Japanese Armor (Other Armored Vehicles)

Japanese Armor Encyclopedia

Like the major European powers (and the US), the Japanese modified and adapted their basic tank designs to fulfill a variety of specialized roles. Unlike British and Americans, however, they were seldom able to produce these vehicles in sufficient quantities to be even noticed, much less effective in their secondary but often important tasks. One obvious example in the Pacific war was that of amphibious armored assault craft. The Japanese Navy did obtain a number of Ha-Go light tanks, and developed them into an amphibious tank, the Type 2 or “Ka-Mi.” Two large detachable floats, shaped like the bow and stern of a boat, were fitted to the front and rear of a modified Ha-Go. The modifications consisted mainly (besides the hardware necessary to attach the floats, of course) of enabling the tank’s transmission to drive a pair of screws when in boat mode, and also of steering wires which could be run into the tank itself allowing those inside to work the rudders on the stern float. The Ka-Mi had a top speed equivalent to about six miles per hour when in the water. The floats brought the vehicle’s total weight to over 12 tons, and three additional men (besides the normal three-man tank crew on land) were assigned to the craft to help manage it when afloat, and also one imagines to give a hand installing and removing the floats. When striking the shore the Ka-Mi could drive right up on to the beach on its tracks, and it could even fight in amphibian mode, as the turret had full clearance and could be operated as soon as the rubber seals to make it watertight were removed. However, the encumberance of the heavy floats made the tank extremely awkward on dry land, and the intention was to remove them as soon as possible and then fight like a regular tank, in which case the vehicle reverted to being the basic Ha-Go in all important respects.

A problem with the Ka-Mi, first and foremost, was that the Navy wanted it as an amphibious assault craft for attacking defended beaches, but the vehicle only entered service in 1943, at a time when the Japanese were already largely on the defensive. Thus its usefulness was somewhat limited. Still, a few were encountered from time to time. Here is where memory gets a bit hazy, I can’t find the source but think that perhaps the Japanese light tank that attacked the Marines on Betio in the Tarawa atoll (I seem to recall that two light tanks were discovered on the little island, but will stand correction in that particular as well) may well have been a Ka-Mi fighting without its floats. However, I’m not sure of that, it could have just been a regular Ha-Go in Navy service. Nevertheless, despite their seemingly more limited opportunities for employment– and of course the manufacturing difficulties, alluded to in previous instalments, of building such complex and specialized machines– the Japanese designed even bigger and more complicated amphibian tanks as the war progressed. The Type 3 or “Ka-Chi” followed hard on the heels of the Ka-Mi, appearing just as the latter was entering combat service. Based on the Chi-He medium tank, it had much more engineering for the aquatic side of its duties, including a large chimney-like air intake for rough seas. Few if any of these saw service, but as late as 1945 an even larger, purpose-built amphibian assault craft was being designed (with a Navy 25mm gun in its turret and a 57mm cannon in the front of the hull), although how anyone in the Japanese Navy could have imagined they would ever actually need such a vehicle at that stage of the war is frankly beyond me.

The Ka-Mi amphibious tank was introduced in 1942 (not 1943). The point to be made is that although they could build and deploy a handfull of these aquatic oddities, the Japanese could never produce the kind of amphibious armada the US forces were able to deploy by the middle of 1944, and which proved a major factor in the successful prosecution of their island-hopping campaign.

The Japanese Army also produced many permutations on its standard medium designs, particularly the omnipresent Chi-Ha. The most common of these adaptations in actual service was the “Shi-Ki” command tank. In this case the Chi-Ha was altered by fitting a dummy 57mm gun in the turret (leaving room inside the cramped interior that otherwise would have been taken up by the breech and mount), a loss of firepower that was compensated by replacing the hull machinegun with either a 57mm or 37mm cannon (examples of both existed). The Shi-Ki featured improved optics (which were not particularly good in the regular Japanese tanks) and communications– it not only had a radio, it had a long-range radio, and in fact the Shi-Ki could be easily distinguished by the rail antenna around the top of the turret. Though by definition not produced in large quantities, individual examples of the Shi-Ki were nonetheless found in action in numerous places throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia during the war, even in early 1942.

Other specialized variants of the Chi-Ha medium tank were less widely encountered. There was, for instance, the “Type G” mine-clearing tank, a regulation Chi-Ha fitted out as a flail, with a rotating drum whipping chains against the ground in front of the vehicle. The arrangement was familiar in British and American hands in Europe, but the Japanese example was something of a rare bird. There was also the “Se-Ri” recovery vehicle, a more extensively altered Chi-Ha that had the original turret replaced by a smaller type with sloping sides, mounting only a single machinegun (there was a second mg in the hull). Designed for recovering knocked-out or broken down tanks, its rather rudimentary gear for that purpose consisted of a small jib crane for hoisting and a winch for towing, both attached to the rear of the vehicle. The Se-Ri, too, was relatively seldom seen, although an occasional example did make it to the fighting zones. Japanese tank recovery efforts were not noteworthy during the war, and they appear to have developed this aspect of armored warfare much less extensively than the Germans, or even the western Allies, despite the paucity of resources that would seem to militate for getting the maximum use out of everything they had for as long as they could. However, Japanese maintenance work in general must not have been too bad, as evidenced by the number of antiquated Ha-Go’s and Chi-Ha’s that remained serviceable as late as 1944 or even 1945 (and also by the mileage they got from even more obsolescent vehicles in China).

The Japanese also had an Armored Engineer Vehicle designated “SS” It was introduced in 1931 It had a weight of 13 tons. Dimensions: 4.865 x 2.52 x 2.088(h) m The armor (max) was 25 mm and it had a maximum speed of 37 km/hr It was powered by a diesel Engine 145 PS/1800 rpm The armament consisted of 2 or 3 Flamethrowers and a Light Machine Gun. It had a crew of 5 Production Qty : 119 SS had following nine functions; (1)destruction of pillbox, (2) digging trenches, (3)mine sweep, (4)destruction of wire entanglements, (5)disinfection, (6)scattering poison, (7)flamethrowing, (8)crane, (9)smoke discharge, and a bridgelaying function was added later. At first, the SS was developed in order to destroy the Soviet pillbox on the border of Manchuria. However, during its development, many functions were added at the request of users. SS could achieve many functions by replacing the devices mounted on the vehicle. Though the SS had a lot of functions, most of them were insufficent and the only really useful one was as a bridgelayer. The first four SS were deployed in the 1st Independent Mixed Brigade and they executed the flamethrower mission in the battle near Peking on July 28th, 1937. It was the first time that the SS saw action. After that, SS was deployed in the special engineer regiment for SS, which was established for the destruction of the Soviet pillboxs. When the tank divisions were established, the engineer regiment for SS was taken over by the tank divisions. In tank divisions, the SS was mainly used as a bridgelayer. When the 2nd Tank Division went to the Philippines in the last days of WWII, some SS were also sent there. The action of SS in the Philippines is not known, but eight SS were captured by American forces. The development of the SS, resulted in five models, Ko, Otsu, Hei, Tei and Bo. The photo below is the Bo model.A principle adaptation of the “Shinhoto Chi-Ha” was the design of a bulldozer plow blade that could be fitted to the front of the tank without extensive alterations or greatly diminishing the vehicle’s combat capacity. This modification was also seen in various parts of the theatres where Japan fought, although again only in very small numbers, and it could hardly be called commonplace.

Japan, like other nations building their own designs of tank in the war, also developed self-propelled guns based on those tank chassis. Once again, the workhorse Chi-Ha served as the basic mount. There were four main models, all of which consisted of the gun in question mounted on an open-topped Chi-Ha chassis, behind a fairly large shield which however provided only a relatively small amount of protection from the side. The main difference between the types was the gun each carried. The “Ho-Ni 1” mounted the 75mm Type 90 (see the section on “medium tanks,” above), the “Ho-Ni 2” fitted instead the 105mm Type 91 field howitzer, ( Some times the Japanese 105mm howitzer was designated as the Type 91 and references to it as the “Type ’31” refer to the year it was introduced in the western calendar, but not the one the Japanese were using for designating weapons design) .and the “Ho-Ni 3” was provided with the powerful 75mm Type 88 antiaircraft gun. The “Ho-Ro,” which might have been the first to appear, carried the 150mm howitzer, one of the most effective weapons of the Japanese field artillery. None of these vehicles ever saw service in numbers enough to make a difference, and in fact there were so few built that they were only rarely encountered. Probably the Ho-Ro was the most widely employed.

The “Ho-Ni” models, one of which had a 75mm gun, a version of the Type 90 field/antitank gun, and another with the Type 88 AA gun.  The Ho-Ni series which was based on Type 97 chassis. He is about 98% sure that what is shown here is the Type 1 “Ho-Ni,” i.e., 75mm Type 90 gun on Type 97 medium tank chassis. The only reason for any remaining doubt is that the gun itself lacks the characteristic small muzzle brake found on the field and antitank gun versions of the Type 90– it looks almost more like the original 1897 Schneider, the “French 75,” but I think this is just a case of the Type 90 revealing its ultimate ancestry when the muzzle brake is removed. Lacking any reference to another SP mounting for the 75mm field gun, and seeing that this is pretty clearly a Type 97 chassis and that the gun reveals Schneider design characteristics, I’d say the odds are pretty high that’s the call– “Ho-Ni I,” officially called the Type 1.

Another avenue pursued by the Japanese in the realm of self-propelled artillery was the so-called “Gun Tank Ho-1,” introduced in 1942. This was the Chi-He medium tank with a new turret, mounting a short 75mm gun. It could therefore be described as the Japanese equivalent of the early-war German Panzer IV, and it was made to fulfil exactly the same role, accompanying the battle tanks (which had relatively small-calibre, high-velocity guns mainly chosen for their armor-piercing qualities) to provide more effective high – explosive shellfire in taking on targets like antitank guns and pillboxes. Given that the Japanese were having greatly difficulty producing the Chi-He tank on which the “Gun Tank” was based, the number of Ho-1’s built was miniscule, and the need for such a vehicle was completely eliminated with the appearance of the Chi-Nu, carrying a gun which could effectively fire either HE or AP (the aforementioned Chi-Nu already in the works in 1943).

These adaptations of existing tanks were in the end refinements which a materially overmatched nation like Japan could never hope to build in more than trifling quantities, and therefore almost a wasteful diversion of effort. More important, at least numerically speaking, were the Japanese wheeled armored cars. Their role in the Japanese forces was not usually that of conventional combat, but rather security duties in the vast conquered areas of the Asian mainland, especially China. Though secondary, this task was far from unimportant or simple, particularly in view of the amount of territory to be controlled. Japanese armored cars tended to be primitive and obsolescent. The principal model during the World War II years was probably the Sumida Type 93, a large, rather unwieldy six-wheeler. It weighed over seven tons– as much as the Japanese light tanks– had a six-man crew, and a top speed of only 36 mph.

Armor also matched that of the light tanks, up to half an inch (13mm). The Sumida carried up to six machineguns, one in a small rotating turret on top of the vehicle, the rest poking out of the sides and rear of the large, van-like body. Its best feature, and one that particularly suited it for a security role in these countries where railroads were often the best way of covering large distances, was the ability to have its wheels replaced with a solid steel variety that allowed it to run on rails. This proved very handy in China and many parts of Southeast Asia. Earlier types of Sumida armored cars were also in service during the war. The outdated nature and less than overpowering fighting qualities of these types of vehicles did not however render them unfit for the type of service to which they were applied, and in fact they often proved quite useful in maintaining a Japanese military presence in conquered areas.

One final type of specialized light armor explored by the Japanese was the armored personnel carrier. The Japanese had adapted a half-track designed for towing antiaircraft guns into an armored personnel carrier called the Type 1 “Ho-Ha” (although I’m not sure who the joke was on). It could transport up to a dozen foot soldiers, the vehicle itself having an additional three-man crew. Like most of the above machines, this was rather rarely seen in action anywhere. Even more rare was a full-tracked armored personnel carrier (unfortunately I am not able to currently locate the source which I know would tell me exactly what this critter was called). However, the Japanese apparently got at least one of these latter vehicles to Guadalcanal, because I’ve seen a post-war photo of it, rusting away as the jungle overgrows it.

Yes, in fact the Japanese had a variety of full-tracked artillery tractors, the armored personnel carrier I was describing was based on the chassis of one of these. Now that you mention it, it probably would make more sense to find some artillery tractors on Guadalcanal, as the Japanese did bring in some of 17th Army’s heavy artillery (four 150mm howitzers and some 105mm long-barrel guns), exactly the sort of pieces these tractors were designed to lug around. However, the vehicle in the photo I saw had the distinctive large rectangular body which matched drawings I’ve seen of the Japanese APC. I don’t believe the pure artillery tractor variants had that big, enclosed box-like superstructure

I have read reference to anti-aircraft tanks built by the Japanese, but I have to believe these never went beyond prototype stage.. Basically there were three designs. The “So-Ki” mounted twin 20mm guns on the chassis of a late-war light tank, identified in my lone source as the “Ke-Go.” Unfortunately, I never heard of the “Ke-Go” but assume it was in the Ke-Ni line. There was the Ke-To actually produced in small numbers in 1944, and a “Ke-Ho” light tank design on the drawing board in 1945. Whether one of these was the “Ke-Go” cited I am not sure, but the relative rarity of the chassis further inclines me to assume that this particular self-propelled AA vehicle probably never saw the light of day as a production model. The 20mm guns were to be mounted on a turretless tank chassis.

The “Sa-Te” was a project to mount a single 20mm gun in a fully enclosed, rotating turret on the Chi-Ha chassis. A third variant, the “Ta-Ha,” was to feature twin 37mm antiaircraft guns on a turretless Chi-He. Since the 37mm AA gun was not a weapon commonly found in the Japanese Army for most of the war, and the Chi-He was never produced in the quantities desired, this last combination also appears unlikely to have existed in any number worth mentioning. Of the possible use or non-use of the “Sa-Te” I must confess my utter ignorance…

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