France

France at the same time developed its own tracked AFVs, but the situation there was very different. In Britain a single committee had coordinated design, and had to overcome the initial resistance of the Army, while the major industries remained passive. Almost all production effort was thus concentrated into the Mark I and its direct successors, all very similar in shape. In France, on the other hand, there were multiple and conflicting lines of development which were badly integrated, resulting in three major and quite disparate production types. A major arms producer, Schneider, took the lead in January 1915 and tried to build a first armoured vehicle based on the Baby Holt tractor but initially the development process was slow until in July they received political, even presidential, support by combining their project with that of a mechanical wire cutter devised by engineer and politician Jean-Louis Bréton. In December 1915, the influential Colonel Estienne made the Supreme Command very enthusiastic about the idea of creating an armoured force based on these vehicles; strong Army support for tanks was a constant during the decades that followed. Already in January and February 1916 quite substantial orders were made, at that moment with a total number of 800 much larger than the British ones.
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Renault FT with Berliet turret
The Renault FT (frequently referred to in post-World War I literature as the FT-17, FT17, or similar) was a French light tank that was among the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history. The FT was the first production tank to have its armament within a fully rotating turret.[note 1] The Renault FT's configuration – crew compartment at the front, engine compartment at the back, and main armament in a revolving turret – became and remains the standard tank layout. As such, some historians of armoured warfare have called the Renault FT the world's first modern tank.[2] Over 3,000 Renault FT tanks were manufactured by French industry, most of them during 1918. Another 950 of an almost identical licensed copy of the FT (the M1917) were made in the United States, but not in time to enter combat.
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Renault FT17 Wireless Turret
The Renault FT (frequently referred to in post-World War I literature as the FT-17, FT17, or similar) was a French light tank that was among the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history. The FT was the first production tank to have its armament within a fully rotating turret.[note 1] The Renault FT's configuration – crew compartment at the front, engine compartment at the back, and main armament in a revolving turret – became and remains the standard tank layout. As such, some historians of armoured warfare have called the Renault FT the world's first modern tank.[2] Over 3,000 Renault FT tanks were manufactured by French industry, most of them during 1918. Another 950 of an almost identical licensed copy of the FT (the M1917) were made in the United States, but not in time to enter combat.
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Schneider CA1 Tank
The Schneider CA 1 (originally named the Schneider CA) was the first French tank, developed during the First World War. The Schneider was inspired by the need to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare which on the Western Front prevailed during most of the Great War. It was designed specifically to open passages for the infantry through barbed wire and then to suppress German machine gun nests. After a first concept by Jacques Quellennec devised in November 1914, the type was developed from May 1915 onwards by engineer Eugène Brillié, paralleling British development of tanks the same year. Colonel Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne in December 1915 began to urge for the formation of French armoured units, leading to an order in February 1916 for four hundred Schneider CA tanks, which were manufactured by SOMUA, a subsidiary of Schneider located in a suburb of Paris, between September 1916 and August 1918. Like most early tanks, the Schneider was built like a simple armoured box, without compartmentalisation of the inner space. It lacked a turret, with the main armament, a short 75 mm cannon, in a sponson on the right side. By later standards it would therefore have been an assault gun instead of a tank.[1] The vehicle was considered a very imperfect design, because of a poor layout, insufficient fire-power, a cramped interior and inferior mobility due to an overhanging nose section, which had been designed to crush through the belts of barbed wire but in practice caused the tank to get stuck. Improved designs were almost immediately initiated but the production of these, the Schneider CA 2, CA 3 and CA 4, was eventually cancelled. The Schneider CA 1 tanks were widely used in combat during the last war years. Their first action on 16 April 1917 was largely a failure, the tank units suffering heavy losses, but later engagements were more successful. In 1918 the Schneider tanks played an important role in halting the German Spring Offensive and breaking the German front in the French summer offensives. They were active until the end of September 1918, less than two months before the Armistice of 11 November 1918, their numbers having dropped considerably due to attrition. After the war the surviving tanks were mostly rebuilt as utility vehicles but six Schneider tanks were deployed by Spain in the Rif War in Morocco and the type saw its last action in the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
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St Chamond (multiple variants)
The Saint-Chamond, named after the commune of Saint-Chamond, was the second French heavy tank of the First World War, with 400 manufactured from April 1917 to July 1918. Although not a tank by the present-day definition, it is generally accepted and described as such in accounts of early tank development. Born of the commercial rivalry existing with the makers of the Schneider CA1 tank, the Saint-Chamond was an underpowered and fundamentally inadequate design. Its principal weakness was the Holt "caterpillar" tracks. They were much too short in relation to the vehicle's length and heavy weight (23 tons). Later models attempted to rectify some of the tank's original flaws by installing wider and stronger track shoes, thicker frontal armour and the more effective 75mm Mle 1897 field gun. Altogether 400 Saint-Chamond tanks were built including 48 unarmed caisson tanks. The Saint-Chamond tanks remained engaged in various actions until October 1918, belatedly becoming more effective since combat had moved out of the trenches and onto open ground. Eventually the Saint-Chamond tanks were scheduled to be entirely replaced by imported British heavy tanks.
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