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Patton and his Tanks in WWI

The Renault FT 17 French Light Tank

Magi Renault tank number 1456 345th Batt 1st tank brigade

The is perhaps the finest restored Renault FT17 in the world. No detail has been left out. It is fully operational and running and is occasionally brought out on special occasions by the Museum of the American GI located in Collage Station Texas. The master of tank restoration and nationally known Brent Mullens has meticulously restored this tank to its original specifications. Brent is the President of the Museum of the American GI restored this tank. http://americangimuseum.org


This is one of the only documented French Renault FT 17 that still exist that fought under Patton in the 1st Tank Brigade of 1918. This tank is fully operational and is most probably the finest restored example of a French Renault tank in the world. The author of this web page has watch its restoration from the time it arrived until it was fully restored. 

When then Captain Patton made his 58 page double spaced type written report, “Light Tanks” and submitted it on December 12, 1917, no one is General Pershing’s headquarters had any direct knowledge of tanks, light or heavy. They were well aware of them, talked to both British and French commanders of tanks, knew they had a frightening effect on the enemy and knew they wanted them. After that, their slate was blank as to how to use them and exactly how to go about getting the information to do so.

Their solution was to assign Capt. George S. Patton Jr. to the A.E.F. tank Corps, a committee of one, and give him the authority to investigate the use of light tanks.   He became the very first Soldier in the US Army to be so assigned to tanks.

The French Renault FT 17 light tank had seen combat and was being manufactured by the French so they had a production plant, soldiers to man them and a tank program to teach their soldiers. Their program was new and was still being revised as after action reports caused them to constantly rethink the use of the tanks in combat. 

If you have read the previous web pages you are now well aware of their use in combat the First Tank Brigade commanded by Lt. Col. Patton. Combat service is complicated and the very first thing required of any combat arm is to understand the nature of the arms you are going to fight with.  It was Patton’s 58 page light tank report that did just that.

The tanks that fought in the First Tank Brigade were recovered after the First World War and sent back to the states. They were crudely numbered on their side as to what battalion they had been assigned to when they were shipped home in late 1919. Many were used until used up and some immediately sold for scrap.  Fortunately one that was sold for scape still exists. It is tank number 1456, and it was manned and fought in Captain Compton’s 345th Tank Battalion, 1st Tank Brigade, under Lt. Col. Patton’s command.

Magi Renault Tank before restoration
The author took this image a few years ago and can attest to the fact that it truly is a tank from the 345th Tank Battalion under Col Patton’s command.


How did a 100 year old tank make it to Texas

The Museum of the American GI
If you can not visit the museum because of distance you have missed a real treat.The above display board tells how the tank got to Texas. For those of you who can not come and visit, here is a virtual tours of a “walk around” those who have seen it believe to be the the finest restored Renault FT17 tank in the world.


A construction company had purchased the tank when it was released for surplus, minus it’s turret and cannon, from the US Army. Sometime in 1920 they were using for construction purposes when it broke down. The Pfaff family bought it and used it on their family farm and even moved a school house with it.  It remained in the family and stored away for many years. It was not unknown to collectors but not offered for sale.

In 2005 Brent Mullins, President of the Museum of the American GI, located in Collage station Texas, purchased it. This is a rare tank in that it provenance shows that the 345th Tank brigade fought in the battle of St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

I have known Brent Mullins for over 20 years and he is one of the world’s expert on the restorations of military vehicles and specifically tanks. I can think of no finer example to use to explain how the French Renault FT 17 Tank functions that to use the best restored example in the world. (My opinion to be sure but if there is a better example, please point it out to me.) [I will put the URL to it right here]

R1 Renault FT 17 Left Side view 2

R2 Renault FT 17 Full view of left side

R3 Renault FT 17 right side view R4 Rear view showing 345th Battalion marking placed on before shipping back to the states in 1918

R5 Renault FT 17 Left side view

R6  Renault FT 17 Front View
R7 Renault FT 17 Cushion seat for Driver R8 Renault FT 17 gear shift lever
R9 Renault FT 17 rear tai R10 Renault FT 17 right side view
R11 Renault FT 17 pick on side of tank

R12 Renault FT 17 Turret with 37 mm cannon

R13 Renault FT 17 view showing tank number 1456 R14 Renault rope used for towing
R15 Renault FT 17 steel jack R16 Renault FT 17 Bottom view of 37 mm cannon
R17 Renault FT 17 inside turret view R18 Renault FT 17 gunners view of cannon and shells inside turrent
R19 Renault FT 17 Leather strap used as seat for gunner R20 Renault FT 17 Shell mounting inside tank
R21 Renault FT 17 view on cannon sighting scope R22 Renault FT 17 Turrent upper hatch
R23 Renaut FT 17 Turret markings R24 Renault FT 17 sledge hammer and muffler
R25 Renault seat and gear shift lever R26 Renault FT 17 Spring suspension system
R27 Renault FT 17 Suspension spring for track front view R28 Renault FT 17 Track showing numbering sysyen of treads
R29 Renault FT 17 Wooden front wheel R30 Renault FT 17 Louis Renasult MFG makers tag

French Renault Light Tank Statistics

United States measuring equivalents and the original was in meters, kilometer’s, and cubic centimeters. 

Dimensions: 16 feet, 5 inches, width 5 feet, 8 inches, height 7 feet 6 ½ inches. These measurements are approximate as the French use the meter system. The armor plate is 0.3 to 0.6 inches think. Weight: 7.4 tons. Engine Renault 4-cylinder, 39 horse power, thermo-siphon cooled. Transmission: Sliding gear with 4 forward speeds and  reverse speed. Horsepower/ton ration 5.3. Tracks Flat metal plates 13 inches wide, with single grouser. Suspension: Coil and leaf spring with pivoted bogies. Fuel Capacity 24 gallons. Range 24 miles. Maximum speed 6 miles an hour. Armament 1 37mm cannon or 1 8mm machine gun (Hotchkiss) mounted in in a fully traversing turret.  Obstacle ability: Could cross trenches 6 ½ foot wide, ford stream 27 inches deep, climb a 45 degree slope, scale a 24 inch wall, and knock down trees up to 10 inches in diameter. Crew: 2

Captain Patton had went into great detail explaining the mechanics and use of the light tanks because it went to the GHQ of Pershing’s AEF. In other words, it would be read by General Pershing himself.  It was he who had to approve a program he had little knowledge of and Patton also knew that his reports had to explain all aspects of tanks if it was to go forward.

Light Tank Report by Capt. Patton December 1917

His first paragraph explained
What a tank is.

Fig 1 Patton defines a tank

What does a tank need to be used for?

Fig 2 what a tank needs to do

Patton explains what tracks are and what they do

Fig 4 the tracks

Patton went into a rather technical description of the tank and the different functions of the suspension system. He explained how the how the tank transfer its power to the spur-gear-driven sprockets. It was by this means that the motor gives moment to the tracks explaining that the boogies or wheels of a tank does not come in contact with the ground, rather the wheels role of tracks.

Then came the tracks which made the vehicle unique

Fig 6a the tracks


Renault FT Tank Track Installation
Museum of the American GI

There is a very good description of how the motor works and explains how the carburetor works and how the magneto fires the engine. However Brent Mullin’s thought of a way to explain how the motor works by videoing it while it was yet to be put back into the tank after restoration.


Fig 7 motor and gas supply


Renault FT 17 Engine stored before putting into the tank left side Renault Engine restored out of tank
Renault Restored engine side viewRenault Tank Engine restored Renault Tank engine restored 2


Renault FT Engine walk around
Museum of the American GI


Rather than go through more of Patton’s report on the light tank’s description it is far easier to let you see what Patton saw when he visited the Renault tank manufacturing company by show you two walk around videos provided by The Museum of the American GI


For your more mechanically inclined math majors, Patton even provided the mathematical formulas that he had ask the French to provide and he then translated them and put it in his report. The attached is a report within Patton’s light tank report authored by Captain Cahen and translated into English by Patton. Math formula french


So there you have it. Imagine you were a young man who new nothing about engines and how they work in 1918. Shortly you would have to drive or command one of these into battle.  Imagine you were an officer and had to both learn and teach how to drive and teach others to both drive and fight in battle. Can you see the monumental task given to just a few men in WWI. Imaging you were a your Captain of Calvary and was given the assignment to do all of the above when noon existed and no one knew anything about them. Imagine you had to do it in a few months. This was the job Captain George S, Patton Jr., did and with distinction.
Lt Col Patton in front of WWI French FT Tank


BACK TO : The First Tanks in the US Army : The Tank Command of
George S. Patton Jr. in World War I 1917-1918