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Japanese tanks of WWII


By Sakhal

The Japanese Armed Forces were traditionally characterized by the duplicity of weapons in the Navy and the Army. Each of them had its own Artillery, Infantry, Cavalry and Armored Corps, which in the end was detrimental for the quality, largely thanks to a certain competitive spirit between them. The Mitsubishi company was the prime supplier of Japanese armored vehicles, along with other companies and arsenals. The Japanese tanks constituted elements of prime importance in missions of static defense in the isles conquered in the area of the Pacific.

Type 95 Ha-Go

In 1934 the company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the prototype of a new light tank which was tested in China and Japan, and which was followed by a second prototype the subsequent year. It was normalized as the light tank Type 95 albeit it was known as well as "Ha-Go" (denomination given by Mitsubishi) or "Ke-Go" (official denomination given by the Japanese Army). Albeit most sources state that Mitsubishi built the prototype, some attribute this to the Sagami Arsenal. The Type 95 was used by both the Cavalry and the Infantry and took part in war actions in China and along the Second World War (or the Great War of East Asia, as the Japanese called it). They were produced 1250 tanks, the largest part of which were produced by Mitsubishi, albeit other companies and arsenals took part largely for the manufacture of components. At the beginning of the production the Type 95 compared very favorably with other contemporary light tanks, but during the early period of the Second World War it had been already outclassed as it happened with the largest part of the Japanese armored vehicles. The Type 95 was used in small units or in missions of static defense in many of the isles taken by the Japanese in the Pacific.

The hull of the tank was of riveted or welved construction varying in thickness from 9 to 14 millimeters. The driver sat in the front part to the right and the machine gunner by his side to the left. The commander, who had to load and fire the cannon, was the only member placed in the left-shifted turret. The engine and transmission were placed in the rear part of the hull, and were accessible for the crew from inside the hull. The tank was internally coated with asbestos to keep the temperature as low as possible, and this also gave some shock protection to the crew when moving across very rough terrain. There was a space between the asbestos and the hull to allow the circulation of air. The suspension was of the well tested pivoting type and comprised four road wheels on each side, installed in two bogies, along with two return rollers, a drive sprocket in fore position and an idler in rear position. In some of the Type 95 tanks used in Manchuria it was modified the suspension system because it was seen that the sorghum grass caused important damages when getting trapped on the bogies.

The armament comprised one Type 94 37-millimeter cannon installed in a rotatory turret, which could fire high-explosive or piercing projectiles. One Type 91 6.5-millimeter machine gun was installed in the front of the hull, with a firing arc of 35 degrees left and right, whereas another similar machine gun was installed in the turret, in the same position that the five in a clock, which added another task to the already overburden commander. Already in the Second World War the Type 94 37-millimeter cannon was replaced by the Type 98 which had a higher muzzle speed. The tank carried 119 projectiles for the cannon and 2970 for the machine gun. Some of these tanks were fitted with smoke launchers placed at both sides of the hull to the rear part.

Japanese tanks of WWII


Variants and evolutions

Variations of the Type 95 were produced including an amphibious version fitted with separate pontoons. In 1943 some of the tanks replaced the 37-millimeter cannon by a 57-millimeter cannon like that mounted in the Type 97 medium tank, becoming then the Type 3 light tank. However this model was never accepted for the 57-millimeter cannon was too large for the normalized turret. Therefore in 1944 followed the Type 4 light tank, which was the Type 95 with the normalized turret replaced by the turret of the Type 97 medium tank complete with its 57-millimeter cannon. A very common characteristic in Japanese tanks was the separation of the armament in the turret, and so this new turret had as well a machine gun aiming backwards, but in the seven o'clock position.

Eventually, the Type 95 had to be replaced by the Type 98 light tank whose prototypes were completed not before 1938, by Hino Motors Company and Mitsubishi. These vehicles were not put into production until 1942. According to some sources they were produced 100 units (there is who stated they were 200 units) before the production were discontinued in 1943. This model had a more powerful engine which granted a higher road speed. Its armor was thicker and its suspension comprised six road wheels with three return rollers, a fore drive sprocket and a rear idler. The driver sat in the front of the hull to the center. The armament comprised one Type 100 37-millimeter cannon and two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns. Other light tanks developed in Japan included the Type 98, an improved vehicle with four road wheels, a rear drive sprocket and a fore idler, and without return rollers. Finally there were the Type 2, of which less than 30 units were built, and the Type 5, of which only one unit was built by Hino Motors before the end of the war.

Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tank

The Japanese did not start to experiment with armored amphibious vehicles until 1928, and until 1940 the largest part of the work was assumed by the Army. Later intervened the Navy, which took responsibility on the development of amphibious vehicles for its exclusive utilization. Whole series of vehicles were developed, including the Type 1 Mi-Sha, Type 2 Ka-Mi, Type 3 Ka-Chi, Type 4 Ka-Tsu and Type 5 To-Ku. Being a derivative, the Type 2 used many elements from the Type 95 light tank. The hull, hermetically sealed, was one of new design and fully welded. In its front and rear part were attached two pontoons, made of steel plates, to increase buoyancy. The fore pontoon was subdivided in eight compartments to prevent a full flooding when hit by projectiles. In the water, the tank was moved by two propellers which received power from the engine through a gearbox. Steering was effectuated by means of two rudders actuated from the turret by the commander. These amphibious tanks were usually deployed from ships or landing craft to reach the coast after crossing the reefs. Once in land the pontoons were removed and the tanks headed toward their targets. Some amphibious vehicles were projected to be transported on the deck of a submarine while others could carry a torpedo on each side of the hull.

Specifications for Type 95 Ha-Go

Crew: 3

Armament: One Type 94 37-millimeter cannon; one Type 91 6.5-millimeter machine gun in the rear part of the turret; one Type 91 6.5-millimeter machine gun in the front of the hull

Ammunitions: 119 for 37-millimeter cannon; 2970 for 6.5-millimeter machine guns

Armor: 9-14 millimeters

Lenght (total): 4.38 meters

Width: 2.06 meters

Height: 2.18 meters

Weight: 7.4 tonnes

Ground pressure: 0.61 kilograms/square centimeter

Ground clearance: 40 centimeters

Engine: Mitsubishi NVD 6120 Diesel of 6 cylinders, air-cooled, of 120 horsepower at 1800 revolutions per minute

Power/weight ratio: 16.2 horsepower/tonne

Maximum speed (in road): 45 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range (in road): 250 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.81 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 60 percent

Maximum fording: 1 meter



Specifications for Type 2 Ka-Mi

Crew: 4-5

Armament: One 37-millimeter cannon; one 7.7-millimeter coaxial machine gun; one 7.7-millimeter machine gun in the front of the hull

Armor: 9-14 millimeters

Lenght (with pontoons): 7.416 meters

Width: 2.794 meters

Height: 2.336 meters

Weight (with pontoons): 11.3 tonnes

Engine: Mitsubishi NVD 6120 Diesel of 6 cylinders, air-cooled, of 120 horsepower at 1800 revolutions per minute

Maximum speed (in road): 37 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed (in water): 9.6 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range (in road): 200 kilometers

Maximum operational range (in water): 150 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.73 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 50 percent



Type 97 Chi-Ha

The Japanese normalized medium tank in the 1930s was the Type 99, but in 1936 it was clear that this one should have been replaced by a more modern vehicle. The High Staff and the Engineering Department did not agreed about which would be the best project, so two different prototypes were built. The Osaka Arsenal built a prototype for the project of the High Staff denominated "Chi-Ni", while Mitsubishi built the model "Chi-Ha" for the Engineering Department. The Chi-Ni weighed 10000 kilograms and was propelled by an air-cooled six-cylinder Diesel engine of 135 horsepower which allowed for a top speed of 30 kilometers/hour. It had a crew of three and was armed with a Type 90 57-millimeter cannon and a Type 91 6.5-millimeter machine gun. The Chi-Ha from Mitsubishi was much heavier, of 15241 kilograms, and was propelled by a Mitsubishi 12-cylinder air-cooled Diesel engine of 170 horsepower, which granted a top speed of 38 kilometers/hour on road. The armament comprised one 57-millimeter cannon and two 7.7-millimeter machine guns. The tank had a crew of four, of which two were placed in the turret.

Both prototypes were completed in 1937 and submitted to comparative trials. Both tanks had positive and negative aspects and it was not until the outbreak of the war with China that it was decided to put into production the model from Mitsubishi as the Type 97 "Chi-Ha". On the other hand, it has been said that the Chi-Ni could have been developed as a first-class light tank. The largest part of the Type 97 tanks were produced by Mitsubishi, albeit other companies, including Hitachi, also built it. Its hull was riveted and welded. The driver sat in the front of the hull to the right, with the machine gunner at his side to the left. The rotatory turret housing the commander and the gunner was in the center of the hull but displaced to the right. The engine was in the rear part of the hull and its power was transmitted to the gearbox placed in forward position, by means of an axle running along the centerline of the hull.

The suspension comprised six twin road wheels on each side along with a fore drive sprocket, a rear idler and three return rollers; of these, the middle one was smaller and supported the track only by its inner side (in some depictions it supports the tracks in both sides and in some photographs we can see the return rollers in exchanged positions). The four center wheels on each side were paired in bogies linked to pivoting cranks attached to compression springs housed inside a protective tube. The outer road wheels were linked to the hull by means of similar but independent pivoting cranks, attached to unprotected springs. The armament comprised a Type 97 57-millimeter short cannon, which fired high-explosive or piercing projectiles, and two 7.7-millimeter machine guns, one in the rear part of the turret in the seven o'clock position and another one in the front of the hull.

Even if it was mounted in a fully rotatory turret, the main armament was fitted with vertical trunnions which allowed the cannon to pivot independently from the turret, five degrees to the left and right. The vertical firing arc ranged from -9 to +11 degrees. The tank carried 120 projectiles (80 of high explosive type and 40 of armor piercing type) for the main armament and 2350 for the machine guns. The large provision of high-explosive shells, in comparison with other contemporary tanks, was due to the Japanese belief that the role of a tank should be to support the infantry rather than destroying enemy tanks. In comparison with that used in the first Japanese tanks, the turret of the Type 97 had been very improved; the commander could govern the tank rather than managing the main armament.

The experience obtained in combat against the Soviet tanks during the Battle of Nomonhan in 1939 showed that it was necessary a cannon with a high muzzle velocity. Consequently Mitsubishi projected a new turret that required a ring of larger diameter and which increased the weight of the tank up to 16000 kilograms. This new tank, denominated ShinHoTo, carried a Type 1 47-millimeter cannon of longer tube which could fire both high-explosive and piercing projectiles. This cannon had a muzzle velocity of 823 meters/second and could perforate 70 millimeters of armor from a distance of 457 meters. They were carried 104 projectiles for the main armament and 2575 for the machine guns.

Japanese tanks of WWII

In this picture the suspension system is rather clearly visible.

Variants and evolutions

Many variants of the Type 97 medium tank were produced, including minesweepers, bulldozers, bridgelayers and a diversity of engineering and recovery vehicles. There were also self-propelled howitzers of 150 and 200 millimeters in caliber and an anti-aircraft tank armed with one 20-millimeter cannon. One of the less common models was the ram tank "Ho-K", on which the turret had been removed and a steel ram had been attached to the front of the hull, to open a way across the forests in Manchuria. The most relevant variant was perhaps the Type 4 self-propelled howitzer "Ho-Ro", in which the turret had been replaced by an open superstructure of riveted construction, with a thickness of 25 millimeters in the frontal part and 12 millimeters in the sides. The Type 38 150- millimeter howitzer had a very short tube and fired high-explosive projectiles to a maximum distance of 5943 meters. The firing arc was 30 degrees in elevation and very limited in azimuth.

The Type 1 "Ho-Ni I" was a tank destroyer variant armed with a Type 90 75-millimeter cannon in an open casemate. The cannon could swivel 20 degrees in horizontal and from -5 to +25 degrees in vertical. The Type 1 "Ho-Ni II" was a variant armed with a Type 91 105-millimeter howitzer in a slightly changed superstructure. The Type 2 "Ho-I" support tank was a variant armed with a Type 99 75-millimeter howitzer in a rotatory enclosed turret. The Type 3 "Ho-Ni III" was another tank destroyer armed with a Type 3 75-millimeter cannon in an enclosed superstructure. The Type 97 medium tank was followed by the medium tank Type 1 "Chi-He" and later in 1943 by the medium tank Type 3 "Chi-Nu".

The Type 1 Chi-He, which weighed 17476 kilograms, had its armor increased to up to 50 millimeters and its armament comprised one Type 1 47-millimeter cannon and two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns in similar placement than in the Type 97 Chi-Ha. The propulsion plant was the Type 100 air-cooled 12-cylinder Diesel engine which developed 240 horsepower at 2000 revolutions per minute. The Type 3 Chi-Nu had the same hull than the Type 1 Chi-He but it featured a new turret that increased weight to 19100 kilograms and decreased top speed to 38 kilometers/hour. Its armament comprised a Type 3 75-millimeter cannon and one 7.7-millimeter machine gun in the front of the hull. This tank was developed to counter the American M-4 Sherman which was armed as well with a 75-millimeter cannon. The production of the Type 3 started in 1944 but only 50 or 60 units were built.

The Type 4 "Chi-To" had a longer chassis and weighed 30480 kilograms. It was armed with one Type 5 75-millimeter cannon in its rotatory turret and one 7.7-millimeter machine gun in the front of the hull. Only two units were built. The last Japanese medium tank was the Type 5 "Chi-Ri". It weighed 37594 kilograms and its armor had a maximum thickness of 75 millimeters. It was armed with one Type 5 75-millimeter cannon in its rotatory turret and one Type 1 37-millimeter cannon in the front of the hull. The propulsion plant comprised an aviation engine BMW developing 550 horsepower at 1500 revolutions per minute, which granted a top speed of 45 kilometers/hour on road. The suspension comprised eight road wheels on each side with a fore drive sprocket, a rear idler and three return rollers. However this tank never entered production phase; otherwise it would have been a hard opponent for the American tanks, albeit at the end of the war the M-26 Pershing had been already deployed in the Pacific.

There are not exact numbers about the Japanese production of armored vehicles during the Second World War. Mitsubishi stated that they were about 4650 (including 50 self-propelled cannons) and it has been believed that this represents about 70 percent of the total wartime production in the Japanese factories. The largest part of the self-propelled artillery was built in such short numbers that it played no appreciable role in most campaigns.

Japanese tanks of WWII

Being one of the most successful Japanese tanks of the Second World War, the Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank was seen in many scenarios in Asia and the Pacific until the end of the war. The illustration shows the tank as it appeared in action in Central Asia.

Specifications for Type 97 Chi-Ha

Crew: 4

Armament: One Type 90 57-millimeter cannon; one Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine gun in the rear part of the turret; one Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine gun in the front of the hull

Ammunitions: 120 for 57-millimeter cannon; 2350 for 7.7-millimeter machine guns

Armor: 8-25 millimeters

Lenght (total): 5.52 meters

Width: 2.33 meters

Height: 2.23 meters

Weight: 15.2 tonnes

Ground pressure: 0.61 kilograms/square centimeter

Ground clearance: 42 centimeters

Engine: Mitsubishi NVD 12200 Diesel of 12 cylinders, air-cooled, of 170 horsepower at 2000 revolutions per minute

Power/weight ratio: 11.2 horsepower/tonne

Maximum speed (in road): 38 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range (in road): 210 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.51 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.81 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 57 percent

Maximum fording: 1 meter



Categories: Tanks, World War Two, 20th Century

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2016-09-25




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