I start with the simple changes needed to the upper hull, which I’ll be doing before I glue the upper hull piece to the sides and rear. On the front, the left-hand mounting hole for the headlight needs to be filled and sanded flat.
On the rear, the exhaust stub on the right-hand side needs to be cut off and sanded flat and the right-hand cut-out in the rear hull should be filled.
Neither is particularly difficult and this doesn’t take long. I also add a little filler on the inside of the curved driver’s access hatch because there are some gaps there.
Then, the upper hull is joined to the rear, sides and base.
Now, I can start building the rear skid. This is what I’m aiming for.
By referring to several photographs, I am able to work out the overall dimensions of the skid. By my calculation, at 1/76 scale the skid should be 12mm wide, 9mm deep, should project 10mm beyond the rear of the upper hull and the angle of the top and bottom surfaces of the skid should be at a slightly steeper angel than the rear hull deck. Something like the sketch below – when I’m building something completely new, even something as simple as this tail skid, I find it helpful to start with a drawing of some sort. The overall length of the skid side plates and the angle of their front edges won’t be known until I see how it’s going to fit to the rear hull, so I’ll make them oversize and cut them down as required to fit. As long as the rear edge of the completed skid ends up projecting around 10mm from the rear edge of the upper hull and at a suitable angle, I think it should look OK.
I then build the basic structure out of pieces thin plastic card. The curved section is created by wrapping a strip of plastic card round a circular pen of the correct diameter, then placing this in very hot water. When it’s cool, it retains the curve. Here’s the finished skid, trimmed and ready to fit. You’ll note that, to get the correct angle, the front edges of the skid are actually vertical, not angled as I thought they would be.
I then add a couple of internal stiffening plates which can be seen on the original and mount the skid on the rear hull. I also try the re-routed exhaust in place, and it fits fairly well. I won’t fix it in place yet to make painting easier. The exhaust on the opposite side will emerge from under the hull and enter the opposite side of the skid.
I add the last few bits and pieces to the hull, and it’s complete.
I begin by attaching the Vickers mantlet from the IBG Cruiser Mk. I to the Airfix mantlet. I re-shape the Airfix mantlet to a more rounded shape and the new Vickers gun fits well. I also use the 2-Pdr. barrel from the IBG kit because it’s better detailed than the Airfix version.
I then assemble the turret and add the mantlet. Fit is pretty good with only a dab of filler needed at the bottom corners of the mantlet cover.
I then complete the turret with the minor addition of a spotlight on the commander’s cupola.
And with that, construction of the BEF Matilda II Mk. I is complete apart from the exhaust, some final sanding of filled areas and the addition of a couple of rectangular plates on the rear hull to cover the location points for the long range fuel tank which wasn’t used on BEF tanks. That really wasn’t very difficult at all, was it?
All the tanks of the BEF were painted in what was then the standard British tank scheme – a base of Khaki Green G3 overlaid with a hard-edged disrupter camouflage pattern of Dark Green No.4. I begin by painting the interior of the tail skid (and on reflection, this would have been better painted before it was fitted!), the inside of the mud-chutes on the hull sides and the rollers and running gear in a darker shade of the base colour. Then, the whole thing gets several thinned coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform, my go-to colour for the green used on early-war British tanks. I then add the disruptive camo pattern using a mix of Vallejo Dark Grey and Olive Green.
I then add drybrushed highlights on to both camo colours and paint the tools and spare track links.
Then it’s time to consider the decals. Obviously, I don’t have appropriate decals for a tank of 7th RTR in 1940, so I’ll have to do what I can with decals in the spares box to make something that’s representative of a 7th RTR tank in 1940 rather than recreating a specific tank. I add the white recognition squares that were painted on all BEF tanks – these are applied on the hull front, sides and rear.
All 7th RTR tanks had names beginning with the letter “G” (because G is the 7th letter of the alphabet) painted on the hull rear and on one or both angled plates on either side of the hull front. I’m going for “Goat” which was one of the 7th RTR tanks in France. I add the War Office Census numbers (the letter “T” followed by four to seven digits) on the angled hull front. I mock these up as best I can, though the WD number is incorrect for this particular tank – I just didn’t have the appropriate tiny white numbers.
All early war British tanks also carried a standard civilian number plate – it’s on the right rear trackguard on the Matilda II. These were black with white lettering, and I just don’t have small enough numbers and letters to add here, so I just place some white numbers as a representation. I may come back to this if I find appropriately small white numbers and letters.
The tracks are the next problem. The tracks fitted to early Matilda IIs were a standard and distinctive Vickers design with each link comprising a single stamped piece with an open area consisting of two linked crosses, as you can see below.
The IBG tracks are the right overall shape, but they completely lack the open areas in the centre. I spend a lot of fruitless time thinking about how to modify the tracks, but in the end I settle for the simplest solution. I paint the tracks a fairly light grey, than I draw the on the open areas using a black market pen. I then overpaint with a thinned coat of dark grey. This is the result.
The darker areas don’t show up particularly well in this photo, but they are there and just about discernible on the model. Then, I finish off the tracks with some drybrushing in light gunmetal and then give them an overall thinned acrylic brown wash. Then, I paint and add the exhausts. The re-routed exhausts fit fairly well.
Then I give everything a coat of clear varnish before the last step – a wash of dark grey oil to bring out the shadows and make everything look a bit grubby. And that’s it done…
After Action Report
It’s been a very long time since I attempted a conversion, and I’m fairly happy with how this turned out. The plastic card suspension bogies and skid look all right (though I think that even thinner plastic card for the skid might have looked better) and the bits and pieces taken from the IBG Cruiser fit fairly well. My attempts to detail the tracks haven’t really worked at all, though these are still closer than the Airfix tracks. I like to have had more accurate markings, but I’m constrained by what I had in the spares box.
This old Airfix kit isn’t too bad in terms of detail and fit. I like the fact that you can build this as an original Matilda II rather than the Hedgehog variant if you choose, though of course doing that means that you will lack suitable decals whatever version you choose to build. And 1/76 decals are relatively hard to find compared to those for 1/72 kits…
Overall, this was a fun conversion and a simple build, and there just aren’t many small-scale kits of original Matilda IIs as used by the BEF, which makes the conversion feel useful.
Airfix Matilda Hedgehog (AO2335V) In-box Review and History – coming soon