In preparation for the shortages expected of French Renault FT-17 Light Tanks during World War 1 (1914-1918), it fell to the Ford Motor Company to develop a similar tracked, light-class armored vehicle for American tankers arriving in Europe. The United States had managed to stay out of the grand European conflict until 1917 and, when it did finally commit, it lacked much in the way of useful war-making equipment - including small arms, vehicles and aircraft. The Ford 3-Ton M1918 (Model of 1918) became one of the little-known indigenous endeavors the country attempted to fill just one of the expected shortages. The FT-17 was eventually delivered (and locally-produced under license as the Model 1917 6-Ton) to the Americans.
Design of the M1918 followed much along the lines of the Renault FT-17 and incorporated a thin, long-running linked track-laying arrangement. The track systems straddled the armored hull which provided the housing for the crew of two - the driver and gunner/commander seated side-by-side - as well as powerpack, ammunition and fuel stores. The design showcased a visibly large front idler wheel with rear-mounted drive sprocket to work with six small road wheels to a track side. The hull superstructure featured some sloped angled surfaces to provide basic ballistics protection and incorporated a gun emplacement fitting a single 0.30 caliber Browning machine gun. As the armament mounting was fixed into the front panel of the hull superstructure, it was given limited traversal and elevation and therefore held limited tactical value. The driver took up a position at the front right of the hull with the gunner seated to his left. Conditions were expectedly cramped for the two men as well as being noisy and quite smelly - characteristics of all early tanks. Entry-exit was through a rectangular, hinged door ahead of the driver's position. A cupola was fitted (with 360-degree vision ports) at the center-right of the hull roof for the driver and anti-ditching arms were set at the rear of the hull. At 3-tons, the vehicle fulfilled its intended light combat role. It measured a length of 14 feet with a width and height of 6 feet. Power was served through two coupled Ford Model T 4-cylinder, water-cooled automobile engines developing 90 horsepower (45hp x 2) and tied to a Ford planetary gearbox allowing for variable speed performance as required. The power/weight arrangement provided a top road speed of just 8 miles per hour with an operational range equal to 34 miles (on 17 gallons of internal fuel).
The United States Army eventually took delivery of at least fifteen of the vehicles end contracted for a total of 15,000 to which Ford believed an output of 100 tanks per day could be achieved. However, only two examples ever made it to France and their short-lived testing there proved them extremely limited in the growing scope of the war. Additionally, the French FT-17 became available in adequate numbers while the locally-produced M1917 6-ton versions would be readily available after the war. World War 1 ended with the Armistice of November 1918 and put an end to many-a-program including that of the Ford Model 1918. Of the fifteen claimed by the US Army, only two stood the test of time to become protected museum showpieces - both now found in the United States (one at Ford Benning, Georgia and the other at Fort Lee, Virginia).
The Model 1918 was one of the first US-designed and produced light tanks in history and certainly provided the American military-industrial complex with the education in required in the design, development and manufacture of tanks. This would prove critical during the Interwar years leading up to World War 2. American tank prowess would then excel in the Cold War years, eventually providing the Army with the excellent M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank of today.
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