Categories
Cold War Chinese Prototypes

WZ-141 Super Light Model Anti-Tank Fighting Vehicle

People’s Republic of China (1975)
Light Airborne Tank Destroyer – 2 Built

This article has been written by the author of Sino Records. Check out his website for more information on Chinese vehicles.

The WZ-141 was a light airborne tank destroyer project undertaken by the People’s Republic of China in the later years of the Cold War. Anti-Soviet sentiment was strong in China in the late 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet Split and the Cultural Revolution. By 1970, tensions had reached an all-time high between the two Communist leviathans. The Zhenbao Island Border Incident of 1969 had resulted in the clash between the two forces and had both sides preparing to go to war with each other. The Chinese had earlier issued the “three strikes, three defenses” (三打三防) doctrine, which entailed emphasis on counter-attacking against Soviet armor, aircraft, and paratroopers while also emphasizing defense against nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons.

In light of a possible Soviet invasion from the “three norths” (Manchuria, Mongolia, and Xinjiang) – and the tensions caused by the Zhenbao Island Incident – the doctrine was revisited. The Chinese military command had also begun planning strategies on how to counter Soviet forces in conventional warfare and in guerilla warfare. One strategy which the Chinese planned to employ was to cut the invading Soviet force in half using airborne troops, in order to separate the front line units and allow friendly units to destroy them. In order to achieve this, an extensive study of foreign airborne forces was conducted. Substantial work had to be done to improve China’s airborne forces to form what the Chinese called an “armored light cavalry” (铁甲轻骑兵).

The first WZ-141 prototype, showing the two Type 75 recoilless rifles and HJ-73 ATGMs on either side of the turret. (坦克装甲车辆)

Development History

Between 11th and 23rd April 1975, the Symposium on the Development of Equipment for the Armored Forces (装甲兵装备发展座谈会) was held in Nanjing and discussed the future equipment which would be developed for China’s armored forces. It was believed by Chinese military experts that the Soviets would likely employ a large wave of tanks in the initial attack and sweep through China in a style reminiscent of that of the German Blitzkrieg and of the Soviet tactics used at the end of the Second World War against the Germans. As such, it was deemed important to focus on building up a Chinese fleet of lightly armored, fast-moving tanks, as well as to establish a reliable airborne armored force. The airborne armored forces would be dropped behind the Soviet front line and focus on the destruction of armored vehicles and infantry transports to disorient, weaken, and hamper the advancement of Soviet forces by disrupting their supply and communications lines as well as direct combat with Soviet troops. Mobile anti-tank-guided-missile (ATGM) carriers would be important in carrying out the attack. This was further discussed in October of the same year, in a meeting held by the Central Military Military Equipment Commission in Beijing. Four design characteristics were outlined in these talks for the design of a tank which would be used in the future for China’s airborne armored force.

  1. The tank had to be designed with an emphasis on compact size, high mobility, and top-speed. This would ensure that these tanks would be able to maneuver through swamps, forests, and otherwise rough terrain of the “three norths”.
  2. The tank had to be designed with strategic mobility in mind so that it could be transported using regular military trucks and be air liftable using China’s transport planes. (Which had consisted of Soviet-built Antonov An-12 capable of carrying 22,000 kg [44,100 lb] of payload)
  3. The tank had to have considerable anti-tank qualities capable of at least taking out Soviet medium tanks (such as the T-55 and T-62). It also had to be able to withstand machine-gun fire and shrapnel.
  4. The tank’s design had to be versatile so that the chassis could be easily repurposed for other variants (ie. anti-aircraft, self-propelled artillery, ambulance, reconnaissance, command vehicle etc.). This would ensure that the tank’s chassis would be able to fulfill any role required with the units it served in, easing maintenance and logistical problems. If necessary, it would also be capable of functioning in a regular land-based unit. Furthermore, the type would be able to be issued to infantry, artillery, or marine units to serve as an anti-tank vehicle.
A Chinese Antonov An-12 in the livery of the CAAC Airlines. The WZ-141 prototypes were loaded onto a similar aircraft to this. (中国飞机全书: 第二卷)

Once these talks were finalized, a team of designers was established at the Research Institute of Armored Forces (装甲兵某研究所) in Northern China on 8th January 1976 to investigate the feasibility of such an ambitious tank design. They would be responsible for the design, production, and trialing of the tank prototype. The tank project was assigned the designation of ‘WZ-141 Super Light Model Anti-Tank Fighting Vehicle’ (WZ-141超轻型反坦克战车). On 14th May, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, Artillery Corps, and Airborne Corp jointly issued a request to the Central Military Commission asking for evaluation and research into airborne tank designs. An official reply was given on 18th September, requesting the production of one or two trial vehicles which would undergo mandatory testing, and all future decisions would be made based on these test results. Between October 1976 and December 1977, the design work for the WZ-141 was completed, and a prototype vehicle was produced.

Design of the First Prototype

The resulting vehicle had a conventional chassis design of all-welded aluminum alloy plate construction and relied on sloped plates for its protection. The driver was located on the front left side of the chassis (facing forward), while the engine compartment was to the right. The driver had at his disposal three fixed periscopes mounted on a raised section at the front of the vehicle, with a hatch above them. Behind the driver was the commander’s compartment, although he does not seem to have had any sort of observation devices at his disposal. This was followed by the turret where the gunner was located. The chassis shape vaguely resembled that of the British FV100 CVR(T) Series, or the German Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), with a steep slope for the upper glacis and an almost flat lower hull front. A large access hatch with an air intake was present at the front on the right side in order to allow access to the engine and transmission. Segmented side skirts covered the top of the tracks. Two large headlights were present on top of these at the front, with stowage boxes covering the rest of the top of the side skirts.

The design featured five double road wheels and two return rollers on either side of the chassis. The road wheels were fitted with rubber tires in order to lower noise on the move. The drive sprockets were at the front, while the idlers were at the rear. The tracks were quite narrow given the vehicle’s intended off-road mobility but might have been sufficient given the vehicle’s very low weight. They had rubber pads fitted in order to reduce damage to paved roads. It is unclear what type of suspension the vehicle had. Four large cylinders are seen in one of the photos connected to the road wheels, but it is not clear if these are the suspension springs or shock absorbers. The WZ-141 was powered by an indigenous TZ2120A rotary gasoline engine built by the Tianjin Motor Factory, capable of producing 176 hp / 132 kW. This gave the vehicle a very large power-to-weight ratio of more than 28 hp/tonne. The transmission was also at the front, connected to the drive sprockets.

The prototype had a flat turret situated at the rear of the vehicle, armed with two Type 75 105 mm (4.1 in.) recoilless rifles (Chinese production of the American M40 recoilless rifle) mounted on each side of the vehicle. A total of eighteen rounds were provided, nine for each gun. It would have likely carried high-explosive-anti-tank (HEAT) and high-explosive (HE) shells. Penetration would vary depending on which shell they used. In addition, the gun would have had a maximum range of 8 km (4.97 mi.) depending on which projectile was used. They were supplemented by a Type 77 12.7 mm (.50 caliber) heavy machine-gun mounted on top of the turret in an anti-aircraft mount. However, based on its position, it could not be fired by the gunner and necessitated another person sitting on the rear of the vehicle to fire it. The initial armament for the first prototype seems to have consisted not only of Type 75 recoilless rifles and Type 77 machine-gun but also of two HJ-73 (Chinese production of the Soviet 9M14 Malyutka) ATGM rails later installed on top of each barrel. As such, the first prototype gained ATGM capabilities. An HJ-73 missile was mounted on each rail, with two additional ATGMs stored inside the vehicle. The HJ-73 had a penetration of around 500 mm (19.69 in) and an effective range of 3 km (1.9 mi.). It is unclear what kind of devices he had at his disposal to aim the weapon systems, but between firing and reloading the guns and missiles, the gunner was certainly overworked. Furthermore, a smoke grenade launcher was also installed on each side of the turret.

What appears to be the initial armament setup for the WZ-141. Two Type 75 recoilless rifles and a Norinco Type 77 heavy machine gun. Note the absence of ATGM rails. (CCTV 7: 军事,农业)
A Chinese-made HJ-73 anti-tank-guided-missile. This type would have been used on the WZ-141. (环球防务)

Through preliminary testing, the prototype was deemed to have met all the basic design requirements, although there were criticisms that the tank had insufficient protection. The tank’s frontal armor was able to withstand armor-piercing 7.62 mm (.30 caliber) rounds from a distance of more than 100 m, while the rest of the tank could only withstand light shrapnel fragments. This completely inadequate protection was in order to save weight. Furthermore, the tank was incapable of floating on water. Due to the chassis’ center of gravity, the vehicle leaned to the right and would switch to the left (where the driver’s compartment was) while driving. Lastly, the prototype had issues with high oil temperatures.

In accordance with the test results, work on an improved design was ordered and sought to amend all of the aforementioned issues. Meanwhile, the prototype was kept for further studies. Between 22nd and 31st July, live-fire tests were conducted, which aimed to test the effectiveness of the Type 75 recoilless rifle. It was determined that the recoilless gun performed well in terms of accuracy and firepower, but also had a series of issues limiting its effectiveness.

  1. The velocity of the Type 75’s projectiles were quite slow compared to conventional weaponry, which is to be expected with a recoilless rifle.
  2. The operation and handling of the Type 75 were inconvenient for the gunner.
  3. The noise of the Type 75 when firing could be excessive, especially when the gunner did not close the loading hatch. It could damage the hearing of the crew.
  4. The lack of an auto-loader hampered the Type 75’s rate of fire.
  5. The Type 75 needed a clearance of fifty to one hundred meters behind the tank in order to avoid damaging equipment or injuring people as a result of the weapon’s backblast.
  6. The powerful backblast (which would result in flames sometimes) made the tank’s position obvious, giving away its strategic value.
  7. The Type 75 had a limited firing range compared to conventional cannons. Again, this was to be expected for a recoilless rifle.

Following the live-fire trials, the prototype’s mobility was also further tested. Between late September to November, the prototype had undergone a one thousand kilometer drive which tested the tank’s cooling, engine, and suspension system. The test results were mostly satisfactory, but the WZ2120A engine was deemed poor in terms of reliability, functionality, and had high gasoline usage. The criticisms and issues which surfaced from the firing and mobility tests were forwarded to the design team and work had continued on improving the WZ-141’s design.

The Second Prototype

The second prototype was completed on 29th December 1978 and featured several improvements over the initial design. Unlike the first prototype, the second prototype’s turret was more angled and had the two Type 75 recoilless rifles mounted in tandem on the right side of the turret. While this had the advantage of making aiming slightly easier because the guns were closer to each other, this imbalance also meant that the turret was not well balanced. The two HJ-73 rails were mounted on top of each of the recoilless guns’ barrels. The turret was capable of providing 12° of elevation and 5° of depression. Furthermore, the initial Type 77 12.7 mm heavy machine-gun was also removed in favor of a smaller Type 56 7.62mm machine-gun with 3,000 rounds.

The second prototype also had the unreliable WZ2120A engine replaced by a slightly larger and heavier West German Deutz F6L413F air-cooled diesel vee engine. The F6L413F was much more reliable and had addressed all the issues with the original Chinese-made engine. Through testing, the second prototype was able to reach a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) with this engine. In addition, it also had the advantage of being air-cooled. The suspension was also altered, with the nearly-vertical cylinders from the first prototype being angled forward. It also appears that the track return was lower than on the first prototype.

A newly developed CWT-167 radio was installed in the tank. Most importantly, the second prototype had a modern hydropneumatic suspension system implemented allowing the tank to raise and lower its suspension from 170 mm to 400 mm (6.70 in. to 15.75 in.) The benefit of this suspension system was that it was able to adjust its height to suit the terrain type, as well as being able to increase or decrease its gun elevation and depression angles, allowing the tank to fire over a ridge without exposing its hull.

Other modifications are also apparent on the prototype, such as the alteration of the front shape, with the upper glacis being steeper and higher than on the first prototype. The large engine access hatch was removed and replaced with a smaller one. A large mushroom-shaped air access port was also added on the front slope. The side skirts and stowage bins were also modified.

The second prototype was tested and, though deemed an improvement over the first prototype, there were still some issues that would limit the tank’s combat effectiveness. For example, the second prototype still had a slow reload (12 seconds on average to load a shell), a tendency to throw the tracks, and very thin armor.

The second WZ-141 prototype with a redesigned turret. (坦克装甲车辆)

Fate

After Chairman Mao Zedong’s death earlier in 1976, China sought to reform its economy and politics to reverse the damage caused by the Cultural Revolution. By the mid-1980s, China’s supreme leader Deng Xiaoping had initiated an economic reform. Military spending was drastically reduced as a result of the reforms. On August 13th, 1979, it was determined by the Central Committee that, due to limited funding of the WZ-141 project as a result of the Chinese economic reform, the WZ-141 would not be included in the National “Six-Five” Weaponry Technological Research Projects roster. This meant that the WZ-141 project was no longer a priority and was unofficially “canceled”. Despite this, work continued on the WZ-141. Between 17th October and 28th November, the second prototype was issued to an active airborne unit where it participated in a military exercise held in Henan province. Following the conclusion of said exercise, the second prototype was transported to an unspecified air force base in Henan, where, under the supervision of the design team and a research team assembled by the Airborne Corps, it underwent testing for loading onto air transports. The second prototype was loaded onto a Soviet-built Antonov An-12 turboprop transport. No aerial or drop tests were conducted, seemingly due to low funding. It is worth mentioning that the Chinese Ministry of Defence’s website mentions that the first prototype was also sent to Henan for load testing.

A close-up shot of the second WZ-141 prototype. The first prototype is visible in the background on the upper left. (坦克装甲车辆)

Development of the WZ-141 had stagnated from the lack of funding and priority. According to an article republished on the Chinese Ministry of Defence’s website, the WZ-141’s development was officially ordered to cease in 1985, halting China’s indigenous airborne tank development. But the time that the Third Taiwanese Strait Crisis erupted in 1995, tensions between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China heightened. As a result of this, China began looking into airborne armored technology again, in case a military conflict would occur. Instead of reviving the now-20-year-old WZ-141 project, the People’s Republic of China instead chose to purchase BMD-3 IFVs from the Russian Federation and pursue new airborne tank designs based off of this newly acquired Russian technology. The resulting design was the WZ506, also known as the ZBD-03 or Type 03, adopted for service in 2003.

Both of the WZ-141 prototypes were retired soon after and apparently sent to scrapyards. The first prototype was seen in a scrapyard in 2007 in a dilapidated state, having browned from age. The second prototype, however, appears to have been preserved at a museum. Unlike the first prototype, the second prototype is in relatively good condition, with a standard Chinese three-tone (sand, green, black) camouflage applied. What is most interesting, however, is the heavily angled octagonal turret present in place of the original. It appears to have housed a 25 mm (.98 in. ) or 30 mm (1.18 in.) cannon with the ATGM rails on either side of the turret. Unfortunately, little information exists on the context of this turret. There could be two possibilities for explaining this. First, the turret could have been designed between 1980 and 1985, prior to the WZ-141’s cancellation in an attempt to revitalize the military’s interest and gain more funding for the project. Second, it could possibly be a prototype ZBD-03 turret developed and tested on the second WZ-141’s chassis as the turret shares some similarities with the standard production ZBD-03 turrets. However, these are speculations with no concrete evidence to substantiate them.

The second WZ-141 prototype with the new turret design. (fyjs.cn)
A frontal view of the dilapidated first prototype showing a closeup of the turret. (坦克装甲车辆)

Conclusion

The WZ-141, although showing promise as an effective airborne light tank destroyer, had many critical issues with its design which ultimately prevented the type from entering service. In addition to the issues of the tank, the timeline during which the WZ-141 was developed also played a critical factor in its cancellation. One could argue that the vehicle’s design could have been refined if the project had started five years earlier, but all the intended weaponry used on the WZ-141 would not have been available. The end of the project in 1985 had prevented China from developing an indigenous airborne tank fleet in the Cold War. As such, the country relied on foreign imports to bolster its forces. China would restart its indigenous design efforts in the late 1990s, and, as a result, now has a substantial number of indigenously developed airborne tanks currently in service. To this day, much of the WZ-141’s development and specifications are unknown, as is the case with nearly all of China’s indigenous Cold War military designs.

The Second WZ-141 Super Light Model Anti-Tank Fighting Vehicle Prototype, illustrated by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon

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Specifications

Length 4.66 m / 15.28 ft
Width 2.40 m / 7.87 ft
Height 1.86 m / 6.10 ft
Total weight 6.2 tonnes / 13,669 lbs
Crew 3 (Driver, Commander, Gunner)
Top Speed 80 km/h / 49.7 mph
Maximum Range 500 km / 310 mi
Armor Values Unknown
Powerplant 1x Deutz F6L413F air-cooled diesel vee engine
Power/Weight Ratio 30.4 hp per tonne / 22.7 kW per tonne
Ground Pressure 39.2 kPa / 5.68 lb per square inch
Main Armament 2x Type 75 105mm Recoilless Guns (18 rounds)
4x HJ-73 Anti-Tank-Guided-Missiles (2 mounted externally, 2 in storage)
Secondary Armament 1x Type 56 7.62mm Machine Gun (3,000 rounds)

Sources

程刚毅 . “中国空降战车研制秘闻:1980 年研制出样车.” 中华人民共和国国防部, 中华人民共和国国防部, 28 May 2014

孔凡清 , 将言 . “飞向蓝天的探索—我国试制的WZ141履带式超轻型反坦克实驻性战车.” 坦克装甲车辆, vol. 3, 中国北方车辆研究所, 2007, pp. 5–11.

孔凡清 , 将言 . “ 揭秘中国超轻型反坦克战车:装两门105无坐力炮.” China.com, 27 Sept. 2013.

河東三叔 . “時速80公里,70年代研製的中國版雙炮管「天啟」坦克.” 每日頭條, 22 July 2019.

Andrew, Martin Kenneth. “Tuo Mao: The Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army.” Bond University, 2008.

Categories
WW2 Chinese Armor

Nationalist Chinese Chi-Ha based SPG

republican flag Republic of China (1948)
Self-Propelled Gun – Unknown Amount Built

This article has been submitted by Leo Guo from Sino Records. Check out his website for more articles on Chinese history.

A common and well-known photo of the Nationalist Chinese Chi-Ha SPG conversion. A machine-gun is visibly mounted in the rear. Source: 國軍裝甲兵發展史, but modified.

The formal surrender of the Empire of Japan on September 2nd 1945 had ended the eight year-long Second Sino-Japanese War in China. As per the instructions of the Allies, any Japanese units present on Chinese soil were to surrender to Nationalist Chinese units, as they were recognized as the legitimate representatives of China at the time. Within months, the Nationalists were able to obtain hundreds of tanks and aircraft from the Japanese, which then accompanied American Lend-Leased equipment in front-line units. The continuation of the Chinese Civil War had once again plunged the already wartorn country back into another bloody conflict which saw the Communist and Nationalist sides struggling for control over China. For a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, military corruption, ineffective leadership, and low morale, much of the elite forces of the Nationalists were wiped out by lesser trained and equipped Communist forces, and lost millions of dollars worth of modern American-supplied equipment received both during and after the Second World War. With the United States growing reluctant to keep supplying expensive equipment to the Nationalists, more and more Japanese equipment was brought out of storage to once again be used in combat. Among one of the most common tanks used in the Chinese Civil War was the Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha and Shinhoto Chi-Ha tanks. These saw extensive use by both sides of the conflict. Curiously, the Nationalists appeared to have developed an indigenous casemate self-propelled-gun (SPG) in 1948 using the Chi-Ha chassis and a Japanese 75 mm (2.95 in) Type 94 Mountain Gun. This Chinese Civil War-era tank conversion is one of the most obscure products of its era.

Origin

The cover for the second issue of the first volume of “聯勤學術研究季刊: The Technical Research” magazine published in 1948.

Unfortunately, very little information is known to have survived the war regarding this conversion. No proper designation appears to have been identified for the tank, but it is commonly referred to by the specialized Chinese literature as the “Self Propelled Gun (自走炮 / zì zǒu pào)”. It is not known whether this generic nomenclature is a formal designation (assigned by either military or factory) or just used by sources to identify the tank. It is believed that the Chi-Ha SPG was designed and built by the Nationalist Chinese’s Military Ordnance Plant. The lack of information on this conversion has led to the rise of a lot of speculation regarding the tank’s capabilities and history. The tank is theorized by some to be a Japanese conversion created during the Second World War and not a Chinese conversion, but no evidence exists to prove its origin. However, Japan did develop a couple of Chi-Ha based SPGs, such as the Short Barrel 120 mm Gun Tank or the Long Barrel 120 mm SPG during the war. On the contrary, an article titled “自走炮 — 兵工署攝” (Self-Propelled Gun — Photos by the Ordnance Factory) was featured in a contemporary Chinese magazine “聯勤學術研究季刊: The Technical Research” published in October of 1948 and strongly suggests that the tank was a Chinese conversion. The Nationalists were known to have also created an M10-based SPG using demilitarized M10 chassis and Japanese weaponry. The article briefly goes over some of the tank’s dimensions and benefits, including the fact that it was also armed with two Chinese-manufactured “Czech machine guns”, presumably meaning 7.92×57 mm ZB-26 copies. In addition, the 15th edition of the Japanese magazine “J-Tank” suggests that the tank was a Chinese conversion, published under the article title of “梅の樹に桜の花 – 国民党軍による自走砲の短い自主開発” (The Sakura Blossom on the Ume Tree — Short Independent Development of the KMT Self-Propelled Gun – 1).

The donor – The Type 97 Chi-Ha

The Chi-Ha tank was developed in 1936 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a replacement for the Type 89 I-Go tank. The tank’s purpose was to serve as an infantry support vehicle and was given the Type 97 57 mm (2.25 in) Tank Gun. It was adopted as the Type 97 Medium Tank and saw action up until the end of the Second World War. A second regunned variant was developed in the late 1930’s and had a prototype produced by late 1941. The regunned variant saw the replacement of the old Type 97 Tank Gun with a newer Type 1 47 mm (1.85 in) Tank Gun developed by the Osaka Arsenal. This variant was adopted as the Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai (also called the Shinhoto [New Turret] Chi-Ha) and was much more effective against armored vehicles. Approximately 1,200 models of the Chi-Ha and Shinhoto Chi-Ha were produced during the war and were widely distributed to Japanese tank units.

Overview

According to the article published by the Chinese magazine, the Chi-Ha SPG was developed as a result of studying European and American casemate SPG designs from the Second World War. Some of the benefits of the Chi-Ha casemate SPG design were that it could provide both direct and indirect fire support for front-line troops, having a high degree of mobility allowing for quick relocation, relative safety for the crew from small-arms fire, and having a relatively long effective range of approximately 8.5 km (5.3 mi) using High-Explosive-Anti-Tank (HEAT) shells and 7.5 km (4.7 mi) using High-Explosive (HE). This raises some questions though, as no HEAT shell was mass-produced for the Type 94 Mountain Gun by the Japanese. It is unsure why the magazine would give the figure for HEAT, but there could be a few explanations for this. It could be possible that the Chinese had locally manufactured HEAT shells compatible for the Type 94 Mountain Gun, but there is no evidence to suggest this. Second, it is possible that the Chinese just listed general information of the Type 94 Mountain Gun and did not realize that HEAT shells were not available. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that a HEAT round fired from a 75 mm gun could in any way have an effective range of 8.5 km and this was probably the maximum range at which the shell could be fired. Accurate aiming at ranges of over 1.5 km would be rather improbable for such a gun.

Based upon the few photos known of the Chi-Ha SPG, the conversion consisted of a new casemate mounted on top of the Chi-Ha hull with a machine gun mount in the rear. A second forward-firing machine gun was also installed, seemingly on the left side of the mantlet. The superstructure featured a hatch door on the left side, large enough for crewmen to enter and exit. A second smaller hatch was on the right rear side of the turret, presumably for the discarding of spent shell casings or loading of new shells. The shape of the superstructure bears an ostensible resemblance to some of the turrets on the World War II-era German BP42 armored train. However, other than the similar shape there are no other features – or evidence – which would suggest that the Chi-Ha SPG design was copied from the German train turrets.

A German BP42 train featuring an artillery turret. Though the general outline of the two turrets seem alike, the shape of this turret is angular and sharp compared to the Chi-Ha SPG’s rounded superstructure. This would suggest that the Chi-Ha SPG’s superstructure was in fact not a copy of the German BP42 turret. (Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe)

The main armament of the Chi-Ha SPG was the Japanese 75 mm (2.95 in) Type 94 Mountain Gun which entered Japanese service in 1934 / 1935 and was supplied with up to 51 shells. The gun had limited traverse at the front, with the whole front of the superstructure turning along with the gun. The horizontal traverse angle of the gun was stated to be 20° to the left, but only 10° to the right. The elevation of the gun ranges from -10° to +45°, seemingly the standard elevation for the Type 94 Mountain Gun.

Chinese-manufactured Czech 7.92×57 mm ZB-26 machine guns were mounted in the front and rear of the casemate superstructure, which was accompanied by 1,000 rounds. The engine output for the Chi-Ha SPG given by the Chinese sources is stated to be 170 hp (127 kW), which matches the figures for the original standard Japanese Mitsubishi air-cooled SA12200VD V-12 diesel engine used in the Chi-Ha tanks. This would suggest that the engine was unchanged. There are no visible changes to the Chi-Ha’s hull or bell-crank suspension system, which would imply that there was no additional modification to the hull structure. The armor of the hull also probably remained the same, with 25 mm on the front and sides and 20 mm to the rear. The top and bottom of the hull were 8 mm thick. It is unknown what thickness the new superstructure had, but is likely thick enough to protect the crew from small-arms fire or shrapnel.

Combat

It is unknown how many of these conversions were made, but it most certainly did not exceed single digits. Curiously, one example of the Chi-Ha SPG was apparently captured by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) following the Huaihai Campaign of 1949 near Xuzhou, Jinzhou Province. Some sources suggest that the tank was not captured at Xuzhou but rather at Fengtai outside of Beiping (nowadays Beijing). The 3rd Nationalist Tank Regiment happened to be stationed there and was equipped completely with Japanese tanks. Meanwhile, the 1st Nationalist Tank Regiment near Xuzhou was equipped with American-made M3A3 Stuart tanks. This would suggest that a Japanese-based chassis SPG was likely to be assigned to the 3rd Tank Regiment. A photo showcasing captured Japanese tanks from the Nationalists following the fighting reveals the peculiarly shaped tank turret of the Chi-Ha SPG. Unfortunately, the photo does not showcase details of the tank, as it was placed in the far back covered by other tanks. Either way, the fate of this captured Chi-Ha SPG is ultimately unknown. There is no definitive evidence to indicate that the tank was reissued to combat units or given any special attention by the Communist Chinese, so it is safe to say that the tank was likely scrapped at some point afterward. There are no other known instances of Chi-Ha SPGs being captured or utilized in the Chinese Civil War.

Three photos showcasing different angles of the Chi-Ha SPG conversion. Date and location unknown. (聯勤學術研究季刊)

Conclusion

The Chi-Ha SPG was one of the rare oddities of the Chinese Civil War produced by the Nationalists in their effort to combat Communist forces. Due to the very obscure nature of this tank, it is impossible to fully analyze the design of the tank, let alone get a full account of the developmental history. Such a lack of information and general obscurity is reminiscent of much of the field conversion and indigenous projects undertaken by the Chinese in World War II.

A Communist stockpile of captured Nationalist Chi-Ha and Shinhoto Chi-Ha tanks following the Huaihai Campaign of 1949. Note the Chi-Ha SPG circled in the back. This shows the Communists were in possession of at least one of the conversions but the fate of the unit is ultimately unknown. (Author’s Collection)
The KMT-used Chi-Ha SPG showing the tall superstructure added on top of the original Japanese hull. Illustration by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe, based on work by David Bocquelet

Sources

兵工署攝 . “自走炮 — 兵工署攝.” 聯勤學術研究季刊: Self-Propelled Gun — Photos by the Ordnance Factory: The Technical Research, vol. 1, no. 2, 1 Oct. 1948.

孫建中 . 國軍裝甲兵發展史. 國防部史政編譯室, Sun Jianzhong. The history of the development of the armored forces of the Chinese army. The History and Political Translation Office of the Ministry of National Defense, 2005.

鎌ト . “梅の樹に桜の花 – 国民党軍による自走砲の短い自主開発(1).” The Sakura Blossom on the Ume Tree — Short Independent Development of the KMT Self-Propelled Gun – 1, J-Tank, vol. 15, 2012.

“国民党軍が開発した七五自走砲.” 中田CG工房, “75 self-propelled guns developed by the KMT” Nakata CG Kobom, 6 Jan. 2013.

Chi-Ha Self Propelled Gun Specifications

Dimensions (L/w/h) 5.52 x 2.33 x Unknown m
18.1 x 7.6 x Unknown ft
Total weight, battle ready Approx. 13 tonnes / 14.3 tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Air-cooled Mitsubishi SA12200VD V-12 diesel engine (170 hp / 127 kW)
Top Speed (road) 31 km/h / 19 mph
Range (road) 210 km / 130 mi
Maximum Gun Firing Range 8.5 km / 5.3 mi (HEAT) claimed
7.5 km / 4.7 mi (HE)
Gun traverse Left: 20°
Right: 10°
Gun Elevation – 10° to + 45°
Armament 75 mm / 2.95 in Type 94 Mountain Gun (51 Rounds)
2 x 8.2 mm / .323 in Chinese-manufactured ZB-26 Machine Gun (1,000 Rounds)
Armor Standard Chi-Ha Hull Armor
Unknown Turret Armor