Rare, historic tank restored and unveiled at Canadian War Museum

August 13, 2012

Ottawa, Ontario, August 13, 2012 — The Canadian War Museum today unveiled a newly restored M1917 Six-Ton Tank, one of two known to exist in Canada. Based on one of the most influential tank designs in history, the M1917 is also one of the vehicles that helped train Canada’s Second World War armoured forces. The restoration was made possible thanks to the support of Richard Iorweth Thorman, the Friends of the Canadian War Museum and DEW Engineering.

The M1917 was the American-made version of the Renault FT, a revolutionary machine designed during the First World War by famous French automobile manufacturer Louis Renault. The FT was the first operational tank with a fully rotating turret, rear-mounted engine and front-mounted driver’s compartment—a configuration copied in most tank designs ever since.

In 1940, Canada had almost no tanks of its own and needed to train tank crews for its rapidly growing army. Colonel F.F. Worthington, a long-time advocate for a Canadian armoured fighting capability and the de facto founder of the Canadian Armoured Corps (now Royal Canadian Armoured Corps), arranged for the acquisition of approximately 250 M1917s as “scrap metal” from the then-neutral United States for use as training vehicles. They were used to train members of the newly formed Canadian Armoured Corps at Camp Borden (now Canadian Forces Base Borden), earning the M1917 a special place in Canadian military history. 

“The addition of this beautifully restored tank further enhances our outstanding collection of large vehicles and our ability to tell the story of Canada’s military history,” said James Whitham, Director General of the Canadian War Museum. “I offer sincere thanks to Richard Iorweth Thorman, the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, DEW Engineering and others for their generous support.”

“At the University of Toronto, I shared many crowded classes with returning Second World War veterans. I had been too young to fight, but definitely old enough to never forget those who had fought for Canada,” declared Mr. Thorman. When asked why he supported the restoration of this special tank, he replied “It was an opportunity of a lifetime to complete the circle of involvement, first, the new Canadian War Museum building, and now, with one of the first tanks used in the training of the Canadian Armoured Corps.”

Only a small number of these tanks are still known to exist. The War Museum’s M1917, one of only two in Canada, was used to train Canadian tank crews at Camp Borden. After being sold as surplus, it was heavily modified and used as a logging tractor near Bracebridge, Ontario. The Museum acquired the vehicle, incomplete and in very poor condition, in 1997.

The majority of the funds required for this restoration came from Richard IorwethThorman, a long-time supporter of the Canadian War Museum and member of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, which provided the balance of funding. The hands-on restoration and reproduction work was completed by DEW Engineering and volunteers from the Friends of the Canadian War Museum.

“It is truly rewarding to see another piece of Canadian history preserved for future generations,” said Douglas Rowland, President of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum. “Each and every member who supported the project should be proud to have participated in this restoration.”

The restored M1917 is now on display in the Museum’s LeBreton Gallery, a diverse collection of vehicles, artillery and other large artifacts that helps document the Canadian military experience from the 18th century to the present.

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions. 


Backgrounder: Six-Ton Tank M1917

 During the early part of the Second World War, the American-built Six-Ton Tank M1917 helped train Canadian tank crews. Originally intended to equip United States forces during the First World War, it entered service too late to see combat in that conflict.

 The M1917 was based on the design of the ground-breaking French Renault FT light tank. Both designs carried their main armament in a fully rotating turret, introducing a major feature still found in modern-day tanks. The American military, with limited funds for new equipment, used M1917s well into the 1930s. By the outbreak of the war in 1939, however, all had been retired from US service and scrapped or placed in storage.

 In 1940, Canada had almost no tanks of its own and needed to train tank crews for its rapidly growing army. At that time, tanks were not available from the hard-pressed United Kingdom or from Canadian manufacturers. Colonel F.F. Worthington, an advocate for military innovation and often considered the “Father of the Armoured Corps”, arranged for the acquisition of approximately 250 M1917s from the still-neutral United States for use as training vehicles. The tanks, sold to Canada as “scrap metal”, arrived by rail at Camp Borden (now part of Canadian Forces Base Borden) in October 1940. Many of the tanks had suffered from years of hard use and outside storage, and required overhauls before they would work again. Although the tanks were small, slow, and unreliable, they provided useful training until newer equipment, including Canadian-made Ram tanks became available.

 In 1943, many M1917s were stripped of their turrets and some of their armour and sold as surplus to civilian buyers. The M1917 in the Canadian War Museum’s collection was heavily modified and used for years as a logging tractor near Bracebridge, Ontario.

 The M1917 was acquired from the Reynolds Museum in Alberta in 1997.  It was in very poor condition when it arrived at the War Museum and required extensive restoration and reconstruction work—including an international search for surviving parts from other tanks and the construction of a new upper hull and turret. Museum staff, volunteers, and contractors spent about 5,000 hours on the restoration and reconstruction, which was generously supported by Richard Iorweth Thorman, the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, and DEW Engineering.

 Information (media): 

Yasmine Mingay
Manager, Public Affairs
Canadian War Museum
Telephone: 819-776-8608

Avra Gibbs Lamey
Communications and Media Relations Officer
Canadian War Museum
Telephone: 819-776-8607