Type 97 Chi-Ha Tank (Japan)

From 1929 onwards the standard Japanese tank was the Type 89, largely based on a British tank - the Vickers Model C - sold to the Japanese government in 1927. Built by Mitsubishi it was a good tank for this period and saw active service in the Sino-Japanese war of the 1930s. As diesel motors became available one was fitted in the 89B making it the first diesel engined tank. This vehicle was slow, only doing 25km/h (15mph) and was used like most tanks of its time in an infantry support role.

The Japanese formed a new Mechanized Combined Brigade for the war in Manchuria but found the type 89B too slow to keep up with the other vehicles. A new light tank with at least a 47mm gun and a top speed of 35km/h (25mph) was asked for, with a top weight of 15 tons. Mitsubishi and Osaka Army Arsenal both produced prototypes but Osaka's (Chi-Ni) was a smaller cheaper version and although the specs had called for a 47mm gun both prototypes carried the same short barrelled 57mm used in the type 89B. When the war between Japan and China resumed in 1937 cost cutting was abandoned and the more expensive Mitsubishi prototype was chosen. It was called the Type 97 Chi-Ha (western calendar year 1937 , Jinmu year 2597, medium third -see article on Japanese tank designations).

Some minor modifications were made before production including fitting periscope and episcope vision devices. After the Nomonhan incident in 1939 when Russian and Japanese tanks clashed on the border the turret was redesigned to take a longer barrelled Type 1 47mm gun, increasing the tanks weight. This version of the tank was known as the Type 97 Kai or Shinhoto Chi-ha (medium third with a new turret). As a medium tank it was an advanced design but due to the jungle terrain and the tactics used Japanese armoured forces failed to distinguish themselves during World War 2.

A total of 1,162 Type 97s and 930 Type 97-Kai medium tanks were produced between 1938 and 1943.

Weight Armour Max Speed Range
16 tonnes (18.8 tons) 8-25mm 38km/h (24 mph) 210 km (130 miles)
Crew Weapons
4 1x 47mm gun, 2x 7.7mm MG
Japanese Tanks, 1939-45, Steven J. Zaloga, Osprey New Vanguard 137. A well written and illustrated look at the tanks produced for the Japanese army from the late 1920s to the end of the Second World War. This is a good overview of this neglected subject, looking at both the development of their tanks and their use in combat. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (30 January 2002), Type 97 Chi-Ha Tank, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_type97japan.html

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