Tanks and creativity. For a long time I have not written something about tanks, but here, one might say, the topic itself came into my hands. In the Army Museum in Paris, on the first floor, right at the entrance, one of the few surviving tanks of this type was discovered, and in good condition.
And then there is a series of articles on "VO" about tanks from different wars and historical periods. And then I thought: why did the French make it like that? And how, in general, the French, who made the worst tank of the First World War (you, of course, you guessed that it was the "Schneider" CA.1), later managed to "improve" and make the best tank, the "Renault FT", really a revolutionary combat vehicle at that time, which set the trend for almost all tanks of the future, even to this day and only with rare, very rare exceptions. That is, it will again be a conversation about what? About creativity, of course. That need is the best stimulator of the creative activity of the brain, as well as that positive experience accumulates and sooner or later leads to a positive result.
This schematic drawing especially clearly shows that it would be easy to make the front armor plate of the hull without a characteristic break on this tank, and install not one gun, but two, only slightly increasing the side sponsons! The ventilation grill at the front is also completely useless. It could well have been replaced by an armored flap with a slot directed towards the driver's cabin.
After all, our Renault also arose out of the desire and need to give the standard French tanks at that time, such as the same Schneider CA 1, something like a “light partner” that would be more useful to them than heavy ones. breakthrough tanks. As a result, a joint and half-private project of the father of French tanks, General Estienne, and the French industrialist Renault, was born. After many bureaucratic delays, the first prototypes were tested in early 1917 and came in handy. Moreover, the new tank included many innovative solutions, including the layout, design, and even a manual turret rotation device.
Let's take another look at Schneider. Why, having British symmetrical tanks in front of their eyes, did the French engineers for some reason decide that their tank should be asymmetrical? Well, what should they have made it wider, put two sponsons on the sides and place 75-mm infantry guns in them? Or do you want to save money on guns? The front armor plate could be made completely straight, that is, to increase its ricocheting properties, and the machine guns could be left located along the sides. Or put on it a cylindrical turret with a gun, keeping the machine guns on the sides. The dimensions and power of the motor made it possible to do all this. However, this was not done. Haven't you thought of it? Have no experience? But after all, both British tanks and armored cars with machine-gun and even cannon turrets were before their eyes! And where did the military look when they slipped a kind of … lopsided freak, why didn't they turn it back … In a word, there are many questions, but they all remain unanswered, although more than 100 years have passed.
But Louis Renault, although he was an automobile industrialist, first of all thought about the turret, the use of which made the use of tank armament much more flexible and effective, and the turret tank itself turned out to be much more flexible and easier to control than its heavier partners, and therefore even better protected. Although the short length of the vehicle, somewhat corrected by the addition of a special "tail", made it difficult to cross the trench, the presence of a caterpillar with a large front wheel gave this tank a good ability to overcome high obstacles. It turned out that its design is easily adaptable to numerous variants (in addition to the basic variants equipped with either one machine gun or one 37-mm cannon), signal tanks, command tanks (TSF), "cannon tanks" with a 75-mm cannon (according to essentially the same self-propelled guns), and even … a tank transporter fascin for laying ditches!
Both the French and Americans used the FT-17 during and after World War I, and when it ended, it was exported to more than ten countries, including Japan, Poland, Canada, Spain and Brazil. National copies of Renault were produced in Italy, the USA, Japan and the Soviet Union and were used in almost all armed conflicts of the twenties and thirties of the last century. In World War II, it was also used by the French, Finns and Yugoslavs. Even the Germans themselves made extensive use of the captured FT-17s.
The FT-17s were first used in battle on May 31, 1918 to support an attack by Moroccan infantry in the Retz forest in an attempt to stop the German offensive in the spring. Here is an excerpt from a report written by one of the participants in this operation, Captain Aubert, of the 304th Panzer Company: “We started moving on a signal and moved almost blindly through the cornfield. A few hundred yards later, the corn suddenly ran out, we found ourselves on the open ground and immediately came under heavy machine-gun fire, especially along the viewing slots and port openings. The impact of bullets on the armor, accompanied by a loud crack, showed us the general direction of fire, the source of which was on the left. Many bullets hit the gun shield and fragments made it difficult to work with it. But we turned the tower, and 50 meters away we noticed a machine gun. It took five shots to finish him off, after which the shelling ceased. All the tanks acted together, they fired and maneuvered, which showed us that we are on the line of resistance with the enemy and all our vehicles entered the battle."
Of course, a lot of things in the new tank were ill-conceived. So, tank commanders had to give commands to their drivers, kicking them. This was the only "means" of intercom, since the FT-17 lacked any kind of radio intercom system, and the tanks themselves were too noisy to hear voice commands. To force the driver to move forward, the commander kicked him in the back. Likewise, a kick to one shoulder signaled the need to turn in the direction of the kick. The stop signal was a blow … on the driver's head, and repeated blows to the head meant the driver had to go back. It is clear, of course, that the tank commander did not beat his partner with all his might and that the driver's back was covered by the seat back, and his head was covered by a helmet. But in the heat of battle, you never know what could have been.
Controlling the tank was also difficult. Usually, talking about the tanks of the First World War, the authors of the articles cite as an example the imperfection of the control of the British tanks, and for some reason always only the MK. I tank. But the FT-17 tank was by no means an example of perfection in this regard. The driver's controls consisted of a clutch pedal on the left on the floor, an accelerator pedal in the center, and a parking brake pedal on the right. The engine was started using a handle located in the rear of the gunner's compartment on the armored wall separating it from the engine compartment. The driver can control the speed of the tank by pressing the accelerator pedal or using the manual throttle valve located on his right side. An ignition controller lever was also provided, which allowed the driver to increase or decrease the supply of current, depending on the amount of load on the engine. Two large levers, one on each side of the driver's seat, applied the service brakes. To turn right, the driver had to press the right lever, braking the track on the right. At the same time, the left track continued to move at the same speed, which led to the turn of the tank. The turn to the left was carried out in a similar way, and it seems that there is nothing complicated about it, because tanks of the Second World War and modern vehicles were controlled in almost the same way. But only here it was necessary to keep an eye on the spark all the time, and try not to burn the clutch. And this was exactly the most difficult thing. Considering that the suspension of the tank was very imperfect, that it was shaking and tossed at the same time, it becomes clear that driving a small Renault was even more difficult than a large British tank, where the commander, in addition, sat next to the driver and could tell him the way with gestures.
The numerous attempts to come up with an effective camouflage for the FT-17 were very interesting. Unfortunately, it was not possible to develop an officially recognized camouflage scheme, and the FT tanks were supplied to the troops with both three and four-color camouflages. The color palette used on the FT was similar to that previously used on the Schneider CA.1 and St Chamond tanks: blue-gray, dark green, brown and pale ocher. There were significant differences in the colors used, which was to be expected during the war.
Well, now let's fantasize a little and imagine how the same Renault could look like, if not for the haste and general, higher technical literacy of the personnel of its designers. It is known, for example, that at first, according to the project, the tank was supposed to have a two-man turret, but for some reason things "went wrong" with it. It seems that the narrow body interfered. But who prevented it from expanding precisely in the area of the tower, well, say, to the same width of the tracks? But this was not done, and as a result, the tank received a single turret in two versions - cast (with thicker armor 22 mm thick) and faceted (with a thinner but stronger 18 mm thickness) from rolled armor sheets, which literally "flowed around" from all sides of the "tower" in it. The ventilation and, at the same time, inspection hood according to the project was to be replaced by a "fungus", but they did not make it, and the resulting structure turned out to be even more convenient. And nevertheless, instead of a one-man turret on the Renault tank, there could well have been a two-man turret, in which one “turret” would serve the weapons, and the other would watch and command! Naturally, then it would be necessary to think over the system of his communication with the driver. Well, let's say, on his dashboard, multi-colored bulbs could light up by turning the handle.
The tower itself could have been made much simpler outlines. Well, let's say, in the shape of a horseshoe with an inclined rectangular front armor plate, in which, due to its size, it was not at all difficult to place both a cannon and a machine gun. The front armor plate of the hull could well be made inclined without breaking, even leaving the doors in it. The break was needed for the convenience of placing the viewing slots, but the slots themselves did not bring any joy to the tankers, because … they were splashed with lead from the bullets breaking nearby. Because of this, 80% of tankers' wounds were, alas, on the eyes and … why not place only three infantry periscopes for observation on the roof of the driver's compartment right in front of the tower ?!
Well, on the roof of the horseshoe tower, it would be quite possible to place a stroboscope device - both for observation and for ventilation.
The option of improving Renault by installing rubber tracks on it and wheel-drums located in front of them to increase cross-country ability did not justify itself. Although at first it was considered promising. But then it turned out that a torn rubber track could not be repaired in a combat situation.
The chassis of the tank looked quite satisfactory. He could fell trees and tear barbed wire, and force ditches and trenches. But what he could not do was … carry people on him, except perhaps on the back of the "tail" and then only a maximum of two.
Meanwhile, it would be quite possible to take care of the infantry. To do this, it was only necessary to close the track with an armored bulwark … of a stepped shape, five steps-seats above the upper branch of the track on each side! And so that they do not fall off it - to arrange folding handrails, similar to those made on the seats for skiers on cable cars. Or they can install the same tracks as on the Renault NC1 tank, which appeared in the 1920s and later even fought. On it, the bulwark could have been quite simple, and it would not have been a special problem to make a folding handrail either. And as if the infantry rejoiced at such "equipment", it is possible not to say.
But what has not been done is not done at all. It's a pity, it would be interesting to see how such tanks would act, and what place in the history of armored vehicles they would have got!
By the way, it is interesting that for some reason the tank in the Paris museum was not painted with camouflage. But to draw a tactical emblem - they drew it …
And one more curious fact. The FT-17 had a competitor - a reckless Peugeot tank with a short 75-mm cannon, that is, armed more powerfully and with thicker armor, but he never saw the light.
Photo "Peugeot" of the war years
And finally, this is this: an SPG with a 75-mm gun on a Renault chassis. This also happened and even drove and fired …
And the question is: how do such constructions come about at all? And the answer is - from need, and before you start playing jew's harp in metal, you just had to sit down and think a little!