The Infantry Tank Mark II A-12 marked a breakthrough in British thinking about tanks. And it came just in time for World War II.
When the "war to end all wars" came to an end in 1918, the British people slowly woke to the fact that an entire generation of young Britons had been destroyed and their nation nearly bankrupted by four long years of war.
Until the first air-raid warnings over England in September 1939, a deeply held spirit of pacifism possessed the nation, even as Adolf Hitler's strident voice and demonic visions drove the German people to rearm.
Because the British did not, or would not, appreciate the threat rising in central Europe, they were ill-prepared to fight a new war.
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Britain had only a handful of modern ground and air weapons and not even enough rifles to equip an army that needed to be expanded rapidly.
Fortunately, the so-called "Phony War" (a period during the winter of 1939 to 1940 in which very little fighting occurred) on the western front provided nine months for British industries to catch up.
Still, when Hitler marched into Norway in April 1940 and Belgium, the Netherlands, and France the following month, the British Army could field only the 1st Army Tank Brigade, which consisted of the 4th and 7th Battalions of the Royal Tank Brigade.
These two battalions had fewer than 160 tanks capable of meeting Nazi German tanks on equal terms. Seven other tank regiments already in France with the British Expeditionary Force were equipped with light tanks armed only with machine guns.
The First Armored Division was still training in England. Only the 7th Battalion was equipped with a heavier tank; it had 23 Mark II Infantry Tanks out of a total of 50 tanks. (These Mark tanks should not be confused with Marks I through VIII of World War I.)
The Mark I Infantry Tank, nicknamed the Matilda, was designed in 1934. One specification for the Mark I was that it cost less than £6,000. This was only met by using many such existing components as a Ford V-8 engine, which was barely suitable, and a suspension system designed for an earlier tank that weighed half as much.
The Mark I was armed with a single .30 caliber machine gun, which was later up-gunned to .50 caliber.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) showed how ineffective a slow-moving, lightly gunned, and lightly armored tank could be. In Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy, and, to a lesser extent, the United States, design work was pushed hard to develop a heavier, faster tank. The Mark II Infantry Tank, called the Matilda II, was Britain's improvement.
Trials on the new tank design had been completed by 1938 when rearmament began in earnest. Difficulties in obtaining the large castings for the turret and front armor plate, or glacis, delayed production.
Thus, when the war began in September 1939, only two Infantry Tank Mark II A-12s had been completed.
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