Until 1935, the little vintage Renault FT was the staple of the French tank force. On the mainland, it had been upgraded as the rearmed FT31 but, throughout the colonies, it was left unchanged since 1918. It was clear by 1932 that the new tested Renault tanks, like the NC27, were not sufficient for the task demanded from them. They were too heavy, complex, costly and, therefore, not suited for mass-production. The original requirements dated back from 1926 and asked for a “char d’accompagnement” (support tank) that could replace the FT and still operate in the same manner. However, with the increase in AT gun caliber and velocity, the emphasis was put on protection. In early 1933, Hotchkiss proposed a solution, with an affordable small tank which turned the table. But instead of purchasing some directly, for political reasons and due to the contract size, other contractors were asked in August 1933 to present their own model. Fourteen responded, ranging from automotive companies to small armories.
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Renault, badly wanting this contract, rushed a prototype which was ready when a new specification was emitted on June, 21, 1934. It asked for an increase of armor, from 30 to 40 mm (1.18-1.57 in). Renault could not revise the design on time and was the first to present its ZM prototype to the Commission de Vincennes, on 20 December 1934. The model performed well, but was sent back to the factory for add-on armor and mounting the new APX (Atelier de Rueil) cast turret in April 1935. Tests were then resumed when, due to the growing tensions caused by the swift and massive German rearmament, the commission awarded the new tank a contract for 300 machines as the R35, on 29 April 1935. This was before the model could be perfected by Renault for pre-production. By 4 June 1936, the first delivered were promptly tested and modifications performed during production. The hollow hull price was 190,000 FF, and with engine, mechanical parts and the turret, rose to 1,400,000 FF, including all the modifications done (the equivalent of 32.000$ at the time). Contrary to the Hotchkiss H35, it was also produced for export.
The R35 bears a strong resemblance to its rival, the Hotchkiss H35. They shared the same APX turret, the three-module hull construction and placement for the driver and engine. However, their dimensions differed, as well as the placement of the hull casemate, placed further to the rear for the Renault and, most obviously, the drivetrain.
The hull, as stated above, was made of three main prefabricated cast sections bolted together, while on the H35 these were welded. This helped improve production times. Everything else was welded-on. Maximum thickness on the glacis was 43 mm (1.69 in), and 40 to 30 (1.57-1.18 in) on the hull lower sides, rear and engine deck. The turret itself was made of hard cast iron, 30 mm (1.18 in) thick.
The running gear was based on the one used on the cavalry light tank AMR 35, with five double roadwheels encased in two sets of bogies and another single one at the front. All three were suspended by massive horizontal coil springs, with characteristic rubber ringlets. The drive sprocket was at the front and idler at the rear. The tracks reposed on three rubberized return rollers.
Repartition in the hull was for a crew of two. The driver position was offset to the left and the commander/gunner was in the turret behind. The final drive and differentials were in the hull nose. The driver had a Cletrac differential with five gears and steering brakes at his disposal. He had two hatches and one periscope for vision. The Renault V-4 85 hp engine was at the right rear, with a self-sealing 166 liter gasoline tank on its left. On final production tests, practical top speed was measured as 20 km/h (12.4 mph), which could fall to 14 km/h (8.7 mph) on soft or bumpy terrain. Fuel consumption was 212 liters/100 km off-road, but that was not a problem since it was believed 50 km (31 mi) was more than sufficient for a real breakthrough on a static front.
The turret received a dome-like rotatable cupola with vertical vision slits. It was free running on a ball track ring, either traversed by the weight of the commander or cranked more precisely for aiming. The commander normally stood on the tank floor. As customary in French practice, the turret had a rear hatch that could be hinged down, allowing the commander to sit on it, legs inside, for external observation. The early turret model was the APX-R, equipped with a L713 sight, mounting the short barrel 37 mm (1.46 in) Puteaux L/21 SA-18 and a coaxial 7.5 mm (0.29 in) Châtellerault fortress machine-gun. This main gun was effective only against concrete fortifications at relatively short range, as muzzle velocity was only 300 m/s (984 ft/s). At best only 12 mm (0.47 in) of armor could be defeated at less than 500 m (1640 ft). Once again, it was due to tactical limitations. It was never intended to deal with other tanks. Normal provision of ammo was 72 AP and 58 HE rounds plus 2400 cartridges.
The total ordered, due to the degrading international situation, rose to 2300 units in 1939. But due to the frequent delays experienced by APX for the turrets, by 1936 Renault had succeed to deliver 380 hulls, while only 37 turrets were available, so the annual delivery rate fell to just 200. On 1 September 1939, only 975 vehicles had been delivered to the army out of 1070 produced total. They just then replaced most units still equipped with the Renault FT, but crews needed a few weeks to retrain. In consequence, in May 1940, there were still eight battalions of FTs operational due to the lack of trained conscripts. In June 1940, at last, 1601 R35 had been built by Renault, most for the Army. 245 had been exported to Poland (50), Turkey (100), Romania (41) and Yugoslavia (54). Another number presented is 1685 vehicles, indicated by the hull numbering. Production ceased after the capitulation.
The Renault R40
Due to insufficient tests before production, it appeared quite quickly to the units that the R35 suspension was notably unreliable and experienced many failures. So work started in 1939 at AMX (the new name of the Renault tank department after 2 December 1936) to devise a better system, which could be fitted on the production run. This new system counted twelve wheels in six pairs suspended by large vertical coil springs. These were protected by armored side skirts. The engine was upgraded and more powerful, while the hull was lengthened at the rear, and the turret was of the new APX-R1 cast model with a L767 sight, mounting a long barrel 37 mm (1.46 in) L/35 SA38. Last but not least, a radio was systematically fitted. The new gun was capable of defeating 40 mm (1.57 in) of armor at 500 m (1640 ft). For the ordnance it was the Char léger modèle 1935 R modifié 1939 and began to replace the R35 after the 1540th unit. Unfortunately, only few were delivered in time. The reconstituted Polish 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade in France was the first unit to be equipped with the new tank. At the same time, since 1939, some R35s were re-equipped with the new APX-R turret and long-barrel 1939. These were known as the R35 modifié 39, but only a few were converted, given to unit commanders. AMX also produced quantities of steering tails prior to the war to improve their trench crossing capabilities. These were not always fitted.
The R35 in action
At the time of the German attack on France, the French army had 900 R35s in service, then the most numerous model available. According to the French military doctrine, it was to be used only for direct infantry support. However, its gun proved to be able to defeat Panzer I and IIs, while the frontal armor could withstand even a direct hit from the standard 37 mm (1.46 in). The R35 equipped the Ist, IInd, IIIrd, IVth, Vth, VIIth, VIIIth, IXth “Armées”, plus the “Armée des Alpes” facing the Italian border, into Groupements de Bataillons de Chars. These were strictly tank units without other organic component, and only committed to infantry support in close coordination with infantry units. However, on 15 May, when it was clear that the doctrine was failing, 135 R35s from the 2, 24 and 44 BCC were allocated to a newly formed 4th DCR (Division Cuirassée de Réserve) while two others (40 & 48 BCC) reinforced the 2nd DCR. Later, 300 tanks from the materiel reserve were also reserved these new units. Many R35s were also found on the Colonies. The 63 and 68 BCC were in Syria (95 tanks) and the 62 BCC in Morocco with 30 tanks. The irony was the first faced Australian troops during Allied invasion of that mandate territory in 1941, while the others faced American troops in November 1942 (operation Torch). Later on, the Free French 1st CCC constituted a unit with available R35s for operations in this sector.
In 1938, the Polish Army bought two R35s for tests with the Office of Armored Forces Technical Research. The tank did not meet the requirements, neither did the Hotchkiss H35. The Polish Army wanted to buy the SOMUA S35, but the French government did not give its consent. In April 1939, due to the impending conflict with Germany and the lack of opportunities to increase production of the 7TP, 100 R-35s were ordered. The first batch of 50 (including three H35s) was delivered in July 1939, and were given to the 12th Armored Battalion in Lutsk. In September, this unit partly formed the 21st Light Tank Battalion, entrusted with the defense of the border with Romania. Others were incorporated into the composition of the group “Dubno”, which took part in the battles against the Germans at Strumiłową and the Soviets at Krasne. 34 tanks of the 21st Light Tank Battalion crossed the border of Romania on September 18, and were interned. After the Polish capitulation, however, a cavalry unit was raised in France, which fought in May 1940.
The German army snapped no less that 843 R35s, according to the Waffenamt, in the aftermath of the French surrender. 131 of these used directly as Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731 (f) for security, mainly in France, close to their spare part base, but also in the Balkans and possibly in the conquered territories of Russia for anti-partisan operations. Others served as driver training vehicle, turretless, while their turrets found an application on various armored trains, yet again, against the French resistance or partisans throughout Europe. Other turrets were used as pillboxes in various strategic positions in France and the Netherlands. Fourteen of these driver training vehicle, still with their turrets, saw action at Sainte Mère l’Eglise with the 1057th Grenadier Regiment on 6, June, 1944.
There was also a considerable number (174 according to most sources) converted into an early tank-hunter, the 4,7 cm PaK(t) auf Panzerkampfwagen 35R(f) ohne Turm, a variant similar to the Panzerjäger I equipped with the Czech Skoda A6 PUV vz.37 47 mm (1.85 in) gun. These conversions were not successful, however as they were too high and slow. Although some saw service in the summer of 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), most were posted in the Channel islands, Netherlands, with Pz.Jg.Abt.657, which fought at Arnhem, and the remainder saw action in Normandy, France in 1944 (Schnelle Brigade 30 and Schnelle Abt.517).
One hundred and twenty four R35s were given by the Germans to their Italian ally, mostly to compensate for their losses in Africa. These saw action in 1943 at Gela, Sicily, notably against the US Rangers in the early hours of the Allied invasion (Operation Husky).
Romania’s rearmament plan was in full sweep in the early 1930’s when the last Renault tank was tested. The Romanian government sought about acquiring a licence to produce 200 R35s locally. However, since French rearmament was given priority, as a stopgap measure, forty-five R35s were sold and shipped in Romania in August and September 1939, making up the bulk of the newly formed 2nd Armored Regiment. At the end of September, an unexpected thirty-four Polish R35s from the 21st Light Tank Battalion, which fled the Germans, crossed the northern border. These were interned and bolstered the strength of the 2nd Armored Regiment, then made of two brigades. Although these were used as is by the Romanian army -now part of the Axis- thirty-six were converted by Atelierele Loenida in 1943-44 with a high-velocity Soviet 45 mm (1.77 in) gun and saw action as the Vânătorul de Care R35.
Hungary used some R35s, as they interned ex-Polish tanks which were posted on the southern border during the invasion, and crossed it to avoid capture. Bulgaria received some R35s from the Germans and used them in 1943-1944 against partisans. Switzerland too interned a dozen R35s that crossed the French border in June 1940. After the war, ex-French R35s left in Syria were reconditioned and used by the Syrian forces against the Israelis in the 1948 conflict. Five saw action against the kibbutz Degania Alef, but were knocked off by Molotov cocktails and a single 20 mm (0.79 in) AT gun. One is now part today of the Yad-La-Shiron museum collection. Trackstory n°4, the Renault R35/40 GBM, Histoire & Collection, about WW2 French tanks Wikipedia about the R35 The R35 on Chars-Français.net
Renault R35 specifications
4.02 x 1.87 x 2.13 m (13.2 x 6.2 x 7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
10.6 metric tons
2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Renault V-4 gasoline 48 hp, p/w ratio 8.0 hp/t
20 km/h (12 mph)
Horizontal rubber cylinder springs
130 km (80 mi)
Main: 37 mm (1.46 in) L/21 SA18
Secondary: Châtellerault or Reibel MAC31 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine-gun
43 mm (1.69 in)
Total production (R35)
Early R35 with a complicated six-tone camouflage. This particular livery was unveiled by P.Danjou for Minitracks.
R35 “Jaguar” from an unknown unit, May 1940.
R35 from the 20th BCC, France, May 1940.
R35 from the 23rd BCC in June 1940.
“Le Buffle” from the 12th BCC, France, June 1940.
R35, 1st Compagnie Autonome de Chars de Combat, Vichy France, 1941.
R35 modifié 39, 10th BCC Tank Brigade, France, May 1940.
Renault R40, Loire sector, France, June 1940.
Polish R35, September 1939.
Panzerkampfwagen 731 R(f), France, fall 1940.
Italian R35, Ariete Division, Sicily, March 1943.
The 4.7cm(t) Panzerjäger auf 35R(f), or Panzerjäger 35R, was a conversion of the French Renault 35 chassis with a Czech 47 mm AT gun. Already obsolescent Panzer I chassis were similarly converted into the Panzerjäger I in late 1940 and early 1941. It had a straightforward arrangement, with a three-sided open casemate built around the gun, above the base superstructure. Behind it a large ammo storage bin was built over the engine deck. Although slow and high, 174 of these 1941 little tank hunters had been converted for Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. They were later withdrawn and served with units guarding occupied territories, in France and Holland. Many saw action again in Normandy, but by that time their killing power was not highly valued.
Panzer 35R(f) open topped command vehicle armed only with a 7.92 mm Machine gun followed by a Panzerjäger 35R(f)
To come : Syrian R35, 1956.
Latrun museum – Credits: Wikimedia Commons.
This French Renault R35 WW2 Light Infantry Tank has been upgunned by the Lebanon Army with a British 40 mm Ordnance QF 2-pounder gun after 1945. It is currently being restored by France 40 Vehicules Association, it will keep its Lebanese modification. (photo – Pierre-Oliver Buan)
Renault and Schneider had been long time providers in the French tank industry. Hotchkiss (Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss et Cie), founded in 1875 near St Denis (Paris) by Benjamin B. Hotchkiss, an American engineer, was a newcomer in this field, although already well known by the army for its world-famous machine-guns, cars and transmissions (like the Hotchkiss drive).
Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
At first, the Hotchkiss H35 was a private design answering a 1926 specification for a light, cheap infantry tank, or Char d’accompagnement. A proposal was ready by June 1933 showing some innovations, like entirely cast steel hull sections. It was also theoretically cheaper and lighter than the former Renault D2 and was initially retained by the army’s Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement. The final specification issued on the 2nd of August 1933 asked for a 6-ton tank, uniformly protected by 30 mm (1.18 in) of armor.
French Army Hotchkiss H35 light Tank 4e RC No.29 chassis number 40005
Hotchkiss was not the only bidder in this field. Renault quickly entered the fray, being the first to deliver its prototype, which would be accepted as the R35. However, the first prototype Hotchkiss showed to col. Keller of the Commission of Vincennes, was a machine-gun armed tankette, tested until March 1935, and followed by another identical vehicle, in May.
Both were rejected because the initial specification was changed in the meantime, now asking for 40 mm (1.57 in) armor. In August 1935, a third and last prototype was delivered, with a brand new cast hull and APX-R (Puteaux) cast turret armed with a 37 mm (1.46 in) short barrel gun. The proposition was accepted in November as the Hotchkiss H35 and followed by an order of 200 machines.
Production started mid-1936 and by September the first series H35s were delivered and heavily tested. However, it appeared that their cross-country capabilities had been overestimated. They had bad balance and quite bumpy ride, which was potentially dangerous in formation, particularly when firing on the move. The power-to-weight ratio performance was also insufficient. Therefore, the Army turned them down. But as the initial order could not be cancelled from fear of a political upheaval, the Cavalry, already interested because of the slow deliveries of the costly SOMUA S35, accepted to take them instead.
Hotchkiss H35 Light Tank No.10 chassis number 40302
Design of the Hotchkiss H35
The initial H35 was a small and narrow machine, in order to fulfill the bid and keep the weight in check, while having one of the thickest armor of any light tank of 1935. The H35 was very similar to the Renault R35, its main competitor.
They shared the same APX-R (Puteaux foundry) single-piece cast turret characterized by sloped sides, rounded bottom and a spherical vision cupola. The cupola comprised a PPL RX 180 P optical visor and targeting sight. Just behind the mantlet there were three Chrétien binocular slide projectors (later horizontal PPL vision slits). The turret, which weighed 1350 kg with full equipment, housed a low-velocity SA 18 gun M37 (87 kg), with a coaxial 7.5 mm (0.295 in) Reibel machine-gun M31, protected by a small additional mantlet.
The main gun received 102 rounds, and the machine-gun 2400 rounds. The SA 18 had a +20 -13° elevation. The hull was rather small, completely built of cast parts welded together, only 4.22 m (13.78 ft) long and narrow, at just 1.95 m (6.4). The total weight, in battle order, was a mere 9.6 tons. The tracks were small too, each link was only 27 cm (10.63 in) wide. The smaller links procured a smoother ride. The commander had a small seat and strap, but was standing for observation and operating his weapons.
The suspension was made of six pincer bogies, each holding two rubberized roadwheels, sprung by helicoidal horizontal springs. There was a front drive sprocket, a rear idler wheel and two return rollers on each side. The driver/mechanic sat on the right side, seeing through a periscope mounted on a hinged flap, supplemented by two oblique vision slits on the sides. A door section of the hood opened forward to allow the driver access.
Rear view of a French Army Hotchkiss H35 tank in a field of wheat
The commander/gunner accessed the turret through a rear door, and there was an extra emergency manhole at the hull bottom, just behind the driver. Equipment and tools were situated around the hull, comprising a camouflaged tarp fastened by straps to the back, a shovel, hatchet and cutter, on the left fender, a pickaxe bracket at the left of the hull, a mass, jack and crank on the right fender, a track cleaner on the rear cover, a 10-ton cable at the rear and two towing steel chains attached to the hull rear panel.
The engine hood was plunging forward, protecting a gasoline, air-cooled, Hotchkiss 3.4 liters, 6 cylinder, developing 75 [email protected] rpm, for a 8.8 hp/ton ratio. The gearbox was synchromesh, 5 speed forward and one reverse. Normal consumption was 130 liters/100 km. The normal speed on road and flat terrain was 28 km/h, ground pressure was 0.9 kg/cm2. The H35 was found capable of climbing a 35° slope, a 70 cm high obstacle and ford a 0.85 m deep river. However, trench crossing was limited to 1.80 m.
The H35 in service
The initial order was followed by the first delivery in September 1936. Production was interrupted after 400 had been built, in late 1937. Hotchkiss was summoned to revise the design, which will become the H39. The Hotchkiss H35 initially equipped several cavalry units, the 1st DLM (Division Légère Mécanique), 18th Dragons, 4th Cuirassiers, the 2nd DLM and 3rd DLM; the first light cavalry division (1er Régiment d’Auto-Mitrailleuses & Escadron de Reconnaissance Divisionnaire), 2nd and 3rd D.C.L. Later on, as the R35 deliveries were not sufficient, part of the production of the H35 was diverted to the infantry.
It was given to the 13th and 38th BCC (Bataillons de Chars de Combat) of CMC 515, the 33th B.C.C., 22nd and 24th B.C.C. from C.M.C. 510 based at Nancy and Lunéville, as well as the 342nd and 351st CAC (Compagnie Autonome de Chars – Autonomous Tank Companies) from the 1st “Division Cuirassée” (D.C.R.) of general Bruneau. All took part in the operations of May-June 1940, but performed poorly because of their limited speed, endurance and low-velocity main gun. However, the German infantry, largely equipped with the PaK 36 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, was baffled to see how their rounds simply bounced off the thick armor of these light tanks.
Original WW2 color photograph of a Hotchkiss H39 tank
The Hotchkiss H39
The H39 was an overhaul of the previous model, with a new Hotchkiss 6-cyl. 5.97 liters engine giving 120 hp at 2800 rpm. With a power-to-weight ratio of 10 hp/ton (the weight rose to 12.1 tons), top speed was now 36.5 km/h (22.6 mph) on road and range increased to 150 km (93 km) thanks to a new gasoline 207 liter tank. The new engine imposed a redesigned hood, the rear being raised and now nearly horizontal.
Apart from these details, the H39 was very similar to the previous H35, with the same SA 18 short barrel gun. But it was also subjected to some criticism and, by the end of 1938, proposals were made to adopt the new SA 38, long barreled 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, which had far superior penetration power and muzzle velocity. The turret was now equipped only with the new PPL horizontal vision slits.
Le Mistral No.11 of 1er RC Hotchkiss H39 tank chassis Number 40754
The SA 38 was supplied with longer rounds, and thus only 90 could be carried (instead of 100 with the SA 18). The gun was in relatively short supply, and despite the priority given to production of this new weapon, many H39s were put in service with the older gun model. 700 H39s were built in total, starting in October 1938, the last being delivered in feverish conditions, thrown in combat right at the factory door in May 1940 without exhaust or mudguards.
In early 1939, Hotchkiss’ delivery rate was around 60 units each month. Final records are confusing, and based on the chassis numbers and factory monthly deliveries by 1940, the usual figure is 1200 machines in total, for both subtypes.
The Hotchkiss H35/39 in action
The Hotchkiss H39 was also given to cavalry units. The 3rd D.L.M. (Division Légère Motorisée), 4th and 5th DCL, and Army units like the 25th and 26th DCC of Maubeuge, the 2nd DCR and the 3rd DCR. Another unit, the 342nd CACC, had a rich history starting with the expeditionary force in Norway.
Fifteen H39s were shipped to Narvik on the 7th of May. Only 12 were withdrawn in June and finally disembarked in Great Britain, where they would form an embryo of the armored forces of the FFL (Forces Françaises Libres), the Free French led by De Gaulle, as the 1e Compagnie de Chars de Combat de la France Libre. They will see action during the battle of Gabon and in Syria, some being opposed to other loyalist Vichy-manned Hotchkiss H35/39.
Operational formations were unfortunately mismatched. The slow H35s operated with the fast SOMUA S35, and the H39 with the B1 bis. During the May-June campaign, the H35 and H39 found themselves committed in spread out formations and rarely had a clear superiority over the enemy.
Their 37 mm (1.46 in) “long” model 38 gun was, added to their thick armor, a clear advantage in tank-to-tank engagements against German light tanks. They were matched only by the Czech-built Pz.Kpfw.38(t). However, tactically, the lack of radio and communication with HQ, as well as the overburdened tank commander led to disastrous results.
Hotchkiss H39 tanks livery was normally drab compared with the pre WW2 H35 tanks.
Many were abandoned due to the lack of gasoline, entire units being later captured in this way. Some participated in a few improvised counter-offensives directed against the German “Ghost Division”, without air support, which had dire consequences. After the capitulation, the Vichy regime was allowed to send some reserve units in its colonial areas, North Africa (27 of the 1st Régiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique, which fought against Allied M3 Stuarts during operation Torch, destroying three of these), and also in Syria.
Many H35/39s saw action under foreign colors. Three H35s were sent in July 1939 (as well as three R35s) to the Polish Bureau of Technical Studies of Armored Weapons for trials. In September, integrated in an ad hoc unit commanded by Lieutenant J. Jakubowicz, they fought hopelessly with the Dubrno task force. Two were also sold to Turkey by February 1940. Many more saw service with the Axis.
Hotchkiss H39 Tank being used for Policing duties in occupied Yugoslavia.
The H35 and H39 in German service
After the capitulation, the Germans seized an impressive lot of French R35/40s and H35/39s in generally good condition. Around 550 H35 and modifié 39 models were taken over by the Waffenamt, and many modified, their original cupola being replaced by a two-hatch model. They were distributed among several independent companies, as the Panzerkampfwagen 35H 734(f) and Pz.Kpfw. 38H 735(f).
Most were kept unchanged, painted in the regular Dunkelgrau livery for police and occupation duties in France. Many others saw service abroad, like the 211e Panzerabteilung in Finland for the upcoming Operation Barbarossa. By 1942, they were joined by three mixed units, Panzerkampfwagenzüge 217, 218 and 219, makeshift tank platoons comprising one SOMUA S35 and four H39 each. They were disbanded later. Three units, also comprising many H35/39s, were sent in Yugoslavia, like the 7.SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen”. They became a familiar sight for the Partisans, and the most current tank used by Chetnik crews.
Notice the French roundel on the rear of the turret of this Captured Hotchkiss H39 tank
Many of these were also sent to the Axis satellite allies, 19 to the Bulgarians, 15 to Hungary and a handful to Croatia. Those which were found in Normandy in June 1944 faced largely superior US tanks. Such units were the Panzer Abteilung 206, Panzer–Ersatz und Ausb. Abt. 100 and Beute-Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung. By December 1944, only 60 Hotchkiss H39s were still active. Surviving H35/39 also served as a basis for many conversions: Artillerieschlepper 38H(f): Ammunition carriers, supply tanks and artillery tractors, without turrets. Panzerkampfwagen 35H(f) mit 28/32 cm Wurfrahmen: Ad hoc conversions as rocket launcher mobile platforms, featuring two large frameworks with two heavy rockets each. 7,5 cm PaK40(Sf) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f): 24 units were converted as Marder I tank destroyers in 1942. 10,5 cm leFH18(Sf) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f): 48 units converted to a self-propelled artillery version. Very similar to the tank destroyer version, sharing the same high armored casemate. Panzerbeobachtungswagen 38H (f): A 1943 special conversion as an artillery observation vehicle.
The last appearance of a Hotchkiss tank on a battlefield occurred when ten H39s were sold to the Israeli clandestinely and shipped from Marseille to Haifa in 1948. They took part in the 1948 War of Independence with more modern guns, and perhaps the Sinaï campaign in 1956 (as it is claimed by some sources). One is still standing at the Yad la-Shiryon Museum (Latrun).
Two are still in existence in Norway, one in Serbia, another in Bulgaria, three in France (notably at Mourmelon-le-Grand ), including one in full running condition at Saumur, one in Britain at the Kevin Wheatcroft Collection and one in Russia, at the Kubinka Museum, captured from the 211th Panzerabteilung in the summer of 1944.
Hotchkiss H39 specifications
4.22 x 1.95 x 2.15 m (13.1 x 10.6 x 5.7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
12.1 short tons
2 (driver commander/gunner)
Hotchkiss 8-cyl inline 6l, 120 bhp
Speed (road/off road)
36.5 km/h (22.6 mph)
Range – fuel
130 km (80 mi) – 180l
37 mm (1.46 in) Puteaux SA 38
Reibel 7.5 mm (0.295 in) machine-gun
Hotchkiss H35 modifié 38, upgunned with the SA 38 long 37 mm (1.46 in).
Hotchkiss H35 mod 38 command tank version, with a steering tail, 29th Dragoons, 2nd DLM, France, May 1940.
Hotchkiss H39, early type (SA-18 gun version), 4th DLC, 4th RAM, third squadron, third platoon.
Hotchkiss H39, mid-production, (SA-38 gun version), 1st DCR, 26th BCC, Northern France, May 1940. Infantry versions were generally camouflaged in a simpler two-tone pattern of brown patches on factory olive green. This example was fitted with a turret radio.
Hotchkiss H39, 1st DCR (Division Cuirassée), 25th BCC. This unit was attached to the 26th BCC and photos show mixed types with both SA 18 and 38 guns. Some, from the late production batches (April-May 1940) were not camouflaged, like this one.
Panzerkampfwagen 35H 734(f) in France, 1942.
Panzerkampfwagen 38H 734(f), France, 1944. These tanks were mostly used for anti-partisan warfare.
This tank has had different names at different times. In the factory it was just called ‘FT Char.’ The word ‘Char’ means tank. The letters ‘FT’ were a project production code. They were 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 inside the Renault factory knew it was built by Renault.
Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
When the tank entered service with the French army it was called ‘Renault Char d’assaut 18 chevaux’ (Renault assault tank 18 hp) or just ‘le Char Renault’ (The Renault Tank). It was only when Renault started to develop some different armoured fighting vehicles that there was a need to differentiate it from these different designs in reports and other documents. The factory code was used and this is when it started to be called ‘Le Char Renault FT.’ ‘Renault FT’ is the accepted modern term for this tank.
In an official top secret French Army WW1 document dated 14 July 1918 booklet called ‘Instruction sur l’emploiement des char d’assaut’, the Renault FT tank is just referred to as ‘les Chars Légers’ (Light tanks). The Renault TSF wireless tank is just referred to as the Char T.S.F.
The names ‘Renault FT-17’, ‘Renault FT17’, ‘Renault FT 17/18’, ‘Renault FT M17’ and Char léger Renault FT 17 (light tank Renault FT 17) were applied to the tank after WW1.
The world’s first modern tank
Tank development went on at the same pace in Great Britain and in France in 1915. When “Little Willie” had already passed all its tests, so had the French Schneider CA-1. This machine was first suggested and conceived by Eugene Brillé, chief engineer of Schneider on the Holt tractor chassis and designed by Col. Estienne, the French “father of the tanks”, between May and September 1915.
It had to overcome many problems and was first engaged en masse during General Nivelle’s offensive of April 1917 at Berry au Bac. It performed poorly, lacking speed, good maintenance, protection, trench crossing ability and was also very cramped. This painful experience made Estienne and other tank enthusiasts in France to think differently, both tactically and technically, and this ultimately led to the development of the Renault FT, a pioneering vehicle whose basic features are still found on modern MBTs.
The idea and concept
It began as a concept, and became a personal project of Louis Renault, the famous car maker. He sought the ideal weight-to-ratio proportion for a more agile and faster tank than the Schneider CA-1 and the heavy Saint Chamond, and also a cheaper and easier model to produce.
All started after a meeting between Colonel Estienne and him at the Hotel Claridge in Paris. Until then, Louis Renault declined any involvement into tank production, claiming his lack of experience with tracked vehicles and other commitments. However, as an engineer he was taken up by the challenge, and after the meeting, started a practical study for a light vehicle, easy to manufacture with a reduced, unskilled workforce (factories had been depleted then by mass drafts and enlisting).
The core idea came from Estienne himself. Instead of cumbersome armored boxes, he imagined an immense fleet of cheap “bees”, five or six light tanks for the price of a single St Chamond. Small, fast and narrow, they could, by their sheer number, overwhelm the enemy defense -hence the “swarm of light tank” concept. Knowing the administrative and industrial roadblocks before him, he approached one of the most prominent French industrialists of the time.
He also imagined a tank with a power-to-weight ratio good enough to overcome trenches and shell craters, and a fully rotating turret to take full advantage of a single weapon, either a gun or machine-gun. The fully rotating turret was not new. It was used operationally since 1915 on many French armored-cars, Renault, Peugeot and White, and by countless others around the world. The 1905 Charron armored car already used fully revolving turrets.
The light tank concept was not one that felt natural to military strategists, despite the fact that it was easier to produce en masse. This was the gamble of Louis Renault, whom, with the unwavering support of Col. Estienne, directly called for the acceptance of his ideas from the commander in chief, Joffre, but he was then rebuffed by the minister of the armaments and production, Albert Thomas.
The latter only agreed for a single prototype. More so, when production got approved in December 1916, confirmed again in February 1917, the order was postponed due to priority being given to artillery tractors instead.
It was officially accepted in May 1917, when Pétain replaced Nivelle, but, still, the reluctant director of Motor Services, general Mourret, was not replaced before September by Louis Loucheur, who finally gave the green light. In the meantime, the prototype delivered in January 1917 performed first trials at Renault’s Billancourt factory, before being sent to the Artillerie spéciale proving grounds at Champlieu for corrections.
Although performing according to plans, it was later met with skepticism by the commission officers present at Marly on 22 April. Some asked for better ventilation, a wider turret and hull, or to raise the ammunition capacity to a staggering 10,000 cartridges! Still, the project had the enthusiastic support of the Consultative Committee of the assault artillery, and General Pétain’s arrival on the scene seemed to unlock the situation.
He was sold on Estienne’s ideas, but for different reasons: He saw these as a morale-booster for simple soldiers. Helater ordered that all the trucks carrying these tanks to the frontline had this mention written in large characters on their back plate: “Le meilleur ami de l’infanterie” (“infantry’s best friend”).
The Renault FT prototype included a rotating turret, a concept already tested with the Little Willie, a rear engine configuration, a front driver, with the turret operator (and commander) right behind. Compared to the short and narrow hull, the modified Holt chassis was big enough to allow sufficient grip on any ground.
To manage large trench crossings a rear tail was mounted, which facilitates balance and hanging. Instead of “mobile fortresses” or “land cruisers”, the Renaut FT seemed lightly armed, but the turret made it versatile and efficient in most circumstances.
Renault’s talented engineer Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier designed a narrow riveted box (slightly more than an average shoulders width), with flat sides, pointed noise and sloped rear. All available internal space was used, with almost no room to spare. The engine was located at the rear, and separated from the fighting compartment by a firewall. The driver sat on the front, his feet acting on the brake and release clutch pedals between the large pair of idler wheels.
The commander stood just behind him. At first the standing position was only meant for short-term offensive, but with time, a leather strap was fixed on both sides, as an improvised sitting. However, the commander still had to stand up to use his narrow cupola.
The crew accessed the tank through the front, through a two-doors hatch, and collapsible upper vision armored panel. The commander could exit from the rear turret hatch, a feature which became mainstream on French tanks. The driver had three vision slits, one on the collapsible panel, two on the sides.
The Renault 4-cylinder air-cooled petrol engine was started either by a rear crank or an internal one. It was handily reachable from above, protected by a large hood. The petrol tank was installed after the turret and before the engine, high for gravity and well-protected except from above.
A steel chain was usually suspended on the rear tail in order to be used for towing another vehicle. Large metal boxes were suspended on the flanks, with shovels, picks, spanner and other tools, as well as sometimes additional fuel tanks and spare track links.
There was no means of communication between the turret operator and driver and the interior was almost deafeningly noisy, so a kind of “kicking code” in the back, shoulders or even head of the driver was used to transmit steering orders. These were armed with a Puteaux SA 18 37 mm (1.45 in) short-barreled, low-velocity gun, or a coaxial Hotchkiss 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun.
The prototype was examined by a commission, but almost cancelled in favor of the new Char 2C heavy tank, which never made its appearance before the armistice. After a few mass-production modifications on the prototype, the first wave was ordered in December 1916 for deliveries in February 1917, but amended, then suspended, and was still in jeopardy in May, despite the arrival of Pétain.
It was not until September 12 that the new armament minister Louis Loucheur took Thomas’s office, and the project was definitely approved. Under Charles-Edmond Serre’s supervision, the first 84 machines were delivered prior to the end of 1917, and 2697 more until November 1918. This was, by far, the largest tank production by any country at that time, but caused problems to Renault which was still not ready to fulfill such orders and convinced other firms to share the lot, like Berliet at Lyon, and (Schneider) Somua and Delaunay Belleville.
It was proposed as a licence to foreign countries as well, and the US industry was first in line, the federal government receiving a single tank and complete plans for 1200 more, both to cover the needs of the French and US Army.
Renault produced two variants of the FT, the “female”, or machine-gun model, which was more common, and the “male”, armed with a short-barreled 37 mm (1.45 in) Puteaux SA 18 gun. Those models also differed by their definitive “Omnibus” turret, multi-faceted (standard) or rounded with bent metal plates, also known as the “Girod turret” first introduced by Berliet (hence the “Berliet turret”).
By December 1917 3100 FTs were to be produced with the Omnibus turret, in both types, as well as 700 derived BS versions (fitted with a short 75 mm howitzer) and 200 TSF, radio versions. In January 1918, the order was again shifted for 1000 “female”, 1850 “male”, 970 BS (howitzer versions) and 200 TSF. In October the total order has reached a staggering 7820 machines. In November the armistice came and the order was cancelled, 1850 had been delivered so far by Renault, 800 by Berliet, 600 by Somua, and 280 by Delaunay-Belleville. The largest turret manufacturer was Paul Girod Aciéries at Ugine, which casted, assembled and forged round and octagonal models.
Problems were experienced with the armor plates. Many came at the time from Britain, which caused delays due to local priorities. The supply of the new 37 mm Puteaux gun, specially redesigned from a light artillery gun, was also slow to reach full production. Despite the considerable delays (almost a year) before an effective production started, the first batch was still plagued with defects.
About one third of the initial order had to be shipped back to the manufacturer for corrections. There was also a continuous lack of spare parts, which hampered the units’ operational capabilities and limited maintenance in the field. The poor quality of the fuel filters in particular, and the highly sensitive fan belts caused considerable turmoil and up to ten per cent of active vehicles were unfit for service in 1918 because of this, waiting for replacement parts.
In 1919 a new redesigned version was proposed by Renault, including a more powerful engine, a long-barreled Puteaux gun and additional cases fitted in their tracks. It was successfully exported throughout the world. Some of them were immediately put into action, like the Finnish and Polish versions against the Soviets.
War operations of the FT
The small FT was an undeniable success, despite some flaws of the first series, including the radiator fan belt and cooling system problems. Large number of FTs were provided to most Western front units by mid-1918, and they were involved in all major offensives (4356 engagements and 746 lost in action), successfully crossing no man’s land and “cleaning” trenches as designed, but also forests.
The first operational unit using FTs was the 1st BCL (Batallion de Chars Légers), on 18 February 1918. But only at the end March did this unit receive its full tank complement, although still unarmed. Each battalion counted three companies, with a full strength of 75 vehicles. The majority were MG-armed (41), with 30 gun-armed and up to four TSF, with 3 vehicles in reserve.
Although it was smaller and less impressive than previous tanks, the FT was nevertheless successful, as Estienne had predicted, because so many reached the enemy lines at the same time, overwhelming the German defenses. It was also a tricky target due to its narrow section and small height. It gave confidence to the regular soldiers whom advanced behind it, avoiding most of the punishing machine-gun fire.
First engagement occurred in May, 1918 at Foret de Retz, near Soissons. Tactics also involved a combination of gun-equipped “male” tanks to strike machine gun nests and pillboxes, and “females”, equipped with a 7.92 mm (0.32 in) Hotchkiss machine gun to finish the job. There, the rotating turret made all the difference. As the production rose and the tactics were refined and codified, a swarm of light tanks was intended to be thrown towards the German lines in the greatest Allied offensive planned for January-February 1919. Of course the armistice put an end to this plan, including a grand total of 12,260 tanks to be built in France, USA, Italy and Great Britain.
The American FT
Soon after the US joined the war, it was considered suitable to equip the newly formed units with provisional French FT tanks. Since the French general staff needed a huge production, US manufacturers were approached. Built under licence and with a revised design, this was later called “6 tons tank M1917” for “model 1917”.
A world success
If the United States, which were involved in the war, logically received many FT 17s, other countries also did. The Italians, for example, received 3 which were later copied and modified to produce the FIAT 3000. 24 were also used by the British, for testing. The French alone accepted in active duty during and after the war no less than 3177 machines, which made the French army, by far, the dominant tank force in the world at the time, and remained so nearly twenty years after.
Exports, well served by Renault’s knowledge of the international market, reached Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Japan. These tanks remained in first line many years in these countries, to the point that two Afghan FTs were found in relative good condition during “Operation Enduring Freedom”! Actually the US still has many M1917s as museum pieces, but none of the original French FT. The only one, previously owned by the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, was turned to the French government at a French request.
In fact 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.
These were still in use in regional units in September 1939, and many of them were posted outside the metropolis. The “Russkyi Reno” remains unique, but a modified version with a new sprung suspension was built in large numbers during the early twenties. During the interwar period, these Renault FT fought in many events, like the Russian Civil War, the Polish-Soviet War, the Manchurian War, the Chinese Revolution, the Rif War (in Morocco), the Spanish Civil War and the Estonian war.
Other French variants include anti-tank gun FTs, which would have been armed with a 25 mm (0.98 in) or a 40 mm (1.57 in) gun. Some 2,000 FTs, then in service and in reserve, were planned for conversion. An FT with an experimental short-pitch track was designed in an attempt to increase speed, but the Kegresse system was preferred. Several SPGs were considered, the 75 Chenilles and 105 L Chenilles, which featured the gun aimed at the rear of the vehicle. The STAV Chenilles and STA 75 Chenilles also competed for the SPG requirement. A Renault FT Ammunition Carrier was planned to aid these SPGs.
The FT 75 BS Poseur de Pont was planned to mount a bridge for other FTs to cross, but it was cancelled. A handful of Renault FTs were planned to mount a mast with two floodlights, planned to aid with lighting the trenches and policing duties. FTs were also planned to mount fascines, a snowblower, a bulldozer, and a crane. The Renault FT featured the first ever mine plow, but it was never mass produced.
Some FTs were planned to be converted to agricultural tractors, but several problems cancelled the project. An odd plan was the FT Poseur de Masque, which carried a 2-ton concrete block that was intended to obscure machine-gun slits on the Siegfried Line.
After some successful experiments with field artillery, French tanks were painted in sophisticated patterns comprising between three and seven different colors, sometimes separated by black strips, known as “tiger pattern”. There were not intended to blend the vehicle into the background but to disrupt the shapes for enemy observers. Professional artists, led by Guirand de Scevola, a cubist academic painter, were committed to study visual disruption and apply often complicated patterns, later summarized as the “dazzle”. But with the growing production, these patterns were simplified to be applied by unskilled workers right at the factory.
Interwar & World War Two
FT 17s after the war were in service with more than 20 countries around the world and took an active part in many military conflicts on different continents. It has become one of the most popular interwar model, and purchased by Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Belgium, while Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece and Sweden tested it. The biggest buyer outside Europe was Brazil. The FT influence worldwide could not be underestimated: They were the very first US, Soviet and Italians tanks, generating close-copies and printing a profound mark on later developments.
There were still thousands of FTs in various conditions around the globe when the Second World War broke out. The bulk of this WWI vintage fleet was in France, mostly because of a late rearmament. Both the Renault R35 and Hotchkiss H35 were due to completely replace this model (almost 2800 light tanks combined in May 1940).
But still around 1850 FTs were listed as of 1939, renamed “FT-31”. These were rearmed version with 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, although not worrying an ageing general staff still thinking in trench warfare terms. Many were stationed in the Colonies, others served in second line, some were in various depots or assigned to training units when the western campaign began. This fleet was seized by the Germans, and reused for various duties.
Numerous Renault FTs saw action during the three first years of the war. The Polish ones were committed when the Germans launched Fall Weiss, Finnish modified Naaras and Koiraas fought as dug out pillboxes for ambushes during the winter campaign, the Belgian FT-18s were also at the stakes when the Werhmacht crossed the north-eastern border in May 1940. Later on in April 1941, the Yugoslavian FTs and a very few Greek models also saw action against the Panzerdivisions.
In Indo-China, also in 1941, French colonial armored brigades equipped with the FT-17 (in original conditions) opposed a Thai invasion. The very same year, Iran, still operating a small fleet of FTs was found mobilized during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of their country. Perhaps some of these were sold or sent to Afghanistan and found some years ago by G.I.s in a metal dump.
In French service
The FT-31 was a large-scale modernization of all existing FT models, upgraded with a new Reibel 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine gun and a new mask. About 1560 took part in the battle of France in May-June 1940. Some were parts of regional airbases defence forces. Most were captured and later served with Vichy forces and the Wehrmacht. Other were still listed in the Colonies of North Africa, Indo-China, and Syria and many survived until 1945.
In German service
After the fall of France, the Wehrmacht captured as many as 1700 FTs, which were redesignated, painted in feldgrau with the Balkenkreuz. They were all machine-gun equipped. All captured FT 31 tanks which were not allocated to the Vichy police forces were taken over by the Wehrmacht.
The Poles contracted the delivery of 23 FTs for the defense of their newly liberated country. But they never saw action until the very end of the 1920 Soviet-Polish War. Most of those involved in the battle of Warsaw and other events were French FTs which French or Polish crews. Later on, many more were acquired, reaching a maximum of 174 machines.
Some were later made by CWS (meaning “Centralne Warsztaty Samochodowe” – Central Car Workshops) which manufactured 26 or 27 tanks from French spare parts between 1925 to 1927, plus some with Polish iron plates and other parts. The local production model used soft iron instead of steel, and were retained for training as the armor was improper to combat usage. Perhaps 30 to 60 Polish FTs were later sold to Uruguay (which in turn sold them to Spain, then in Civil War), others were bought by Yugoslavia and China. Polish engineers devised improvements, like a faster prototype equipped with laterally flexible tracks or designed derivatives like the smoke tank Czolg dymotworczy.
Italy got three FT-17s in June 1918. But the deliveries were reserved to French units first, so the general staff decided to start their own production. Despite the fact that the program was cancelled in November 1918, the design was drafted for the upcoming FIAT 3000 finally delivered in numbers between 1922-1926.
12 FTs were bought in August 1921, all machine gun armed, deployed in 1922 in Morocco against Beni Said Tribe (Rif war). These were later found on opposite sides during the Civil War, with the Republicans (the 1st Tank Regiment of Madrid), and on the side of Franco’s nationalists with the 2nd Tank Regiment of Zaragoza. The 1st Regiment took part in the defense of Madrid on September, 1st, 1936. The FT remains influential in the design of the Trubia, the first Spanish tank built in small series between 1926-1931.
During the Polish-Russian war of 1920 and the Civil war, both the Poles and the White Russians had many FTs enlisted, later captured by the Red Army, notably at the battle of Berezovka. By 1920 the Red Sormovo factory succeeded in copying this model and produce the first Soviet tank (“Freedom Fighter Comrade Lenin”), now preserved, followed by a series of “Russkiy Reno”, which had a long barreled 37 mm gun and a machine-gun in a separate turret mount. Ultimately this experience led to the development of the T-18, largely influenced by the FT design.
Sweden also bought a single Renault FT in 1923, armed with the 37 mm gun. It was apparently renamed ‘Putte’ – meaning ‘little’. However, it was not well received by the Swedish army and it ended its life as a radio vehicle.
There were about 32 tanks given to the Finnish army in 1919 and two more provided in 1920, all equipped with the 1919 model rounded turret and long barrel 37 mm (1.45 in) Puteaux gun. Most of them were still in use during the Winter War of 1939.
The Royal Army of Yugoslavia acquired 34 FT-17s in the early twenties (54 according to sources claiming 8 being from French units left in Bulgaria, the others in the 1930s, including some Polish-made CWS), followed by 21 Renault NC2 (M26/27) Kégresse, improved, faster models. The batch was completed later by 54 Renault R35s. All were committed against the German onslaught in April 1941.
Total order in 1921 was 12 “carros de assalto”, enough to make a company with 4 machine gun armed, 7 gun-armed, and one TSF, command version. A former WWI observer in French units and father of the Brazilian tank force, Captain José Pessôa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, suggested the purchase. Although they were initially purchased to test tactical theories, these tanks fought against the rebellion of 1924 and the revolution of 1932, and survived WWII, being kept for training purposes.
The Belgian army purchased some 75 gun-armed versions, slightly modified and locally called FT-18. The engine was modified, giving an extra kph in top speed, and the armor was slightly reinforced. All were still in service by May 1940.
Twelve Renault FT-17 tanks were bought from France in 1923. The tanks were named “Audra”, Drasutis”, “Galiunas”, “Giltine”, “Grianstinus”, “Karzygis”, “Kerstas”, “Kovas”, “Pagieza”, “Pykoulis”, “Slibinas” and “Smugis”. They were equipped with a Vickers machine-gun and served with the Radviliskis tank regiment from the early twenties to the late thirties.
Greece & Turkey
Greece tested both the FT gun-armed and MG-armed and the more modern NC2, but none was ordered. A single batch was delivered to the Turkish Infantry Shooting School based at Maltepe in 1926.
Although a handful Berliet-built FTs were sent to Romania for training in 1917, some 72 brand-new ones were purchased and delivered in June 1919, to face-off the ever present Soviet threat. They saw widespread service but were withdrawn from active duty and kept for training from 1939.
Some 30 to 45 steel Polish-built CWS tanks were sold to China, according to some sources. But the first were former French FTs left in Vladivostock in 1919 (then into “white” Russian hands) were acquired by the Manchurian warlord Chang Tso-Lin. 14 more were acquired in 1924-25 and fought against Wu Peifu.
Japan bought the Renault FT in 1919, at the same time with a batch of Mark A Whippets. It was designated “Ko Gata” (Model A). The “Type 79” according to the chronological nomenclature, was never officialized. These thirteen tanks were immediately sent to the newly created Army Infantry School and the first unit, 1st IJA tank Company at Kurume, for officer training. Some were transferred to the Army Cavalry School.
In 1929, Japan also acquired the modernized NC-1 (M26/27), Otsu(“B”)-Gata Sensha. The “Ko-Gata” was used during the incident of Harbin, Manchuria in 1932. The unit was commanded by Captain Hyakutake. Both models were still in active service by 1940. Japan acquired spare parts after the occupation of Vichy-controlled Indochina. Main source: “The Renault FT Light Tank“, Steven J. Zaloga, Osprey Vanguard 1988. Another reference: “Minitracks n°10 about the FT“.
4.95(with tail)/4.20 x 1.74 x 2.14 m (16.24/13.77×5.7×7.02 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Renault 4 cyl petrol, 39 hp (24 kW)
7.5 km/h (4.66 mph)
65 km (40.38 miles)
Female: Hotchkiss 7.9 mm (0.32 in) machine gun
Male: Puteaux SA 18 37 mm (1.45 in) gun
22 mm (0.87 in)
First World War
First series, training machines, with the provisional cast turret. The factory grey livery was related to artillery units.
FT early production version with the Berliet rounded turret, and factory dark olive green. The first cast turrets, complex and costly to manufacture, were later replaced by a new model, the “Omnibus” made of riveted plates, either octagonal or rounded.
The standard FT of 1917, equipped with a 7.92 mm (0.32 in) Hotchkiss machine gun. About two thirds of all FTs produced during the war were “females” like it. Unknown unit, with the octagonal variant of the “Omnibus turret” developed by Berliet, which was probably the cheapest to produce.
Unknown unit, chassis 66562 “Le Tigre”, tiger pattern, 1918.
Fall 1918 or 1919, five-tone pattern, later named the “Japanese style”. Unknown unit, “Le Tigre”, fall 1917. “The Tiger” was the nickname of the popular French president, Georges Clémenceau.
Unknown unit, early 1918, three tone camouflage, applied on the original factory khaki.
FT Char Canon “La Victoire”, unknown unit, 1918.
The male Renault FT, armed with a short barrel SA 19 Puteaux 37 mm (1.45 in) gun, with about 238 rounds, used against fortified positions. At point-blank range, a 37 mm shot could penetrate any kind of concrete pillboxes. “Char canon”, serving with an American unit, Varennes, Argonne Forrest, 1918. The bordering black stripes were often omitted by then.
Renault FT, Berliet model with the Girod turret, 506E RAS, 1918.
Variants & Prototypes
Renault TSF, in khaki livery, early 1918. Click to see another variants.
FT 75 BS, howitzer armed version. About 40 were built after the end of the war. Here is an example (unknown unit) with a three-tone 1918 factory-applied camouflage (without bordering stripes).
FT “Passe-partout” from the 1st Company, 2nd Section, 2nd Battalion, 1st Polish Tank Regiment, Lodz, 1920.
Polish Renault “Lis” from the 1st Tank Regiment, Puk Czolgow.
Lithuanian FT(mod) “Slibinas”, 3rd Company, Lithuanian Tank Battalion, Radviliskis 1925.
“Freedom Fighter Comrade Lenin” the first Soviet built tank, copied after captured FTs, 1920.
FT-17, 112nd slow-running Tank battalion, Briest 1935
Type 79 Ko-Gata, Manchuria 1937.
Carro de Assalto, Brazilian FT, 1935.
World War Two
Renault FT modifié 31 (sometimes “FT 31”), modernized version, from the 31st BCC. Renault FT 31, 33rd BCC, France, May 1940. FT 31, 63rd BCC, Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
1st Armored Tank Batallion of the Yugoslavian Royal Army, April 1941.
Captured Renault FT in France, likely circa mid-1940. Note that the barrel seems to have been removed, leaving only the barrel cover in place. Alternatively, it is possible the crew drained the fluid from the recuperator and then fired the gun, destroying it. Source: Bronson, British Collectors of Arms & Militaria Forum.
Renault FT Char d’Instruction. Colorized by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.
Renault FT Char Mitrailleuse. Colorized by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.
Centennial WW1 POSTER
Renault FT World Tour Shirt
What a tour! Relive the glory days of the mighty little Renault FT! A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project.Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!
The First World War’s fierce battles saw the need to develop military technology beyond anything previously imagined: as exposed infantry and cavalry were mowed down by relentless machine-gun attacks, so tanks were developed. Stunningly illustrated in full colour throughout, Tank Hunter: World War One provides historical background, facts and figures for each First World War tank as well as the locations of any surviving examples, giving you the opportunity to become a Tank Hunter yourself.
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