Paving the Way for Tank Development – Renault FT 17 in 30 Cool Photos

Renault FT - The Basis for Early Mass Production of Armor - Fat yankey CC BY-SA 2.5

The French Renault FT was among the most influential and revolutionary tanks in history. Following the very poor performance of the French Schneider CA-1 tank at General Neville’s April 1917 offensive at Berry Au Bac, Colonel Estienne, the designer of the CA-1 tank gave his full support for the development of a technically more advanced tank, a task which was borne by the Renault Automobile Company.

The Renault was also called FT-17 as a factory code for tank projects run by the Renault Automobile Company. Louis Renault, the famous car maker and owner of the Renault Automobile Company, had begun designing a tank that had a realistic power-to-weight ratio, better agility, speed and trench crossing ability. The tank was also to be cheaper to produce, and easier to maintain.

Abandoned FT-17 somewhere in France 1940

Before then, he had declined involvement in any tank-making project, but after meeting with his friend, Col. Estienne, he would later take interest in the challenge and began his design. Although his design offered much more promise than the heavy, Schneider CA-1 and Saint-Chammond tanks, it faced some challenges with production.

At that time, the French were undecided about whether to use a large number of small tanks or a small number of large tanks such as the Char 2C—just like the British who had performed well with heavy tanks at the Battle of Somme.

Abandoned Renault FT-17 Light tanks 1940

With the intervention of Colonel Estienne, the French government made two large orders in April and June 1917, for tanks based on the specifications of the Renault prototype. Renault was now able to proceed with production of the Renault FT. Only 84 tanks were produced initially, but before the Armistice, about 2,697 tanks were manufactured.

The Renault FT weighed 6.5 tons and had a power-to-weight ratio of 5 hp/ton. Its main armament comprised a Puteaux SA 1918 37mm gun or a Hotchkiss machine gun within a fully rotating turret. It was the first tank ever to use a fully rotating turret.

In 1920, Brazil received a total of 12 brand new FTs from the Delaunay-Belleville factory in France. Six were fitted with a Berliet tower and armed with a 37mm Puteaux cannon. Five were fitted with an octogonal tower and armed with a 7mm Hotchkiss machine-gun and one model without a rotary turret for communications only. One of these surviving tanks with a 7mm Hotchkiss is now on display at Museu Militar Conde de Linhares (Count Linhares Military Museum) at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Renault FT had a speed of 5 mph and used a rear engine configuration. It had space for only a crew of 2 – the driver and commander who also served as the turret operator. It had a modified Holt chassis which enabled it to have a good grip of any terrain. To deal with trenches a rear tail was fixed to the Renault FT which gave balance. Although lightly armed, the Renault FT’s turret made it quite versatile and efficient in many conditions.

There were no means of communication between the turret operator and driver because of the very noisy interior, so a kind of “kicking code” in the back, shoulder or head was used by the turret operator to command the driver.

Captured FT tanks in German service in Serbia (World War II)Photo Grieptoo52 CC BY-SA 4.0

The small FT, without doubt, was a success during its first missions in the World War irrespective of its initial flaws such as radiator fan belt and cooling system problems. Several Renault FTs were involved in all major offenses of the Western front units, with about 4356 engagements featuring the FTs. About 746 FTs were lost in all.

The first operational unit to use the Renault FTs was the 1st Battalion De Chars Legers, on February 1918.

The Americans, soon after the war also developed their own version of the FT-17.

Chinese FT.Photo Panzer VI-II CC BY-SA 3.0


Copy of first Soviet tank “Freedom Fighter Comrade Lenin” (“Russkiy Reno”) in Nizhny Novgorod. This tank was a variation French Renault FT tank.Photo Алексей Белобородов CC BY-SA 3.0


Crew locations shown with panels open


Diagram of internal Layout of French Renault FT-17 Char Mitrailleur “Mosquito” Tank, 1918.




Exhibit in the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, USA.


French tank Renault FT, Belgrade Military Museum, Serbia.Photo Andrei Romanenko CC BY-SA 3.0


FT 17 Panzerkampfwagen 17R 730(f)


Renault FT-17 color photo, somewhere in France 1940


FT tank displayed in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is one of 4 known FTs that were in this country before 2003. This one is still preserved in Kabul.Photo 162eRI CC BY-SA 3.0


FT-17 at the Brussels museum of the Army.Photo Paul Hermans CC BY-SA 3.0


FT-17 Renault camouflage


FT17 tank in France 1940


Hembrug. Dutch Indian Army Renault FT-17 tank is tested at the Hembrug. Demonstration for the KNIL.1927, the Netherlands.


Light tank Char Renault FT 17, 1940


Obsolete Renault FT-17 tank of the French Army


Overloon Panzer Renault FT 17.Photo Hohum CC BY-SA 3.0


Polish FT tanks during the Battle of Dyneburg


Renault FT 17 light tank


Renault FT at the Bovington Tank Museum (prototype turret).Photo Hohum CC BY-SA 3.0


Renault FT in Polish Army Museum.Photo Mati7 CC BY-SA 4.0


Renault FT Tank at the Army Museum.Photo PHGCOM CC BY-SA 3.0


Renault FT tank, Poland.Photo Thomas Quine CC BY 2.0


Renault FT17 tank (1918), front view, Clairière de l’Armistice, Rethondes, Oise.


RENAULT FT17 tank (1918), in front of the entrance of the Armistice museum in Rethondes Compiègne, Oise, France.Photo Jebulon CC BY-SA 3.0


Two German soldiers posing with a tank FT-17 1940

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US Army operating FTs on the Western Front, 1918
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