Imperial Japan

The tank force was primarily under the command of the IJA, and not the navy. Also, due to the nature of the Pacific theater, were operations mostly involved small islands ill-suited for tanks, these were deployed only in several large scale operational areas, were they could be effective in blitzkrieg-style tactics. These include China, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia (Java), while some were dispersed in support of infantry units on Okinawa, Iwo Jima and several other islands. On December 22, near Damortis, on Luzon island (Philippines) the first clash between Japanese and US tanks occurred. They were opposed to M3 and M2A4 light tanks of the American 192nd Tank Battalion. The 57 mm (2.24 in) gun of the Chi-Ha, then the best frontline IJA tank, proved useless against their armor. In Burma, engaging second and third rate light tanks, and a few Stuarts from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, the Japanese proved deadly. By 1943, the SNLF, or Navy Armored Force, received its first amphibious tanks, like the Ka-Mi. 223 units would be built until 1945. The Germans sent two Panzer IIIs to Japan, followed later by plans of their more advanced tanks. However, upgrades were slow to appear and the development of really effective German-style tanks never really materialized. Only a few of these new types were completed by 1945, and many prototypes never entered production. Lacking materials and petrol, Japan’s industrial capacities were hampered to the point of complete inefficiency.

The last tanks built were allocated to home defense units, waiting for the invasion (operation Olympic), which never came. When the Soviets invaded Manchuria in August 1945, they found an impressive tank force, at least on the paper, but a deep ravine separated the IJA and Soviet types. The latter had constantly improved their models in response to German tanks, and were much more advanced in speed, firepower and protection than the average IJA models, which were light and/or obsolete by any standards of the time.

It has to be said that the Japanese never had the capacity to develop large-scale production, at least comparable to the western powers. Even during the war, the US naval blockade, mostly performed by the US Navy Air Force and submarines, began to be felt in 1943. By late 1944, Japan was deprived of all kinds of industrial resources, previously taken from south-east Asia, and their industries were constantly hammered by swarms of B-29 bombers operating from China, and later from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Production efforts were split between the needs of the Army and Navy, leading to many specifications and many proposed vehicles, almost all never surpassing the prototype or pre-series stages.
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Chi-Ha

The Type 97 Chi-Ha (九七式中戦車 チハ Kyūnana-shiki chū-sensha Chi-ha) was a medium tank used by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Battles of Khalkhin Gol against the Soviet Union, and the Second World War. It was the most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II.[5]

The 57 mm main gun, designed for infantry support, was a carry over from the Type 89 I-Go medium tank. The suspension was derived from the Type 95 Ha-Go light tank, but used six road wheels instead of four.[5] The 170 hp Mitsubishi air cooled diesel engine was a capable tank engine in 1938.[5]

The Type 97's low silhouette and semicircular radio antenna on the turret distinguished the tank from its contemporaries. After 1941, the tank was less effective than most Allied tank designs.[6] In 1942, a new version of the Chi-Ha was produced with a larger three-man turret, and a high-velocity Type 1 47 mm tank gun. It was designated the Type 97-Kai or Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha.

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Chi-Ha Shinhoto

The Type 97 Chi-Ha (九七式中戦車 チハ Kyūnana-shiki chū-sensha Chi-ha) was a medium tank used by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Battles of Khalkhin Gol against the Soviet Union, and the Second World War. It was the most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II.[5]

The 57 mm main gun, designed for infantry support, was a carry over from the Type 89 I-Go medium tank. The suspension was derived from the Type 95 Ha-Go light tank, but used six road wheels instead of four.[5] The 170 hp Mitsubishi air cooled diesel engine was a capable tank engine in 1938.[5]

The Type 97's low silhouette and semicircular radio antenna on the turret distinguished the tank from its contemporaries. After 1941, the tank was less effective than most Allied tank designs.[6] In 1942, a new version of the Chi-Ha was produced with a larger three-man turret, and a high-velocity Type 1 47 mm tank gun. It was designated the Type 97-Kai or Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha.

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Shi-Ki

The Type 97 Chi-Ha was Imperial Japan’s most produced and most used medium tank and, as such, many variants were based on its chassis. The Shi-Ki Command tank (コマンドタンクシキ, Komandotankushiki) was one such derivative.

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Type 4 Ho-Ro

The Type 4 15cm self-propelled gun Ho-Ro (日本語: 四式十五糎自走砲 ホロ Imperial Japanese Army Type 4 15cm self-propelled gun Ho-Ro) was a self-propelled gun developed by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II.

Inspired by the Grille series of self propelled artillery vehicles developed by Nazi Germany during World War II, wherein a 15 cm sIG 33 infantry support gun was mounted on a tracked chassis, engineers at the Army Technical Bureau resolved to do the same. Production was assigned to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The exact number produced in 1944 is uncertain, but was approximately 12 units.[2]

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Type 1 Ho-Ni I

The Type 1 Gun tank Ho-Ni I (一式砲戦車 ホニ I Isshiki ho-sensha Ho-Ni I) was a tank destroyer and self-propelled artillery developed by the Imperial Japanese Army for use during World War II in the Pacific theater.

The Type 1 Ho-Ni I was the first self-propelled gun design of this particular type.[2] They were meant to be self-propelled artillery and tank destroyers for armored divisions.[3][4] The plan was for the Type 1 Ho-Ni I gun tank to form part of a fire support company in each of the tank regiments.[4] The first conversion took place in June, 1941. Production of the Type 1 Ho-Ni I took place during 1942. The total number of Type 1 Ho-Ni I units produced was only 26.[5]

The Type 1 Ho-Ni I was developed by using the existing Type 97 chassis and engine, and replacing the gun turret with a 75 mm Type 90 Field Gun mounted in an open casemate with frontal and side armour only.[5] The gun mounting gave ten degrees of traverse and -5 to +25 degrees of elevation; it could also traverse 20 degrees to either side, so the entire vehicle did not have to be turned.[3] The Type 1 Ho-Ni I carried 54 rounds of ammunition.[6]

They were designed to operate as self-propelled artillery at ranges of up to 12,000 metres (7.5 mi).[5][6] The design had no provision for a defensive machine gun, which together with the open structure made it vulnerable in close combat.[6]

The Type 97 chassis, suspension and diesel engine were used unchanged.[3] The 75 mm Type 90 Field Gun, was protected on three sides by 51 mm thick armored plate. The hull armored plate was 25 mm on the sides and 20 mm on the rear.[7]

 

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O-I super-heavy tank (finishing included)
O-I was the name given to a proposed series of Japanese super-heavy tanks, to be used in the Pacific Theater. The vehicle was to be very heavy, and carry 11 crewmen. The exact development status of the O-I is unknown.

After the Battles of Khalkhin Gol against the Soviet Union in 1939, Japan tried to improve their tank designs using lessons learned from this battle. Many Japanese tanks such as the Type 95 Ha-Go light tank and the Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks were proven to be insufficient to counter Soviet armored forces. A larger tank design was urgently needed. A super heavy tank project was proposed directly in response to the Japanese defeat at Khalkhin Gol.[2]

In early 1940, Hideo Iwakuro, a colonel with the Army Ministry of Japan (陸軍省 Rikugun-shō) ordered the Army Engineering Division to develop a new super heavy tank. Colonel Iwakuro indicated that the new tank should be at least two times larger than the current Type 95 Heavy Tank (26 tonnes). The general outer appearance design was not dissimilar to the Type 95 Heavy Tank.[2] The proposed 100 ton prototype was to be equipped with a Type 92 105 mm cannon for its main gun.[2]

The development process was re-started by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Tokyo Machinery Division on the 120 ton version under the designation "Mi-To" (for Mitsubishi -Tokyo). Later it was given the official designation of the "O-I tank" (オイ車, "オ" in Japanese this means "large" and "イ" means "one"). The tank was again to be equipped with a Type 92 105 mm cannon for its main gun.[2] Its two smaller front hull turrets were designed to be "offset slightly left from the mid-point".[3] One turret was designed to carry a Type 1 47 mm tank gun as secondary armament. The other turret was to carry a 7.7 mm machine gun. The rear hull was designed to have two more smaller turrets each with a 7.7 mm machine gun.[2]

One of the main features of the O-I tank was its thick armor. Its armor had a maximum thickness of up to 200 mm, as well as 35 mm +75 mm plates on its sides and 150 mm at the back.[2][1] The tank was to have two V-12 petrol-fueled aircraft engines designed by BMW in Germany and licensed to Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan. This was the same engine used in the Type 5 Chi-Ri medium tank.[2][4] The engines were mounted "lengthwise parallel to each other" in the rear hull.[2]

According to historian Steven Zaloga, there were "rumors that work was underway" on the 120-ton version, but no known documentation survived the war.[5] According to Akira Takizawa, one prototype of 120 tons was completed in 1943. However, the tank was "unpractical" and the project terminated.[1] According to Kenneth Estes, the O-I project was cancelled before the 120+ ton prototype was completed.[3] The tracks of O-I tank are now on display at JGSDF Fuji School in Japan. The exact development status of the O-I prototype is therefore unknown.

According to another source, the model kit company FineMolds in Japan bought original documents and plans of the O-I, which did survive the war. The source also contends that the proposed 100 ton design and "140-150" ton design are "incorrect representations of the O-I".
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