The Renault FT, later also known as FT-17, is considered the first tank of the History with "modern" features ever built. It was developed in France during the First World War.
During the First World War, the infantry assaults to the enemy trenches caused huge human losses. Hence the need of a vehicle capable of passing the "no man's land" unscathed under enemy fire. The first tanks, slow, large, complex and heavily armored, appeared at the end of 1916; they tended to get bogged down and were an easy prey to the enemy artillery.
In 1916 a French colonel, Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne, came up with the idea of assaulting with a large number of tanks that were small, light, fast and easy to produce. He submitted the idea to the car designer Louis Renault, and, after many vicissitudes, the first vehicles came out of the factory at the end of 1917.
The Renault FT saw combat for the first time on 31st May 1918, taking part to many battles until the end of the war. During the interwar period several vehicles were given to other countries, fighting in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
At the beginning of the Second World War the tank was obsolete, but nonetheless it saw service with several countries. The French, in particular, used it in the Western Front, in North Africa and Indochina. On the other hand, the Germans captured a large amount of them in 1940; they used them in airport defence roles and, in 1944, for the urban fightings in Paris.
The last documented use of it dates back to 1980s, employed as fixed strongholds during the Soviet- Afghan war. Today around 40 vehicles remain, on display in several museums in Europe, America and Australia.
The Renault FT-17 was the first tank in History to feature its armament on a 360° rotating turret and separate compartments for angine and crew. These features are still present on contemporary vehicles, henceforth it is considered the first modern tank.
The main armament consisted either in a Puteaux 37 mm (1.46") cannon or a Hotchkiss 8 mm (0.31") machine gun. It had a 8-22 mm (0.31-0.87") thick armor and the overall weight was 6.5 t. The 4-cylinder petrol engine, with a 4.5 liters capacity, provided 39 hp; maximum speed was 7 km/h (4.35 mph), whereas the crew consisted of two people, pilot and tank commander.