The Matilda Scorpion I was a mine-clearing device developed in the Middle East and that saw use in North Africa as well as being modified for use on the Valentine tank.
In 1941 Major A S J du Toit, a South Africa, came up with an idea for a mine clearing device. He was sent to Britain to develop it, and during 1942 produced four versions of the Baron mine-clearing device. This used flails, mounted on a rotor at the end of 10ft long arms, to whip the ground and detonate mines. By the end of 1942 the Baron IIIA was ready for production. This used two Bedford engines to power the device, and had a specially built operator's cabin in place of the normal turret.
Back in North Africa Du Toit's ideas had inspired Captain Norman Berry, RAOC, who had seen the original prototype in Pretoria. He attempted to keep tabs on progress on the type, but couldn't find out anything. In May 1942 he decided to produce his own version.
His efforts produced the Scorpion I. This used a similar rotor and flail, but was a much simpler machine. The arms were fixed, eliminating one source of complexity. It only needed a single 30hp Bedford engine to power the rotor, and had a simple operator's position on the right-side of the Matilda hull. This was simply a rectangular box mounted outside the tracks, where the operator could control the rotor and restart the engine.
A number of Matilda Scorpion I's were produced in North Africa, and thirty-two of them saw combat at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 (serving with the 42nd RTR and 44th RTR). They achieved enough success at El Alamein for Middle East Command to ask for permission to equip 500 tanks with the Scorpion. Permission was granted to convert 300, but it isn’t clear how many were completed, or how many of these were Matilda Scorpions.
No 1 Scorpion Regiment and two independent squadrons were formed to operate the type. A Squadron, No.1 Scorpion Regiment, used its Matilda Scorpion Is during the attack on the Mareth Line on 20 March 1943. This time they were less successful. B Squadron, No.1 Scorpion Regiment, used its Matildas at Wadi Akarit on 5 April. Soon after this the Matilda Scorpion I was replaced by the Grant Scorpion III.
In December 1942, just as the Baron Mk IIIA was undergoing trials, the design of the Scorpion I was submitted to the War Office. The simplicity of the design won out, and it was ordered in production as the Valentine Scorpion II.