ASL Gear - The Type 97 Chi-Ha

The Japanese had a surprisingly large tank force and had the 5th most tanks in the world pre-ww2 (after Britain, Germany, France and the Soviet Union). But were unable to adequately leverage them, especially as the war drew on.
Early Efforts
Taking advantage of their ‘ally’ status after World War I the army had purchased several British and French Tanks to ‘study’ with a British Mark IV and several Whippets along with several French Renault FTs. The intention was to use these as the basis for a Japanese distinct design and this was a design philosophy that worked nicely to reduce R&D costs (they did much the same with their navy copying many British Ship variations and command structures). Copying a WWI tank was perhaps not the ideal way forward and nothing much came from the initial designs. 
One noticeable Japanese design process was almost an extreme aversion to perceived initial shortcomings so, as an example, when in 1927 Vickers sold them a Model C prototype and that prototype burst into flames during tests they decided that ‘all’ Japanese tanks from then onwards would be diesel to avoid that problem ( later in 1932 when viewing U.S Stuarts and seeing one of the Stuart fail due to a rare mechanical problem they decided to ignore that model from that point forward which is a shame as that was a damn good tank..). The Model C did give them a decent enough template to produce their first service tank – the  Type 89 Yi-Go. Time constraints in production meant more European tanks were purchased as a stop gap ( ten French Renault NC 1’s) and it was these as opposed to Japanese types that were initially involved in China and Shanghai.
A cavalry tank was the produced – the type 92 Jyu-Sokasha but proved unpopular. At this point the Japanese army had still not settled on a design it really liked and it took a turn down the tankette path producing a slightly larger tankette called the Type 94. Lack of steel and cheapness made this a popular make though outside of China its combat use was limited.
Army officers were complaining about the speed of the Type 89 so the Type 95 Ha-Go was then designed which had half the weight of the 89 hence much better speed. This was a light tank though and since the Type 89 was recognised as ‘not good’ the army looked towards a new model.
The Design
The imitator appeared to be another British tank – the A6 Cruiser which had a 47mm gun. The design retained light armour mainly due to desires to keep weight and cost down and the armour was riveted as were a lot of early war tanks. This made it cheaper to produce but was perhaps more dangerous should a lucky shot hit a rivet and sent a metal bolt carearing around the inside of the vehicle. Two prototypes were looked at and due to the war with China the more expensive Mitsubushi 170hp diesel version was selected. It had four crew. A driver and bow machine gunner at the front and two more in the turret.  Initially armed with a 57mm gun bad experiences against the Soviet Union and the BT7 in particular in Mongolia led to the development of a more powerful 47mm gun that reduced the HE impact considerably making the tanks less useful, against light targets. 
The Chi-ha special naval version with a 12mm howitzer
Japanese tanks did have some useful characteristics.  They usually displayed high levels of workmanship with excellent transmissions partially dependant on lots of self-aligning ball bearings and were heat treatened (not case hardened). Their gears were both profile-ground and hand-scraped for accuracy. Even the Suspension had armour protection (only 4mm but enough to avoid accidental damage in combat) They also lined the engine with asbestos to keep the tank well insulated.  It had an excellent 4-power telescopic sight but the gunner had no periscopic sight so was reliant on the Commander for situational ‘awareness’. The tank also used a funky  buzzer and light system so the commander could signal to the driver by pressing a button and lighting up a light with the buzzer for ‘look now’ if the driver was distracted. 
The Japanese naming conventions were very similar to most of the world at this point and were boringly prosaic. For example the full name of the 47mm armed tank (97B in ASL terms) is the Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha. This can be translated as follows. The Type 97 refers to the 2597 Imperial Year (1937 in Gregorian terms) . Shinhoto stands for ‘new turret’ . Chi is a shortened version of ChÅ«-sensha which means medium tank and the Ha comes from a number from an old Japanese alphabet (iroha) with ‘Ha’ being three.  So it is the Type 1937 model 3 medium tank. Rolls of the tongue. Historically it was the British who liked naming military vehicle classes (they were also the ones who named the Sherman). Not something their early designs were noted for (Mark III tank anyone?) but eventually realised the trouble ordering parts when a missing I makes all the difference between Tank, Cruiser Mk II and Tank, Cruiser Mk III or perhaps between the U.S Medium Tank M3 which was actually two different models ‘Lee’ and ‘Grant’ makes that mistake far less likely. Anyway my first car was called Bertha. Just putting that info out there for posterity.
Early in the war the tank force was largely successful. The Japanese were aggressive in their use of tanks often in terrain which other Nationalities consider impassable to tanks (interestingly the Japanese made the same mistake themselves later in the war when they were shocked that the U.S managed to ship in Shermans to attack the islands). Due to the German success they continued to favour speed and weight over armour and armament. Useful in a country with limited steel. The switching to a defensive posture killed the Tank branches development as steel and R&D production was given mainly to the Navy as Tank production geared for the Russians and top of the heap dropped to around 4th. This meant the Japanese had to use essentially obsolete tanks for the remainder of the war that were usually heavily outgunned and armoured. The war itself did not help as the Japanese design philosophy of ‘buy from the Europeans’ and copy was stopped by the war meaning they were starved of new ideas. The Germans tried to sell some of their own tanks but the early ones sent over (Mark III’s) were already obsolete at that point and the later sales (Panther and Tiger) could not be shipped to Japan due to the allies dominance over the seas.

A still viewable Chi-Ha from Moscow
Due to the lack of armour and decent guns the Japanese heavily favoured the shock value of the surprise appearance of tanks so often camouflaged heavily for sudden arrival. One of the early island defence ideas was a group of hidden tanks suddenly attacking the landing ground on an island. In practice the orders to attack came to late and when the tanks arrived so had the U.S anti-tank defence so that approach failed. Tank platoons were trained for all tanks (three to five) to fire at a single designated opponent mainly as due to accuracy and lack of penetration they needed more hits to get a decent chance of destruction. 
Tanks were used very aggressively. Often single tanks would break through frontal defences and trundle around a position before returning just to recce a location and Japanese tankers would often disembark and attack opposing infantry defending obstacles as infantry themselves!
Training courses favoured three approaches to tank to tank combat mainly caused by the recognised weaknesses when fighting the U.S and its allies
  • Ambush
  • Smoke then move to the side/rear
  • concentrating fire at recognised weak points
  • Extreme hull down. By this they would often be unassailable with only the commander seeing over a ridge. The tank would then fire almost as an artillery piece so the shell would arc into the enemy. Less efficient but safer. 

Here is a Japanese account of combat in the Philippines on January 7th 1945 in a Chi-Ha by Warrant Officer Kojuro Wada, 3rd Company 7th tank Regiment when he took on Lt Robert Cartwright’s platoon of Company A, 716th tank battalion at Urdaneta.
Around 8am on the 17th, six or seven infantrymen from an outpost near a bridge hurried past at a run, shouting “American tanks are coming!” I asked, “Only tanks?”, and they replied, “Accompanied by guerrillas.” I ordered the tanks of my platoon to get ready, and asked the infantrymen, “How many enemy tanks?” “Many – more than 20,” they replied.
Tank engines started and gun muzzle covers were removed. We backed off the road and into the palm trees. Running 6 or 7 metres up the road, I stuck a mango branch in the ground in front of my platoon and shouted, “Don’t shoot until the leading enemy tank reaches this point… Our guns can can easily penetrate around the return rollers of an M4 tank, so take it easy! If enemy infantry come, open fire with the machine guns.” I heard battle cry’s from my second and third tanks.
As I watched with my head out of the hatch, Sgt Suzuki in the third tank signalled that M4 tanks were approaching, by waving his arm without a word. I heard faint track noises… One, two, three enemy tanks appeared among the palm trees; the white star painted on the front of each tank was clearly visible. They were 100m away – 70m – 50m – 30m but [still] they did not notice our tanks, because we were well camouflaged. Guerrillas wearing various coloured clothing were following the tanks at a distance. I ordered Gunner Kotani not to fire too soon. At last, they reached the range marker and our third tank fired [first, with the second and our own tank immediately following suit].
At the same time as the expended case hit the floor Driver Yamashita shouted “Hit!” The leading tank caught fire and turned to the opposite side of the road. It looked huge to me. The second enemy tank also caught on fire after several hits; Cpl Yamashita was delighted and yelled, ” Got ’em! Got ’em!” Our three tanks had concentrated their fire on the third enemy tank. We had revealed our positions, and the third enemy tank turned off the road and confronted us at longer range. The three tanks off our platoon fired about 60 rounds rapidly, but they all skipped on the thick armour of the M4, the ricocheting rounds arching upwards detonating with white-purple flashes – Sgt Kotani shouted, “Irritating!”” Corporal Yamashita, loading the next round, gave a cry: a rivet knocked loose by an enemy shell was protruding from his right knee. Senior Pvt Kato plucked the rivet out and applied a bandage.
I saw a fire over my right shoulder and heard a deafening explosion . The tank jolted and the engine coughed out; Sgt Kotani, firing the gun, asked urgently, “What happened?” I told Kotani not to shoot, and climbed out of the tank. A red flame blew out from the side of the engine compartment; an enemy shell had hit the engine.
The M4 tank before us was immobile, but its turret was still traversing slightly. I murmured, “There are still enemy tankers in there.” From inside the tank Sgt Kotani said, “There’s only five AP rounds left.” I ordered the crew out of the tank.
Sgt Suzuki’s and Sgt Kokai’s tanks were still operational, but Kokai and his gunner were wounded, as an enemy shell had pierced through the base of gun mount. As the crew of the third M4 would be panicked by many hits, I ordered Sgt Suzuki to move to the side of the enemy tank and fire at point-blank range. His tank moved to the right and fired: the round ricocheted off, and he moved in closer and fired again. At the same moment the American tank fired: nothing happened for a moment, then suddenly Suzuki’s tank burst into flames. Smoke rose from the side of the M4, then changed into flames – they had hit each other at the same time.
Here is a photo of one of the U.S tanks taken out in the combat listed above

The final Sherman destroyed was commanded by a Sergeant Shrift who received a silver Star (along with his crew) for their valiant fight after his track was knocked off.
The U.S army carried out extensive studies on all opposing weapon systems and their comments on the Chi-Ha are interesting
The most effective Japanese armored vehicle thus far met by U.S. forces is the Type 97 (1937) medium tank (improved), a 15-ton tank mounting a high-velocity 47-mm gun as its chief armament. This vehicle, which first appeared in the Philippines in 1942, has since been encountered in Burma and the Pacific theaters. A number of Type 97 mediums (improved) constituted a sizable part of the Japanese armored division which operated on Luzon in January and February 1945.
Although this tank is considered a superior fighting vehicle, Japanese armor on Luzon never mounted an attack with more than 16 tanks at any one time, and never employed the principle of mass. Instead of making use of the mobility of its tanks, the Japanese division chose, instead, to fight from fixed defenses and emplacements and to make piecemeal counterattacks. As a result, the Japanese armored effort resulted in little more than delay.
The general design of the Type 97 medium (improved) is satisfactory, but engagements with U.S. tanks have shown that its present maximum armor thickness (1 inch to possibly as much as 1.29 inches) will not withstand high-velocity projectiles. Perhaps for this reason, Jap medium tanks on Luzon—the first formidable armored force to oppose the U.S. advance toward Tokyo—were employed chiefly to stiffen village defensive positions. The tanks—well dug-in under thick, concealing foliage and with adobe revetments—were used as a nucleus around which all other defenses were built. Alternate positions were prepared so that the enemy armor could be shifted around the perimeter as the situation dictated. The number of tanks of all types employed in defense of individual villages varied from nine to 52.
Armored counterattacks were employed only as a last resort, when it appeared inevitable that local defenses would collapse. These limited attacks were launched under cover of darkness as support of infantry banzai charges. The enemy tank crews invariably became confused and were easy prey for U.S. anti-tank weapons.
later they tested anti-tank systems against test versions

A field test has been conducted by a U.S. antitank company to determine the penetration capabilities of U.S. infantry antitank weapons attacking the Type 97 medium tank (improved). U.S. weapons used in the test were the caliber .50 machine gun, the rifle grenade, the 2.36-inch rocket, and the 37-mm antitank gun.
The caliber .50 machine gun fired on the Japanese tank at three different ranges—35 yards, 50 yards, and 100 yards. In firing on the front of the tank at a range of 35 yards, penetrations were registered on the ball-mounted machine gun only; no penetrations were made on the vision aperture, turret, or curved or sloping surfaces. At 50 yards, 35 percent penetrations were made in the plate behind the suspension system (on the side of the tank), the hall mount of the rear machine gun, and the under surface of the rear of the tank. At 100 yards, no penetrations were made on any part of the tank.
The rifle grenade was fired at a range of approximately 50 yards. When the grenade was fired at a normal angle to 45 degrees from normal, penetration was made on all parts of the tank, with the exception of the gun shield. The diameter of the penetrations was approximately 1/2 inch.
The 2.36-inch rocket was fired against the tank at a range of approximately 50 yards. Penetrations were made in all parts of the tank when the rocket struck at angles from normal to 45 degrees from normal. The diameter of the penetrations was approximately 3/4 inch.
The 37-mm antitank gun was fired at ranges of 100 and 350 yards. Only armor-piercing shells were used. At 100 yards, the 37-mm registered penetrations on all parts of the tank when fired at angles from normal to 45 degrees from normal. At 350 yards, penetration of the tank armor could be made only when the antitank gun was fired at normal angle. The diameter of penetration was approximately 1 1/2 inches.
As a result of this test, the ranges listed below were recommended as the most favorable for employment against this tank:
Caliber .50 machine gun  . . . . . . . . . .  Ranges up to 50 yards
Rifle grenade  . . . . . . . . . .  Ranges up to 75 yards
2.36-inch rocket  . . . . . . . . . .  Ranges up to 100 yards
37-mm antitank gun  . . . . . . . . . .  Ranges up to 350 yards
The ASL world provides us with three separate vehicles that represent the range of tanks available.
First up we have the type A
As can be seen this contains the original 57 mm gun which has a rather weak 9 to kill. Armour is well represented with 3 frontal hull and 4 turret and 2 and 3 respectively for side/rear. It is not a small or fast tank but is light so has low ground pressure. The machine guns are also not up to much but the Rear 2 represents a popular Japanese design choice of having a machine gun in the rear of the turret. This was so the commander could decide on the best weapon for the task in hand and swing the entire turret around to use the most appropriate weapon. The turret is also not particularly fast, which is a hangover from the fact these are essentially 1930s tanks. It does have smoke dispensers post 41 and has a reasonable crew survival rate. Radios were not provided for these until 1945 hence the asterisk to a special note
Next up we have the type 97B

Post the Mongolian campaign against the Soviets a new, more powerful 47L gun was designed to cope better with tank to tank. Unfortunately that was tank to tank versus crap early Soviet tanks, but it improves the kill number to 11. Beyond that there is no change except the inclusion of radios.  The turret was adjusted for the new gun and ammo along with moving to three crew in the turret (commander to the right and the gunner and loader on the left in line) which conversely reduced the turrets armour protection to the same as the side rear hull factor.

Finally  the Japanese recognised their deficiencies and ‘attempted’ to correct them but were already lagging far behind. One of their attempts resulted in this – the Chi-He
Basically this is a Chi-Ha with a better powered engine – pushing the movement points available to 16 and much better armour which included more extensive use of welding to avoid rivets. The front now has more solid 6 and the rear is back to the original type A 2 and 3 values. Finally the crew survival improved.


There are a surprisingly large amount of scenarios using these vehicles. For official MMP ones we have the following (their are almost double this amount if other producers are included)

The Type 97A

Type 97B


Of these I have an AAR already up on ‘A Stiff fight’ or its alternate title ‘how not to use Japanese tanks’. My next AAR will also hopefully be on Tropic Lightning so covering another..
A 1945 color scheme Chi-Ha from their forces in China


If you want to find out more then Osprey provides the best information
US Army Intelligence Report  from ‘Intelligence Bulletin, July 1945’
Not covering the type 97 but instead the light type 95 we have the following tank chat – which  does cover some of the design influences (and I do love Bovington’s tank chats)


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