The German captured tank policy
During World War Two, the German Army was using a large number of captured equipment, including thousands of tanks. The German army captured as many vehicles as possible, and these vehicles were gathered in special collection points where they were examined and deemed to be of any use to their new owners. Useful tanks would then be repaired, modified, and painted in German colors and markings.
Panzerkampfwagen 17R 730c(f).
Captured tanks (Beute Panzerkampfwagen) were put in active service with special captured tank units (formed in May of 1940) of Panzer or Infantry Divisions in various roles such as reconnaissance. Other vehicles were converted into weapon carriers and artillery tractors, while some were used for training purposes, policing duties, and sometimes target practice.
About the Name
A numerical block system was used to classify captured equipment. Known as the Kennblatter Fremdengerat, this listing used number categories to label foreign vehicles. Vehicle listings were divided into the following basic categories:
200 – Armored cars
300 – Halftracked vehicles
400 – Armored halftracked vehicles
600 – Fully-tracked artillery tractors
630 – Armored artillery tractors
700 – Tanks
800 – Gun Carriers / Self-Propelled Guns
In addition to the number system, letters were also used. Letters were used to recognize the previous user, not specifically the producer, of a certain piece of the equipment. The letter system was as follows:
(b) – Belgien – Belgium
(f) – Frankreich – France
(t) – Tschechoslowakei – Czechoslovakia
(e) – England / Kanada – Great Britain / Canada
(u) – Ungarn – Hungary
(j) – Jugoslawisch – Yugoslavia
(i) – Italien – Italy
(h) – Holland – Netherlands
(p) – Polen – Poland
(r) – Russland – Soviet Union
(a) – Amerika – United States of America
In the Renault FT‘s case, the standard FT was renamed to Panzerkampfwagen 17R 730(f) and the FT Modifié 31 was renamed to Panzerkampfwagen 18R 730(f). The “17R” and “18R” were used to differentiate the two variants from each other. The designation number 730 is a subcategory of tanks, its precise meaning being Light Tank. Additionally, the PzKpfw 17R 730(f) also had two subcategories that distinguished between cannon and machine gun variants. 730c was the cannon variant and 730m mounted the machine gun.
Inspecting a captured FT.
The FT in German Service
After the fall of France, the Wehrmacht captured a total of 1,704 standard and Modifie 31 Renault FT tanks. They were redesignated and painted in feldgrau (field-grey). The Balkenkreuz (Iron Cross) was also painted on the side of the turret or sides and rear of the hull. Some later units in France were painted with dark green stripes. In 1941, the Luftwaffe received 100 FTs for safety and protection duties at aerodromes and facilities. FTs given to the Luftwaffe were given WL license plates on the nose or the left side of the hull near the rear.
PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) belonging to the Luftwaffe.
All captured FT Modifié 31 tanks which were not allocated to the Vichy police forces were taken over by the Wehrmacht. Some served as training machines. Others, often rearmed with a more potent machine gun, served as airfield guarding vehicles, snow ploughs, deployed in counter-insurgency forces, armored trains and for police duties in all of Europe and some even fought during the Paris uprising in August 1944.
Other Captured FT’s
Apart from France, FTs were captured from Belgium, whose FTs were still in storage depots during the 1940s campaign, and Poland, which had about 100 FTs still in inventory. Germany even captured Polish FTs that were heavily modified, like some that were mounted on rails to serve as armored draisines. Other FTs were captured from Yugoslavia, which had 56 unmodified FTs during the German invasion in 1941. Some Yugoslav FTs captured by the Germans were recaptured (3rd hand) by Allied forces and used against the Germans.
Two captured Yugoslavian FT’s with a German soldier posing in the picture.
It appears that the numerical block system was not used as strictly as intended, because so far no captured Belgium, Yugoslav, or Polish Renault FTs have surfaced with (b), (j), or (p) suffixes. If the Germans were consistent in their nomenclature, they would have still maintained issuing suffixes relating to the country of manufacturing origin, not where the equipment was captured. This is true for many other captured weapons and vehicles.
PanzerKampfwagen 17R 730(f), from a driver’s training unit in France, 1943.
Sicherungsfahrzeug FT 731(f) used for police operations, now preserved in a museum
PzKpfw. 18R 730(f) Patrol tank of the Luftwaffe, France, 1940
Captured FT Armament and Usage
Most PzKpfw 17R 730(f)s kept their original French armament. FTs captured from other nations than France still maintained the French armament given to them. The PzKpfw 17R 730c(f) kept the Puteaux SA 1918 37 mm gun, which had no modifications and remained unchanged throughout its use in German hands. Most PzKpfw 17R 730m(f) kept their 8 mm Hotchkiss machine gun, but some did mount the MG 08/15, a lighter and portable version of the MG 08. The machine gun housing was adjusted to mount this weapon, in both the PzKpfw 17R 730m(f) and PzKpfw 18R 730(f).
In total, the many uses for the Panzerkampfwagen 17R/18R 730(f) were reconnaissance, command, policing, training, train escorts, airfield protection, or mobile posts for artillery. None were used for frontline combat as the Renault FT was already fading into obsolescence by the 1920s, however FTs were used in the Paris and Serbian uprising in the 1940s.
Destroyed German FT at the Luxembourg Palace.
The Luftwaffe deployed their 100 FTs throughout Europe as follows:
– 45 in western France
– 30 between northern France and Belgium
– 25 in the Netherlands
Captured FT abandoned at an aerodrome in Antwerp (Belgium) in 1944.
In April 1941, another 100 Renault FTs were distributed by the German units defending the French coast in the Channel area and eight of these vehicles were distributed in July to the British Channel Islands, which were occupied by the Germans since 1940. These tanks provided a weak armored core to the units defending the coast, in addition to performing surveillance and defense work of facilities or aerodromes. Due to the slowness of the vehicle and above all its vulnerability, the remaining 100 FTs were used as fortifications, being buried in numerous points of the coastal defense.
FT serving as a coastal defense bunker.
A small batch of FTs were sent to occupied Norway. Similar to the FTs in France, the tanks were placed into units to provide a weak armored core and were later used to fortify points on the Norwegian coast.
A pair of PzKpfw 17R 730c(f) in Norway.
After the surrender of France, 64 FTs were sent to Italy. The cars were deposited in the 1st Automotive Center of Turin. The Italians already had a tank based on the FT, the FIAT 3000, but did not distribute them among their units. Instead, they were used as targets for testing anti-tank munitions at the Cirié Artillery Experiment Center in Turin. In May 1941, the Germans prepared 20 FTs to be sent to Crete. However, these tanks never arrived on the island.
30 German FTs attached to Panzer-Kompanie Z.b.V 12 were sent to Yugoslavia to fight against the partisans. The FTs deployed in Yugoslavia were decommissioned at the end of 1942, but were reused as parts for armored trains. Precisely at the end of the war, on May 8, 1945 in Prague, the SS Kampfverband Wallenstein used an improvised armored train with three tanks in which at least one FT was used against the Czech insurgents. The Czech rebels managed to disable the FT, being one of the last vehicles destroyed in combat during World War II in Europe.
German FT serving on an armored train in Prague.
An unknown number of FTs from France and Poland were employed by the Germans in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and some survived to 1943.
PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) used for rear area defence. Luzk town, Wolhynien area, Ukraine, Soviet Union, 1943.
Apart from armament modification, Germany added some minor improvements to the exterior of the vehicle. Upon capture, the Renault FT did not have headlights for maneuvering in dark environments, and the Germans noted that the vehicles had trouble traveling at dusk without a light source, so Germany produced field modifications to fix this issue. Some FTs were mounted with carbide lamps on the front of the nose in an armored housing. Other FTs in Yugoslavia had a single headlight mounted to the left of the nose.
PzKpfw 18R 730(f) with lamp modification.