The Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11) was a British infantry tank of the Second World War. It is not to be confused with the later model Tank, Infantry Mk II (A12), also known as the "Matilda II" which took over the "Matilda" name after the early part of the war when the first Matilda was withdrawn from combat service. They were of totally different design and did not share components, but did have some similar traits because they were both designed to be infantry tanks, a type of tank that tended to sacrifice speed for increased armour protection.
The development, of the design by Carden at Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd, began in 1935. It resulted in a small two-man vehicle with a low hull and a small cast turret. The turret was fitted with a single heavy machine gun, either a .303 Vickers machine gun or a larger, Vickers .50 machine gun. Designed for quick delivery, the A11 used many stock parts from other vehicles: a Ford V8 engine, a Fordson gearbox, a steering mechanism similar to the one used in Vickers light tanks, and suspension adapted from the Mk IV Dragon artillery tractor that was itself based on the Vickers 6-Ton Tank Model E. Although the hull and turret were well protected against contemporary anti-tank weapons, the tracks and running gear were completely exposed and more vulnerable than on tanks that had protected tracks. In addition, the lack of a gun with any anti-tank ability severely limited its utility on the battlefield. Besides operating the machine gun, the commander had to direct the driver and operate the wireless. There being no room in the turret for the wireless, it was placed in the hull and the commander had to duck down inside to operate it. General Hugh Elles, the Master-General of the Ordnance, is credited with giving the tank the name Matilda "due to the vehicle's diminutive size and duck-like shape and gait." But the codename "Matilda" for the project was created for Vickers at the time of drawing up the specification in 1935 The "Tank, Infantry, Mark I" name was an Army Council decision of June 1940.
The first order of 60 Matilda tanks was placed in April 1937, and the tank remained in production until August 1940. One hundred and forty were produced, some of them with the heavier .50 inch Vickers machine gun instead of the .303 inch Vickers machine gun.
The Matilda I (55) and Matilda II tanks fought together in France as part of the 1st Army Tank Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force in the Battle of France. They participated in the defence and counter-attack operation at Arras against the invasion by Nazi Germany in May 1940, temporarily discomfiting the 7th Panzer Division under Rommel. When the BEF returned to the United Kingdom, nearly all their armour was left behind. Matilda Mk Is left in the United Kingdom were withdrawn for training purposes.