Renault FT

The Renault FT was a French light tank which was one of the most revolutionary and influential tank constructions in history and whose basic structure is still used today.

Some years before the First World War, some officers of the armies in Europe started to develop armoured vehicles on caterpillar tracks. Gunther Burstyn, an Austro-Hungarian officer, was one of the first to start building a prototype, which he patented in 1911 under the name Burstyn Tank. At that time, however, neither the military leadership of Austria-Hungary nor of the German Reich showed any interest, so that the model, which was very progressive for that time, was never produced any further.



Model of a Burstyn tank from the 30s



A similar concept was used by the French artillery officer Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne, who also recognized the importance of tanks before the First World War and developed corresponding concepts. After the war broke out in Europe, Estienne first submitted a proposal for the construction of armoured vehicles to the head of the company Louis Renault of the same name. However, Renault rejected the proposal on the grounds that war material was already being produced and that the company had no experience in building tanks.

Afterwards Estienne tried it with the company Schneider. The company accepted his design based on the Holt crawler tractor and began developing the Schneider CA tank.



Schneider CA1



In the meantime, Renault observed the development at Schneider and decided in mid-1916 to develop its own tank. In addition, the Schneider CA1 model already showed many weaknesses. Thus the vehicle was very slow, could overcome only conditionally ditches and the technology was very disturbance-prone.

So Louis Renault set personally certain conditions to the company-owned tank:
- The total weight could not exceed 7 tons
- The chain had to be under constant tension in order not to unroll
- The chains were rounded at the front to make it easier to drive through ditches
- The crew had to be protected from the exhaust fumes

Under the direction of Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier, the construction of the first prototype began. It had a self-supporting hull and a spring-loaded crawler track with screws and leaf springs, which was mounted unprotected on the sides and rounded towards the front. The armouring consisted of 6 to 16 mm thick plates riveted together. On the hull the turret, which was to be turned by 360 degrees and was equipped with two hatches, was attached, so that the soldiers could climb in the emergency from the tank or could use their handguns from it. Since the turret was attached quite far in front, the weight was accordingly also top-heavy. That led to the fact that with the first journeys of the tanks often in the front in the mud buried and festfuhr or ditches could not drive through properly. This problem was solved by attaching a boom to the rear, which could be weighted as required.

The engine, gearbox and tank were protected in the rear part of the tank. The air for cooling the engine was extracted from the crew's room and the exhaust gases were discharged to the rear. The resulting lack of cooling belts could not be repaired until the end of the war.



Drawing of a Renault FT in the machine gun version


View of the driver and shooters with hatches open



After the British army used heavy tanks for the first time during the Battle of the Somme on 5 September 1916, it became clear that the concept was not yet fully developed. The leadership of the French army then began to consider whether many light tanks could replace a few heavy tanks. On 27 November 1916, Estienne sent an urgent request to the French commander-in-chief to promote series production of Renault type light tanks.

Thus, at the end of 1916, the first prototypes of the Renault FT were presented to the French military. Although the military showed interest, the production had to be postponed, because the production of artillery tractors had priority and was classified more important for the war.

Finally, in April and June 1917, 3.500 Renault FT tanks were ordered. Since this quantity had to be built by several companies, the tanks later differed slightly, especially in the design of the turret. Of the tanks ordered, a total of 3.177 were manufactured, 2.697 of them during the First World War.



A Renault FT tank near Saint Michel in France during the First World War


A parade of Renault FT tanks


A Renault FT of early production



After the USA declared war on the German Empire on 6 April 1917, the American Expeditionary Forces received 144 Renault FT tanks from French production, as the American army had almost no tanks of its own at that time.

3 companies in the USA received however the license for the building of such tanks which were classified as tanks M1917. At first 4.400 tanks were planned, but by October 1918 only a few could be built, so that they could no longer be used in the war. Of the 4.400 pieces planned, 952 were finally built.



American soldiers with their Renault FT tanks



The different variants:

  • FT Char mitrailleur: Equipped with a Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun
  • FT Char canon: Equipped with a Puteaux 37 mm short barrel gun
  • FT BS: Equipped with a 75 mm gun Storm gun variant
  • FT TSF: Guidance armoured vehicle equipped with a radio device Variant
  • Tank M1917: The Renault FT variant built in the USA
  • Fiat 3000: The variant built in Italy after the war
  • Russki Reno: The variant built in Russia after the war
  • Kō-gata Sensha: Renault FT tanks purchased by Japan
  • Armoured Draisine R: Renault FT tanks purchased by Poland and converted into railway trolleys
  • FT modifié 31: A 1931 to a 7,5 mm Reibel machine gun converted variant



Renault FT Char canon tank


Renault FT BS Tank


Renault FT TSF tank


Fiat 3000 Tank


Armoured Draisine R



After the First World War, the French army sold many of its Renault FT tanks to Poland, the Netherlands and Japan, among others. Some were also brought to the French colonies where they were assigned the task of securing them.

During the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, Poland began using most of its FT tanks. Since this war, in contrast to the First World War, remained a war of movement, it quickly became apparent that the tanks were too slow. The Polish army then had many tanks converted into armoured trolleys.

In the 30's France started to modernize about 1.580 of their Renault FT tanks and to exchange the armament for 7,5 mm Reibel machine guns. At the beginning of the Second World War and the invasion of the German Wehrmacht, France still had 2.700 FT tanks in various variants. However, only 534 of the fighting units were at the front, the rest were used for training or were stored in depots. Thus the Wehrmacht captured 1.704 of the FT tanks after the defeat of France. Approximately 650 were overhauled and served in units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS in the occupied territories for support and security tasks. About 100 tanks were handed over to the Luftwaffe and secured airfields. The remaining tanks served as spare part dispensers or the turret was used for defensive purposes.



Polish Renault FT tanks during the Battle of Warsaw 1920


A Japanese Renault FT tank 1932 during the occupation of Manchuria


Renault FT captured by Germany during the securing in Serbia


A destroyed Renault FT tank in Yugoslavia 1941




Technical data:

Designation: Renault FT Panzer
Country: France
Length: 8,05 meters
Width: 4,1 meters
5 meters with boom
Height: 2,14 meters
Weight: 6,5 tons (machine gun version)
6,7 tons (37 mm gun version)
7 tons (assault gun version and armoured guided vehicle)
Maximum speed: 8 km/h
Armour: 8 to 16 mm
Main armament: 1 x Hotchkiss M1914 Machine Gun
Other weapons: 1 x 37 mm Puteaux short barrel cannon
1 x 75 mm gun
Drive: Renault 4 cylinder engine with 39 HP (24 kW)
Range: 40 kilometers
Crew: 2 men






You can find the right literature here:


The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 1914-1940

The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 1914-1940 Hardcover – September 19, 2014

France, alongside Britain, represents the birthplace of a new weapon that will revolutionize the art of war: the armored tank. And even before the appearance of this new piece of armament, it was in France around the turn of the twentieth century that we see the appearance of the first armored and combat vehicles.

In encyclopedic form, without forgetting any of the principal one hundred autos (tanks and armored cars) and their 200 variants and derivatives (troop transport, bridge layers, anti-mine tanks, etc..), This book offers a panorama absolutely full of all the vehicles that have succeeded or surrounded the Great War until the beginning of World War II.

A detailed though concise text concise, this work offers precise tables presenting all the specifications of the primary vehicles. With abundant illustrations (rare period photographs, sumptuous color profiles) this book an essential reference for both specialists and amateurs.

Click here!



Renault FT & M1917 Light Tank (Photosniper)

Renault FT & M1917 Light Tank (Photosniper) Paperback – March 14, 2019

During its 25-year service, the Renault FT tank was used in many countries around the world: France, Italy, Poland, the United States, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Turkey, China, the Baltic countries, Soviet Russia, Japan, Romania, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia. It was in service during both world wars. The structural arrangement created by L. Renault with its transmission and drive wheels at the rear, combat compartment in the middle of the hull, and a movable turret, has become a classic construction solution for tanks and is still used nowadays. It was a base for new tanks manufactured in the United States, Italy, and the Soviet Union.

Click here!



Renault FT & M1917 (TopDrawings)

Renault FT & M1917 (TopDrawings) Paperback – February 6, 2018

The world’s first modern tank, a pioneering vehicle whose basic features can be found on today’s modern tanks. FT was an undeniable success. A large number of FTs was provided to most Western front units by 1918, and they were involved in all major offensives, successfully crossing over trenches as intended, but also driving through forests. Renault produced two variants of the FT, the machine-gun model, which was more common, and a short-barreled 37 mm Puteaux SA 18 gun. Those models were identified by their definitive Omnibus turret, multifaceted or rounded with bent metal plates. By December 1917 3100 FTs were produced with the Omnibus turret, in both types. The FT had some flaws of the first series, including the radiator fan belt and cooling system problems.

In 1919 a new redesigned version was proposed by Renault, including a more powerful engine, a long-barreled Puteaux gun and additional cases fitted in their tracks. It was successfully exported throughout the world. Some of them were immediately put into action, like the Finnish and Polish versions against the Soviets

Click here!



FT-17 / M1917 WWI Tanks (Walk Around, No. 67023)

FT-17 / M1917 WWI Tanks (Walk Around, No. 67023) Hardcover – January 1, 2011

Introduced in 1917, the Renault FT-17 and its US-built copy, the M1917, revolutionized tank design. The vehicle’s rotating turret, rear-engine, driver-forward design are characteristics of the most advanced tanks even today. This volume presents a careful study of the details and variations of this innovative vehicle, inside and out. Photographs reveal the intimacies of no fewer than 14 of the finest surviving examples of these machines, preserved on three different continents.

Click here!






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