Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
US army operating Renault FT-17 tanks
|Length:||5 m (with a tail)|
|Range:||65 km (road)|
|Armament:||37 mm gun or 7.92 mm machinegun|
|Maximum armour:||16 or 22 mm|
|Power plant:||gasoline, 39 hp (29 kW)|
|Crew:||2 (Commander, driver)|
The Renault FT-17 (Automitrailleuse à chenilles Renault FT modèle 1917) was the French light tank. It was probably the most revolutionary and influential tank design in history. FT-17 was the first tank with an armament in a fully rotating turret, and its configuration with the turret on top, engine in the back and the driver in front became the classic one, repeated in most tanks until today; indeed so obvious to modern eyes we can now only with difficulty understand its once-revolutionary nature.
Studies on the production of a new light tank were started in May 1916 by the famous car producer Louis Renault, for no apparent reason other than his wish to involve steel tycoon Paul Thomé in his business schemes. One of his most talented designers, Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier , was the actual creator of the modern concept. Though the project was far more advanced than the two first French tanks about to enter production, the Schneider CA1 and the heavy St. Chamond, Renault had at first great trouble getting it accepted. Even after the first British use of tanks, on 15 September 1916, when the French people called for the deployment of their own chars, the production of the light tank was almost cancelled in favour of that of a superheavy tank (the later Char 2C). Ironically it was again his own man, Ernst-Metzmaier, who had designed this behemoth when Renault was assisting another firm, FCM. However, with the undiminishing support of brigadier Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne (1860-1936), the "Father of the Tanks", and the successive French CinC's, who somehow felt that to have a lot of real light tanks was greatly preferable to not having a few imaginary superheavy ones, Renault was at last able to make reason prevail. However the fight against the encroaching Char 2C was to last until the very end of the war, 11 November 1918.
The prototype was slowly brought to perfection during the first half of 1917. Only 84 were produced in 1917 but 2697 were delivered before the end of the war. At least 3177 were produced in total - and so perhaps more: some estimates go as high as 4000 for all versions combined. However, the number of 3177 is the delivery total to the French Army; 514 were perhaps directly delivered to the USA Army and three to the Italian - giving a probable total production number of 3694. The tanks had at first a round cast turret; later either an octagonal turret or an even later rounded turret of bent steel plate (called Berliet turret after one of the many coproducing factories). The latter two could carry a 37 mm gun in place of the 7.92 mm machine gun. In the USA this tank was built on a licence as Six Ton Tank Model 1917 (950 built, 64 of which before the end of the war).
There is a most persistent myth about the name of the tank: "FT" is often supposed to have meant Faible Tonnage, or, even more fanciful: Franchisseur des Tranchées (trenchcrosser). In reality every Renault prototype was given a combination code; it just so happened it was the turn of "FT". Another mythical name is "FT-18" for the guntank: this designation has never been found in any contemporary source. Also in "FT 75 BS", the "BS" does not mean Batterie de Support (see below).
- FT-17 with 37 mm short-barreled gun Puteaux SA-18 - about 3/5 of tanks ordered, about 1/3 of tanks actually produced.
- FT-17 with "8 mm" Hotchkiss machinegun - about 2/5 of tanks ordered, about 3/5 of tanks produced.
- FT 75 BS - self propelled gun with 75 mm petard (short-barreled howitzer) Blockhaus Schneider - at least 39 tanks.
- TSF - command tank with a radio, TSF stands for télégraphie sans fil or "wireless" - a very apt name, as morse code was to be used only; no armament, 3-men crew, 300 ordered, at least 188 produced.
- FT-17 with 7.5 mm Reibel machinegun - modification before the Second World War started in 1931 on those 1580 chars mitrailleurs still in French stocks; all the metropolitan guntanks were scrapped to build utility vehicles on their chassis.
- Six Ton Tank Model 1917 - USA-built copy, 950 built, 374 of which guntanks, 50 radiotanks; in WWII delivered to Canada and the UK as training vehicles.
The tank was widely used by the French and the Americans (whom, as said, were lent 514) in the battles of the World War I since 31 May 1918. It was the most successful tank design of the war, cheap and well-suited for mass production. Indeed, the very production was made a weapon in itself: a goal was set of 12,260 to be produced (4440 of which in the USA) before the end of 1919. This prospect drove the German High Command to the desperate decision to launch the massive all-or-nothing offensives in the spring of 1918, which in turn weakened their army so that it collapsed in the summer.
After the war, they were exported to many countries (Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Rumenia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Finland and Japan). As a result, FT-17 tanks were used by most nations having armoured forces, invariably as their first tank type, including the USA. They took part in many later conflicts, like in Russian Civil War, Polish-Soviet War, Chinese Civil War and Spanish Civil War. FT-17 tanks were also used in the Second World War, among others in Poland and France, although they were completely obsolete by then. In 1940 the French army still had 8 batallions equipped with 63 FT-17 each, for a total organic strength of 504, all with machine guns. This has given rise to the popular myth that the French had no modern equipment at all; in fact they had more modern tanks than the Germans. When the German drive to The Channel cut off the best French units, as an expediency measure the complete French materiel reserve was sent to the front; this included 575 FT-17's. Earlier 115 sections of FT-17 had been formed for airbase-defense. The Wehrmacht captured 1704 FT-17's. A hundred were again used for airfield defense, about 650 for patrolling occupied Europe.
The FT-17 was the ancestor of a long line of French tanks: the FT Kegresse, the NC1, the NC2, the Char D1 and the Char D2. The Italians produced as their standard tank the FIAT 3000, a moderately close copy of the FT-17. The Red Army captured some "Renos" and copied them exactly; when Stalin began the arms race of the Thirties, the first tank to be taken into mass production was the T-18, still not very different from its French ancestor.
|World War I Tanks|
|Mark I - Mark II - Mark III - Mark IV - Mark V series - Medium Mk A Whippet - Medium Mark B - Medium Mark C - FT-17 - St. Chamond - Schneider CA1 - Char 2C - A7V|
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