Skoblin's History Blog

This blog is composed of articles and translations written by Skoblin pertaining to the Soviet Security forces, White Russian underground movements and Russian counter-revolutionary forces during the 1920s and 1930s. Skoblin can be reached at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Russian Renault (KS-10, M-Tank)

The Russian Renault

Like much of Russian history, the story surrounding the first Soviet tank is draped in mystery. What is certain is that it was meant to be a Russian-built copy of the French Renault FT-17. That the first Soviet tank should have a design patterned on that of the Renault is not surprising. For its time, the FT-17 was a breakthrough design, the first tank with a completely revolving turret affording a 360 degree field of fire while possessing a tonnage vastly below that of the first operational British and German tanks (as well as other French tanks). But the main controversy surrounding the Russian Renault involves whether it was a Soviet-built replica of the FT-17 or involved simply the refurbishment of existing captured models.
The first FT-17s entered Russia under the rubric of the Civil War, which cast its shadow across the country from 1918 to 1921. On December 12, 1918, the French government sent 20 FT-17s to General Denikin's White Army, holed up in Odessa. The FT-17s sent to Odessa comprise two types: the Char a canon 37 armed with a 37mm Puteaux short-barreled gun and the Char mitrailleur which had a single 8mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. In the event, the French Renaults and the various other British tanks which had been provided, were used sparingly. Designed to break the deadlock of positional warfare on the Western Front, the slow speed and limited range of the first generation of tanks were of little competence in an arena of warfare which comprised vast territory, sporadic front lines and fluid operations.
The FT-17s were first employed against Red forces near the Ukrainian town of Tiraspol on 7 February 1919. One month later, according to Zaloga, on March 22, units of the 1st Zadneprovskii division of the 2nd Ukrainian frontcaptured one of the White FT-17s near the village of Berezovka, north of Odessa, with an additional five captured in further fighting outside of Odessa shaortly afterward. Russian sources, however, claim four as the number of FT-17s captured at Berezovka and have the date as 18 March 1919. Both Western and Russian sources, however, agree that one of the FT-17s was thereupon sent to Lenin as a present from the Red commanders in the field. The remaining captured Renaults were then sent to Kharkov, capital of the Soviet Ukrainian Republic, and joined the Amrmoured Division for Special Purposes under Commander A. Selyavkin.
The Renault sent to Lenin had less of an impact than it might have had, as it was inoperable. However, the leader of the Soviet Union was still sufficiently impressed to have another one of the French tanks sent from Kharkov in order to participate in the annual May Day parade on Red Square. From this inauspicious beginning, the history of Soviet tank production would commence.

Development process
According to the Soviet version of events, Lenin directed that the Council for Military Industry (Soviet Voennoi Promyshlennosti) examine the original FT-17 that had been sent with a view to producing a Soviet-made model of the Renault. On August 10, the decision was made to entrust the Krasnoe Sormovo factory in Nizhnii Novgorod with the task of coordinating the overall effort of producing the tank, whence derived the appelation KS. The FT-17 was subsequently dismantled and shipped to various locations during September 1919, with the armour being sent to the Izhorskii factory in Leningrad, the engine sent to the Moscow Automotive Enterprise (Avtomobil'noe Moskovskoe Obshchestvo or AMO) and the chassis delivered to Krasnoe Sormovo.
Initial work consisted of the formation of a special brigade assigned with the task of dismantling the Renault and making technical drawings of its construction and various parts. The brigade was under the leadership of the Soviet engineers I. I. Khrulev and F. I. Nefedov. This activity took the better part of three months, from October to December 1919 and eventually resulted in the production of some 130 drawings and various metal reconstructions. This activity was supplemented by the formation of a special commission attached to the Council for Military Industry to resolve and oversee questions concerning the manufacturing process.

Considering the lack of Renault engines, one of the initial questions involved what engines the Soviets intended to place in their version of the FT-17. This problem was addressed by the fact that in 1916, the Fiat motor company had licensed the production of its F-15 light truck at the AMO in Moscow. In pursuit of this several of the Fiat trucks had been purchased in Italy and shipped to Moscow prior to the Russian Revolution. For the Soviet Renault, a modified version of the F-15 Fiat engine was developed under the leadership of the Soviet engineer V. Kalinin with the aid of two French specialists - Demme and Rosier, who had both worked for the Renault factory in France. The final product was a four-stroke, four-cylinder water-cooled petrol engine capable of 33.5HP at 1480 rpm. The engine was provided with two fuel tanks, both gravity fed, with a total of 90 liters of petrol. The engine ignition consisted of an internal mounted Dixie Magneto (probably a Model 44), while the main clutch consisted of a reverse cone-type.

Running gear
The most difficult problems encountered by the Soviets involved the manufacture of the running gear. This was made more problematic by the absence of the original Renault gear box and transmission, which had been pilfered either during the time the tank spent in storage or in transport.. An initial replacement gear box manufactured in the workshops of Krasnoe Sormovo resulted in persistent jamming and breaking of the gears. Eventually, the engineer Kalinin was able to design a system which was claimed to be an improvement over the original French design. For this, the assistance of the Moscow automobile establishment was required for the purveyance of the necessary parts and materials. This resulted in a four-speed gear box (four forward and one reverse) with lateral dry clutch friction discs and band brakes. Steering was accomplished by a combination of braking and/or disengaging of the lateral clutches. Suspension was similar to the French Renault, consisting of leaf springs on the ground wheels and a vertical spring underpinning the return roller mount, in order to maintain track tension. The road wheel assembly consisted of three bogies of two wheels each and one bogie consisting of three wheels, while the return roller mount had six wheels. The track consisted of 32 linked sections per side.

Armour also posed a problem due to the lack of specialized workers. As a result, when the armour arrived from the Izhorskii factory, it consisted of uncut rolled armour plate, which the Krasnoe Sormovo workers themselves had to cut and shape, after first manufacturing the required tools themselves. Armour thickness consisted of 16mm, 8mm for the top surface and sides, and 6.5mm for the underside. The armour plate was riveted into place and conformed to the overall Renault design, including an eight-sided turret which rested on a ball-bearing race. On the top of the turret was a non-revolving observation cupola with cover, as per the FT-17. Entry into the tank was by means of armoured doors on the back of the turret on the part of the gunner/commander, and a set of hinged door on the front part of the hull for the driver.

The most obvious visible difference between the French and Soviet-built FT-17, however, concerned weaponry. The French FT-17 was supplied with either a 37mm Puteaux SA18 short-barreled gun or an 8mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. The obvious inability to acquire the French-built Puteaux led to their replacement by single barrel 37mm Hotchkiss naval guns. These guns had originally been purveyed for the Russian navy, but had been found wanting during the Russo-Japanese war and many were thereupon relegated to storage. Modifications were made at the famed Putilov factory in Leningrad and consisted of alterations to the breech mechanism and the addition of a combined hydraulic compressor brake and recoil spring. Barrel length differed betwen a "short" 16.5 caliber model (24 inches) and a "long" 21 caliber version (30.7 inches). A shoulder rest was provided for the gunner, who would either stand in the turret or sit on a slung canvas rest. Ammunition for the 37mm consisted exclusively of fragmentation shells with a range of 2000 meters, although effective fire did not exceed 400 meters, with a muzzle velocity of 442 m/s. The effective rate of fire was 10-12 rounds per minute.
Initially, Soviet production plans called for five combat units of tanks, with each combat unit consisting of one 37mm tank and two machine guns tanks for a total of fifteen tanks. In British fashion, these were referred to as 'male' and 'female' tanks respectively. These plans were subsequently altered during the production process in favour of a combined- weapons design consisting of both a 37mm cannon and an 8mm machine gun. A call for submissions eventually rested upon a design by the Soviet engineer Glazov, which had the 37mm installed in the front plate of the turret and the 8mm machine gun mounted to the right in the adjoining plate. The effective use of the combination required the breech of the 37mm being pushed up out of the way when using the machine gun, while use of the cannon required the complete removal of the machine gun from its embrasure. The machine gun itself was the 1914 model Hotchkiss 8mm.

Actual production of the Russian Renault commenced in May 1920, and by August of that same year the first tank rolled off the assembly line and was ready for field trials on August 31. Trials continued until October 12, whereupon the first tank was christened "Fighter for Freedom, comrade Lenin" (Boets za Svobodu, tovarishch Lenin) and was presented to Lev Trotsky, head of the Red Army. By May 1921, all fifteen tanks originally ordered by the Armour Section of the Main Administration for Military Engineering (Glavnoie voienno-inzhenernoie upravliennie) had been built, which included the complete overhaul of the original French template. However, due to deficiencies and production problems at the Putilov factory, only twelve modified 37mm Hotchkiss guns could be delivered in addition to one 37mm Puteaux SA18 salvaged from a destroyed French tank. Two of the Hotchkiss guns later turned out to be defective and as a result only eleven of the finished tanks had the required 37mm armament. Furthermore, the lack of sufficient 8mm Hotchkiss machine guns meant that only eight tanks could be manufactured with the planned combined armament, with three more delivered without any weapons (there is some confusion regarding the status of the final tank).

Post-production history and assessment
The Russian Renaults finished their production cycle too late to play any role in the Russian Civil War, which had effectively concluded with the defeat of Baron Wrangel in November 1920. Most of the Russian Renaults were delegated to armoured car detachments, while others ended up being used as auxiliary farm tractors. Although it would appear that there had been some intention to manufacture additional Russian Renaults, no further orders were forthcoming. The Russian Renaults remained on the lists of commissioned Soviet military equipment until 1929, being maintained with spare parts salvaged from captured French tanks. In 1930, the Russian-built FT-17s were decommissioned.
It should be mentioned that some Western authorities cast doubt upon the whole notion of a Soviet-built Renault, suggesting that the Krasnoe Sormovo project merely involved the repair and rebuilding of FT-17s, which had been captured from either the White forces in southern Russia or from the Polish army during the Soviet-Polish war. Zaloga, for instance, considers it implausible that the Soviets could have constructed operational replicas of the FT-17, when the Americans had faced difficulties doing the same in the construction of their 6-Ton Tank with the full assistance of Renault drawings and specialists. In the absence of any detailed drawings or photographs of the Russian Renault, this question must remain resolved, although it is clear some sort of intensive project involving Renaults had been undertaken at Krasnoe Sormovo.
Whether Soviet-made or Soviet-refurbished, the Russian Renaults differed in almost no respects from the original FT-17 to the extent that the former should be classified as merely a national variant of the latter. This is not to diminish the achievements of the fledgling Soviet state to embark upon the domestic production of advanced armoured vehicles at a time when it faced enormous social and economic challenges. Yet the dissimilarities betwen the Russian and French Renaults are primarily of an accidental nature arising from the straitened circumstances under which Soviet production took place, rather than from any deliberate manipulation of design (other than the double-weaponed turret). What the Russian Renault program did do however was to provide Soviet engineers and workers their initial experience in the design and construction of armoured vehicles. This experience would be utilized in the construction of the first true Soviet tank - the MS-1 series (T-18).

Length - with tail: 16.3 ft / 4960mm
Length - w/o tail: 13.5 ft / 4100mm
Height: 7.4 ft / 2250mm
Width: 5.7 ft / 1750mm
Armour - front: 16mm
Armour - top: 8mm
Armour - side: 8mm
Armour - underside: 6.5mm
Armament: 1 x 8mm Hotchkiss m.g. and/or 1 x 37mm Hotchkiss L/16.5 or L/21
Ammo supply: 238 x 37mm and/or 4800 x 8mm
Weight: 7 tons
Suspension: leaf spring
Road speed: 8.5km/h
Engine: 4 cylinder, water-cooled Fiat (AMO) / 33.5HP
Fuel capacity: 90L / 20G
Range: 60km
Crew: 2

Amphibious Renault
This model, proposed by Krasnoe Sormovo, was to be armed with a 47mm gun (likely the Hotchkiss 47mm naval gun) and a machine gun and to have a crew of three. Road speed was estimated at between 12-15km/h. The plan was rejected by the Main Administration for Military Engineering.

Siachintov turret-modification
Proposed by the engineer P. Siachintov as a combined weapons turret, this design would have seen the turret reduced to six sides with an 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun and 37mm Hotchkiss gun arranged in the forward adjoining turret panels.

Far-Eastern Renault
In March 1920, some 20 Renault FT-18s (FT-17s with a cylindrical Berliet turret) were sent to American interventionist forces in the Russian Far East at Vladivostok. The tanks, however, were re-routed by Bolshevik-sympathizing railroad workers to the Red partisans operating near Blagoveshensk, on the Amur river. None of the captured Renaults had been outfitted with weaponry, radiators or magnetos, which had apparently been stored in separate railway carriages. This was most likely due to the lack of heavy train cars needed to accomodate the weight of the fighting vehicles. Ten Renaults were subsequently placed in working order and separated into 5 2-tank platoons comprising the 1st Amur Heavy Tank Division. In the process, several modifications were made. In addition to the obvious introduction of Russian-supplied magnetos and radiators, these 10 tanks were also outiftted with a variety of weapons which had been captured by the Red partisans. Some were armed with the 37mm Hotchkiss, while others were armed with either a Hotchkiss 8mm machine gun or a Maxim 7.62mm machine gun. Later, due to the lack of spare parts, some of the tanks were equipped with a supposed Japanese-model quick-firing 37mm infantry gun. The crew complement was raised from two to three, presumably with the addition of a gun loader to that of the driver and commander/gunner, although it is uncertain how three men fit in the cramped quarters of the Renault. Furthermore, armour plates were attached on either side of some of the turret embrasures to provide extra protection against shrapnel and gunfire, although this modification impeded the full traverse of the turret, due to the raised rear engine hatch. Like all captured Renaults in Red army service, the tanks of the 1st Amur Heavy Tank Division were plagued by lack of spare parts, especially for the engines, and suffered extensive breakdowns. The last operational Far-Eastern Renault - named Zorkii (Vigilant) - fell victim to a White Russian armoured train on 10 February 1922, near the town of Volochayevka.

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