equipping the 7th and 8th battalions were held up due to the slow production rate of the Matilda II. It was not until the first week of May 1940, only days before the German offensive began, that the 1st Army Tank Brigade HQ andthe 7th RTR arrived in France. The 8th battalion was still not ready at the time and was left behind in the UK. The 7th RTR did have its full complement of tanks consisting of 23 Matilda IIs, 27 Matilda Is and 7 light tanks. The 1st Army Tank Brigade was under the command of Brigader General Douglas H. Pratt who, as his brigade was part of GHQ troops, came directly under the orders of the C-in-C BEF, General John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort (Lord Gort).
The War Department (WD) numbers for the 23 BEF 7th RTR Matilda II tanks were: T-6733 to 6741, 6747 to 6748, 6750 to 6758, 6909 to 6911
All the names started with the letter “G” which is 7th letter of the alphabet.
(Note: The tanks of the 4th RTR had names that started with the letter “D”.)
|WD Number||License Plate||Tank Name|
(*) Information for T-6733, T-6734, T-6738 and T-6741 are unknown.
One of these would most likely be the WD number for GLANTON.
On 10 May 1940, the Germans launched their offensive in the west and on May 12 Pratt was ordered to move his tank brigade forward into the Brussels area. There were no tank transporters at this time, so the tanks moved by rail while the rest of the brigade traveled by road, and all were in position by May 15. Just after the 1st Army Tank Brigade had completed its move, seven German Panzer divisions broke through the French defenses.
Heavy German infantry attacks failed to penetrate the BEF defensive line, but on May 16 General Gaston Billotte, commander of the First Group of Armies (which included the BEF), ordered a withdrawal to the line of the river Escaut (or Scheldt) which was to be reached on the night of May 18-19. British GHQ promptly ordered the 1st Army Tank Brigade to move to Tournai; the wheeled vehicles to go by road and the tanks by train from Enghien. But the tanks reached Enghien only to find that the rail station had been heavily bombed, that the drivers had departed with their engines, and there were no tank trucks available. Attempts were made to locate more engines and trucks, but heavy air attacks on stations in the area made transport by rail impossible. The tanks were forced to travel by road. By 1100 hours on May 17, the whole brigade was at Ath. The rest of the day was wasted on an abortive 15 mile (24 km) counter-march in response to a false report of a German break through. On May 18, the brigade clanked through bombed out Tournai into Orchies.
The 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was part of the Territorial Army (TA) and the two Ts in the divisional insignia represent the two main rivers of its recruitment area in the UK, the rivers Tyne and Tees. In March 1939, the division started conversion into a motor infantry division which would be fully motorized and capable of transporting all its men and material. In doing so, the size of the division was reduced to two infantry brigades from the standard three brigades. In January 1940, the division was transported to France to join the BEF and it disembarked at Cherbourg on January 19 and was assigned to the II Corps. By March, the division was at work preparing defenses in the Lille – Loos area.
In April 1940, the 4th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (4th RNF) was attached to the 50th Division as its recce battalion. The battalion was equipped with Norton WD Big 4 motorcycle and sidecar combinations. The sidecar was unarmoured with thin sheet metal on the front of the sidecar and a Bren machine gun could be mounted.
Film: Forward The Light Brigade (1940)
Belgian women give flowers to Company X 4th RNF soldiers riding a Norton motorcycle combination in Herseaux, as the BEF crosses the border into Belgium on 10 May 1940.
Each company (X, Y & Z) of the 4th RNF had a platoon of 10-11 Daimler “Dingo” Mk. I scout cars which provided AA support for the company.
On 29 February 1940, 4th RNF Daimler scout cars moving north of Fontaine-Bonneleau (on D106). The driver’s side view port of the scout car in the foreground is open and the sunlight is reflecting off the cover. There is a white and red pennant on its hull side. Note the mounted Bren machine gun.
7th Panzer Division – Generalmajor Erwin Rommel
25th Panzer Regiment / Panzerregiment 25 (PzRgt 25)
- I Panzer Battalion / I. Panzerabteilung (I. PzAbgt)
- II Panzer Battalion / II. Panzerabteilung (II. PzAbgt)
- III (66th) Panzer Battalion / III. PzAbt (PzAbt 66)
7th Rifle Brigade / 7. Schützenbrigade (7. SchtzBrig)
- 6th Rifle Regiment / Schützenregiment 6 (SchtzRgt 6)
- 7th Rifle Regiment / Schützenregiment 7 (SchtzRgt 7)
- 7th Motorcycle Battalion / Kraftradschützenbataillon 7 (KradSchtzBat 7)
78th Artillery Regiment, 10.5 cm / Artillerieregiment 78
(two artillery battalions, each with three four-gun batteries. 36 105mm guns and howitzers)
- I Battalion / I. Abteilung (I. Abgt)
- II Battalion / II. Abteilung (II. Abgt)
37th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion / Panzeraufklärungsabteilung 37
(about 50 half tracks and armoured cars)
42nd Antitank Battalion / Panzerjägerabteilung 42 (PzJgAbt 42)
(three 12-gun batteries, 36 37mm Pak35/36 AT guns)
58th Combat Engineer Battalion, motorized / Pionierbataillon 58
59th Light Anti-aircraft Battalion / leichte Flakabteilung 59 – SP AA guns
86th Anti-aircraft Battalion / Flakabteilung 86 – 20mm light AA guns
1st battery, 23rd Anti-aircraft Battalion, 88mm Flak / 1. Batterie, FlakAbt 23
On 10 May 1940, the 7th Panzer Division had 225 panzers:
- 34 Pz.Kpfw. I – 2 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 (MG34)
- 68 Pz.Kpfw. II – 20mm cannon
- 91 Pz.Kpfw.38(t) – 37mm cannon
- 24 Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf.D – short 75mm cannon
- 8 command variants
A 7th Panzer Division Pz.Kpfw.38(t). The (t) stands for tschechisch, the German word for Czech. The large tactical numbers (red with white outline) on the turret were characteristic for this division.
This is another 7th Panzer Division Pz.Kpfw.38(t) with large tactical numbers on the turret, The third digit appears to be a different color compare to the first two (red with white outline). It could be yellow or blue with with white outline.
On the left is a Pz.Kpfw. II and a Pz.Kpfw.38(t) on the right. Note the large tactical numbers on the turret of the Pz.Kpfw. II.
A pair of 7th Panzer Division Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf.Ds armed with short 75mm guns.
The division was given the nickname “Gespensterdivision” (Ghost Division) because it advanced so fast that it appeared where it was not expected and even the German high command did not always knew exactly where it was at any given time.
May 10: Fall Gelb, the invasion of France launched. 7th Panzer advanced through the Ardennes.
May 12: Reached Dinant on the Meuse River.
May 13: Crossed the Meuse after heavy fighting.
May 15: Reached Philippeville and continued westward through Avesnes and Le Cateau.
May 18: Reached Cambrai and continued westward toward Arras.
Film: Divide and Conquer Germans Attack France Through Ardennes
Film: The Second World War – Ardennes Forest
Film: Percée de Sedan / Seconde Guerre Mondial / Forêt Ardennes / 1940
Battle of Arras
Early on the morning of May 20, the 1st Army tank Brigade and the 5th Infantry Division were ordered to join the 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division in the Vimy area north of Arras in preparation for an attack. This force became known as “Frankforce” under the command of Major General Harold E. Franklyn, GOC 5th Division.
Franklyn was ordered to support the garrison in Arras and to block the roads south of Arras which would cut off German communications and supplies from the east. He was to occupy the line along the Scarpe River to the east of Arras and establish contact with the French by patrols. He deployed the major bulk of his two divisions to strengthen the defenses of Arras and the Scarpe, because of the wording of his orders the support of the garrison of Arras appeared to be the main objective and road blocking to the south was a secondary task.
Both the 5th and 50th Divisions only had two infantry brigades each instead of three. The 13th Brigade of the 5th Division was positioned along the Scarpe east of Array (freeing the French Cavalry to take part in the action) and the 17th Brigade was held in reserve until the first phase of the operation was completed. The 150th Brigade of the 50th Division was sent to strengthen the garrison of Arras and hold the line along the Scarpe immediately east of Arras. The 151st Brigade of the 50th Division was to support the 1st Army Tank Brigade in the attack to block the roads south of Arras. Major General Giffard Le Q. Martel (GOC 50th Division), a pre-war advocate of armoured warfare, was placed in command of the attacking force.
The 1st Army Tank Brigade moved some 30 miles (48 km) from Orchies, through Carvin and Lens to Vimy. The move was difficult due to frequent enemy air attacks along roads jammed packed with refugees and Allied troops. The last tanks reached Vimy around 0500 hours on May 21 after traveling 120 miles (193 km) in five days with practically no time for maintenance or rest. As a result, out of 77 Matilda Is and 23 Matilda IIs, only 58 Matilda Is and 16 Matilda IIs were still serviceable with worn out tracks.
The orders for Major General Martel were to clear and capture the area south of the Scarpe River from the southern outskirts of Arras including Pelves and Monchy about 5 miles (8 km) to the east along the Cojeul River as far as the Arras-Bapaume road. The attacking force was to start west of Arras, head south and sweep around 10 miles (16 km) to the Cojeul River. Then the second phase would begin where the 13th Brigade would advance south from its position on the Scarpe River and join up with the 151st Brigade attack force along the Cojeul. Then the force would move 3 miles (4.8 km) east to its second objective, the Sensee River. The start line for the attack was to be the Arras-Doullens road and that entailed a march about 8 miles (13 km) from Vimy.
The French 3e Division Légère Mécanique (3e DLM) of the French Cavalry Corps was to cover the British right flank to the west with its remaining 60-70 Somua S-35 medium cavalry tanks (47mm gun). Major General Martel organized his attack force into two mixed but balanced columns: each with a tank battalion; an infantry battalion; a field artillery battery; an anti-tank battery; an infantry anti-tank platoon; and a scout company for reconnaissance. This was the first time the British Army had employed such a mobile battle group in combat. The attack was planned to start at 1400 hours on May 21.
These are the units of the two attacking columns:
- 7th RTR – 23 Matilda Is and 9 Matilda IIs
- 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (8th DLI) – four rifle companies
- 365th Battery, 92nd Field Regiment RA – twelve light field guns
- 260th Battery, 65th AT Regiment RA – twelve 2-pdr AT guns
- Platoon, 151st Brigade AT Company – three 25mm AT guns
- Company Z and No. 12 scout car platoon, 4th RNF
- 4th RTR – 35 Matilda Is and 7 Matilda IIs
- 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (6th DLI) – four rifle companies
- 368th Battery, 92nd Field Regiment RA – twelve light field guns
- 206th Battery, 52nd AT Regiment RA – twelve 2-pdr AT guns
- Platoon, 151st Brigade AT Company – three 25mm AT guns
- Company Y and No. 11 scout car platoon, 4th RNF
The 4th RNF battalion HQ and company X were in reserve north of Arras near Vimy. The third infantry battalion of the 151st Infantry Brigade, the 9th DLI, was retained along the Scarpe River near Maroeuil to support the attacking units if needed.
On May 20, Rommel was informed that a number of British and France divisions had moved into the area north of Arras, so he placed his division into defensive positions south of Arras. On May 21, the 7th Panzer Division was to advance west swinging around the south side of Arras with the SS Motorized Division Totenkopf on its left flank and exploit to the northwest. The 5th Panzer Division was to advance west directly towards Arras but it fell behind. Rommel’s plan was to cover his exposed right flank with artillery fire while the 25th Panzer Regiment led the advance south of Arras and then turning northwest. The 37th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was to follow the panzers with the task of keeping contact between them and the 6th and 7th Rifle regiments (SchtzRgt 6/SchtzRgt 7) and keeping the roads open. By this date, the division’s initial armour strength of 225 panzers was down to around 180 operational panzers due to breakdowns and combat losses.
Rommel accompanied the panzers himself, together with his dispatch riders, armoured command car, and signals vehicle conducted operations by wireless from his Gefechtsstaffel (HQ Group) at the head of his division. One source states a Sd.Kfz. 263 (8-rad) with license plate number WH-143149 as been Rommel’s command car in France 1940 (no photo found).
By 1300 hours, the British infantry units were about half an hour late reaching the start line for the attack. It was proposed that the attack should be postponed but Martel decided that the tanks will start without waiting for the infantry. Soon after 1315 hours, the RTR tanks started off on their 8 mile (13 km) move to the start line. Martel, like Rommel, riding in an open command vehicle, dashed between columns advancing 3 miles (4.8 km) apart. Quickly it became apparent that the original start line was no longer relevent. Maroeuil was being heavily shelled when the Right Column passed through it at 1430 hours to cross the Scarpe, and it had to fight to take the village of Duisans a short distance beyond it.
The 4th RNF Company Z and No. 12 scout car platoon was somewhat late but followed up closely along the route of the Right Column to support the 8th DLI. It made good initial progress and was later heavily engaged. Two platoons of Company Z were surrounded by the Germans but were eventually extricated. That day, No. 12 scout car platoon lost 6 out of its 11 scout cars.
This Daimler scout car named “Furious” of No. 12 platoon is seen abandoned south of Duisans (west of Arras) on May 22. Barely visible on the side is a pennant and below it the WD number. Note the number 18 on the left rear fender. The white square was the BEF Identification marking and it was applied to all armoured vehicles
The infantry of the Right Column caught up after 4 miles (6.4 km) and two companies of 8th DLI, with two troops of the 260th Anti-Tank Battery, were left behind in Duisans to guard prisoners and hold the village against counter-attacks on the column’s rear. Fighting its way forward, the Right Column captured Warlus by 1530 hours, and then Berneville, about a mile (1.6 km) farther south.
The advance of the 3e DLM on the right flank (to the west) of the Right Column was poorly prepared with insufficient liaison. The French were not informed the direction or timing of the British attack. In the confusion, there was exchange of fire between French Somua S-35s and British AT guns near Warlus. A British AT gun was knocked out, British soldiers KIA and several French tanks were hit before the error was realized and cease fire was ordered.
The German defenders began to stiffen, heavy machine guns and mortars inflicted 50 percent casualties on the 8th DLI around Berneville. For 20 minutes, Stuka dive bombers attacked the column since the British attack force had no air cover. The advance guard of British tanks and a company of 8th DLI then moved onto the Arras-Doullens road (N25).
At the village of Wailly, the crisis came around 1600 hours as Rommel drove up to Hill 111, 1 km (0.6 miles) northwest of Wailly, where several artillery pieces were in position. Artillery men began to abandon their howitzers and were swept up with groups of infantry. The British tank fire created chaos and confusion among the German troops in the village and jammed up the roads and yards with their vehicles. The leading British tanks, among them heavy ones (Matilda II), had crossed the Arras-Beaumetz railway which ran parallel to the Arras-Doullens road.
The British tanks appeared to be impervious. Two 7th RTR Matildas accounted for two AT batteries and four panzers. One of the pair, with a jammed turret and out of ammunition, found itself face to face with an 88mm AT gun. A burst of coaxial MG fire spoiled its aim, and the other Matilda knocked it out. Eventually one Matilda had caught fire and the other was knocked out by a German field gun. One Matilda II took 14 hits from German 37mm shells with only minor gouges in its armour.
Rommel described the situation as ‘an extremely tight spot’. He brought every available gun into action against the British tanks and running from gun to gun, personally gave each gun its targets. His orderly officer, Oberleutnant Most, who was right next to him, suddenly fell, was mortally wounded. With the enemy tanks so perilously close, only rapid fire from every gun could save the situation. Several Matilda Is were knocked out. A British captain climbed out a heavily damaged Matilda and, quite stunned, wobbled toward the Germans and raised his hands to surrender. Suddenly, the German crews serving the antitank guns acted irritated. Rommel’s presence at the forward positions had certainly boasted the crews moral. Eventually, the surviving British tanks gave up the unequal gun battle with the Germans defending Wailly and withdrew.
This knocked out Pz.Kpfw. I Ausf. B number 223 probably belonged to the 7th Panzer Division. Note the large tactical numbers on the rather small turret and the background terrain could be somewhere around the village of Wailly.
The stronger Left Column started earlier at 1130 hours had fought it way deeper into the German line capturing four villages in succession. The British tanks, some smashing through a railway level crossing, annihilated a German motor transport column in Dainville around 1500 hours and after advaning 2 miles (3.2 km) farther 6 Matildas overran a disheartened German AT battery whom has seen their 37mm PAK 36 armor-piercing shells were ineffective against the oncoming Matildas. Some German AT gunners, after firing for a bit, bolted and abandoned their guns. Achicourt, Agny and Beauvains each fell in turn. Major von Paris, commander of the hard hit I./SchtzRgt 6 had a narrow escape. He hid under a bed in a house occupied by British officers that were using as a temporary command post until the next day.
The 4th RTR tanks pushed south of Beauvains to Mercatel at around 1620 hours and a small advance force reached as far as Wancourt along the Cojuel River, but that was the limit its advancement because Rommel had setup a gun line in a large arc from Tilloy to Wailly which sealed off the battlefield. It was composed of AA units: AA SPs of leichte Flakabteilung 59, 20mm guns of Flakabteilung 86, 88mm Flak 18 guns of 1. Batterie, FlakAbt 23 which claimed 8 British tanks destroyed and 105mm howitzers of Artillerieregiment 78 which were supposed to had dealt with 28 British tanks. The three lost villages and the 6th DLI were dive bombed by Stukas and by 2215 hours the British Left Column was ordered to fall back to Achicourt where two companies of 6th DLI took heavy losses during the withdrawal.
One of the 88mm Flak 18 guns set up for firing and ready for action. Note the kill rings on the gun barrel. The 88mm was capable of knocking out the Matilda II.
The 4th RNF Company Y and No. 11 scout car platoon acted as the advanced guard while supporting the 6th DLI. Early in the attack, the company successfully attacked groups of German troops seen debouching from the outskirts of Arras and captured 40 prisoners.
While the 6th DLI withdrew back to Achicourt, the 4th RNF Company Y was ordered to cover the withdrawal. For this purpose, two platoons were deployed with a section of scout cars allotted to cover each platoon. Soon after assuming these dispositions, Company Y was subjected to a panzer attack supported by heavy artillery fire. One panzer was destroyed in a sunken road which temporary brought the attack to a halt. Later the panzers attacked again supported by infantry. This attack was repulsed with heavy losses to the Germans. The Germans renewed their efforts around dusk when their infantry again advanced, this time supported by flame throwers. The Germans continued to press forward until it was almost dark, but the company held doggedly to their positions. Another attack by panzers made it clear that any organized withdrawal would be impossible and the commander issued orders for the company to withdraw by twos or threes, if necessary individually. Although a few had escaped, most of the two leading platoons (Nos. 4 and 5) and No. 11 scout car platoon (which lost all its scout cars) were either KIA or captured. No. 6 Platoon which had not been deployed in the final position, escaped and rejoined the battalion.
This knocked out and abandoned Daimler scout car is seen near Achicourt (south of Arras).
The advance of Panzerregiment 25 had apparently passed obliquely across the front of the British attack, and Martel’s attack columns had struck the right flank of the following up Schützen (rifle) regiments. At about 1900 hours, Rommel ordered Panzerregiment 25 to retrace it route and attack southeastward to hit the British armor in the flank and rear. Duisans, pulverized by air attacks, was heavily attacked by panzers but they failed to take the village although they did cut the road between Duisans and Warlus. About 6 French Somua S-35s and two armoured personnel carriers engaged the panzers of southwest of Duisans. British troops and vehicles were retreating north and by the time the panzers broke through the British forces had escaped. The garrison at Duisans pulled back as darkness fell aided by 10 Bren carriers of 9th DLI and AT guns of the 151st Brigade reserve.
German troops examining a knocked out a 3e DLM Somua S-35 tank. The two Germans at the rear of the tank are looking at a rather large shell hole on the rear hull.
During the night the British infantry withdrew and the surviving tanks of the 4th and 7th RTR rallied together by 0100 hours on May 22 then moved back to the Vimy area where both were by 0600 hours.
German troops examining abandoned Matilda II named “GALAHAD.” This photo gives a good view of the turret roof and note the open engine hatch.
This is the front view of Matilda II “GALAHAD.”
Abandoned Matilda II named “GAMECOCK.”
This abandoned Matilda II being examined by German troops only show two letters “GH” of the name on the hull side. The name was most likely “GOUGH.”
The license plate number “PMV-103” indicate that this abandoned Matilda II was named “GORGON”.
Abandoned Matilda II named “GORGONZOLA”.
German troops are examining disabled Matilda II “GOAT” which is missing its right track on side of a road.
This is the rear of Matilda II “GOAT”. In the background in front of the tank is probably a hay stack.
A German officer is inspecting Matilda II “GOAT”. An open umbrella appears to be hanging on the side of the turret. Note the farm in the background and the wire fence along the road.
Another view of Matilda II “GOAT”. Note the empty communication wire spool next the the pole in front of the tank. Down the road in the background is a building and on the right side of the photo there is a wall with a cross which is probably a cemetery.
This closer view shows that a German shell ricocheted off the mantlet and left a large gouge which did not penetrated the armour. Another shell must had hit the right track which immobilized the tank.
In this view of Matilda II “GOAT”, the turret had been transverse forward and some illegible text was added to the hull side. Behind the tank on the opposite side of the road is probably a cross on top of a sign. In front of the tank leaning against the track is an open empty 2 pdr ammo can.
This is my close up of the illegible text on the hull side and its meaning is unknown.
The meaning of the symbol and the number 857 added to the turret are unknown. Note the gouge on the mantlet and the same ammo can on the ground in front of the tank.
German troops are examining Matilda II “GOOD LUCK” which was knocked out and/or abandoned somewhere in the northern outskirts of Wailly (south of Arras). Note the a tow cable is draped over the hull.
This is another view of Matilda II “GOOD LUCK” which has been moved to the side of the road and note that the tow cable is now missing.
This is the rear view of Matilda II “GOOD LUCK”. Further down the road is an abandoned Matilda I tank. Apparently, the tank did not have any good luck.
Disabled Matilda II “GRASSHOPPER” is being examined by German troops. Note the two shell holes on the front right fender.
This abandoned Matilda II is “GREYNA”.
This abandoned Matilda II is “GREENOCK”.
Matilda II “GLANTON” and Matilda II “GLOUCESTER” are stuck in the mud and abandoned in an wooded area. Before withdrawing from the area, the crews hastily doused their tanks with petrol and set them afire to prevent their use by the Germans.
As it can be seen, the flames did not completely destroyed the tanks but just burnt off patches of paint. Matilda II “GLANTON” had the name “ALI BABA” in small letters on the upper front of the driver’s periscope.
This is the front view of Matilda II “GLOUCESTER”. The flames had burnt off the name but the “757” of the WD number can barely be seen on the front right hull and on the front left mudguard is “HEIL FRITZ”.
The caption for this disabled Matilda II stated that the name on the hull is “COLD”. But since the 7th RTR tanks had names that began with the letter “G”, it is more likely the name is or begin with “GOLD”. That is if this is an authentic photo taken in 1940 and it has not been touched up by someone.
This Matilda I was named “GIGGLE” which would indicate that it belonged to the 7th RTR. Maybe the crew thought the tank design was rather funny looking.
A knocked out Matilda I missing its left track and the name on the hull side begin with “GLENORO” and the ending letter(s) are probably obscured.
The rear view of a knocked out Matilda I tank on the side of the road. The signs in the background advertise a museum’s diorama of a WWI battle. The first Battle of Arras was during WWI from 9 April to 16 May 1917. The current battle at the time might had became a future exhibit at the museum.
This is my close up of the above Matilda I. The name is obscured where it began with “GL” and ended with an “N” which most likely belonged to the 7th RTR. The name could have been “GLENLYON”.
A grim reminder of the losses during the battle. The grave of a German soldier near a knocked out Matilda II tank in a field. The tank’s name and WD number are not legible. In the background near the tree line is a knocked out Matilda I tank.
Two surviving Matilda IIs were transported to the Kummersdorf Heer Test Center near Luckenwalde, around 25 km (15.5 miles) south of Berlin, in the Brandenburg region of Germany. Kummersdorf was the location where the Germans had done analyses, studies and tested various captured Allied tanks and armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) during the war. What became of these tanks after the war ended is still unknown.
This Matilda II had the name “ARRAS” added by the Germans. The Germans designated them as Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e).
The first British tank attack of the war penetrated a maximum depth of 10 miles (16 km) and had a limited tactical success. German causalities included 700 men (400 POWs) and about 20 panzers had inflicted damage. Nine panzers were lost including 3 precious Pz.Kpfw. IVs and they lost more heavily in AT guns and motor transport. As the afternoon wore on, the imbalance of forces had worsened. The British lacked the reserves to consolidate the ground won and had barely enough to extricate the trapped rearguards before nightfall. Due to the lack of Allied air cover, the pitifully thin infantry on the ground were devastated by dive bombing Stukas. Although only one Matilda fell victim to air attack (overturned by two near misses), 46 British tanks (62 percent of the total) were lost in the 9 hour battle.
In strategic and psychological terms, Arras was a British victory out of all proportion to the forces committed or the tactical success achieved. The British counter-attack temporarily halted the German advance because for a short time the German high command feared that the leading Panzer Divisions supply lines would be cut off and the slow infantry divisions would not be able to move up to support them. None of the French counter-attacks caused any serious threat to the Germans as this one did. Halting of the panzers gave the Allies time to build up defenses around Dunkirk which in turn allowed more troops to be evacuated.
If this battle had never took place, all of the British Expeditionary Force would inevitably have been surrounded and forced to capitulate. And, apart from the troops evacuated at Dunkirk, there would have passed into captivity all the commanders and staffs who were to lead British armies to victory.
Surviving Matilda Is
Two surviving Matilda I tanks are preserved at The Tank Museum in the United Kingdom. One (T-3447) is in running condition; it was recovered from a gunnery range and restored to running condition, although it is powered by an inauthentic engine and gearbox.
The second vehicle was built in March 1940 and restored to running condition in the 1980s. It is painted to represent T-8106, a tank of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment in France in May 1940.
Video: The Battle that Saved an Army | Arras 1940 | The Tank Museum
Video: Tankfest 2013 Matilda I tank
Video: Infantry Tank, Mk I, A11 Matilda I
Video: Pz.Kpfw.38 (t) Tankfest 2015
MODELS AND DECALS
Accurate Armour K067 Matilda Mk-I British Infantry Tank (Resin Kit)
Criel Model R081 German 88mm Flak – Lafette 18 gun – 200?
Cyber Hobby 6297 Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.B – 2006
Dragon 6152 3,7cm Pak35/36 w/CREW – 2002
HobbyBoss 80141 Pz.Kpfw.38(t) Ausf. B (Full Interior) – 2016
Maquette MQ-3555 Daimler Dingo Mk.I Armoured Car – 200?
Tristar 35015 Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf D – 2005
Tamiya 35035 3.7cm Anti-Tank Gun (PaK 35/36) – 1988
The New TMD 35-45402 Matilda Mk.I (BEF) Resin Detail Set – 201?
(Requires Tamiya 35300 Matilda Mk.III/IV British Infantry Tank Mk.IIA* – 2009)
Archer AR35244 BEF Matilda II Mk I (Greyna) Decal Set
Echelon Fine Details Matilda II 23 BEF, 7th Royal Tank Regiment Decals
Battalion Bits BT15 British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Matilda (Resin)
(Requires Tamiya 32572 Matilda Mk.III/IV British Infantry Tank Mk.IIA* – 2012
Includes decals for GAMECOCK, GOAT, GOOD LUCK, GREYNA, GREENOCK)
FROG (ex-Bandai) NF-1020 German 88mm Flak 18 – 199?
Gaso.line GAS50019K 37mm Pak 36 German light Gun (Resin Kit)
Gaso.line GAS50350 PaK 36 Crew 2 Resin figures
Peddinghaus EP1449 Englsiche Panzer und Fahrzeugmarkierungen 1940 / English tanks & vehicle markings 1940a
ACE 72241 3.7cm Pak.35/36 – 2011
ACE 72248 Armored Car Dingo Mk.I Pz.Sp.Wg.Mk.I 202(e) – 2007
ACE 72268 Light Tank PzKpfw II Sd Kfz.121 Ausf.C – 2009
Hasegawa 31110 88mm Gun Flak 18 – 1991
HäT (Hat) 8149 German Pak 36 Anti Tank Gun – 2007
UM (Uni Models) 340 Pz Kpfw 38(t) Ausf C – 2004
Wespe Models WES R024 Matilda II BEF (Resin Kit) – 2012
Dan Taylor Modelworks Waterslide Decals BEF Matilda II (1/76)
3 thoughts on “Arras France 1940”
Very interesting, thank you for publishing. Re the unknown rectangle symbol and number 857 could they be chalked on German tactical marks for a tank which is claiming a ‘kill’?
Thank you. I’ve been searching for an account of the 7th Battalion RTR in the run up to Dunkirk and this is very concise. My uncle was in the 7th and died of his wounds on 28 May 1940. He rests in Beauvais.
700 pertes allemandes me paraissent un peu abusives , c’est presque la moitié d’un régiment et la 7. n’en avait que deux. De plus cela ne correspond pas avec les archives du Bundes Archiv Freiburg. Faites des recherches sérieuses pour lesallemands. Sinon v votre texte est excellent et je vous en remercie.i
700 German losses seem a bit excessive to me, it’s almost half a regiment and the 7th only had two. Moreover, it does not correspond with the archives of the Bundes Archiv Freiburg. Do some serious research for the Germans. Otherwise your text is excellent and I thank you.