Austarmycrest.gif (8966 bytes)Australian Military Vehicles Research

A Quick guide to Australian Matilda tank markings during WWII

This article is intended to give modellers a simple but comprehensive guide to the range of markings seen on the Australian Matilda tanks that saw action in the South-West Pacific area of operations during the Second World War. Matildas in Australian service carried a range of markings based on the contemporary UK vehicle marking system and locally developed markings. These were:

1. Formation signs
2. Arm-of-Service signs
3. Squadron insignia
4. War Department (T) numbers
5. Vehicle names
6. Embarkation markings
7. Bridging classification marking
8. Fording warnings
9. Miscellaneous markings

(Note on terminology: Aust = Australian; Armd = Armoured; Regt = Regiment; Bde = Brigade; Bn = Battalion; Recce = Reconnaissance; Tk = Tank)

1. Formation signs

As the Australian Army closely followed British military doctrine, military vehicles were each painted with two formation signs - one on the front, one on the rear - denoting the parent formation to which the vehicle belonged. In this case, the Australian units that operated the Matilda tank in active service belonged to the 4th Aust Armd Bde, whose formation sign was a white palm tree and crocodile over boomerang, on a black square. According to official orders regarding markings, all military vehicles (including AFVs) bar jeeps carried 8 x 8ins square formation signs.

On Australian Matilda tanks, this formation sign was normally carried on left-hand side (when looking forward from the tank) of the vertical glacis plate in front of the driver, between the periscope bulge and the side of the upper hull. Generally an identical formation sign would also be found on the upper rear of the hull, between the mounts for the external fuel tank, but closer to the left-hand mount (when looking from the vehicle).

2. Arm-of-Service (AoS) sign
The purpose of the Arm-of-Service (AoS) sign was to identify a regiment and its type (armoured, infantry, artillery etc) within its parent formation. As with the formation signs, generally two AoS signs were carried on the front and rear of the vehicle. On Australian Matilda tanks, this AoS sign was normally carried on the periscope bulge in front of the driver. An identical AoS sign would also be found on the upper rear of the hull, between the mounts for the external fuel tank, next to the formation sign. The exception to the latter rear placement was found on the Matilda "Frog" flamethrower tanks of the 2/1st Aust Armd Bde Recce Sqn, which carried the AoS sign on the vertical "number plate" on the right-rear mudguard

Two different styles of AoS sign could be seen on Australian Matildas:

- the "early" style, which closely followed the UK vehicle marking system, was seen on the tanks of the 1st Aust Army Tk Bn. This consisted of a white "51" on a red square.


- the "late" style, which was of a locally developed system, consisted of a "fraction" sign:

White "2-4" over "52" for the 2/4 Aust Armd Regt
White "2-9" over "52" for the 2/9th Aust Armd Regt
White "1" over "52" for the 1st Aust Armd Regt
White "2-1" over "214" for the 2/1st Aust Arm Bde Recce Sqn

Officially the "late" style markings were required to be painted onto a square green patch of paint. It may be, however, that the white AoS number was sometimes painted directly onto vehicle base colour scheme.

3. Squadron insignia
According to the UK vehicle marking system, each tank squadron (Sqn) within a regiment was identified by a specific geometric shape - "A" Sqn used a triangle, "B" Sqn a square, "C" Sqn a circle, and Regimental HQ (RHQ) used a diamond. These were generally displayed on two points on the turret (each side), and usually a third as well (on the turret rear). An Australian addition to the UK system was the upside-down triangle marking, which was for an Armoured Brigade Recce Sqn, who in this case operated specialist tank-mounted equipment such as the Matilda "Frog" flamethrowers and dozers. Each regiment had its own specific colour for its Sqn symbols:

1st Aust Army Tk Bn - Red
2/4th Aust Armd Regt - Yellow
2/9th Aust Armd Regt - Blue
1st Aust Armd Regt - Red
2/1st Aust Armd Bde Recce Sqn - White

1st Aust Army Tk Bn - Red
2/4th Aust Armd Regt - Yellow
2/9th Aust Armd Regt - Blue
1st Aust Armd Regt - Red
2/1st Aust Armd Bde Recce Sqn - White

As per the UK practice, a white 6ins tall number was painted inside the Sqn geometric symbol to indicate the Troop to which the vehicle belonged.

4. Vehicle namesAs per UK practice, each vehicle was given a name starting with the same letter as the squadron to which the tank belonged for example, "Ace" of "A" Sqn, 1st Aust Army Tk Bn, "Brassiere" of B Sqn, 2/4th Aust Armd Regt, and "Carleton" of "C" Sqn of 2/9th Aust Armd Regt. These were generally painted in white on the sloping upper hull side (on both sides), but a number of 2/9th Armd Regt vehicles moved it to either the glacis plate or on the hull side underneath the fuel filler covers after extra track links were welded to the hull sides. For the Matildas of the 2/1st Aust Arm Bde Recce Sqn, names were painted on the hull side underneath the fuel filler covers.

5. War Department (T) numbersThe War Department (WD) number was the vehicle's identifying registration number (in Australian practice, the leading "T" in the registration number was removed). The WD number was generally painted in 3ins tall digits towards the top of the vertical hull side armour, above the space between the second and third mud chute slots, on both sides.

An exception to this was the Matildas of the 2/1st Aust Arm Bde Recce Sqn, the WD numbers were painted in white on the sloping upper hull side (on both sides) in large digits (approx 5ins tall (full scale). Another exception could be found on some of the Matildas of the 1st Aust Army Tk Bn, where the WD number was painted in white on a black rectangle on the front and rear of the tank.

6. Embarkation markingsThe purpose of the embarkation marking was to ease the loading of equipment onto shipping. It followed UK practice of three coloured bars and the unit order of battle serial number (generally 5 digit), the last two digits of which being represented by the colours of the three bars in the embarkation marking (the upper and lower bar colours being indicated by the second-last digit, the middle bar colour by the last digit).

The unit order of battle serial numbers for the Australian Matilda units were as follows:

- 1st Aust Army Tk Bn may be 45862
- 2/4th Aust Armd Regt - 45090
- 2/9th Aust Armd Regt number not known, although bars can be seen in place
- 1st Aust Armd Regt - 45862
- 2/1st Aust Armd Bde Recce Sqn - 49320

The bars were each 8ins x 2ins (with each of the three separated by a small gap) in full size, with the serial number generally painted in tiny white digits [2 inches tall, full scale] above or next to the bars.

Thanks to the help of Mike Starmer, the UK AFV colour whiz, a good match for these colours can be given as:

1 RED, BRIGHT = BS 37 Signal Red = Humbrol 174

2 BLUE, GS = BS 4 Azure Blue = Humbrol 25

3 YELLOW (amn) = BS 56 Golden Yellow (for markings) = Humbrol 69. The colour

of all HE shells was BS 58 Light Buff = Humbrol 7

4 GREEN, LIGHT = BS 18 Grass Green = Humbrol 80 or 131

5 GREY (Amn) = BS 32 Dark Battleship Grey = Humbrol 5

6 BUFF GS = (Choice of 3 shades!) BS 59 Middle Buff = Humbrol 94 apprx.

7 RED, OXIDE OF IRON = BS 46 Red Oxide = Humbrol 133.

8 SERVICE COLOUR = BS 23 Middle Bronze Green = Humbrol 117 but slightly lighter.

9 WHITE LEAD = Any matt or gloss white or Humbrol 196.

0 BROWN, DARK = BS 12 Dark Brown = Humbrol 160 but slightly lighter.

So, for example, as the embarkation code for the 2/4th Aust Armd Regt on Bougainville was "45090", the colours of the bars on a 2/4th Aust Armd Regt Matilda were white-brown-white.

7. Bridging classification markingThis marking showed the classification to which the vehicle belonged, indicating what bridges the vehicle could cross. This sign consisted of a solid yellow circle, approx 8in diameter, within which a black number was painted (the number "25" is often seen on Australian Matildas). This marking does not appear to have been painted on all Matildas.

8. Fording warnings
The fording markings were intended to show the safe depths of water to which the vehicle could ford. These markings consisted of two red horizontal lines (approx 1.5in thick) painted on the vertical hull sides, one line approximately level with the top of the mud chute slots, the second line a few inches higher. These lines were generally accompanied by the legends "Fording Height", "Flaps open" (lower line), "Flaps closed" (upper line), in white letters approx 2ins tall, full scale.

These fording markings were usually, but not always, carried it would appear to be rare for a vehicle to be missing these markings.

9. Miscellaneous markings
- LST embarkation number - this appears on 2/9th and 1st Armd Regt vehicles that participated in the amphibious landing of Operations Oboe 1, 2 and 6 during mid 1945. The markings were applied with waterproof crayon.

- on at least a number of 1 Aust Army Tk Bn tanks, a small picture was painted corresponding to the vehicle name that is, "Ace" had a playing card, "Apache" had the head of an Native American chief wearing a war bonnet, "Ale" had a beer mug, "Crocodile" had a crocodile, and so on.

- sometime between the end of March and mid April 1945, a large-diameter white ring was painted on the turret roof of at least a number of 2/4th Aust Armd Regt Matildas, apparently intended as an air-recognition marking for RNZAF Corsairs operating over Bougainville.

- Australian Military Forces Standing Orders for Movements within Australia and its Territories 1942
- lots of AWM photographs
Thanks to Shane Lovell and Chris Evenden for their continuing encouragement and assistance.
- Photos reproduced with kind permission of the Australian War Memorial

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