WW2 Japanese Amphibious Vehicles

Type 2 Ka-Mi

IJA IJA (1941) Amphibious tank – 184 built

The main Japanese amphibious tank

This project’s genesis can be traced back to 1928, when the Imperial Japanese Army conducted a series of trials to test the feasibility of the amphibious tank concept. These included prototypes like the Type 1 “Mi-Sha”, the SR-II Ro-Go or the Ishikawajima Amphibian. However, it was not until 1940 that the Navy took the matter in its own hands. The IJN devised a vehicle specifically tailored for the Imperial Navy’s Special Naval Landing Forces, for assaulting small Pacific islands devoid of pontoons or harbor facilities, as well as special operations. The Type 2 Ka-Mi was designed in 1941 and production started in 1942.

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Design of the Type 2 Ka-Mi

The designers choose the Type 95 Ha-Go as a base for development, keeping the engine, transmission, suspensions, drivetrain and chassis, although the hull and the turret were completely redrawn for the task. The plates were assembled by welding and rubber seals were used, instead of the usual riveted armor. Hollow pontoons made of steel plates were also designed to be fitted to the front and rear of the chassis, and could be quickly locked into place by hand. The front pontoon was divided into eight compartments, to reduce the internal flooding when hit. They could be easily jettisoned from the inside after landing. The engine transmission was modified to power the two shafts, providing a 6-knot speed on water (10 km/h), and a 150 km (93.2 mi) maximal range. The steering was provided by a pair of rudders, operated through cables running from the rear to the driver’s compartment.
Because the top of the hull could be flooded on rough seas, barriers were placed around the engine exhaust grid. A removable chimney was designed to be fitted over the exhaust pipe, with a watertight seal. It was covered by a bell-like dome and could be removed after landing. A raised-up “bridge” was also fitted on top the the turret when navigating. The turret itself housed both the 37 mm (1.45 in) Type 1 gun and a coaxial Type 97 machine gun, protected by an armored mantlet. The Type 1 was a standard AT gun, which could fire a 0.68 kg (1.5 lb) AP shell at a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s (2,300 ft/s). A second machine-gun was located inside the hull, protruding from the frontal glacis. The tank had a bilge pump, the road wheels had drain holes, and the bell crank suspension was internal. It was also one of the few Japanese tank fitted, from the start, with a radio and telephone intercom for the crew.

Operational history

Because most parts were hand-built and the vehicle was specifically designed for its task and never for mass-production, the demand always exceeded the manufacturing capacity of the Navy. Production spanned two years, 1942 and 1943. Other types of amphibious vehicles in use were the Type 3 Ka-Chi and Type 4 Ka-Tsu. The Ka-Mi was designed, initially, to assault islands. However, by the time it entered service, the Japanese forces were already on the defensive. They were used for infantry support, sometimes as moving pillboxes. Three formed the 1st Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force based at Saipan, while two saw action in Leyte in 1944. They were affected to various naval garrison detachments in the Southern Pacific and East Indies. The USMC encountered the Ka-Mi when assaulting the Marianna and Marshall islands, at Guam, Aitape and Biak in New Guinea, and during the invasion of Leyte. Some sources claim that, off the coast of Leyte, USMC LVTs attacked and destroyed some Ka-Mis. Two survived to this day at the Kubinka Museum and on Palau island.

Links about the Type 2 Ka-Mi

The Ka-Mi on Wikipedia

Type 2 Ka-Mi specifications

Dimensions 7.42 (4.80 without pontoons) x 2.79 x 2.34 m (24.34/15.75×9.15×7.68 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 12.3 tons (9.15 without pontoons)
Crew 5-6 (driver, 2 gunners, loader, radioman)
Propulsion Mitsubishi air-cooled 6-cyl. diesel, 115 hp (86 kW)
Top speed 37 km/h (20 mph)
Armor 6 to 13 mm (0.24-0.51 in)
Armament 1x 37 mm (1.45 in) Type 1
2x 7.7 mm (0.3 in) Type 97 machine gun
Range (maximal at cruise speed) 200 km (140 mi)
Total production 184 between 1942-43

Type 2 Ka-Mi
Type 2 Ka-Mi, with its floating pontoons and superstructures fitted. The Ka-Mi was the most prolific and successful Japanese amphibious tank of the war. However, with its complex configuration and costly manufacture, it was produced in few numbers and was a relatively rare sight in the Pacific.

Type 2 Ka-Mi without its flotation devices, Itoh Detachment, Saipan. This specimen saw combat near Garapan in 1944.


Ka-Mi cruising in water.

Some Ka-Mi tanks without their pontoons, captured by Australian troops.

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By David.B

Tank Encyclopedia's Creator, webmaster and illustrator since 2010.

12 replies on “Type 2 Ka-Mi”

Was the cupola extension ever used? If so, are there any photos? I’ve only ever seen the Ka-Mi sport one in model kits.

While the Marines were at a lot of places in the pacific, they were not at Biak,Atiape or Leyte. Those battles were fought by U.S. Army troops and the Ka-Mi’s that were shot up at Ormac on Leyte were shot up by Army LVT’s not USMC.The landing at Aitape was in May,1944 and was probably the first U.S. encounter with the Ka-Mi.

My grandfather was an aviator in the US Navy during WW II. I have a couple of pictures he took while on Saipan. One of the pictures is of a Type 2 Ka-Mi that had been knocked out of commission and is turned over on it’s side. It’s the stripped version; no pontoons or cupola extension.

I wonder how much of a pain it would be to reattach the floatation gear after combat was over. Must have been difficult given how much gear needed to be screwed onto the tank. And didn’t the Japanese not have a whole lot of heavy equipment like cranes to help with this? It’s honestly one of the many issues this thing has. The gun isn’t decent. The poor armor is made worse by a lack of sloping and less protective thickness then the Ha-Go it was based off of (although I understand it needs less armor so it doesn’t drown) The thing’s box shape makes it a pretty easy target. And doesn’t this thing have the same low speed and cross-country ability of the Ha-Go. In it’s defense I will say that it probably has somewhat better ergonomics then the Ha-Go and a good portion of the other WW2 Japanese tanks. The boxy shape does give it a little more space for ammo and other essential tank equipment but even then it’s negated by the poor visibility turret and the lack of sloping.

Your approach is from hindsight, which is always 20/20. The design work began in 1928 but was not fast-tracked until 1940. At that time the light tank concept was still considered viable because the Imperial Japanese forces were largely expecting traditional infantry battles in which the Ka-Mi would provide valuable support, particularly by deploying in places a standard tank landing would be difficult and laborious as modern landing craft were still in infancy. 6-12mm of armour is pretty standard for most light tanks of the era. As well, the majority of tanks worldwide were only mounting 37mm-47mm main guns which were adequate against most enemy of the pre-/ early war such as M3 Stuarts or Soviet light tanks. Sloped hull armour was still an unproven concept; most other nations began adopting it only after reviewing the German experience against the T-34, when Ka-Mi design was wrapping up.
For its time and place, the Ka-Mi was an inspired design. That time and place was shorter lived than its production window, though.

Oh, and would the propellers spin while the thing was moving on land or was that something they could turn off once they hit the beach?

The Itoh Armored Detachment was not on Saipan, it was at Leyte and the Philippines. The Ka-Mi attributed to the Itoh Detachment was with the Naval Tank Detachment of the 55th Guard Unit, Yokosuka 1st Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF).

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