If the French made the worst tank of the war, they also made the very best one, the Renault FT, a quite revolutionary vehicle which set the shape and pattern for tanks of the future, even until today. It came out of a desire to give the standard tanks like the Schneider CA 1 a light partner, designed to be more more useful than the heavy tanks for the exploitation of breakthroughs. It was a joint semi-private project between the maverick father of the French tank weapon, General Estienne, and the french firm of Renault. After many bureaucratic delays the first prototypes were tested in early 1917, and proved to be an immediate success. It included a number of very innovative features, including a manually moved turret.
The turret made the employment of its armament much more flexible and effective, and the whole vehicle was considerably more agile and easy to drive than its heavier partners, yet better protected. Although the short length of the vehicle, rectified somewhat with the addition of the special tail, often made trench-crossing difficult, the track assembly with its large front wheel gave the tank good ability to climb high obstacles. It also proved easily adapted to form numerous variations (besides the basic variants, equipped with either one MG or one 37mm cannon), including a Signals and Command tank (TSF), a 75mm gun tank and a Fascine Carrier.
Both the French and the US used the FT during WW1, and the British and Canadian forces employed some, in the capacity of Liason Vehicle: they removed the weaponry and left the hole open, to enable the passenger a good view forward.
The tank was produced long after the war, and was exported to more than ten countries, including Japan, Poland, Canada, Spain and Brazil. Clones or copies were made in Italy, USA and the Soviet Union, and it was used in practically all the armed conflicts of the Twenties and Thirties. It soldiered in WW2, where it was used by the French, Finns, Yugoslavs and others. Even the Germans themselves used captured FTs, in security roles
The Renault FT was first used in combat on the 31 May 1918, in support of an attack by Morrocan Infantry in the Retz forest, as a part of the attempts to halt the German Spring Offensive. This is an excerpt from a report written by one of the participants, capitaine Aubert, 304th Company:
The signal was given, "Advance". After a few hundred yards suddenly the corn ceased. We were in open, uncultivated ground. As soon as we debouched we were subject to heavy machine-gun fire directed particularly against the slits and port holes. The hammer of the bullets against the armour, accompanied by the splash, showed us the general direction of the fire. In our case it was coming from the left. Many bullets struck the gun shield and made traversing difficult. But we swung the turret and there was the machine gun, not more than 50 yards away. It took five rounds to put it out, and the tracks completed the work. All the tanks were now on the same alignment. They were all in action firing and manoeuvring, which showed us that we were on the enemy’s line of resistance.
The actual maneuvering of the FT is described thus in Dale E. Wilson’s excellent and ground-breaking book on US Armour in WW1, "Treat ’em Rough!":
Tank commanders were required to transmit commands to their drivers by kicking them. This was the only means of internal communication, as the Renaults lacked a radio intercom system and were too noisy for voice commands to be heard. To get the driver to move forward, the commander kicked him in the back. Similarly, a kick to either shoulder signaled a turn in the direction of the shoulder kicked. The signal to stop was a kick to the driver’s head, while repeated kicks to the head meant the driver should back up.
The driver’s controls consisted of a clutch pedal on the left of the floor, an accelerator pedal in the center, and a parking brake pedal on the right. The engine was started by means of a hand crank located at the back of the gunner’s compartment on the firewall separating the gunner from the engine compartment. The driver could control the vehicle’s speed by either depressing the accelerator pedal or using a hand throttle control located on the right side of the driver7rsquo;s compartment. A spark control lever was also provided, allowing the driver to advance or retard the ignition spark, depending on the amount of strain on the engine. Two large steering levers, one on each side of the driver’s seat, acted as the service brakes when pulled simultaneously. To steer to the right, the driver merely pulled back on the right lever, braking the track on that side of the tank. The left-side track would continue moving at normal speed, pivoting the vehicle to the right. A similar procedure was used to turn to the left. The most difficult task for drivers to master was negotiating short, extremely steep grades. The trick was to learn to slip the clutches in such a way as to allow the vehicle to return to the horizontal gently, without a crashing jolt, as it cleared the top of the obstacle.
|Combat Weight||7.4 tons|
|Armour||6 - 16 mm|
|Powerplant||Renault 4-cylinder 39 hp, thermo-siphon cooled|
|Fuel Capacity||100 litres|
|Suspension||Coil and leaf springs with pivoted bogie|
|Max. Road Speed||7.7 km/h|
|Max. Road Range||35 km|
|Max. Vertical Obstacle||0.6 m|
|Max. Trench Crossing||1.35 m|
|Ground Clearance||0.435 m|
|Armament||1 x 8mm Hotchkiss MG or|
1 x 37mm Puteaux Cannon
|Ammunition||5,400 rounds (MG) or 237 rounds (Cannon)|
Omnibus (Octagonal) Turret
Girod (Cast) Turret
There have been numerous attempts to impose a system on the camouflage of the Renault FT. Unfortunately there was no official camouflage scheme, the FT was delivered with 3– or 4–colour factory painted camouflage. The colour palette used for FT camouflage appears to have been similar to that previously used for the Schneider and St Chamond, that is blue-grey (gris artillerie), dark green, brown and pale ochre. There were considerable variations in these colours as would be expected during war time. The only reliable guide to FT camouflage is to work from original photographs. Note that there is no base coat on the FT tank as there was on the St Chamond/Schneider.
There are often 2 different numbers found on FT tanks, one is a factory number (4 digits) and the official acceptance number (5 digits). The permitted ranges of these numbers are detailed in:
Note No. 410 836 1/SA Ministry of Armaments and War Manufacturing/Automotive Service Management/Equipment from 1st October 1917).
I have the honor to report that the Renault light tanks that will be sent to the Army will be registered by me in the series 66001 to 75000.
Renault tanks in No. 66xxx - 67xxx - 68xxx
Schneider / Somua tanks in No. 69xxx
Delaunay-Belleville tanks in No. 70xxx
Berliet tanks in No. 73xxx
The numbering of specific manufacturers find themselves normally as in the numbering of the tank. The tank No. 0001 at Renault is No. 66001 and No. 2000, No. 68000
Renault tanks No. 0001-2000.
Schneider tanks / Somua No. 3001-3601
Delaunay-Belleville tanks No. 4001-4281
Tanks Berliet No. 2001-2801
Reference: SHD Vincennes - Box 16 N 2130
(Translation of the original French document by Google translate).
The following is an extract from an order of General Estienne on the markings on French tanks. It should be noted that the coloured "Aces" were not introduced until after WW1.
General Headquarters of the Army of Northern and North-East/GQGArtillerie Assault No. 6841 of June 29, 1918
B) - Tanks:
In addition to its registration number, any battle tank carries two brands which one can distinguish the Battalion Group
or the Group or the Company or the tank and in the Group or the Company, battery or section of tank. The brand of the Group or Company is formed by a cartridge as defined below:
Group 1 or 1st Company - circle 25 cm in diameter.
Group 2 or 2nd Company - square 25 cm in diameter.
Group 3 or 3rd Company - Triangle 25 cm in diameter.
Group 4 or 4th Company - Diamond 25 cm in diameter.
The cartridges are painted in white on each side of the tank in half of the upper rear panel.
The brand of battery or Section consists of an Ace inscribed in a circle of 15 cm, painted black in the center of the cartridge after the rule below:
Battery 1 or Section 1 - Ace of Spades
Battery 2 or Section 2 - Ace of Hearts
Battery 3 or Section 3 - Ace of Diamonds
Reserve (Section d’echelon) - Ace of Clubs
As a partial explanation of this it should be noted that the organisation of heavy tanks (St Chamond, Schneider)
was different from the FT units:
Schneider and St Chamond units were organised in :
Groupement (3 or 4 Groups) - Groupe - Batterie - Section (Platoon).
Renault FT units were organised in :
Régiment - Bataillon - Compagnie - Section
(Translation of the original French document by Google translate)
The Renault FT is sometimes referred to as the "FT-17" in English literature. This is incorrect since all official French documents always refer to the tank as the "Renault FT". No correspondence will be entered into regarding this point.
There is a French website devoted in part to the Renault FT - this website has the original FT manual on line. The direct URL is http://po2260.perso.sfr.fr/FT17/FT17.htm#MENU
The section on markings and numbering of FTs was derived from official French sources supplied by "tanker" from
the forum "Pages 14-18".
The plans of the FT Omnibus and Girod turret versions were supplied by "Ironsides" from the Landships forum.
In 15mm: FRP Games make one that comes with parts to make the male, female or radio versions. Peter Pig make 3 versions (but not the TSF). Minifigs make one in white metal.
In 1/87, World Tank Depot make the 37mm, round turret version. Wespe Models make both the round (Girod) and the octagonal (omnibus) with 37mm.
In 1/76, there is Revell's reissue of Matchbox's kit containing a Char BI and a Renault FT. In 1/72, RPM make nine different Renault FT kits: MG round turret, MG octagonal turret, 37mm round turret, 37mm octagonal turret, TSF (reviewed here), post-war version with smokescreen generator, Japanese Ko-Gata, the WWII Renault FT31, and Soviet - Russkiy Reno. HäT make two fast assembly kits, but the parts are interchangeable, so four versions can be made. Al.By Miniatures make three different versions, including the TSF (reviewed here). NRC make one. Hinchliffe, sold by Skytrex, make all the versions, in white metal. Reviresco make a white metal one that comes with both types of turret, the 37mm, and two types of MG (Hotchkiss and Lebel). Solfig make the FT75BS Bridgelayer version.
In 25mm: Old Glory make a white metal kit. In 28mm Rif Raf Miniatures make one.
In 1/35, NKC make two versions, one of which is the TSF. RPM make four different versions. Des Kit, from France, make two, including the TSF. Pondreef Models make two.
Wayne McCullough has two free cardmodel 1/76 FTs
downloadable in low Res. The High Res versions can be purchased at www.hobbyfactory.com.
There are a couple of old 1/25 cardmodels of the FT by Maly Modelarz and Technikos - neither is recommended.