The Renault FT, the first tank to use a revolving turret, was the best light tank in the world. The emergence of the revolving gun turret, in 1917, on the tiny two-man French Renault FT-17 provided that light tank with better fields of fire for its main armament and helped toward the tank’s later institutionalized design. These tanks, because of their popularity, went on to be used in many future conflicts. This tank had different names at different times. In the factory it was called ‘FT Char.’ The word ‘Char’ means tank. The letters ‘FT’ were a project production code, not an abbreviation. The next project would be called FU then FV etc… Inside the Factory it was not called the ‘Renault FT’ as everyone at the Renault factory knew it was built by Renault.
Renault FT-17 - this is the first tank in the world with a lineup "as it should." At the dawn of tank building there were tanks of rhombic form, were in the form of cars, there were giant bikes, but the first tank in the world, as now perceived, is the Renault FT-17. But it was still far from ideal. It was protected only from bullets of rifle caliber, and it was not an easy task to put something larger than a 37-mm infantry cannon into it. Eventually General of Artillery Jean Estienne come to a reasonable conclusion that the future - for medium tanks. Their size allowed them to have sufficiently thick armor and powerful weapons, and they were much cheaper than heavy tanks.
The early tanks were very unreliable as temperatures in the crew compartments often exceeded 100 degrees from the heat of the engine. By 1917, however, a much improved tank, the Mark IV, was introduced at the Battle of Cambrai, and history's first massed tank attack, involving over 476 tanks, took place. On 10 April 1917 the lighter and faster Renault FT light tank successfully completed official trials. In the spring of 1918 the French introduced the Renault FT. By the end of the war over 6,000 battle tanks had been built and deployed by Allied armies. In addition, the Renault FT was produced under license in the USA under the name M1917 (Ford Two Man) (950 copies were produced) and in Italy under the name FIAT 3000. A modified version was also produced in Soviet Russia under the name Renault Russian. The tank was used in local conflicts until the end of the 1940s.
The Renault tank (FT-17,) the world’s first modern tank, was designed by Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier in 1916 after Colonel Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne envisioned the creation of a light tank for the French Army. Estienne arranged for a tank to be ordered from the French car designer, Louis Renault , who then encouraged ErnstMetzmaier to design the tank. Analyzing the failures and problems of heavy tanks, French General Etienne proposed a small tracked vehicle as a project, simple, maneuverable and relatively easy to build. The tank was manufactured since 1917 by Renault, Berliet, Scheidet and Deiauneu-Belleville. A total of 7820 units were produced.
The tank was very successfully tested in 1917 at Champlieu and proved so popular that the original 350 tanks ordered in February 1917 escalated to 3,500 tanks to be delivered by the end of 1918. The Renault FT 17 tank started service in the summer of 1918, just in time to play a decisive role in the final victory in the Great War. By the time the armistice was signed, the French had ordered almost 8,000 tanks to be built, although “only” 3,000 were actually manufactured by the end of the war. The FT-17 definitely helped the French in the later years of the war, along with other models like the American M1917 6 ton form used by the American Expeditionary Force.
This Great War French tank basically established the design of future tanks, even though the British were the first to introduce the tank into combat. It was designed to be “light” so it would have better mobility and speed than heavier models. The Renault tank was also different from earlier French models in that its turret fully rotated and it had a top mounted turret with a front driver and rear engine. The main gun was a 37mm gun and the tank also had one or two anti-infantry 7.62mm machine guns for self-defense. Two men would be assigned to each tank.
The overall layout is classical. The gun guidance is performed with the help of a manual swing mechanism; there is a telescopic sight. Protection for the body consists of three large cast armored parts: frontal, forged, aft, as well as from rolled boards, roof and bottom; the sides are connected to the frontal and stern parts with the help of bolts, and with the cranked box – studs; The bottom is welded to the sides and bolted to the fore and aft parts; The turret is cast-in-one with a variable wall thickness. Chassis – carburetor engine, four-cylinder “Renault”; transmission mechanical; side reduction gears single-row; suspension mixed, blocked and single-row.
The inside of the tanks reached uncomfortably high temperatures, and there were no lights to flip on. When the hatch closed, the two-man crew signaled each other with a series of kicks. If the commander wanted the driver to go forward, he would kick him in the back. A kick in the right or left shoulder told him to turn, and a kick in the head meant he should stop.
Tanks differed design and installed weapons. In 1917, Berliet produced a polygonal turret of slabs on rivets. The new design was easier to manufacture than the first cast turrets and was manufactured in large quantities. Only at the final stages of the war did a tank with a successful round turret (known as the Giro Turret) become equally massive. On both turrets could be installed as a machine gun, and gun armament.
The gun armed variant was sometimes incorrectly dubbed FT 18. Among variants were 188 radio carrying vehicles (Renault TSF), about 40 FT 75 BS, armed with a punishing 75 mm (2.95 in) howitzer to deal with concrete pillboxes, the 13 Japanese modified FT-Ko, the 27 FT CWS built in Poland with French spare parts (also one gas firing model) and about 1580 FT 31, upgraded models with the new Reibel 7.5 mm (0.3 in) machine gun. Around 1850 FTs were in French service as of 1939, renamed “FT-31”. These rearmed tanks had the Reibel 7.5 mm (0.295 in) compact machine-gun, a gas-operated model originally designed to serve on the Maginot line. But this upgrade did not improve their limited capabilities in range and speed.
The US military arrived in France without tanks, thereby relying on France’s premier light tank, the Renault FT. The FT carried a two-man crew and featured a mounted 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun on a fully rotating turret. The FT was in US service during the 1918 St. Mihiel Offensive, the first independent American offensive of the war. American troops headed to the Argonne Forest for the initial raid of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918 were driving French-made Renault FT tanks. About 200 tanks, mostly Renaults, participated in this battle.
Lieutenant Colonel George S. Patton, a 31-year-old captain when he arrived in France, was infatuated with tanks. He studied the Renault so meticulously that he could have fully disassembled one and put it back together. Seeing this enthusiasm, General John J. Pershing appointed Patton an officer of America’s first Tank Corps and ordered him to establish the First Army Tank School in France. Upon accepting the appointment, Patton called it “the golden dream.”
By signing the Brest-Litovsk Peace, Soviet Russia (and the Red Army) became official “allies” of Kaiser Germany. Simultaneously with the events near Pskov and Narva, in the south of Russia, in Rostov on the night of February 22-23, the officers returning from the front, led by generals Kornilov and Alekseev, moved to Ice Campaign. The “White Army” appeared, which aimed to beat the Bolsheviks and continue the war with Germany until Victory. France, being an “ally” of Russia in the struggle against Germany in the First World War, began to help the “White Army” as the successor to the Russian Army, supplying uniforms and armament. Thus, the first French Renault FT-17 tanks hit Russia and the first Russian tank forces were formed.
For the development of the tank building of the Red Army, on the orders of Comrade Lenin near Odessa, two French Renault FT-17 tanks were captured for study and copying. Thus was created the first Soviet tank “Renault Russian”, which received the name “Fighter for freedom comrade Lenin”.
In the Inter-War years, the tank was exported to Afghanistan, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Holland, Yugoslavia and Japan.
The German invasion of Poland in September-October 1939 was in many ways an armed German rehearsal for the later conquest of France in May-June 1940. More than 3,000 tanks were involved in the combined arms invasion that overran Western Poland within a few weeks. While the defending Poles had about 800 tanks at their disposal, they were mostly light reconnaissance and older systems — such as Renault FT-17s — that were utilized following older infantry focused doctrinal approaches. The Poles had replaced many of the outdated Renault FT-17s with the Polish built TK-3 and TKS tankettes, and the 7TP light tank. However, none of the armor was utilized for separate offensive maneuvers.
At the end of the war in France, the FT tanks were captured by the Germans, used in police units and for the protection of airfields.