The overall mediocre success of the CA1 and the Saint-Chamond forced the French military to look for another tank to fill in the role. Specifically, they needed a tank that was light, maneuverable (by WW1 standards), and could be built in such vast quantities to the point where you can easily overwhelm the enemy with them. A man named Louis Renault, 1 of 3 brothers who helped found one of France’s premier automobile companies, stepped up to the plate. The result as seen below.
The Renault FT was designed by Renault Auto Group (The same car company still exists today), and forever revolutionized the way tanks were setup and built.
So how is this tank considered revolutionary? Well, consider the layout below:
- In a regular WW1 Tank, the engine and fuel storage could be ANYWHERE but the back, frequently leading to engine fires and the crew being burnt alive when those fuel tanks were struck
- Solution by the Renault FT: The Engine and Fuel Storage was placed in the back, the crew was placed in front.
- There were no true turrets in the early WW1 tanks, and the side sponsons of your typical Mark tank or the CA1 had little gun coverage
- Solution: A fully 360 degree rotating turret at the top (because this was a light tank designed to swarm, the Renault FT was armed with either a machine gun or 37mm gun as its sole armament)
Here is a video lecture by David Fletcher at the Bovington Tank Museum:
Satisfied, the French army first deployed this tank in 1918 at the battle at Forêt de Retz and took part in all French fighting during and up to the end of WW1. Over 3,000 of Renault FTs were built, many more licensed and unlicensed copies were built by countless countries after the war, the tank saw service to as far as 1948 by the Egyptians in the Arab-Israeli War. The tank’s layout and design was quoted by one historian as “the first modern tank”, because it influenced all tank development even to this day.
In the US, a licensed modified copy of the Renault FT (known in US armories as the M1917) formed the basis of the US armored force in WW1 (because we did not have any tanks and were severely under-equipped), with 4,440 ordered but 950 produced.
There was one captain in the US military who believed that the tank would never be a thing, during WW1 he became the leader of the first US tank corps operating M1917s and would later distinguish himself as a general in WW2 as a tank commander, and his nickname was Old Blood and Guts.
Still don’t recognize him? It was George S Patton.
Another video for your leisure by R. Lee Ermey (Keep an eye on the video at 2:35 to 11:37)