World War I M1917 Tank 

Army Heritage and Educational Center


On ExhibitThe six-ton FT-17 tank design is credited to Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier. It was a revolutionary development in comparison to its much larger, less maneuverable counterparts, the Schneider CA1 and the St. Charmonds. The FT-17 was the first tank to have a fully rotating, top mounted turret. The engine was positioned in the rear, while the driver sat in the front, with the gunman standing directly behind him. It was powered by an aluminum block, four-cylinder Renault, gasoline engine. The tank was also built in the US under the name M1917, with some minor design changes. The FT-17 first entered a battle in May 31, 1918 at Foret de Retz, and quickly proved effective against German counterattacks in terrain that the larger heavier tanks were unable to negotiate. There were roughly 4600 total FT-17 and M1917 tanks produced between 1917-18, and only a few dozen still remain in various states of condition around the world today.



Front hull removalThis French FT-17 tank belonged to Ft. Knox, where it rested outside for a long period of time. It was eventually donated to the Army Heritage and Educational Center located in Carlisle, PA. B.R. Howard & Associates Inc. was awarded a 4 year Federal contract by the Army, and funding was allocated for us to begin an investigative assessment and conservation treatment of this tank, which would eventually go on to be displayed in their newly constructed museum.


The tank had numerous structural issues, which needed to be addressed. The 5/8" steel sidewall panels of the hull were cracked the whole way through and the weight of the turret was causing the walls to implode. The front half of the floor panels had rusted completely through. The front door hatches had been welded shut for additional structural rigidity and strength. The American octagonal turret had been replaced with the round original French version, and the top hatch was missing. Several engine components had been lost, and the rollers for the treads had seized up. Paint samples were prepared for microscopy, and it was determined that it had up to 20 layers of paint, which concealed the original color and stenciled markings. Many exterior equipment brackets were damaged or missing along with the step plates.



Grinding front weld seamThe FT-17 was delivered to B.R. Howard & Associates, and was extensively photo documented during the entire conservation/restoration process. The turret, as well as the front nose of the tank's hull was removed in order to replace the fractured sidewalls and floor plates. Some of the badly deteriorated internal structural brackets also needed to be reproduced. B.R. Howard & Associates worked with Master Solutions Inc. to have the panels and bolt holes laser cut from mild steel to accurately match the damaged originals. The mushroom headed bolt also had to be custom fabricated, as they can no longer be obtained. Many of the missing exterior components were recast using molds that were taken from an original M1917 and FT-17 belonging to the General George Patton Museum and Boalsburg Heritage Museum. The tank was then reassembled and painted using industrial maritime alkyd resin paint in the original olive drab color.


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