Patton Museum receives WWI French tanks

Patton Museum receives WWI French tanks

During September 2003, the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky, came into possession of two extraordinary artifacts from the arid mountains of Afghanistan. A superbly preserved pair of World War I FT-18 French Renault tanks was discovered in a military scrap yard and recovered with the help of many past and present Fort Knox soldiers.

This type of tank was supplied to the fledging U.S. Tank Corps developed by then largely unknown Colonel George S. Patton in 1918. Patton was the only man in the new organization who had ever driven a tank, and when the railroad flatcars arrived with his first meager issue of vehicles for training his tankers, he personally unloaded the first, jarringly driving it right off the back of the flatcar.

The FT-17 and slightly more advanced FT-18 tanks represented the birth of tank design as we have known it since. Other French and British tanks of the period resembled land battleships or mobile pillboxes with sponson-mounted or fixed guns. The FT-17/18 had its main armament in a centrally mounted revolving turret, a sprung suspension, the engine in the rear, and the driver in the front. It was the most successful light tank of World War I and, along with its derivatives, was still in service in many parts of the world at the beginning of World War II. In fact, American tankers in the 1st Armored Division first bloodied their M3 Stuart and Lee tanks against French armored forces equipped with FT-17/18 tanks in the opening days of the invasion of North Africa in 1942.

Over the coming year, the Patton Museum staff and volunteers will begin the careful process of research, documentation, and eventual restoration of both pieces to fully operable condition. The most challenging aspect of this project will be the fabrication of missing power plant parts. One of the most astonishing discoveries related to these artifacts was the presence of substantial remnants of the original World War I camouflage paint scheme. Through an analysis of the remaining paint, it will be possible to duplicate very closely the startlingly colorful and bold scheme used during the War.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army Armor Center

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group