The Royal New South Wales Lancers
Well, it’s been like the reverse of Dame Nelle Melba’s farewell, the off again on again return home of a fully restored ACE Matilda Tank.
We are now VERY pleased, and most relieved to say that the old Tilley IS back home at Lancer Barracks. It has taken almost $100,000 and 60,000 volunteer hours to have the first tank off the landing craft at Australia’s largest ever armoured assault at Balikpapan in July 1945, the only one of three surviving Balikpapan Matildas capable of restoration, restored back to full mobility.
Check below where you can view two remarkable videos showing ACE's first moves at Cecil Park and together with Matthew McMahon's Matilda racing around the countryside together at his Oberon property. You won’t find too many videos of three fully restored WW2 AFV’s driving around together.
It’s almost a given when restoring complex 1940’s era machinery such as ACE, that the tank will continue to throw up "teething" problems for a few years more until it fully settles in. However it is now "home", it is running successfully and it is available for people to closely inspect when visiting Lancer Barracks and the Museum. We are now planning to re-activate the Welcome Home ACE event which, regrettably, must be limited to invited guests and the media only. After that, for a number of Sundays when the public can enter the Barracks freely, we will start and run ACE within the Barracks, probably twice each Sunday at 1100 and again at 1400. At these times, instead of just inspecting a static vehicle, you will be able to see, hear and smell a battle experienced WW2 heavy tank the way its wartime Lancer crew would have known it – a very rare if not unique experience.
When visiting the Museum you will also see a display with photos tracing the entire history of ACE, from original 1945 wartime photos, through its condition when found in a paddock near Moss Vale in 1997 and various key stages during its restoration. You will also see 1945 crew belongings remarkably found during the restoration work, together with the National Trust Heritage Conservation Award made to recognise the significance of the restoration project. Such an award is the highest accolade in Australia for restoration work and a professional recognition of the amazing work of our restoration team.
We’ll leave the last word to the Director of the UK’s Bovington Tank Museum, one of the finest AFV Museum’s in the world. During a visit to the Museum in December 2016, the Director was moved to say, "From my perspective, even while Bovington is running their own restoration of a Matilda, there is no equivalent in the world of the Lancer Association project……a genuinely world leading piece of work".
All members of the Lancer Association should feel proud – we all do at the Museum.
Matilda Tank ACE and Matthew McMahon's Matilda at Oberon 2017.
Matilda Tank ACE powers across the hills, Cecil Park April 2016.
Project ACE, the Museum’s restoration of the Tank used by the Regiment in WW2 has been going since the rusting hulk was found in the Southern Highlands in 1998. The vehicle moved for the first time in over 65 years under its own power in December 2015. A proud day and great Christmas present to round off the year for the Restoration Crew.
The vehicle restoration is now all-but complete. As the video above shows, the Tank can now not only move but manoeuvre; it has a turret and paint job; just watch the video.
Thanks to.... Joe Tabone for the guidance and drive, Paul Martyn-jones for the Mechanical know how to fix the old girl and the rest of the crew for the sweat, cuts, bruises and tears.
The Matilda will return to Lancer Barracks in July 2016.
Matilda Tank ACE under restoration March 2015.
Infantry Tank MkII Matilda
|Power-plant:||Two AEC 6 cyl. diesels or two Leyland 6 cyl. diesels, producing 87 hp and 95 hp respectively.|
|Armament:||1 x 2 pdr. Gun and 1 x 7.92 Besa mg. or 1 x 3 in. Howitzer and 1 x 7.92 Besa mg. A Bren .303 anti-aircraft mg. could also be fitted. Two 4 in. smoke dischargers either side or the turret.|
|Maker:||Vulcan Foundry, Warrington UK. A number of other manufacturers were also contracted to assist in meeting demand for this vehicle.|
This tank was a development of the Matilda I Infantry Tank whose main armament consisted of no more than either a .303 or a .50 Vickers mg. Such was the thinking behind pre World War II tank development in many Countries (including Britain) that it was considered that the fitting of larger calibre weapons was not warranted.
The Matilda Mark II arose out of a need to provide a better armoured and armed vehicle, which could act in the role of an infantry support tank.
For its time, the Matilda II was a heavily armoured vehicle and it was particularly successful in the early years of WW II at Arras, France 1940 and in the Western Desert during 1940-1941.
Unfortunately, its performance was hindered by its small calibre gun and relatively slow cross country performance. (NB: See notes on the Centurion Tank to see how much British tank development changed during World War II). Despite its shortcomings, it was more than capable of being used aggressively. This was especially demonstrated in the Western Desert where it was virtually immune against anti-tank and tank guns of the day. In its early conflicts in the Western Desert, its value as a shock assault weapon was significant and it soon earned the title "Queen of the Battlefield". Unfortunately, it was soon outclassed by better enemy tanks and the German's 88mm gun. However, it found a renewed operational life in the Pacific.
Although the design ideas were sound for their time, the Matilda could not be up-gunned as the turret ring was too small to accept a larger tank gun. However, it was found that a low velocity 3 in. howitzer could be fitted as a substitute for the tank gun. Such a weapon proved invaluable when operating against infantry, light skinned vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.
Mechanically, the Matilda possessed a hydraulic, power operated turret. Its twin engines were linked through an epicyclic gearbox, which in turn drove a pair of rear sprockets. The suspension consisted of sets of bogies which were linked together and worked against horizontal compression springs.
The Matilda filled an urgent need for a tank to operate in New Guinea. Approximately 140 tanks were provided by Britain in early 1942, and these vehicles subsequently proved suitable for jungle operations.
In 1943, flamethrower and bulldozer versions were produced, they were used in Borneo by 2/1 Armoured Brigade Reconnaissance Squadron.
Many of the tanks were fitted with a variety of battle-field modifications, including wire mesh over the engine covers, spare track links on the hull and/or pierced steel planking (PSP) which was normally used in the construction of aircraft runways. It was also a common practice to festoon the exterior of vehicles with additional stores and personal items of equipment.
An example of the strength of the tank was shown in an action at Pabu Hill near Sattleberg (NB: There is a fine sculpture of a Matilda, titled "The Sattleberg Tank" in the Museum). On this occasion, a tank assisting the infantry was engaged and disabled at a range of less than 50 metres, by a Japanese 37 mm gun. Later a 75 mm gun, anti-tank mines and grenades were used against the tank. Although it was hit more than 50 times, the crew continued to fight the vehicle until its ammunition had been expended. They then managed to escape from the vehicle and return to it the following day. It was subsequently repaired and put back into action one day later.
During the South Western Pacific Campaign, the Matilda served with distinction as part of the 1st Army Tank Battalion (The Royal New South Wales Lancers) and 1st Armoured Regiment (The Royal New South Wales Lancers). With their war service completed, Matilda's were relegated to a training role and were in service with the 1st RNSWL until 1955, when they were finally retired.
The vehicle soon to be on display at the Museum is fitted with a 3 in. howitzer in place of the 2 pounder gun. The turret was officially dedicated as a War Memorial on the Sunday nearest to Cambrai Day in November 1969 with Anglican, Catholic, and OPD Clergy officiating. Prior to the service the Regiment had a march through Parramatta. As a Memorial it cannot be supplanted or destroyed and must be kept for its original purpose. The bronze plaque notes that it was a gift of the NSW Branch of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Association.
Originally, the turret was obtained from the Australian Government for the purpose of establishing it as a memorial in the park at the junction of Parramatta Road and Station Street in Ashfield. The choice of location was because Ashfield was the home of the 2nd Armoured Car Regiment, 2nd AIF later it became 2nd Army Tank Battalion AIF. A deed was drawn up and signed. by both the Association and Ashfield Council and the RAAC Association began to collect funds to build the plinth on which the tank would be placed. Funds were very slow in coming in and the delay gave local residents the opportunity to organise objections to it, finally in desperation the RAAC Association offered the tank to the Regiment specifically as a memorial. Prior to all this the tank had been on Green Hills Firing Range (near Liverpool NSW) as an intended target when it arrived at the Barracks (and for years) it had a large target marker painted on each side of the hull - which mystified a lot of people.
In 1998 one of our Museum members, Phil Hastings, who owns a Centurion tank told Dave of a Matilda that was at Moss Vale. He had known about it for twenty years and was going to restore it himself; but the Centurion was taking up too much time. A group lead by Dave drove up to have a look at the tilly to see what spare parts they could buy.
They found the hull was complete with engines. It was covered with moss, full of water and leaves. It was surrounded by trees and had not moved for over forty years. After draining out the water and cleaning foliage off the hull Dave looked for a number or name. After much work, he found the number "T29923" and the some other faded letters.
A few months later, Dave spoke to Les Betts about the old tank and mentioned the number. Les was dumbfounded. It was the same number as his old tilly "Ace" that he trained in at Greta and crewed in action overseas. Les thought "Ace" had been dumped in the sea like so many of our tanks after hostilities ceased.
Further visits to Moss Vale confirmed there was an ace of spades on the hull. Since this is the only vehicle we have ever found that served with the Regiment in action, the Museum Committee has decided to restore it to its former glory. This would be a fitting memorial to our comrades who paid the supreme sacrifice.
Since then we have been working to restore ACE. The video report from Channel 9 in March 2015 tells the story; the video of the Matilda moving under its own power in December 2015, takes us to the next level.
Information on the Matilda Tank comes from the reference Australian Armour by Major General Hopkins, and the recollections of Major Norman Bent (Retired). Major Bent was OC B Squadron 1 AR (RNSWL) at Balikpappan, and President of the RAAC Association at the time the exhibit was established as a memorial at Lancer Barracks.
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Linden House, Lancer Barracks, 2 Smith Street, PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA