The Type 94 tankette was produced in larger numbers than any other Japanese armoured vehicle of the 1930s. Although it was originally designed to act as an armoured supply transporter, it was often used in combat as a miniature tank.
The Type 94 tankette was developed to satisfy an Imperial Japanese Army demand for an armoured vehicle to carry supplies to isolated garrisons or frontline troops during the invasions of Manchuria and China. The army wanted a vehicle small enough to move stealthily across country, with tracks to allow it to cross rough terrain and enough armour protection to defend its crew against light arms fire.
The Japanese purchased a British Carden-Loyd tankette for study. This small two-man armoured vehicle carried a single machine gun in the hull, had 6mm thick armour and could reach a top speed of 31mph/ 50 km/hr on roads. The Army Infantry School examined the vehicle. Although the basic design was satisfactory, its poor off-road speed was held against it. The Infantry School suggested that any Japanese version should weigh no more than 2 tons, be longer than the Carden-Loyd, and be armed with a light machine-gun with a wide field of fire.
The resulting vehicle resembled a miniature tank, complete with a fully traversing turret. The driver sat next to the engine in the front of the vehicle, while the commander/ gunner was placed at the rear of the vehicle. The turret carried a single 7.7mm machine gun and was so light that no traversing gear was installed – the turret had to be manually rotated by the gunner.
The Type 94 tankette used a form of suspension developed by then Major Tomio Hara. On each side of the tank were four rubber-tyred road wheels mounted on two bogies. The bogies were attached to the chassis using bell cranks, which converted any vertical movement into horizontal movement, which was absorbed by horizontally mounted compressions springs. This was a simple, robust and easy to produce system, and was used in most later Japanese tanks.
In 1936 the design of the Type 94 tankette was substantially modified. The short wheel-base of the vehicle could result in a pitching motion. To fix this the rear idler wheel was moved down so that it made contact with the ground, and given its own coil spring suspension. This alteration increased the length of track in contact with the ground by 78cm, reducing the already low ground pressure of the Type 94. The change also allowed the installation of a 37mm gun in the small turret in place of the machine gun of the original model. The bigger gun would become a standard feature of the Type 97 tankette but was also installed on a number of the Type 94s.
When used in its original supply role the Type 94 tankette was used to tow an armoured trailer. Once in service it became clear that the vehicle could also be used for reconnaissance, and during the fighting in China it was often used as an infantry support tank, operating with divisions that would otherwise have lacked any armoured support. Its thin armour did make it vulnerable against Chinese anti-tank weapons, but they were few and far between.
A total of 823 Type 94 tankettes were produced, most of them in 1935-37. They were then replaced by the Type 97 tankette, which was outwardly similar but internally very different.
Length: 10.08ft/ 3.08m
Hull Width: 5.33ft/ 1.62m
Height: 5.33ft/ 1.62m
Weight: 3.5 tons, (3.9 tons improved)
Engine: 32-35 hp Type 94 4-cylinder gasoline
Max Speed: 25 mph/ 40 km/h
Armament: One turret mounted 7.7mm machine gun
Armour – front: 12mm
Armour – side: 10mm