Tobruk Matilda markings question

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Chris C, Apr 19, 2020.

  1. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    I only skimmed through the period just before Op CRUSADER.

    There are detailed instructions on what markings to paint onto AFVs, and where, in respect of the "crusader stripes" and the arrangement of pennant flying. Instructions came from the very top.

    As regards other markings that are of a more permanent nature, there is nothing written in the period l skimmed. But l know such exists somewhere as, over the years, l've seen documents detailing such. One such sticks in mind as it was an instruction how to paint up the "Caunter scheme". It sticks in my mind because the colors it specifies are not the ones that the "internet experts" claim. ;)
  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    But nothing about the large numbers, from what we can tell being "local" markings? OK.

    I worry that I might be one of those "Internet experts" as I have been a little strident at times (although personally quite obscure) but... I have actually seem period colour chips of the Caunter colours in the Canadian archives, so I wonder what exactly you mean. :)
  3. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Numbering as proven by photographic evidence is known 2, 4, 8, 9 and 14
    Obviously there were two different patterns
    M1.png M2.png
    unfortunately obscured – is this a „8“ or also a „9“?

    found also something similar for Bir Hacheim:
    Mat Bir 1.jpg Mat Bir 3.png
    Chris C likes this.
  4. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    I think the second of the two at Bir Hachim, and possibly both, are in German camouflage so are tanks captured and repurposed by the Germans.
  5. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    No. Nothing about the large numbers. That suggests to me that they were of a more permanent nature and/or an unofficial 4RTR only addition.

    I am not interested in the markings per se. I have no interest in colors, camouflage patterns or even numbers or names painted on tanks other than where a picture may help to place the historical time/location.

    Thus, l have no gripe with the "internet experts" l mentionned.

    My comment was just an aside based upon a brief chuckle l had at one moment several years ago. I had been reading something online which included an argument between 3 or 4 individuals over what were the 3 colors that made up the Caunter scheme. A few minutes later my attention was on reading through a WD, an Australian one l think, and there was an Admin Instruction on painting up vehicles in the Caunter scheme. The colors specified were different to what the "experts" had been proclaiming. Queue brief chuckle.

    I suspect there was more than one single coloring scheme in existance. There is probably no single answer that must be applied in all circumstances.

    Back to the big numbers on 4RTR circa Op CRUSADER.

    Do they appear on tanks in other battalions/regiments?
    Do they appear on tanks, 4RTR, during any other timeframe(s)?

    Answers to those questions may provide an understanding of how widespread was their use and purpose.

    Numbers evident only up to 15 suggest an identifier of the troops.
    Numbers found in different locations may suggest a different time period.
    Chris C likes this.
  6. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    It's possible that there are two entirely separate sets of numbers here. A British set and a German set added after they had been repainted and for an entirely different purpose
  7. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Beutepanzer without large „IFF“ crosses of some kind? That is a rare peculiarity then
  8. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    I thought it was obvious that there was 4 different sets of numbers being shown in this thread and the one linked. Where two of the sets may be reflections of the same concept but applied differently by different units or different time frame.
    1) Germans numbering wrecked tanks after battle to avoid double counting their winnings
    2) Germans numbering captured tanks that they have put into use. Numbering concept similar (turret tactical numbers) to numbering of their own tanks.
    3) and 4) British use of big numbers where one option gas them on the rear of the track guards the other has it higher up and midway along the side.
    Owen likes this.
  9. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    You raise an interesting point. The other possibility is some regimental-specific camouflage scheme during the period (in 1942, I think) when higher command gave greater leeway to the regiments.
  10. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Going off at a complete tangent for a moment, the WDs regarding the markings to be painted prior to Op CRUSADER note that this instruction also applied to the captured AFVs being used by the Polish Brigade.

    Now, l know many like their peculiarities of history. Most are unaware of Polish effort in the desert, even less that they were part of the Tobruk siege and Op CRUSADER breakout. How about the peculiarity of writing about or modelling a German or Italian tank in Polish Op CRUSADER markings?
  11. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Actually there appears to be more than two British options as at least one photo has it on the trackguards and the turret
  12. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Damn language barrier: I meant the Number "2" is placed on different spots on the hulls ;)

    The ones labelled for Bir Hacheim seems to have similar camouflage but differ entirely in pattern and location of numbering
    The origins of no 10 remains a mystery at the moment. Would like to call it "Schroedingers tank" the moment it may be a british one but also a german one, too
    It´s at least a bit unusual for a I Pz Kpfw Mk II 748 (e) for being a) without Balkenkreuze and b) the usual numbering for German tanks was of the 1-2-3 system ( 1. Panzer/2. platoon/3. company)
    it remains interesting..
    Mat Art.jpg
  13. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    The 3 digit system identified each tank individually. But was not universal. RHQ tanks sometimes were only 2 digits, eg. R1.

    More importantly adhoc units often had a simple number count such as the pictures in this thread.

    The point was to give tactical awareness to commanders as to who was where. So, commander peers through the dust and sees 421 and instantly knows to call out for the commander of 2 platoon in 4 company. If you have a single adhoc collection of captured tanks, a simple 1-x will suffice.

    I suspect the 4RTR use of big numbers was for a similar purpose albeit less refined and less definitive.
  14. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    The following appears in Volume 2 of Warpaint: Colours and Markings of British Army Vehicles 1903-2003 by Dick Taylor. Pages 135 to 142 deal with the following subheading " Non-Standard (Two-Digit) Callsign Systems":

    A number of photographs are included, some of Matildas already seen here, a Valentine with a large 8 on the turret and a pre-war light Tank from 1RTR in Egypt with a 14 painted on the turret.
    Chris C likes this.
  15. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    This is the website for 4th and 7th RTR, looking at the period 1941-1942 with an interesting selection of pictures.
    One is of the CO of the Fourth, Lt Col Walter O’Carroll DSO, leaning against a Matilda with a large two digit hull number (11?14?) which seems to support Taylor's assertion that the 4 RTR numbers went up from single digits to double digits.

    1941 – 1942
  16. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member


    I suggest it is a variation of the system that 3RTR used in France. There they put inside the squadron identifier (triangle, square or circle) the troop number or the letters HQ. An armoured battalion such as 3RTR had numbers up to 12 given 12 troops to a battalion - 1-4 in triangles, 5-8 in squares and 9-12 in circles. An army tank battalion such as 4RTR would go to 15.

    Note that the 3RTR was not a standard marking system; 2RTR and 5RTR didn't do it despite being in the same brigade.
    ltdan likes this.
  17. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    There is an example of that system on a Crusader in N Africa - see the fifth photo on the page
  18. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    according OoB 15.PzDiv of May 1942
    KG Kiehl - 12 Stuart,
    KG Hecker - 3 Crusader II
    PzPiBn 33 reported the last (barely) operational Matilda II in November 1941

    Hence the next batch of the then „Infanterie Panzerkampfwagen Mk.II 748(e)“ came from Gazala.
    Would assume the no.10 tank is depicted shortly after capture.

    Then the remarkably elaborate camouflage should be of british origin, same assumedly for the tactical number
    Chris C likes this.
  19. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    There is actually nothing to link the cammo to the number other than that the latter would have to have been added after the former but not necessarily by the same people.This would suggest that it was not part of the 'Tobruk scheme'.
  20. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Oh, really?o_O

    ...initial question was:
    does anyone know the purpose of the large numbers that were put on these tanks?

    So far we know for sure the numbers in question were (most assumedly) applied to 4/7RTR tanks in preparation for the Tobruk breakout
    The purpose is still unknown
    So we´re looking for any corellating hints, like other british tanks with similar markings (these two tanks are prime examples ) - and why did they received them....
    BTW: I dare to doubt the new owners did nothing better than applying a tactical number instead of any IFF markings. But what do I know....

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