Matilda tank brought back to life for 70th anniversary of Battle of Balikpapan

A World War Two Matilda tank has been rescued and renovated back to its original condition by a group of six veteran soldiers in Australia.

There were originally 50 of the tanks made for the Australian military, now only three remain in existence and there is no one left alive who produced the tanks in the 1940s.

The group of veterans just had a workshop manual to work to and complete the renovation.

The renovation project has cost around AU$90,000 and taken almost 20 years to complete. The project has been sponsored by The New South Wales Lancers Memorial Museum.

The Matilda tank the group rescued is named Ace and was the first Australian tank to land on the shores of Balikpapan, Borneo as Allied forces tried to take the island from the Japanese. The battle took place in the last months of the war in July 1945.

Ace was found in 1997 by the museum steeped in water and a flourishing garden with plants and vegetation growing out of it. It was on the property of World War Two veteran Les Betts who lived in Moss Vale, New South Wales.

The volunteers began to investigate the tank and uncovered a rich array of World War Two items and memorabilia from the era. They found ration packs, tobacco, cigarette papers, chocolate and even a newspaper dated 1945.

The project has been quite dangerous with rusted metal and springs holding the tank together. It has been a painstakingly slow process since they haven’t always got it right the first time round, with even five to six attempts to ensure each part of the renovation is correct.

The group has always intended to have the tank back to working order by July 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of Battle of Balikpapan.

At one point during the project, the group had to move workshops and has since been continued under tarpaulin, in sheds and on public land.

All of the veteran volunteers are in their 60s and 70s, but their age has not stopped them from doing an amazing job, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Many of the men have been putting their own money and savings into the project, simply because they want to honour the men who fought during the war, and particularly those who lost their lives.

When they finally got the tank’s engine to work it was a milestone moment for the group of veterans. The tank will be on display at the Lancers Museum from July.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE