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Renault FT 17
FT 17.jpg
FT 17 at Brussels Royal Army Museum
Type Light tank
Place of origin France France
Service history
In service 1917–1945
Used by See Users
Wars World War I, Russian Civil War, Polish-Soviet War, Chinese Civil War, Spanish Civil War, World War II, French-Thai War, Turkish War of Independence (by France)
Production history
Designer Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier
Designed 1917
Manufacturer Renault
Variants Char à canon 37, Char mitrailleur, FT 75 BS , Char signal, FT 17 modifié 31, Six Ton Tank Model 1917, Russkiy Reno, FIAT 3000
Weight 6.5 tonnes (6.4 LT; 7.2 ST)
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 22 mm (0.87 in)
37 mm gun or 7.92 mm machine gun
Engine Renault 4-cyl petrol
39 hp (29 kW)
Power/weight 6 hp/tonne
Transmission sliding
Suspension vertical springs
65 km (40 mi)
Speed 7 km/h (4.3 mph)

The Renault FT 17 or Automitrailleuse à chenilles Renault FT modèle 1917 was a French light tank; it is among the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history. The 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 conventional one, repeated in most tanks until today; at the time it was a revolutionary innovation, causing armour historian Steven Zaloga to describe the type as "the world's first modern tank".[1]



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 unwavering support of Brigadier General Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne (1860-1936), the "Father of the Tanks", and the successive French Commanders in Chief, who saw light tanks as a more feasible and realistic option, Renault was at last able to proceed with the design. However, competition with the Char 2C was to last until the very end of the war.

The prototype was slowly brought to perfection during the first half of 1917. Early production FT 17s were often plagued by radiator fan belt and cooling system problems. Only 84 were produced in 1917 but 2,697 were delivered before the end of the war. At least 3,177 were produced in total, perhaps more; some estimates go as high as 4,000 for all versions combined. However, 3,177 is the delivery total to the French Army; 514 were perhaps directly delivered to the U.S. Army and three to the Italian - giving a probable total production number of 3,694. 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 Puteaux gun or a 7.92 mm Hotchkiss machine gun. In the U.S., this tank was built on a licence as the Six Ton Tank Model 1917 (950 built, 64 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 de Tranchées (trench crosser). 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).

Service history

US Army operating Renault FT-17 tanks

The FT 17 was widely used by the French and the US in the latter stages of World War I, after 31 May 1918. It was cheap and well-suited for mass production. It reflected an emphasis on quantity, both on a tactical level: Estienne proposed to overwhelm the enemy defences by a "swarm" of light tanks, and on a geostrategic level: the Entente was thought to be able to gain the upper hand by outproducing the Central Powers. A goal was set of 12,260 to be manufactured (4,440 of which in the USA) before the end of 1919.

After the war, FT 17s were exported to many countries (Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Japan). As a result, FT 17 tanks were used by most nations having armoured forces, invariably as their first tank type, including the United States. They took part in many later conflicts, such as the Russian Civil War, Polish-Soviet War, Chinese Civil War, Rif War and Spanish Civil War.

A Yugoslavian FT-17 tank destroyed in the 1941 Invasion of Yugoslavia.

FT 17 tanks were also used in the Second World War, among others in Poland, Finland, France and Kingdom of Yugoslavia, although they were completely obsolete by then. In 1940 the French army still had eight battalions equipped with 63 FT 17s each and three independent companies with ten each, for a total organic strength of 534, all with machine guns.

Many smaller units, partially raised after the invasion, also used the tank. 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[citation needed]; the French suffered from tactical and strategic weaknesses rather than from equipment deficiencies. 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-defence. The Wehrmacht captured 1,704 FT 17's. A hundred were again used for airfield defence, about 650 for patrolling occupied Europe.

Polish FT 17 tanks during the Battle of Dyneburg

The FT 17 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 as their standard tank the FIAT 3000, a moderately close copy of the FT 17.

The Soviet Red Army captured fourteen burnt-out Renaults from White Russian forces, and rebuilt them at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory in 1920. The Soviets claimed to have originally manufactured these Russkiy Reno tanks, but they actually produced only one exact copy, named 'Freedom Fighter Comrade Lenin'.[2] When Stalin began the arms race of the Thirties, the first completely Soviet-designed tank was the T-18, a derivation of the Renault with sprung suspension.

In all, the FT-17 was used by Afghanistan, Belgium, Brazil, the Republic of China, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, France, the German Empire, Nazi Germany, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, the Russian White movement, the Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey,Norway, the United States and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.


FT 17 Char Mitrailleur layout
  • Char à canon 37: a FT 17 with a 37 mm Puteaux SA18 short-barreled gun - about 3/5 of tanks ordered, about 1/3 of tanks actually produced.
  • Char mitrailleur: a FT 17 with an 8 mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun - about 2/5 of tanks ordered, about 3/5 of tanks produced.
  • FT 75 BS: a self propelled gun with a 75 mm Blockhaus Schneider petard (short-barreled howitzer) - at least 39 tanks were produced.
  • Char signal or TSF: a 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, three-men crew, 300 ordered, at least 188 produced.
  • FT 17 modifié 31: upgraded tanks with 7.5 mm Reibel machine gun. This modification started in 1931 on the 1580 chars mitrailleurs still in French stocks; all the metropolitan guntanks were (at least officially) scrapped to build utility vehicles on their chassis and the guns used to equip the R 35. This version was sometimes referred to as the "FT 31", though this was not the official name.
  • FT-17-Ko: Thirteen modified units imported by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1919, armed with either the 37 mm Puteaux SA18 cannon or machine guns; used in combat in the Manchurian Incident and subsequently for training[3]
  • Six Ton Tank Model 1917 - US-built copy, 950 built, 374 of which gun tanks, fifty radiotanks. During WWII some were delivered to Canada and the UK for use as training vehicles.
  • Russkiy Reno: the "Russian Renault", the first Soviet tank, produced at Krasnoye Sormovo, a close copy.
  • T-18 – A Soviet derivation with sprung suspension.
  • FIAT 3000 - an Italian derivation.
  • Polish gas tank - A Polish modification built in the Wojskowy Instytut Gazowy (Military Gas Institute) and tested on the Rembertów proving ground on 5 July 1926. Instead of a cannon, the tank had twin gas cylinders. It was designed to create smoke screens, but could also be used for chemical attacks. There was only one exemplar of this tank.

Surviving Vehicles

Approximately 41 FT 17s,[4] twenty Six-Ton Tanks,[5] two Russkiy Renos and three FT 17 TSF survive in various museums around the world.

See also



  • Zaloga, Steven J., James Grandsen (1984). Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two, London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 0-85368-606-8.
  • SNL G012

External links



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