Monday, 12 June 2017

What's in a Name?

There are a few examples where the real name of a tank or gun sinks into the sands of time, replaced by a more popular, yet incorrect one. The Renault FT is another example. More often than not, you see the tank called "FT-17", rarely "FT-18". Looking at production codes at Renault, the number was never included. For example, the Renault FT was preceded by the Renault FS, a car, and succeeded by the Renault FU, a heavy truck. However, even serious sources attach a number to the tank's name. Where did the number come from?

German documents regarding the Renault FT use the extra numbers.

The answer, in this case, is relatively simple. A tank encyclopedia called Taschenbuch der Tanks was written in 1935. The book was very popular at the time, and was considered a reputable source. Unfortunately, the authors filled it with a number of their own fabrications. For example, the names "Renault M.17 F.T." and "Renault M.18 F.T." were invented to differentiate between tanks with a cast riveted turret and cast turret respectively.

Russian translation of Taschenbuch der Tanks. The "M 17" with a riveted turret is on the left, the "M 18" with a cast turret is on the right. In reality, both tanks were simply designated "Renault FT".

This is far from the only fabrication in the encyclopedia. Readers can also read about mythical vehicles like the French "Heavy tank D" with a crew of 15 men and four cannons, a number of made up export tanks and incorrect destinations for real ones, various other mistakes with indexes, etc. Nevertheless, the information in this encyclopedia was taken at face value at the time and influenced the development of tank building in several countries.

1 comment:

  1. It seems the term "F.T." was already in use around the end of World War I, which leads me to suspect that the British were the culprits. They are the most likely to have turned "FT" into "F.T." (Remember, these are the folks who gave us "Battle of the River Plate" [ugh]). I wish I could find my sources again. General Estienne mentioned the term in the 1930s and that it was used by others, but not the French. The FT mle 31 (a char mitrailleuse with an upgraded machine gun, which most of the French FTs were thereafter) is similarly called FT-31 in English-language sources. I can just picture the confused German writer, juggling FT with F.T. and FT-17 and maybe "char leger 17R" and coming up with this. I have also seen FT-18 used to refer to the char canon, but more commonly to the cast turret, which appears to have come out in 1918, but I am not sure of this. It is consistent with later French nomenclature, for instance "char leger 35R".

    At any rate, the designers of board wargames in the U.S. seem to be infatuated with "FT-17", as I have never seen them use anything else.