destroyed Matilda in North Africa
For me, the problem with North African dioramas is the lack of backdrop and general settings; no surprise, it’s a flat and empty desert for endless miles. So how to make a diorama interesting? There are many mountainous features in the North African deserts, but many (most?) battles during WW2 took place in the flat and baren regions. There are mountains and other considerations, and battles did take place there, but I could not make sense out of the research photos in a diorama setting. After perusing photos of some of the famous battles, I came across a dramatic photo of an English vehicle (not a tank) that had ended up in a bomb crater, crumpled and smoking. I used that for the inspiration to try and give life to an otherwise “flat and boring” environment. I decided that it would be the photography that could make this diorama come alive, and I needed smoke. So I cut a hole in the bottom of the English Matilda and fashioned a hose hook-up to a culinary smoke gun, and viola. Photoshop is good, but whenit comes to smoke, there’s nothing like the real thing. Caveat: in reality, the smoke would be black from carbons like rubber and diesel, not white. I didn’t want to burn toxins to get the black smoke since I use the device for cooking once in a while. I was OK with the results.
I imagined this battle taking place in Libya, with Rommel’s forces finally utilizing a weapon that could neutralize the heavy British tank Matilda and other AFVs from afar. This weapon was Germany’s vaunted Flak 88. After this successful attack, the Italian and German tank crews and DAK infantry move in to clean-up the mess. Advancing upon the Matilda, the DAK soldiers encounter a British tanker pleading for help. Many WW2 tanks, including the Matilda, had an escape hatch on the floor, and apparently this soldier escaped via this hatch. But it looks like hiswounds are dire and the Wehrmacht are already leaving the battleground. Survival for the tanker is doubtful…and an extra burden. They leave him, the cost of war.
In 1940, Britain’s 8th army chased the Italian army out of Egypt and into Libya and the Matilda was their spearhead tank. Once the Flak 88 came to the field (originally an anti-aircraft gun now retrofitted as an anti-tank gun) the Matilda was no longer invincible on the battlefield. The Flak 88 slowed the Allies’ advance into Africa and Italy, but thankfully, it didn’t halt their advance. Either way, it was a devastating weapon and was eventually utilized on all of Germany’s fronts. As it turned out, the weapon wasn’t a game changer, only a deterrent. But I don’t wish to downplay this weapon’s devastation, and since I didn’t display it’s true force in this diorama (since displaying it’s true force would obviate a diorama depicting a tank being hit multiple times by one) I found this harrowing description of a Flak 88’s impact on a British tank. (Author Cyril Joly in Take These Men.)
“As I spoke I saw the flame and smoke from the German’s gun. In the next instant, all was chaos. There was a clang of steel on the turret front and a blast of flame and smoke from the same place, which seemed to spread into the turret, where it was followed by another dull explosion. The shockwave, which followed, swept past me, singed my hands and face and left me breathless and dazed. I looked down into the turret. It was a shambles. The shot had penetrated the front just in front of King, the loader. It had twisted the machine-gun out of its mounting. It, or a jagged piece of the torn turret, had then hit the round that King had been holding ready – had set it on fire. The explosion had wrecked the wireless, tore King’s head and shoulders from the rest of his body and started a fire among the machine-gun boxes stowed on the floor.”