The Renault FT: A Tank Ahead of Its Time – Specifications, Variants and Battlefield Operations

With its small design and 360-degree rotating turret for improved manoeuvrability, the Renault FT was a revolutionary tank in armoured warfare. Given its distinctive features, it was introduced after World War I and has inspired modern tank design. With variations like the Char Canon and Char Mitrailleuse, it demonstrated versatility and made a lasting impression during worldwide conflicts.

An important development in tank design was the Renault FT, also known as the FT-17, which featured a turret that rotated 360 degrees to house its armament. Distinguishing itself from the conventional methodology employed by British and French tanks, the FT adopted an extreme design ideology. The idea was to design a small, light tank that would be more manoeuvrable and have a lower profile, making it more difficult to target and more elusive on the battlefield than a huge, heavy vehicle. The French carmaker Renault built this revolutionary tank, giving it features like a completely rotating turret, a driver position situated in front, and the engine and gearbox located at the back that have persisted in contemporary tank design. Although thousands of these tanks were ordered, many of them were finished after World War I and were exported to different parts of the world. The Renault FT had a profound impact on the development of tanks and left a lasting impression on the history of armoured warfare.

Specifications:

This military tank has a mass of 6.5 tonnes (6.4 long tonnes; 7.2 short tonnes). It measures 5.00 metres (16 feet 5 inches) in length, 1.74 metres (5 feet 9 inches) in width, and 2.14 metres (7 feet 0 inches) in height. The tank has an armour of between 8 and 22 millimetres (0.31 and 0.87 inches), and it is driven by a driver and a commander. Puteaux SA 1918 37 mm gun or 8 mm Hotchkiss machine gun forms its main armament; it is supplemented by a Reibel machine gun (FT 31). Under the bonnet, the tank is powered by a Renault 4-cylinder, 4.5-liter thermo-siphon water-cooled engine that operates on gasoline (petrol). The engine’s power-to-weight ratio is 5 horsepower per tonne (3.7 kW per tonne) at 1500 rpm, or 39 horsepower (29 kW) at that speed. Sliding gears with four forward speeds and one backward speed are used in the gearbox system. Two subsidiary clutches, one for each of the two tracks, and one main clutch enable steering. Vertical springs provide stability to the suspension system of the tank. The tank has a 95-litre fuel capacity, which is enough for about eight hours of use. It can go up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) at a time and reach a top speed of 7 km/h (4.3 mph). The functioning and performance of the tank on the battlefield are influenced by all of these factors taken together.

Variants:

The revolutionary Renault FT tank transformed armoured warfare in its day and gave rise to numerous variations to meet different operational requirements. Approximately 3/5 of the ordered tanks were the Char Canon, a well-known version with a 37 mm Puteaux SA18 short-barreled cannon; however, only about 1/3 were built. With a manufacturing rate of about 3/5, another version, the Char mitrailleuse, fitted with an 8 mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun, accounted for roughly 2/5 of the ordered tanks. Using a short-barreled Blockhaus Schneider 75mm gun, the FT 75 BS was a self-propelled cannon that was produced in relatively small quantities (40 pieces). One notable example was the Char signal or TSF version, which functioned as a three-man crewed command tank with wireless radio capabilities. Merely 100 were manufactured out of the 300 that were required. A 7.5 mm Reibel machine gun was added to the FT modifié 31, making it an improved model. This alteration was applied to 1000 chars mitrailleurs that were already in French stocks in 1933–1934, after experiments were conducted from 1929 to 1931. Known colloquially as the “FT 31,” this iteration displayed improved capabilities. The 1930s witnessed the emergence of the FT désarmé, or disarmed FT, which were char cannon tanks with their 37mm guns removed for modern tank armouring. These were converted to serve a variety of purposes, such as the Pont Bourguignon sur char FT, which was a light bridge-carrying FT that was effectively an FT without a turret. Other noteworthy modifications include the 1919 import of the FT-Ko by the Imperial Japanese Army, which was employed for training and in battle during the Manchurian Incident. A US-built replica, the M1917 served the Canadian Army as a training tool during World War II. With 17 manufactured, the Russkiy Reno, sometimes known as the “Russian Renault,” was the first Soviet tank designed to resemble the Renault FT. There were Renault FT versions available outside of France as well. For example, the Renault FT CWS was constructed in Poland for training reasons, while the Renault M26/27 had Kégresse rubber tracks and a different suspension setup. International variants include the Soviet T-18 with Fiat engines and sprung suspension, the Italian FIAT 3000, and the special Polish petrol tank intended to produce smoke screens. Interestingly, the Renault FT AC was a concept that was devised in December 1939 to convert old FTs into tank destroyers. Instead of a turret, the vehicle was designed to house a 47mm APX anti-tank gun; however, the project was never completed and never built. 

Operations:

Following its widespread usage by French forces and the American Expeditionary Forces during the latter stages of World War I, the Renault FT played a vital role in numerous combat operations. Many nations, namely Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and Yugoslavia, received these tanks after the war. In anti-Soviet wars including the Polish-Soviet War and the Russian Civil War, the Renault FT was involved in combat. For example, in 1920 Estonia purchased nine Renault FT tanks. Although it was rendered obsolete, the Renault FT was nonetheless used in small quantities for military purposes in Poland, Finland, France, Greece, Romania, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during World War II. Seven front-line battalions with a total of 504 Renault FTs were still in service with the French Army in May 1940. Additional units were located in the colonies of Madagascar, Algeria, Morocco, Algeria, and Indochina. Notably, to strengthen the Maginot Line, some Renault FT tanks were deliberately sunk and covered with concrete. The Renault FT’s adaptability to many terrains and combat circumstances is demonstrated by its participation in a variety of areas of war.