World War I: Renault FT-17 Tank

US forces with FT-17 tanks
Renault FT-17 Tanks. Public Domain

Renault FT-17 - Specifications:


  • Length: 16.4 ft.
  • Width: 4.8 ft.
  • Height: 7 ft.
  • Weight: 7.2 tons

Armor & Armament

  • Armor: 0.86 in.
  • Armament: 37 mm Puteaux gun or a 7.92 mm Hotchkiss machine gun
  • Ammunition: 238 x 37mm projectiles or 4,200 x 7.62mm ammunition


  • Engine: 39 hp gasoline engine
  • Speed: 4.35 mph
  • Range: 40 miles
  • Suspension: Vertical Springs
  • Crew: 2

Renault FT-17 - Design:

The brainchild of designer Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier, the FT-17 first began to take shape in May 1916.

Encouraged by car designer Louis Renault, Ernst-Metzmaier created a revolutionary design that set the pattern for all future tanks. His FT-17 was the first tank to possess a fully rotating turret. It also established the configuration of having a top-mounted turret, with the driver in the front and the engine in the rear. The incorporation of these features made the FT-17 a radical departure from previous French designs, such as the Schneider CA1 and the St. Chamond, which were little more than armored boxes.

Renault FT-17 - Production:

Despite its advanced design, Renault had difficulty getting approval for the FT-17. Ironically, its chief competition came from the heavy Char 2C which was also designed by Ernst-Metzmaier. With the relentless support of head of the French tank corps, Brigadier General Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne, who favored light tanks, Renault was able to move the FT-17 into production.

Though he had Estienne's support, Renault competed for resources with the Char 2C for the remainder of the war. Development continued through the first half of 1917, as Renault and Ernst-Metzmaier sought to refine the design.

By the end of the year, only 84 FT-17s had been produced, however 2,613 were built in 1918, before the end of hostilities.

All told, 3,694 were constructed by French factories with 3,177 going to the French Army, 514 to the US Army, and 3 to the Italians. The tank was also built under license in the US under the name Six Ton Tank M1917. While only 64 were finished before the armistice, 950 were eventually constructed. When the tank first entered production, it had a round cast turret, however this varied depending on the manufacturer. Other variants included an octagonal turret or one made from bent steel plate.

Renault FT-17 - Combat Service:

The FT-17 first entered combat on May 31, 1918, at Foret de Retz, south-west of Soissons, and aided the 10th Army in slowing the German drive on Paris. In short order, the FT-17's small size increased its value as it was capable of traversing terrain, such as forests, that other heavy tanks were incapable of negotiating. As the tide turned in the Allies favor, Estienne finally received large numbers of the tank, which allowed for effective counterattacks against German positions. Widely used by French and American forces, the FT-17 participated in 4,356 engagements with 746 being lost to enemy action.

Following the war, the FT-17 formed the armored backbone for many nations, including the United States.

The tank saw subsequent action in the Russian Civil War, Polish-Soviet War, Chinese Civil War, and Spanish Civil War. In addition it remained in the reserve forces for several countries. During the early days of World War II, the French still had 534 operating in various capacities. In 1940, following the German drive to the Channel which isolated many of France's best armored units, the entire French reserve force was committed, including 575 FT-17s.

With the fall of France, the Wehrmacht captured 1,704 FT-17s. These were redeployed across Europe for airbase defense and occupation duty. In Britain and the United States, the FT-17 was retained for use as a training vehicle.

Selected Sources