WWI is recognized as the first full-scale, industrialized conflict that involved countries around the world and spawned a few important technological innovations in warfare. Some things existed prior to 1914 but were adapted to use in the conflict: barbed wire, a staple of the American range, became essential in protecting entrenched positions. The machine gun is an obvious candidate. The airplane existed in primitive form prior to 1914, the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight was in 1903, a mere eleven years prior to the war.
Arguably, the most significant technological artifact from WWI was the tank. Originally called “land ships” but soon changed to “tank” in order to disguise their purpose from Germany. One version of the origin of the name tank is that the workers laboring on the first one, Little Willie, thought of it as a water tank on treads. Perhaps. There were many approaches to armored gun-toting tracked vehicles but only one incorporated the essential features of the tank still used today: engine in the rear, crew in front and a fully rotatable turret. That tank was the French Renault FT-17, originally called just the FT. Strangely, it was the smallest and lightest of the tank designs that made it into combat in WWI. Beside the redeeming characteristics of a rotatable turret and superior speed (for the time) it had the virtue of being cheap and easier to produce so that over three thousand were made during the war.
The British Mk. IVs and Vs, the Tadpole, the giant French Char, the Whippet and German A7V are all more impressive and warlike than the little Renault, however, the FT’s descendants are with us today and the others are now relegated to museum obscurity and complex plastic scale models. All this is to say that when I first became aware of the little FT-17 I too quickly dismissed it as silly and goofball-Victorian. I didn’t bother to delve into the history of it and the tank in general. As a modeler I know more than the average person about armor and its role in WWII, especially during the early stages in the West, and Barbarossa in the East, but my knowledge of how important tanks were in the latter stages of WWI has only come recently with my more intensive study of it because of the centennial period we are in.
I’m glad that Meng has produced these kits. I understand Takom also has WWI armor but I have no experience with their kits and was initially interested in Meng because of the detailed interior they offer in the Mk V and the FT-17 Cast turret kits. I’ve since seen a couple of examples of Meng FT-17s that were modified to reveal their interiors by cutting selected portions of the hull and engine hatches away. They were well done and opened my eyes to the possibilities in cutting away certain parts of the Mk V, and perhaps another FT-17 with full internal details.
The internet being the wonderful resource it is for modelers, I’m presenting a few FT-17 photos that I particularly like.