Tank Infantry Mark II A12, Matilda CDL (E1949.353)
Following the First World War, Commander de Thoren proposed to develop a searchlight tank at his own expense. His idea then was to light the defenders, although over time the aim was to dazzle the defenders, with increasingly complicated mechanical and tactical innovations.
The Canal Defence Light (CDL) was the British code name from 1940 (although later historians claimed that the name originated when Axis forces threatened the Suez Canal in 1942).
From around 1920, searchlights were fitted to Mark V Heavy Tanks, although in 1922 his proposals were formally rejected. In 1933, de Thoren teamed up with Marcel Mitzakis (a naturalized British citizen born in Greece, who would manage negotiations with the French), Major-General J.F.C. Fuller (“tactical adviser”), and the Duke of Westminster (financier) to form De Thoren Syndicate, which developed an armored searchlight. The French agreed to trials in December 1934, but complained that the lights were too weak and vulnerable, until trying a new system in 1936.
The British War Office rebuffed proposals until January 1937, after Fuller wrote to a new Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) (Cyril Deverell). Three systems were demonstrated on Salisbury Plain in January and February 1937. In March 1937, the War Office ordered all three sets for further tests, which occurred from June 1937 to January 1938.
In January 1938, the War Office ordered Vickers, in consultation with the Syndicate, to develop an armored searchlight turret for mounting on to one of the new Vickers medium tanks (A9 or Cruiser I; A10 or Cruiser II; or Infantry Tank Mark III or Valentine).
Delivery had been contracted for June 1939, but was delayed into 1940, when the War Office replaced the Valentine (see E1949.344) with the Matilda II (see E1949.349), which was larger. In June 1940 the War Office ordered 300 CDL turrets (including 250 from US suppliers). Most of the parts were manufactured by Vulcan Foundry’s Locomotive Works at Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, and the Southern Railway workshops at Ashford, Kent. The Ministry of Supply established an assembly and training site known as the CDL School at Lowther Castle, near Penrith, Cumbria. The Ministry of Supply allocated Matilda IIA tank hulls.
In June 1941, the personnel of 11th battalion, RTR, arrived at Lowther, followed by 50 Matilda II and Churchill tank hulls, by when the requirement rose from 250 to 300 CDLs.
In June 1942, the battalion left the CDL School and enshipped for Egypt with 58 CDLs, where it came under the command of 1st Tank Brigade. 11th RTR established a Middle East CDL School, where it trained 42nd Battalion, RTR, from December to January 1943. Meanwhile, at Lowther two tank battalions (49th Battalion, RTR, and 155th Battalions, RAC) had converted to Matilda CDLs; the third battalion (152nd Regiment, RAC) had received Churchill CDLs. By then, the preferred vehicle was the US M3 medium (Grant/Lee) tank, which was the only type to deploy to France in August 1944.
THIS VEHICLE: was delivered by Ruston & Hornsby in 1942. It was probably converted at Lowther in late 1942. During a visit to the Tank Museum in 1950s, a Mr. Deacon claimed to have served on this vehicle, and that it had been named “Dover” – alongside tanks named “Deal” and “Derne,” in his particular Troop of “C” Squadron, 49th RTR,. Apparently, the troop had chosen these names when it was stationed in Kent with Matilda II tanks, and retained these names when the battalion converted at Lowther. The Tank Museum painted this vehicle with the name and the crest of the town.
LABEL: In June 1940, the War Office ordered 300 armoured searchlight turrets for mounting on Matilda IIs in order to dazzle enemy defenders for attack by other tanks. The code name for this system was “Canal Defence Light.” This vehicle is a Matilda IIa* or Matilda IV, differentiated by a later type of twin-diesel engine by Leyland. It was delivered in 1942, and probably converted into a CDL later in 1942. It was painted by the museum with the name of a tank used by “C” Squadron, 49th RTR, which converted to CDLs at this time.
Bruce Newsome, Ph.D