Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank

The Type 95 Ha-Go light tank was the most numerous Japanese tank produced during the Second World War. By the standards of 1935 it was an acceptable light tank, and it performed well in China in the late 1930s and in the period of Japanese conquests in 1941 and early 1942, but once it came up against more modern Allied tanks its thin armour and by then weak gun left it very vulnerable. The Type 95 light tank was officially named the Ha-Go (third model), but was often known in the army as the Ke-Go (light vehicle).

Work on the Type 95 Ha-Go began after Mixed Mechanized Brigade manoeuvres revealed that the Type 89 medium tank, designed to operate with the infantry, was too slow to operate as part of a mechanised force. There were also concerns about its reliability if it was forced to operate at high speed for long periods of time. The army decided that it needed a light tank capable of operating with the infantry, cavalry and medium tanks, with high mobility and agility, a top speed equal to the smaller tankettes, but with arms and armour equal to contemporary international light tanks.

Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks under construction
Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks under construction

The first prototype of the Ha-go was built by Mitsubishi, and was completed by June 1934. This weighed in at 7.5 tons, had a top speed of 43 km/h and an operational range of 250km. It was judged to be too heavy, and a ton of weigh was removed, increasing the top speed to 45 km/h, but this weight would be put back during the production run.

The prototype was evaluated by the cavalry school in October 1934, receiving a positive report. The infantry school was less positive. They wanted a tank with a heavier gun and thicker armour that could act closely with the infantry. Tests in northern Manchuria in late 1934-early 1935 confirmed the cavalry school view, and the design was accepted for production.

The Type 95 Ha-go used the same suspension as the Type 94 tankette. This featured two bogies on each side, attached to the chassis by a bell-crank, with the suspension provided by horizontally mounted springs. This was a simple robust system and was used on most Japanese tanks. It did cause some problems in Manchuria, but only because by chance the gap between the wheels was the same as the gap between the ploughed furrows in the area, but this was fixed by adding smaller intermediate wheels.

The Ha-go carried its diesel engine at the rear, with the drive at the front. The three-man crew was carried in a central fighting compartment, with the turret offset to the left. The turret was a typical Japanese asymmetrical model, carrying the main gun at one end and a machine gun placed at 120 degrees to the right. The idea was that the commander could rotate the turret to bring whichever gun was needed to the front, but in practise this limited the flexibility of the tank. In the main hull the driver sat to the right, with a machine gunner/ mechanic slightly ahead on the left. The main weakness of the Ha-go was its 12mm surface hardened armour, which was only designed to counter 7.7mm armour piercing bullets. This was adequate in China, but would be found wanting against the Russians in 1939 and eventually against the British and Americans.  

Production began in 1936, but didn’t pick up speed until 1938. Sources differ on the exact number produced, with a total of 2,300 normally given. Production peaked between 1940 and 1942, with 705 produced in 1941.

Early versions of the Ha-go were armed with the Type 94 37mm cannon and the 6.5mm Type 91 machine gun. From 1937 both of these guns were replaced. The 37mm Type 97 cannon had a longer barrel than the Type 94, which increased the muzzle velocity from 575m/sec to 675m/sec. The 91 machine guns were replaced with 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns.

By the time Japan entered the Second World War in 1941 the Ha-Go was a six year old design, and was already outclassed by the best British and American tanks. It could compete with the M3 light tanks it faced on the Philippines, while the British had very few tanks of any type in Malaya or Burma in December 1941.

One key to the Japanese success in Malaya was the unexpected presence of their tanks in areas where the British did not believe tanks could be used. The wet jungle terrain did not turn out to be an obstacle to the light Ha-Go, and twelve took part in the attack which broke the Jitra line on 11 December 1941. Japanese tanks played a major part in the campaign that ended with the fall of Singapore.

The first tank-vs-tank battles of the Pacific war came on 22 December 1941 during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Type 95 Ha-gos of the 4th Tank Regiment clashed with M3 light tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion that had only recently arrived on the Philippines. Both tanks were armed with a 37mm gun, although the M3 was better armoured. Unfortunately the inexperienced American commanders failed to make good use of their tanks, and so the vulnerability of the Ha-go was not exposed.

A turning point came on New Guinea. In September 1942 the Ha-Go was used to support the landings in Milne Bay. Now the Japanese began to encounter more modern Allied tanks. Their 37mm guns could not penetrate the armour of the British Matildas, and their thin armour was increasingly vulnerable.

By the time the Americans moved onto the offensive in the Pacific the Type 95 Ha-go was virtually obsolete, vulnerable to just about every anti-tank weapon in the US arsenal, including the bazooka, the M3 Lee and M4 Sherman medium tanks and even the heavy .50in (12.7mm) machine guns. The Ha-go was increasingly used in hopeless frontal assaults on American positions or dug-in as thinly armoured bunkers.

The Americans encountered small numbers of Ha-gos in just about every battle of the Pacific war. During the invasion of Tarawa seven entrenched Ha-gos opposed the landings, managing to jam the turret of one American tank before being overwhelmed. Three were destroyed on Parry Island on 22 February 1944, more on Eniwetok.

Type 95 Ha Go light tank on Biak, 29 May 1944
Type 95 Ha Go light tank on Biak, 29 May 1944

On Saipan the Ha-gos were used in the attack on the Marine beachhead at dawn on 16 June, and were wiped out by anti-tank fire. More took part in the largest Japanese tank attack in the Pacific, which began at 2.00am on the morning of 17 June. Both the Ha-gos and Type 97 Chi-has were vulnerable to American anti-tank weapons, and only twelve Japanese tanks escaped.

The story was repeated on Tinian, where seven Ha-gos were destroyed during counter-attacks on 24 July, on Guam where ten were destroyed by bazookas or M4A2 medium tanks during the fighting on 21 July, and on Peleliu. There fifteen Type 95 Ha-gos took part in a counterattack across the airfield on the afternoon of 15 September, and ran into a hail of fire. In this clash the crews of the American M4A2s discovered that their armour piercing shot was so powerful that it passed completely through the Ha-gos, but their high explosive shells were devastating. The entire attacking force was destroyed.

The same pattern recurred on the Philippines. Ten Ha-gos were destroyed in scattered actions on Leyte, and another 19 at least on Luzon. Perhaps the most extreme example of the American advantage came on Okinawa. The only Japanese tank unit on the island was the 27th Tank Regiment, with 13 Ha-gos and 14 Shinhoto Chi-ha medium tanks. The Americans landed more than 800 tanks in eight Army tank battalions, two Marine tank battalions and two USMC independent tank companies. Most of the Ha-gos were lost in the Japanese counterattack of 5 May.

The Type 95 Ha-Go was a good light tank of the 1930s but it was forced to fight on for years after it should have been replaced. More modern designs did exist, but didn’t enter production in significant numbers, and the thinly armoured Ha-Go found itself facing Allied tanks designed to cope with the far more dangerous German Panzers.

Names (see article on Japanese tank designations)
Type 95 Ha-Go (third model) Light Tank
Type 95 Ke-Go (light vehicle) Light Tank

Stats
Number produced: 
Produced:
Length: 14ft 4.5in/ 4.3m
Hull Width: 6ft 9in/ 2.07m
Height: 7ft 2in/ 2.28m
Crew: 3 – Commander/ gunner, driver, hull gunner/ mechanic
Weight:  7.5 tons
Engine: 110hp air-cooled Diesel engine
Max Speed: 28mph road, 20 mph cross-country
Max Range:  151 miles
Armament: One 37mm Type 94 gun plus one 7.7mm Type 97 machine gun in turret and one 7.7mm Type 97 machine gun in hull front

Armour

 

Front

Side

Rear

Top/ Bottom

Hull

12mm

12mm

6-12mm

9mm

Turret

12mm

12mm

12mm

12mm

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]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 August 2008), Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_type_95_ha_go.html

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