M1917 Tank

M1917 tank

(Author Photo)

M1917 Light tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

On 14 June 1940, General Worthington advised NDHQ of the existence of a number of surplus First World War tanks in the USA.  The Six Ton Tank (or Special Tractor) M1917 was America’s first important mass produced tank.  The M1917 was a license built copy of the French Renault FT 17, and was accepted by the American Army in October 1918.  (They were commonly called “Renaults” in Canadian service).  The US Army ordered approximately 4,440 M1917s between 1918 and 1919, receiving about 950 tanks before cancelling the contract.  No US manufactured tank reached Europe in time to participate in First World War.

Thirty-one M1917 tanks were built during First World War and ten were sent to Europe.  After the war Van Dorn Iron Works created 950 more.  374 had cannons and 526 had machine guns and 50 were signal tanks.  The American version of the M1917A1 was a lengthened, rebuilt updated version compared to the French one with a 100 hp Franklin engine and an electric self-starter rather than a crank starter.  The crew, mainly a driver and gunner, were separated from the engine by a bulkhead.  The M1917 was armed with one 37-mm cannon or one Colt 7.62-mm machine-gun. All steel wheels were fitted as well as a turret, which were found on some French examples.  It had a range of 48 km and a maximum speed of 8kph.  Wikipedia.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3325255)

M1917 tanks arrive at Camp Borden, Oct 1940.

The American-built 6.5-ton M1917 light tank (which also was put in service as a tank trainer in Canada early in Second World War), was a copy of the French Renault FT-17.  It had a maximum speed of 5.5 miles per hour and could travel 30 miles on its 30-gallon fuel capacity. The US program was augmented in the summer of 1918 by the development of a 3-ton, 2-man tank, (Ford 3-Ton M1918) originated by the Ford Motor Company.  This third tank to be mass-produced during 1918 was powered by two Ford Model T, 4-cylinder engines, armed with a .30-calibre machine gun, and had a maximum speed of 8 miles per hour.  By the armistice of 11 November 1918, the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) was critically short of tanks, as no American-made ones were completed in time for use in combat.

After the Great War, General Erich von Ludendorff of the German High Command praised the Allied tanks as being a principal factor in Germany’s defeat.  The Germans had been too late in recognizing their value to consider them in their own plans.  Even if their already hard-pressed industry could have produced them in quantity, fuel was in very short supply.  Of the total of 90 tanks fielded by the Germans during 1918, 75 had been captured from the Allies.

Canada did not employ its own battle tanks in combat during the Great War, although it did successfully engage the German army using the Canadian Autocar Machinegun Carrier in a motorized machine gun Corps.  A Canadian Tank Corps was created in 1918, with three battalions that were disbanded in 1920.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3563837)

M1917 tanks arrive at Camp Borden, Oct 1940.

The M1917 was operated by a two-man crew and was armed with either a short 37-mm gun or a Browning .30-calibre machine-gun.  The tank was powered by an American four-cylinder 42-hp water-cooled Buda engine.  It had a top speed of 7 kmh (5 mph).  The Department of Munitions and Supply (DMS) was authorized to purchace 250 of these tanks.  A total of 236 were actually acquired and sent to Camp Borden.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No.)

M1917 tanks on exercise at Camp Borden, Oct 1940.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3613389)

M1917 tank, Camp Borden, Maj Gordon Churchill, 1940.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3325256)

M1917 tank being examined by Col F.F. Worthington, Camp Borden, Oct 1940.

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