Saturday, 24 September 2016

Renault FT-17: The first modern tank

The tank is an invention from the First World War designed to break the stalemate on the western front. The idea of an armored vehicle with guns or 'landship' is (apparently to simply) seen as coming from the British but it are the French who came up with the design that actually worked and still forms the blue print of all tanks designed ever since. All tanks used in the Great War where quite large and heavy. The only exception is the Renault FT-17. This is tank smaller then a small car though it is a bit higher. The other French tanks, the Clamond and Schneider CA-1 didn't perform as expected. They where to heavy and cumbersome was the conclusion so the French designed the FT-17. The absolute novelty was the rotating turret armed with a machine gun or 37mm canon. The tank also had relatively wide tracks. It's small size and weight also contributed to it's success. It's weight to power ratio was comparable with other successful tanks from the era though. There was a fire proof wall between the engine and crew compartment. This sounds logical but don't forget the Mk.I to Mk.V and AV-7 housed the engine in the same compartment as the crew. On the battlefield it was the most successful tank and also the most numerous with 3000 produced. An additional 700 where deployed by the American army. These licensed build tanks knows are known as the M1917. The 'ramp' on the back of the tank was fitted to prevent it from tipping over when driven up a steep slope. A tank is a compromise between mobility, armor and arms, this tank got it just right for the Great War. Apart from the weapons two different turrets exists, one is a casted or 'berliet' turret and one is made from plates riveted together. Most surviving examples have a berliet turret. There are two examples in The Netherlands not mentioned on wikipedia. One is in Overloon, it was used in WWII by the Germans and is repainted in light grey with german markings. The other one is in the National Military Museum and was used by the Dutch army to show to recruits what a tank actually looks like. Both have a casted turret.

Reenactments with the FT-17. Although small and driving at walking speed this was one of the most dangerous things you could see coming your way during world war I apart from bullets and bombshells. It seems silly nowadays but during the Great War machine guns in trenches formed an impenetrable defense until these things showed up.

A short piece of TV with the FT-17.

Models of the FT-17 have been scarce in any scale until recent years. Now they are available in 1/72, 1/35 and even 1/16. In 1/76 matchbox (now Revell has the molds) made a FT-17 and also included is a Char 1 Bis in the box. This model is not in production at the moment. The recent years Hät also released a model of both a berliet and riveted turret version. Be careful though, the versions of the models first made by Hät are made from polyethylene which can't be glued. RPM has by far the biggest selection of versions, including a smoke screen layer and radio version.

The best models are made by 'Flyhawk model' however. The offer both the cast turret (Kit. No. FH3000) and riveted (Kit. No. FH3001) version. You get two models in a box and both can be build as machine gun version or a canon version, or one of each of course. Photo etched parts are included for two surfaces which couldn't be detailed in the mold. Other photo etched parts include the transmission belt between drive axis and driving sprocket, handles for the drivers compartment and supports for the toolbox. The last two are also included in plastic for those who find the photo etched parts to fine and small. I used the toolbox supports from plastic because I find the photo etched parts looking to thin although they are probably on scale. Most of the tracks links are molded as one piece of hard plastic and can be painted before assembly. The drive sprocket can be build in such a way you can turn it. If you glue it solid in place be sure to put it in the right position because the tracks and sprocket interlock just like the real thing. The other thing to be careful with is the 'ramp' on the back of the tank. On the striped canon version I attached it to high. On the halves of the parts holding the road wheels there is one big protrusion used to fill release the part from the mold which must be removed. The spring on this part might be replaced with one made from wire but I didn't as the plastic one looks great when painted but that is really the only thinkable 'improvement' on this kit. The 'renault' logo on the sides of the tank is missing, probably due to licencing issues but that is beyond Flyhawk model. Both kits have about 30 parts.
With over 3000 build it can be painted in any color used in The Great War. Form monochrome green, brown or ocker to a 7 color scheme with black and while lines separating the different colors.

The photo's:

The FT-17's

Going over the trenches.

Watch out!

Along the Mk.I

With it's modern day counterpart, the LeClerc.

This model is really engineered with the modeler in mind. The parts fit together perfectly, the require virtually no clean up and with 30 parts each the number of parts is not too small and not to big either. The tedious work of cleaning numerous wheels and fitting tiny single track links is not needed. The photo etched parts are also optional leaving just three small parts per tank making it quite buildable for beginners as well. Great to see such a perfected model from this very important piece of tank history.

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