You are here

Renault Tank, World War I, Bourg, France, December, 1918

Renault Tank

New York State Archives, NYSA_A3166-78_B1_F18_RenaultTank
Document Description
Photograph of a Renault tank.  This photograph was taken at the American tank center in Bourg, France in December, 1918.
Why would a fully rotating turret be a good characteristic for a tank?
Based on the size of the tank in the picture compared to the soldier in front, how many men would you have thought served on one of these tanks?
How many men actually were aboard a tank according to the description of the document?
Why is the Renault tank so significant in military history?
Historical Challenges
How were Renault tanks used after WWI? What specific wars were they used in? How have they impacted tank building today?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Journalism: Pretend you are interviewing Louis Renault. What would he say about his impact on military history?
Hickman, Kennedy. “World War I: Renault FT-17 Tank” Retrieved from:
Jaeger Platoon: “Renault FT-17 Tanks.” Finnish Army 1918 - 1945 Website. 2010. Retrieved from: “Renault FT-17.” 2003-2010. Retrieved from:


Historical Context
The Renault tank (FT-17,) the world’s first modern tank, was designed by Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier in 1916 after Colonel Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne envisioned the creation of a light tank for the French Army. Estienne arranged for a tank to be ordered from the French car designer, Louis Renault , who then encouraged Ernst-Metzmaier to design the tank.  This World War I French tank basically established the design of future tanks, even though the British were the first to introduce the tank into combat.  It was designed to be “light” so it would have better mobility and speed than heavier models.  The Renault tank was also different from earlier French models in that its turret fully rotated and it had a top mounted turret with a front driver and rear engine.  The main gun was a 37mm gun and the tank also had one or two anti-infantry 7.62mm machine guns for self-defense.  Two men would be assigned to each tank.

The tank was very successfully tested in 1917 at Champlieu and proved so popular that the original 350 tanks ordered in February 1917 escalated to 3,500 tanks to be delivered by the end of 1918.  By the time the armistice was signed, the French had ordered almost 8,000 tanks to be built, although “only” 3,000 were actually manufactured by the end of the war.  The FT-17 definitely helped the French in the later years of the war, along with other models like the American M1917 6 ton form used by the American Expeditionary Force.  These tanks, because of their popularity, went on to be used in many future conflicts.
Essential Question
How does technology change the way wars are fought?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the ways in which tanks changed war strategies.