Char Renault FT17 (E1965.43)
Conceived by General Jean-Baptiste Estienne and manufactured under the control of the Renault Company this was the world's first mass-produced tank, 3800 being built in all. It has a tail piece to help it across trenches but was really designed for the open, mobile warfare which Estienne believed would follow the breaking of the German trench system. He was also a great believer in the effect of mass, the idea being that a swarm of small tanks, like a swarm of bees, was the best way to overcome enemy defences, rather than big guns and heavy armour.
The tanks were built by a variety of firms under the overall control of Renault. Our exhibit is an early model with a cast turret but many were completed with riveted turrets and there was a choice of armament, either a short 37mm gun or the heavy machine-gun shown here. They went into action for the first time on 31 May 1918 near Ploissy-Chazelle and proved very successful when they were used in numbers. British forces used a few Renaults as liaison vehicles while the United States Army used them in combat and copied the design.
By the end of the war France had built so many Renaults that they were available for export. Soon they were in service all over the world and provided the inspiration for similar designs, particularly in Italy and Russia. Hundreds still remained in French service when World War 2 broke out and these were collected by the Germans who used them for internal security work. British troops encountered Renaults in Vichy hands in Syria as late as 1942 and some were discovered, in German service, on the Channel Islands in 1944.
First tank of any nation to have turret with 360 degree traverse. Laminated idler wheels are an unusual feature. The tank appears to have been part of the Imperial War Museum collection after the First World War and arrived at the Tank Museum as part of an exchange of exhibits in 1965. The tail skid turned up about 20 years later, having been discovered in a store at IWM Duxford.
The NON PROTEGE plate on the front indicates that the hull is unarmoured, fabricated from mild steel; 150 of these were produced and equipped with a cast turret mounting an 8mm Hothckiss machine-gun, they were used for training. As received it had nothing inside at all, no driving controls, seats, turret fittings or mechanical components.