Renault FT

The Renault FT, frequently referred to in post-World War I literature as the "FT-17" or "FT17", was a French light tank that was among the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history. The FT was the first production tank to have its armament within a fully rotating turret. The Renault FT's configuration – crew compartment at the front, engine compartment at the back, and main armament in a revolving turret – became and remains the standard tank layout. Over 3,000 Renault FT tanks were manufactured by French industry, most of them during the year 1918. Another 950 of an almost identical licensed copy of the FT (the M1917) were made in the United States, but not in time to enter combat. Armoured warfare historian Steven Zaloga has called the Renault FT "the world's first modern tank."

Renault FT
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Delaunay-Belleville
Origin France
Country Name Origin Year
France 1917
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Belgium View
Brazil View
China View
Czechoslovakia View
Estonia View
Finland View
France 1917 1949 View
Germany View
Iran (Persia) View
Italy View
Japan View
Japan View
Lithuania View
Netherlands View
Philippines View
Poland View
Romania View
Russia (USSR) View
Spain View
Sweden View
Switzerland View
Turkey (Ottoman Empire) View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) View
United States of America View
Yugoslavia (Serbia) View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Delaunay-Belleville View
Somua View
Renault 3694 View

The FT was designed and produced by the Société des Automobiles Renault (Renault Automobile Company), one of France's major manufacturers of motor vehicles then and now.

It is thought possible that Louis Renault began working on the idea as early as 21 December 1915, after a visit from Colonel J.B.E. Estienne. Estienne had drawn up plans for a tracked armoured vehicle based on the Holt caterpillar tractor, and, with permission from General Joffre, approached Renault as a possible manufacturer. Renault declined, saying that his company was operating at full capacity producing war materiel and that he had no experience of tracked vehicles. Estienne took his plans to the Schneider company, where they became France's first operational tank, the Schneider CA.

At a later, chance meeting with Renault on 16 July 1916, Estienne asked him to reconsider, which he did. The speed with which the project then progressed to the mock-up stage has led to the theory that Renault had been working on the idea for some time.

Louis Renault himself conceived the new tank's overall design and set its basic specifications. He imposed a realistic limit to the FT's projected weight which could not exceed 7 tons. Louis Renault was unconvinced that a sufficient power-to-weight ratio could be achieved with the production engines available at the time to give sufficient mobility to the heavy tank types requested by the military. Renault's most talented industrial designer, Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier, generated the FT's detailed execution plans . Charles-Edmond Serre, a long time associate of Louis Renault, organized and supervised the new tank's mass production. The FT's tracks were kept automatically under tension to prevent derailments, while a rounded tail piece facilitated the crossing of trenches . Because the engine had been designed to function normally under any slant, very steep slopes could be negotiated by the Renault FT without loss of power. Effective internal ventilation was provided by the engine's radiator fan which drew its air through the front crew compartment of the tank and forced it out through the rear engine's compartment.

Renault's design was technically far more advanced than the other two French tanks at the time, namely the Schneider CA1 (1916) and the heavy Saint-Chamond (1917). Nevertheless Renault encountered some early difficulties in getting his proposal fully supported by the head of the French tank arm, Colonel (later General) Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne. After the first British use of heavy tanks on 15 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, the French military still pondered whether a large number of light tanks would be preferable to a smaller number of superheavy tanks (the later Char 2C). However on 27 November 1916, Estienne had sent to the French Commander in Chief a personal memorandum proposing the immediate adoption and mass manufacture of a light tank based on the specifications of the Renault prototype. After receiving two large government orders for the FT tank, one in April 1917 and the other in June 1917, Renault was at last able to proceed. However his design remained in competition with the superheavy Char 2C until the end of the war.

The prototype was refined during the second half of 1917, but the Renault FT remained plagued by radiator fan belt problems throughout the war. Only 84 were produced in 1917 but 2,697 were delivered to the French army before the Armistice.

The Renault FT was widely used by French forces in 1918 and by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France in the later stages of World War I.

The battlefield debut of the Renault FT occurred on 31 May 1918 east of the Forest of Retz, near Chaudun, between Soissons and Villers-Cotterets, during the Second Battle of the Marne. This engagement, with 30 FTs, successfully broke up a German advance, but in the absence of infantry support, the vehicles later withdrew. From then on, gradually increasing numbers of FTs were deployed, together with smaller numbers of the older Schneider CA1 and Saint-Chamond tanks. As the war had become a war of movement during the summer of 1918, the lighter FTs were often transported on heavy trucks and special trailers rather than by rail on flat cars. Estienne had initially proposed to overwhelm the enemy defences using a "swarm" of light tanks, a tactic that was eventually successfully implemented. Beginning in late 1917, the Entente allies were attempting to outproduce the Central Powers in all respects, including artillery, tanks, and chemical weapons. Consequently a goal was set of manufacturing 12,260 Renault FT tanks (including 4,440 of the US version) before the end of 1919.

After the end of World War I, Renault FTs were exported to many countries (Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and Yugoslavia). Renault FT tanks were used by most nations having armoured forces, generally as their prominent tank type. The tanks were used in many later conflicts, such as the Russian Civil War, Polish-Soviet War, Chinese Civil War, Rif War, Spanish Civil War, and Estonian War of Independence.

Renault FT tanks were also fielded in limited numbers during World War II, in Poland, Finland, France, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, although they were already obsolete. In 1940 the French Army still had eight battalions equipped with 63 FTs each and three independent companies with ten each, for a total organic strength of 534, all equipped with machine guns. These were put to use after most of the modern equipment was lost in earlier battles.

Many smaller units assembled after the start of World War II also used the Renault FT. This usage gave rise to the popular myth that the French had no modern equipment at all; in fact, they had more modern tanks than the Germans. The French suffered from tactical and strategic weaknesses rather than from equipment deficiencies. When the best French units were cut off by the German drive to the English Channel, the complete French materiel reserve was sent to the front as an expediency measure; this included 575 FTs. Earlier, 115 sections of FTs had been formed for airbase defence. The Wehrmacht captured 1,704 FTs. They used about a hundred for airfield defence and about 650 for patrolling occupied Europe. Some were used by the Germans in 1944 for street-fighting in Paris, but by this time they were hopelessly out of date. Vichy France used Renault FTs against Allied invasion forces during Operation Torch in Morocco and Algeria. The French tanks, however, were no match for the newly arrived American M4 Sherman and M3 Stuart tanks.

The FT was the ancestor of a long line of French tanks: the FT Kégresse, the NC1, the NC2, the Char D1, and the Char D2. The Italians produced the FIAT 3000, a moderately close copy of the FT, as their standard tank.

The Soviet Red Army captured fourteen burnt-out Renaults from White Russian forces and rebuilt them at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory in 1920. Nearly fifteen exact copies, called "Russki Renoe", were produced in 1920–1922, but they never used in battle because of many technical problems. In 1928–1931 the first completely Soviet-designed tank was the T-18, a derivative of the Renault with sprung suspension.

In all, the Renault FT was used by Afghanistan, Belgium, Brazil, the Republic of China, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, France, Nazi Germany, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Philippine Commonwealth, Poland, Romania, the Russian White movement, the Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Type Light tank
Place of origin France
Service history
In service 1917–1949
Used by Afghanistan
Belgium
Brazil
Republic of China
Commonwealth of the Philippines
Czechoslovakia
Estonia
Finland
France
Nazi Germany
Iran
Japan
Kingdom of Italy
Lithuania
Manchukuo
Netherlands
Poland
Romania
Russian White movement
Soviet Union
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Turkey
United Kingdom
United States
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Wars World War I
Russian Civil War
Polish-Soviet War
Chinese Civil War
Spanish Civil War
World War II
Franco-Thai War
Turkish War of Independence (by France)
1948 Arab–Israeli War (by Egypt)
Winter War (by Finland)
Production history
Designed 1916
Variants Char canon
Char mitrailleuse
FT 75 BS
Char signal
FT modifié 31
U.S. M1917
Russkiy Reno
Specifications
Weight 6.5 tonnes (6.4 long tons; 7.2short tons)
Length 5.00 m (16 ft 5 in)
Width 1.74 m (5 ft 9 in)
Height 2.14 m (7 ft 0 in)
Crew 2 (commander, driver)
Armor 8 to 22 mm (0.31 to 0.87 in)
Main
armament
Puteaux SA 1918 37mm gun or 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun
Engine Renault 4-cyl, 4.5 litre, thermo-siphon water-cooled . Gasoline (petrol) pump. Engine oil pump . Zenith preset carburetor. Magneto ignition.
Power/weight 5 hp/tonne
Transmission sliding gear; four speeds forward, one in reverse. One main clutch plus 2 subsidiary clutches ( one for each of the 2 tracks ) used for steering the tank.
Suspension vertical springs
Fuel capacity 95 litres (about 8 hours)
Operational
range
60 km (37 mi)

End notes