“It’s part of that final nail in the coffin for the Germans,” says Willey. “They are being blockaded by the British and running out of fuel and food. When you started to see the German memoirs in the 1920s asking the question ‘why did we lose’, the tank was always mentioned.”
Willey says the tank symbolises the fact that the Western Allies – strengthened by the industrial might of the US from 1917 – were going to win. By the end of the war, the Germans only built about 20 tanks. In the time it had taken them to build those, the French had produced more than 1,000 FTs.
“When it’s a war for national survival, this is the kind of thing people come up with,” says Willey.
It was an approach that was to prove devastatingly effective in the years to come.
In 1929, the British Army’s practice manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain used small, fast tanks inspired by machines like the Whippet and the FT – and drew the interest of German commanders. They would combine these tactics alongside aircraft and artillery in a new style of warfare called ‘Blitzkreig’, barely a decade later.
One hundred years after it first trundled off the production lines, the FT doesn’t look like something that would give you nightmares.
At just over 16ft (4.8m) long and less than 6ft (1.8m) wide, the FT seems less like a death-dealing weapon of war and more like a vintage tractor with a turret. A modern battle tank like the US M1 Abrams is twice as long, twice as wide, and weighs eight times as much. Like the famous British Matilda I tank of World War Two, there’s the faint resemblance to a cartoon duck.
To see one today, BBC Future has travelled to a farm in the middle of Kent in southern England. It is, at least on the surface, a perfectly normal English farm. A pair of Sussex-breed bulls munch hay in their pens. A couple of friendly old terriers hover around a workshop in one of the farm buildings.
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