The British Tanks That Helped Russia

When the Soviet Union was invaded during Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the Russian forces suffered heavy losses in men, material and tanks. Great Britain now no longer stood alone and found an Ally in Russia, so a move was made to supply the Soviet Union with Tanks not just as a symbol of their Alliance but for the practical reason that they were needed.

Twenty-eight-ton Valentine tanks bound for Russia being loaded on railway flat beds at the Angus s
Shops, Montreal (NAC)

The majority of the tanks that were sent to Russia in 1941 and 1942 were Matilda II and Valentine tanks. The Matilda had seen action in France in 1940 and then in the Western Desert. It’s thick armour stood by well against many German tank guns, but not against the 88mm.

Knocked out Valentine Tank in Russia, being examined by Wehrmacht soldiers.

The Valentine was a smaller tank, but with good armour and more than 2600 were sent to Russia from Britain and also Canada. However, it had a small turret which meant only the gun crew could be there and there was no room for a tank commander. Russian troops liked the Valentine because it was low slung, but were not keen on the 2-pounder gun versions as it was an outdated weapon by 1942, and preferred the later up-gunned 6-pounder versions.

Destroyed Valentine Mk II tank photographed somewhere on Eastern Front 1942-1945. (Phil DeFer on Flickr)

The Matilda II was used from 1942 by the Soviets and more 1,000 of them were delivered by Artic Convoys. However, their slow speed, poor main weapon and the way snow and mud clogged the tracks made them unpopular with Russian tank crews and they pretty much disappeared from the battlefield on the Eastern Front by 1943.

German soldiers posing sitting at Soviet Matilda II tank (Broń Pancerna on Flickr)

The thousands of British tanks supplied to Russia in 1941-42 arrived at a vital time and significantly helped a tank force depleted in numbers by the fortunes of war on the Eastern Front. However, they were outdated and under-gunned and their actual worth fighting the more advanced German Panzer forces was arguably limited.

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