During the early nineteen thirties, the continually growing Japanese military was in need of a new tank. This vehicle was to have good mobility with sufficient firepower to be able to follow and support infantry and cavalry units. From these requests, a new vehicle, named Type 95 Ha-Go, would emerge. While it was only lightly armored and armed, its mobility and simplicity would play a great role in the Japanese expansion during the first years of the war. By the war’s end, the Type 95 would be one of the most produced armored vehicles in Japanese inventory. It would also have the honor of being in service from the start of the Second World War until its end.
Origins of Japanese Armor
The Japanese Empire had no experience with tanks until 1918 when they imported a single Mk. IV Female tank from the United Kingdom. This was followed, in 1919, by thirteen French Renault FTs – the most common tank in the world at that time. In 1921, they purchased six British Medium Mk. A Whippet tanks. Later in the ‘20s, they also purchased the Renault NC 27, an updated version of the FT, named Otsu-Gata in Japanese service.
In 1927, the Japanese purchased a single Vickers Medium Mk. C from the United Kingdom, along with a small number of Vickers 6-Ton Mk. E light tanks. The Mk. C tank would form the catalyst of indigenous Japanese tank production and the last tank that the Japanese purchased from a foreign source before the end of WW2. This is because General Suzuki of the Army argued that, from this point forward, tanks should be built in Japan so they could grow their tank-building industry and knowledge. Japan’s first tank grew from this argument and was designated the Type 89 I-Go/Chi-Ro. Although built entirely in Japan, it was heavily inspired – almost a complete copy – of the Mk. C. It was the first in a long line of armored vehicles built by Japanese workers.
The Quest for Mobility
In 1933, at Kungchuling, Manchuria, Japan’s first mechanized corps was formed as an independent mixed brigade. The corps was based on forces emerging in Europe intended to operate independently or alongside larger forces. The corps whereas on tanks carrying mounted infantry, tractor-drawn artillery, and engineering vehicles. The infantry was to be transported via 6-wheel trucks with an average speed of 60 km/h, while field artillery was to be towed by 4-tonne tracked tractors with an average speed of 40 km/h.
The speeds of these vehicles highlighted an issue with the Type 89 tank. At maximum, this tank could travel at a speed of just 25 km/h. This did not fit in with the idea of a modern mechanized corps, whose strategic role was to exploit speed and maneuverability to overthrow an enemy position. The Type 89 was designed first and foremost to support infantry, but this was a role it would find hard to fulfill if it could not keep up with troop transports and artillery tractors.
Despite the Corps’ concerns, the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IJAs) High Command did not recognize the need for a new mobile tank. Slightly perturbed by this, the Army’s Technical Headquarters took on developing and designing a new tank independently of High Command.
Elsewhere in the world, fast tanks were developed that could travel on wheels or tracks. A prime example of this was the Soviet BT-5, based on American designer Walter Christie’s design. The Japanese, however, did not go down this route. They were confident that they could produce a fast tank that was and remained fully tracked. They had already achieved this with the Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha, a vehicle classed as a ‘Heavy Armored Car’ in Japan.
The Japanese Military wanted to elaborate on this in the design of a high-mobility infantry support tank. As such, the Military turned to Tomio Hara of the Army Technical Bureau. After gathering f Infantry and Cavalry units’ opinions, which set out the design requirements, Hara came up with a 7 tonnes design and had a top speed of 40 km/h. The opinion of the Cavalry was held above that of the infantry at this time, as it was projected that the Cavalry would be the dominant user.
The tank’s general specifications were 4.38 meters long, 2.06 meters wide, and 2.13 meters tall. It was armed with a 37 mm main gun in a fully rotating turret with a 6.5 mm machine gun in the bow. Armor was to be at least 12 mm thick to counter 7.7 mm Armor-Piercing (AP) rounds. The power plant would consist of the same 120 hp Mitsubishi 6-cylinder diesel engine as the Type 89. Hara had already designed a new suspension system known as the ‘bell-crank’ suspension. It would have a three-man crew consisting of the driver, bow-gunner, and commander/gunner.
Prototype development process
The initial design work on the new tank began in mid-1933 and was undertaken by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The next year, in August (or in June, depending on the source), the prototype was completed. The prototype was then put through a series of tests ranging from 700 km endurance trials to gunnery trials. The tank was positively evaluated and praised as having excellent performance and sufficient durability. Initially, the prototype demonstrated a 43 km/h top speed, the ability to cross a 2-meter wide trench, and an operational range of 250 km.
These were all well received, apart from the weight, which had crept up to 7.5 tonnes. After some alterations were made, this was reduced back down to 6.5 tonnes. The sources are not clear how they removed the extra one tonne but suggested that the armor thickness was reduced. Additionally, the quantity of ammunition stored inside was probably also reduced, and there were some changes to the suspension design.
Following these alterations, the tank was sent for retrial. An average top speed of 45 km/h was attained, and a 370 km operational trial was undertaken to confirm endurance.
In October 1934, the prototype was sent to the Cavalry School for practical tests. The Cavalry were extremely happy with the vehicle as a mobile and maneuverable light tank. They saw it as perfect for their needs. The Infantry, however, still wanted a tank that would provide support for them. They were not as pleased with the tank, stating that the 37mm gun was inadequate and that 12 mm of armor protection was not sufficient.
This disagreement between branches resulted in a further period of testing between late 1934 and early 1935. The testing would be undertaken in Northern Manchuria, during the cold season, and fell under the responsibility of an Independent Mixed Brigade of infantry and cavalry stationed in that area. Their report suggested that the tank was ready for service, and the authors were pleased with its cold-weather performance. The Mixed Brigade itself put forward a request to be equipped with the tank as soon as possible to replace the Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha armored car that they already had on order.
After the tank was received and accepted, it was designated the Type 95 Ha-Go (Japanese: 九五式軽戦車 ハ号 kyūgo-shiki kei-sensha Ha-Gō). The number 95 was given after the Japanese Imperial Year (otherwise known as Kōki) 2595 (1935). Ha-Go stands for ‘third model’, but it is also known as ‘Ke-go’ which can be translated as the third light vehicle. In some sources, it is also marked as Kyu-Go. This article will refer to this vehicle as to the Type 95.
Entering Service & Further Modifications
With the success of the test trials and several requests from IJA units in the field, High Command finally recognized the tank’s value. They authorized the construction of a second prototype in June 1935 (or 1934, depending on the source), which was completed by that November.
One of the first things to change on the Type 95 was the crew compartment and the hull sides. The initial model had flat vertical sides, thus making it narrow internally. On the production model, the sides of the hull were rounded out, almost doubling the internal space, and allowing the crew to operate the vehicle a lot more comfortably. This modification is what gave the Type 95 its unique hull shape. On the other hand, the infantry units were still unhappy with the firepower of the Type 95. For this reason, a secondary 6.5 mm machine gun was added to the turret. With these modifications, the final version of the tank weighed 7.4 tonnes.
Following the successful testing of the prototypes, a production order was placed. The production undertaken by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries began in 1936 at a slow pace, with only 31 vehicles being completed that year. A number of other companies and subcontractors were also involved in its production, including Niigata Tekko Sho, Dowa Jido Sho, Sagamu Arsenal, Ikegai Automobile Manufacturing Co, Ihesil Automobile, etc.
The mass production of the Type 95 actually kicked in only after 1938. From 1938 to 1943, some 2,269 would be built. These numbers differ depending on the source. The previously mentioned production numbers are according to S. J. Zaloga (Japanese Tanks 1939-45). According to A. Ludeke (Waffentechnik Im Zweiten Weltkrieg), some 2,375 were built.
According to P. Trewhitt (Armored Fighting Vehicles), some 1,100 vehicles were built, while D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Japan) gives a slightly larger number of 1,161 tanks. The reason for these smaller production numbers is unclear. Authors P. Chamberlain and C. Ellis (Light Tank Type 95 Kyu-go) give a number of 1,300 vehicles being built. The precise year when the production of the Type 95 stopped is also unclear. Some sources mention that production continued up to the war’s end in 1945.
Hull and superstructure
The Type 95 light tank had a standard hull configuration, with a front-mounted transmission, a crew compartment in the center, and an engine in the rear separated from the crew space by a firewall. While the lower hull had a simple box shape design, the superstructure was built using angled and curved armor plates. The Type 95 was both riveted and welded in construction. Plates were riveted to an internal iron frame with welds securing curved areas. This tank was one of the first Japanese tanks to utilize welding in its construction.
The Type 95 had a rather small one-man turret with the main gun placed at the front and an additional machine gun placed at an unusual angle facing the 5 o’clock position to the rear right. The turret was constructed using a combination of welding and rivets.
The Type 95 had a command cupola with several vision slits (protected with armored glass) in it, and a two-piece hatch on top. There was also a small observation hatch placed to the rear of the turret. In addition, on the turret left front side, a small pistol port could be seen.
The Type 95 was propelled by a 120 hp Mitsubishi 6-cylinder diesel engine. With a weight of 7.4 tonnes, the Type 95 could reach a top speed of 40 to 45 km/h (or up to 48 km/h, depending on the source). The fuel load consisted of 84 liters in the primary fuel tank plus an additional 22 liters in auxiliary reserve tanks (or 104 plus 27 l, depending on the source). The operational range of the Type 95 was 209 to 250 km, depending on the source.
The Japanese decision to use diesel engines in their tanks reportedly goes back to when the Army was testing British Vickers Mk. E light tanks. During a trial, one of these petrol-engined tanks burst into flames, killing the entire crew. The Type 95 engine was installed in the rear of the vehicle, slightly off to the right. Its exhaust protruded from the engine bay’s right, bent at a right angle, and was then fixed to the right rear fender. While the transmission was located at the front of the vehicle, along with the drive wheels.
This meant that a prop shaft extended through the crew compartment, protected by a simple hood. The commander would have to step over and try not to trip on it as he traversed the turret. The Type 95 used a sliding gear transmission system with four forward and one rear speed. The transmission was enclosed internally by a panel of asbestos. On the outside of the vehicle, there were two separate hatches on the upper glacis that granted access to the brakes and final drives.
Suspension and running gear
The Type 95 utilized a bell-crank suspension, one of Tomio Hara’s own designs. The bell-crank suspension consisted of bogies mounted on arms, which are connected to a long helical compression spring placed horizontally on the sides of the hull. The spring is protected by a long segment of piping, riveted to the hull-side. The bogies push against each other via this spring when passing over terrain, allowing the bogies to actuate. The Type 95 had four road wheels, with two large wheels per-bogie. There were advantages to the bell crank system. It was easy to produce and maintain. It was also mounted completely externally, meaning no internal space was taken up by the suspension system, unlike torsion bars or the Christie system. However, there were also downsides. The bogies had so much room to move that pitching was rather severe on the Type 95, producing an extremely rough ride over uneven terrain. If the tank went over too deep a hole, there was even a good chance it would get stuck. There were two return rollers, one above each bogie, and an idler wheel at the rear. The idler was held in place by a single unprotected bracket. While this allowed the crew to tighten the track tension easily, it also made it vulnerable to enemy fire. One report shows one Australian soldier managed to immobilize a Type 95 by hitting the idler mounting with his rifle bullet. The all-metal tracks were narrow, at just 25 cm across. There were around 98 links in total per-side.
Despite being designed to provide good off-road drive, it was soon discovered that the Ha-Go suspension system was far from perfect. Troops in Manchuria were the first to be equipped with the Ha-Go, and the first to find issues with the suspension’s pitching problems. The Manchurian environment caused a unique problem to arise. It was found that, when crossing Kaoliang Fields (a staple crop in Manchuria), the sequence of furrows exactly matched the layout of the bogie wheels, resulting in severe pitching. This was fixed by the addition of small support rollers between the two larger wheels of the bogies. Because of where this modification was done, it became known as the ‘Manchu’ suspension. This feature was not required on Type 95s stationed in other theaters.
The Type 95 was only lightly protected, with the armor thickness ranging from 6 to 12 mm. On the lower hull, the upper glacis armor plate thickness was 9 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower front was 12 mm placed at an 18° angle.
The front superstructure’s face-hardened armor was 12 mm thick, while the sides were 12 mm placed at a 34° angle. The rear engine compartment was protected by 6 to 12 mm thick armor (at a 26° angle). The roof and the floor were protected with 9 mm of armor. The turret had 12 mm of armor all around. The front armor was placed at 90°, side at 11°, and 90° angle to the rear. The roof of the turret was 9 mm thick as the hull. To increased protection by screening the tank from enemy fire, some Type 95s were provided with banks of turret-mounted smoke dischargers in rows of 4.
An innovative feature of the Type 95 was that the internal surfaces were covered in layers of asbestos. This served two purposes. As the tank would be operating in hot climates, asbestos’ insulating properties meant that it would help keep the tank and the crew inside cool. Secondly, it had the added bonus of providing some padding to the internal surfaces, giving the crew a little more comfort over rough terrain. The health issues caused by asbestos were not well known back then. It causes severe health issues for people exposed to asbestos dust.
The main armament of this vehicle was a 37 mm Type 94 L/36.7 gun. With a muzzle velocity of 575 m/sec, it could penetrate 35 mm of armor at 300 meters with Armor Piercing (AP) rounds. The gun could also fire High-Explosive (HE) rounds, although the effect of 37 mm HE was rather light. A semi-automatic sliding breechblock fed ammunition. Loading the gun would have been extremely easy to do one-handed, as the cartridges were rather small, at around 13 cm long and 4 cm in diameter. The ammunition load consisted of some 119 rounds (75 to 130 ammunition rounds are also mentioned in the sources), and it appears that there was no general rule on how many of which AP or HE rounds ratio were to be stored inside.
This gun was actually a slightly modified version of the same name’s 37 mm infantry anti-tank gun. For tank use, the gun was installed in a heavy-duty, non-geared mount. It was aimed manually by the commander, who would hold the weapon like a giant rifle, with his right hand on the grip and trigger, and his right shoulder pressed into a shoulder brace or ‘stock’. Thanks to this, the gun could be somewhat stabilized and fired on the move, although not very accurately. This mount also allowed around 10° of horizontal traverse left and right, independently of the turret, a feature carried over from the early French tanks that Japan had purchased. The turret was manually rotated by a hand-crank located to the right of the gun. The elevation range of this gun was between -15° to +25°.
Small numbers of Type 95s are claimed to have been equipped with an additional 37 mm Type 94 placed instead of the hull positioned machine gun. The elevation of this gun was limited at 10°. Later produced models were rearmed with the slightly improved 37 mm Type 97 (in some sources marked as Type 98) gun with a muzzle velocity of 675 m/sec, while some vehicles were allegedly even equipped with 47 mm guns. No photographic evidence of any of these vehicles is currently known to exist.
The secondary armament consisted of one machine gun placed in the hull’s left side, with an additional machine gun was placed in the rear of the turret. Both machine guns were placed in ball-like mounts with a vertical and horizontal axis of traverse. Initially, the Type 95 was equipped with Type 91 6.5 mm machine guns. This was simply a modified version of the Type 11 machine gun, an infantry weapon that was air-cooled and fed via a side-mounted hopper. The Type 91 did away with the stock of the Type 11 and replaced it with an angled pistol grip so it was more maneuverable inside the tank. This machine gun was replaced by the Type 97 7.7 mm heavy ‘tank’ machine gun later during production. Again, this was an air-cooled gun, but it was fed from a top-loading magazine, similar to the British Bren gun. This machine gun was actually a Japanese version of the Czech ZB vz 26 machine gun. It was equipped with a stock that was angled off to the right, allowing the gunner to line his eye up with the sight. Both machine guns were mounted to the tank with an x1.5 telescopic sight which had a 30° field of view. The Type 97 was primarily a tank-based weapon, as its weight restricted its use by infantry. The hull-positioned machine gun had a traverse of 30°.
The turret-positioned machine gun was actually placed at a 120° angle (over the right shoulder of the commander) with respect to the main gun. This machine gun had a traverse of 25°. It was installed there so that, when the tank was in an infantry support role, the commander could traverse the turret around and just use the machine gun without the 37 mm. This unusual configuration had a negative side, as it prevented the Type 95 crew from using both weapons at a single target. This was somewhat compensated by the possibility of installing one of the two machine guns (usually the turret machine gun) on a mount on the turret top, facing forward. Both machine guns were also fitted with a removable armored cover that protected the external part of the barrel from shrapnel damage. The ammunition load for both machine guns was 2,940 to 3,300 rounds, depending on the source.
The Type 95 was operated by a three-man crew, consisting of the driver, hull gunner, and commander/gunner. Interestingly, a number of sources mention that the Type 95 had a crew of four, which is incorrect.
The driver was located at the front-right of the tank. He operated the vehicle in the traditional method, using two tillers. The driver’s hatch was rounded and hood-like. It was located to his front. It was hinged at the top and opened out. The driver could see out of the hatch in three ways. For maximum protection, the hatch would be closed but there were three simple, narrow slits cut into it for limited vision. Unusually for the time, the vision slits were protected by reinforced glass that was placed in rubber mountings on the inside of the hatch. For slightly better vision but still protected, there was a smaller, square hatch in the center of the hood. In non-combat areas, the hood could, of course, be fully open when driving.
Besides the standard driving controls, the driver was also provided with two small dashboards. The first dashboard was in front of him and contained a number of instruments like a speedometer, starter button, and a tachometer. The secondary dashboard was placed to his right. It contained an oil pressure gauge, ammeter, generator, and headlight switches.
On the driver’s left was the machine gun operator. His position was three-sided, with the machine gun mounted in the flat front. He had no hatch and would have to enter/exit the vehicle through the turret. He did have two small vision/pistol ports, one on his left and one on his right, cut into the angled areas of the semi-hexagonal structure.
The commander was located in the one-man conical turret, which was mounted slightly off to the left of the centerline. He was the most overworked of the crew, as he was in charge of commanding and directing the tank and also the other crew members. On top of this, he also had to act as the loader and gunner of the 37 mm and the rear positioned machine gun. For turret rotation, the commander was provided with a lever located on his left side. The commander had no internal radio to speak to the crew. Instead, he had a speaking tube that led to the driver and bow gunner.
Unless it was a command vehicle, the Type 95 (or Japanese tanks in general) rarely carried a radio capable of outside broadcast. For the most part, commanders would have to rely on signal flags to communicate with other vehicles. The radio-equipped vehicles could be easily distinguished by the turret top mount round shape antenna.
A feature that highlights the original infantry support role of the Type 95 was the infantry buzzer on the back of the vehicle. This is an often overlooked feature of the Type 95. It consisted of a fake bolt head. Infantry outside the tank would use it to get the attention of the tank commander. The Type 95 was one of the first-ever tanks to have such a feature.
First experimental use in China (1937)
During the mid-’30s, the Japanese Imperial Army formed the so-called Mixed Mechanized Brigade. This unit consisted of a mechanized infantry regiment, a motorized artillery regiment, and, lastly, a tank regiment. The Mixed Mechanized Brigade was reinforced with a platoon of Type 95 light tanks in 1935. The same year, this unit was sent to the Great Khingan mountain range for detailed and rigorous bad weather testing. The Mixed Mechanized Brigade was then combat-tested during the Japanese invasion of the Shanxi Province, China. While the mechanized infantry elements of this unit did see some action, the light tank regiment was unable to see any major action. Inadequate performance of this unit would eventually lead to the disbandment of the Mixed Mechanized Brigade concept. After this, the tank units would be mainly used as support elements of Infantry Divisions.
While the war with China lasted up to 1945, the use of the Type 95 in this theater is not clear in the sources. It appears that, while a number of them were stationed in Manchuria and Northern China, most were used on the Pacific front until the end of the war.
Battle of Khalkhin Gol
The first time the Type 95 faced enemy armor was during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol (or the ‘Nomonhan Incident’, as it was known by the Japanese) in 1939. The Japanese armored force consisted of the 1st Tank Group commanded by General Masaomi Yosuoka, reinforced with the 3rd and 4th Tank Regiments. The armored strength consisted of 73 tanks and 14 tankettes. The 4th Tank Regiment, which was under the command of Colonel Yoshio Tamada, had 35 Type 95 tanks, with 8 Type 89 and 3 Type 94 tankettes. These were supplemented by an additional 50 armored cars and tankettes distributed amongst the infantry and cavalry units. The Soviet armored strength consisted of some 550 tanks (mostly BT series) and 450 armored cars.
The Japanese forces, which consisted of the 3rd Tank Regiment (41 tanks) and the 7th Infantry Division, attacked the positions of the Soviet 914th Motor Rifle Regiment and the 9th Mechanized Brigade on 2nd July 1939. With the support of the armored element, the Japanese managed to break through the Soviet defense line. In the following days, the Soviets counter-attacked, which led to heavy Japanese tank losses.
After the end of the hostilities, some 42 out of 73 tanks were reported to be lost, while around 13 would be recovered and repaired. The Japanese tankers managed to destroy some 32 Soviet tanks, with an additional 35 armored cars claimed. The Type 95 performed well and, with its 37 mm gun, could effectively destroy any Soviet armored vehicle due to their weak armor. The Type 95 armor was also an easy target for the Soviet gunners who outperformed their Japanese counterparts with their 45 mm guns. The loss of the battle of Khalkhin Gol and the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (between Germany and the Soviet Union) ultimately forced the Japanese to turn their attention to the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Towards the Pacific and Southeast Asia
Prior to 1941, the Japanese initiated a number of new projects with the aim of increasing the number of armored vehicles, improving the general performance, and changing the overall organization of these formations. While some goals would be achieved to some extent, like increasing the numbers of tanks or developing better guns, major expansion in armored vehicle distribution and development of advanced tanks was not possible due to limited Japanese industrial capabilities and the priority given to other military branches, like the Navy or Air Force.
Nevertheless, the Japanese Army managed to form a number of new tank regiments and to reinforce at least 10 Infantry Divisions with their own organic tank companies consisting of 9 Type 95 tanks. In total, by the start of the Southwest Pacific operations, the Japanese had around 2,200 tanks, with the majority being Type 95s.
War with the Allies
Following Japanese military actions in Asia and especially the occupation of French Indochina, the US government, in partnership with Canada and Great Britain, introduced economic sanctions against Japan. Of these, the oil sanctions hit Japan particularly hard, as it was heavily dependent on imported oil. It was this Allied action along with other pressures which would eventually lead to open war with Japan. The Allies were initially caught unprepared, believing that Japan could not muster a sufficiently strong force to attack several locations at once. The war with the US began just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The Japanese also undertook a major attempt to cripple the British navy that was operating in the Pacific. Following these events, the Japanese launched two major offensives with the aim of taking the Malayan Peninsula and the Philippines. For the upcoming invasions, the Japanese allocated the 1st, 6th, and 14th Tank Regiments for the conquest of Malaya. The 4th and 7th Tank Regiments were ready for the campaign in the Philippines. For the conquest of Burma, the 2nd Tank Regiment was allocated. In total, the Japanese mustered some 400 tanks for these operations.
Opposing the Japanese, the British and Dutch had only limited numbers of armored vehicles available by the end of 1941. These were mainly obsolete light tanks and armored cars, with smaller numbers of M3A1 tanks. American armored forces consisted of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions, with 108 M3 tanks and fifty 75 mm equipped self-propelled guns.
During the conquest of Malaya, which started in December 1941, each of the three Japanese Tank Regiments were equipped mainly with the 40 Type 97 Chi-Ha and 12 Type 95 Ha-Go. In total, there were some 211 tanks. The defending British forces did not expect any major use of armored vehicles due to the extremely poor terrain, with rare good roads. The mobility of Japanese tanks proved its worth here, as they were able to make good progress despite poor terrain, with the cooperation of the infantry. The Japanese tank forces made good progress, during which they were supported by bicycle infantry units. The Type 95, together with the Type 97, were vital against the Indian troops which were defending the important Alor Setar airbase. The speed of the Japanese tanks wreaked havoc among the Indians, who were pushed back in a panicked retreat. The next Japanese attack came toward the Allied Jitra defense line. Once again, the combination of the Japanese tanks and bicycle units broke the Allied line and forced some of their units to flee in panic.
By early January, the Japanese reached one of the last defensive lines before the city of Singapore. While the first attack was repelled, Japanese soldiers found an unguarded abandoned road leading to the Allied defense line. Taking advantage of this, tanks and infantry units rush in to encircle the defending forces. By the end of January, after crossing some 900 km, the Japanese forces reached the suburbs of Singapore. The Allied defense force of Singapore numbered some 70,000 men, while the opposing Japanese force was only 30,000 strong. After heavy fighting, the Allies finally surrendered on 15th February 1942. The Japanese tanks, like the Type 95, played a great role in this operation. While their 37 mm gun proved inadequate against bunkers or fortified positions, their mobility and ease of repair made them great psychological weapons against the Allies soldiers who thought tanks could not be used in this theater.
Battle for the Philippines
The battle for the Philippines began on the night between the 8th and the 9th December 1941. For this operation, the Japanese had organized some 160 tanks, including a number of Type 95 tanks. The American armored force consisted of the 192nd and 194 Tank Battalions. The Japanese used around 100 tanks during the amphibious landings near Lingayen. Interestingly, the Japanese used specifically designed transport boats that had bow ramps, so that the tank could easily disembark and immediately engage enemy forces. On 22nd December, Japanese Type 95 tanks engaged a group of five M3 tanks near Damortis. In the short skirmish, one M3 was destroyed, with the remaining retreating back to their positions. On 31st December, the American M3 tanks managed to destroy 8 Type 95 tanks. By early January 1942, the advancing Japanese tanks and infantry forces captured Manila. The Americans responded by moving and fortifying Bataan with the two Tank Battalions. The task of destroying the American defenses was given to the 65th Infantry Division, supported by some 50 tanks. The Japanese tankers proved hard-pressed, as their main guns were less effective against the M3 tanks, and lost a number of tanks trying to engage the enemy armor. On the other hand, the Americans used the M3 in smaller units, which made them vulnerable to enemy concentrated Japanese anti-tank fire. The Japanese made several attacks supported by tanks but were initially unable to break the defensive line. To boost their force, the Japanese brought 45,000 new soldiers and, at the same time, the 4th Tank Regiment was evacuated for further campaigns. The American defenses were finally breached in early April. The M3 tanks were supporting the retreating infantry units while engaging the 7th Tank Regiment. In the following engagement, the two Tank Battalions were lost. The Japanese even managed to capture a few of them.
Limited operational use in the Dutch East Indies
The conquest of the Dutch East Indies was undertaken with minimal engagement of Japanese armor due to the difficult terrain. The Type 95 did see limited action, mainly in infantry fire support roles.
Combat in Burma
The next Japanese target was Burma, for which the 1st, 2nd, and 14th Tank Regiment were assigned. On 21st January 1942, the Japanese used tanks for the first time in Burma, with great effect against the defending Allied soldiers at Sittang River. In February, the Allies were reinforced with two armored units, the 7th Armored Brigade, and the 7th Hussars equipped with American M3 light tanks. These two units were mainly used to support the Allied retreat and occasionally engaged with the Type 95 tanks. The Allies were even reinforced with the Chinese 200th Mechanized Division which was equipped with T-26 tanks. It is unknown if these ever engaged the Japanese armor in combat. The Burma campaign ended in one more Japanese success. While the tanks played a great role, many fell victim to the harsh terrain and lack of spare parts.
In North America
A generally less known fact is that the Japanese, with a few Type 95s, invaded Kiska Island near Alaska. The few Type 95s engaged in this operation belonged to the 11th Tank Regiment. The whole invasion was short-lived, as it lasted from early June 1942 until the American counter-attack in August the same year.
In the following months, the Japanese made a new attack. By late August 1942, they were preparing an invasion of the Milne Bay (New Guinea) supported with Type 95 tanks. These offensives would be beaten back by the defending Australian forces. The Japanese lost a few Type 95 tanks in the process.
Combat use from 1943 to 1945
Despite these early successes, come 1942-43, the Type 95 tank was starting to become obsolete. In 1943, the United States Marine Corps, fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, began to field the M4 Sherman. With armor up to 90 mm (3.54 in) thick and a 75 mm main gun, the Type 95 was no match for it. In addition, American soldiers had at their disposal a number of anti-tank weapons, like 37 mm anti-tank guns and bazookas. As the war progressed and the Japanese began to fight a far more defensive campaign in the Pacific, the Type 95 began to see action as a defensive weapon on many Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. One example was the defense of Makin, where two Type 95s were stationed, but these did not see any combat during the Allied offensive in November 1943. Another example was the island of Biak (May 1944), defended by a group of six or seven Type 95s. These tanks were used in an attempt to dislodge the advancing American soldiers. Initially, four Type 95 supported by infantry attacked the enemy positions. The Americans were supported by two Sherman M4A1 tanks. The Sherman tanks fired using armor-piercing rounds which, at first glance, did not do any damage. In reality, these simply passed through the light Japanese tank armor. So, the American tank crews changed to high-explosive rounds with better results. The four Type 95 were all lost, despite managing to hit the Shermans without any real damage to them. A second wave with the remaining Type 95s followed soon, with the same result.
On the island of Eniwetok, several Type 95s were dug in and used as static coast bunkers. While they were successful in holding the Allied infantry back, once Sherman tanks landed at the beach, these defending Type 95 were all eliminated.
A very interesting engagement occurred during the fighting for Betio island, between a Sherman M4A2 and a Type 95 tank. A lone Type 95 managed to hit a Sherman several times, damaging its gun and turret traverse. The Sherman commander decided to simply ram the Japanese tank, destroying it in the process.
One of the last engagements of the Japanese Type 95 in combat was during the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in August 1945. The Soviets amassed a vast armor formation of some 5,000 vehicles. The Japanese armored formations consisted of several hundred various armored vehicles. The engagements with Japanese armored vehicles were rare and most were simply captured by the Soviets. The Type 95, in particular, saw combat during the defense of the Shimushu Island (August 1945), where the 11th Tank Regiment was stationed. Some 25 Type 95 and 39 Type 97 tried to push back the Soviet amphibious landing forces. In the following battle that lasted some two hours, the Japanese lost 21 tanks. A few days later, the defending garrison finally surrendered to the Soviets, this battle marked the end of Japanese armored operations of the war.
Use by other nations
Contrary to popular belief, the Ha-Go’s service did not end with Japan’s defeat. The Army of Thailand, which had effectively been press-ganged into supporting the Japanese Empire, purchased around 50 Ha-Gos in the early 1940s. There, they were operated under the designation of ‘Type 83’. Remarkably, after the end of the Second World War, the Thai army kept their Type 95’s in service until 1954. What is even more remarkable is that one of these is technically still in service with the Thai Army. It is kept as a show vehicle and is fully operational, making it one of only a small number of running vehicles remaining in the world.
Reclaiming control of their Far-Eastern colonies after the war, the French military took control of whatever Japanese vehicles were still operational. In French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), this consisted of a few Type 95 tanks. Not much is known of them, barring a few photographs. These show some additional 10 mm armor plates added to the turret. The vehicles were apparently in operation until the late 1940s, around 1948.
Chinese and North Korean service
China operated a number of Type 95s which were captured during the war or were supplied by the Soviets. By 1949, the Chinese had over three hundred Japanese vehicles, including some Type 95s mostly supplied by the Russians. The North Korean People’s Army also used smaller numbers of Type 95s, mainly for training.
Modifications based on the Type 95 tank
During the war, the Japanese tried to improve or reuse the Type 95 tank for a number of modifications, including an amphibious tank, a version armed with 37 to 57 mm calibers guns, self-propelled artillery, and an anti-tank vehicle.
Type 2 Ka-Mi
In the early 1940s, the Japanese Imperial Army showed interest in the development of amphibious tanks. During the war, based on a modified Type 95 chassis, the Japanese developed the Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tank. While it proved to be a good design, only less than 200 would be built during the war.
Type 3 Ke-Ri
In an attempt to increase the firepower for infantry support operations, the Type 95 was rearmed with the 57 mm Type 90 gun. While the larger 57 mm caliber gun could fire a more potent high-explosive round than the old 37 mm gun, it could also fire HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) rounds. However, the installation of this gun in the Type 95 turret proved to be problematic and only a few vehicles of this version were built.
According to A. M. Tomczyk (Japanese Armor vol.9), it was actually equipped with a 37 or 47 mm gun placed in a newly designed turret. Sadly, there is no more information about it.
Type 4 Ke-Nu
The Type 4 Ke-Nu was another attempt to rearm the Type 95 with a 57 mm gun. In order to accommodate this gun, a larger turret taken from the Chi-Ha tank was used for this modification. As the Type 97 Chi-Ha was being rearmed with a newer 47 mm gun, there were plenty of older 57 mm guns and turrets available. The production run was limited and precise numbers are not clear in the sources. These vehicles were used against the Soviet Force at the war’s end in 1945.
Type 5 Ho-Ru
The Type 95 chassis was used for the experimental Type 5 Ho-Ru anti-tank version. On the chassis, what appears to be a fully enclosed superstructure was added. The main armament was changed to the standard 47 mm anti-tank gun. As the work on this project began in 1945, it is not clear if a working prototype was ever built.
Type 4 Ho-To
Little is said in the sources of this vehicle. The Type 4 Ho-To was built using the chassis of the Type 95 by mounting a new open-top superstructure. The main armament consisted of a 120 mm howitzer. While there is photographic evidence that showed a single prototype, there is no information of any more vehicles being built.
In 1940, a modified Type 95 chassis was extended by an additional road wheel and changing the position of the rear idler. Additional changes were the removal of large parts of the superstructure and replacing it with a 37 mm Type 94 infantry anti-tank gun on its wheel carriage. The hull-positioned machine gun was retained. It is not clear in the sources if this version was built in any number or if it remained only a prototype. The vehicle received the So-To designation, which could be translated as ‘Carrier-seven’.
Like many other Second World War vehicles, a number of surviving Type 95s would be modified for use in civilian and police service. While there is little information on these conversations, the civilian version had the superstructure and turret removed and replaced with a simple enclosed cabin. It also was equipped with a dozer blade. The police version received an enlarged cube-shaped superstructure.
Being one of the most numerous built Japanese tanks, it is not surprising that some vehicles have survived to this day. There are at least several in Russia, one of which is in running condition. Several more are located in Thailand. A number of wrecks can also be seen around Southeast Asia. Some can also be seen in the USA, Australia, and the UK.
In the west, Japanese tanks have never received much respect or admiration. Since the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific War, they have often been dismissed as poor tanks, with thin armor and weak firepower. This is a harsh assessment and one that is not accurate especially in this case with one of Imperial Japan’s first bespoke light tanks, the Type 95 Ha-Go.
In considering the Ha-Go, it must be remembered that it was an early 1930s design, aimed at supporting the infantry of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) in China during the Sino-Japanese war. In this theatre, it was an extremely effective tank, as it was facing an enemy without a large tank force or a significant number of anti-tank guns. It was only later, during the Pacific War in the mid-1940s, when these tanks faced tougher enemy armor, such as the American M4 Sherman, that the vehicles struggled. The Ha-Go and many of its Japanese contemporaries suffered greatly at the hands of the superior Shermans which outclassed the Ha-Go in all areas.
The Type 95 Ha-Go was one of Imperial Japan’s most produced tanks. By 1943, around 2,300 of these light tanks were built. They were reliable tanks and liked by their crews, their small size making them ideal for urban and jungle warfare. They would serve until the end of the Second World War (for Japan at least) through the colds of Northern China, the humid jungles of Burma, and the scorching, sunbaked islands of the Pacific.
Type 95 Ha-Go specifications
|Dimensions||4.38 x 2.07 x 2.28 m (14.4 x 6.8 x 7.2 ft.in)|
|Total weight, battle ready||7.4 tons|
|Crew||3 – Commander/Gunner, Loader, and Driver|
|Propulsion||120 hp Mitsubishi 6-cylinder diesel engine|
|Armament||Main: 37 mm Type 94 gun
Secondary: 2 x Type 91 6.5 mm machine guns
|Armor||6 to 12 mm|
|Top speed||45 km/h (28 mph)|
|Range||250 km (400 mi)|
|Total production||1,100 – 2,375|
- S. J. Zaloga (2007) Japanese Tanks 1939-45, Osprey Publishing.
- P. Chamberlain and C. Ellis (1967), Light Tank Type 95 Kyu-go, Profile Publication.
- A. M. Tomczyk (2002) Japanese Armor vol.2 Aj-Press.
- A. M. Tomczyk (2002) Japanese Armor vol.9 Aj-Press
- A. M. Tomczyk (2002) Japanese Armor vol.10 Aj-Press
- D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Japan, Beograd
- A. Ludeke, Waffentechnik Im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon.
- P. Trewhitt (2000) Armored fighting vehicles, Grange Book.
- Lt.Gen T. Hara (1973) AFV/Weapons #49: Japanese Medium Tanks, Profile Publications Ltd.
- Japanese Tanks and Tactics, Military Intelligence Service.
An early production Type 95 with the typical 1937 camouflage.
A Manchurian Ha-Go with the “Manchu” type suspension, 1940.
Ha-Go command tank with the “Manchu” suspension type, China, 1940.
A Ha-Go from the Kwantung army, with a base three-tone camo and a brighter beige color later applied. Nomonhan (Battle of Khalkhin Gol), June 1939.
Another Ha-Go from the Kwantung army in 1939, with the “Manchu” type suspension. Notice the horizontal stripe.
Typical Ha-Go from a navy unit, involved in the amphibious operations in the south-western Pacific, fall 1941/early 1942.
Type 95 Ha-Go during the Philippine campaign, January 1942.
A Burma campaign Ha-Go, September 1944. This pattern of beige and blue-green was not unusual, as high contrast visual effects were sought for.
A Ha-Go during the Saipan campaign, 1944.
Type 95 Ha-Go, late-production version, Indonesia, 1943.
Variants & derivatives
Type 4 Ke-Nu, an offspring reequipped with the early Type 97 Chi-Ha turret.
The Type 3 Ke-Ri, the designated replacement for the Ha-Go. It was basically the same chassis rearmed with a new turret housing a high velocity 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. Prototype on trials, Japan, fall 1944.
Type 5 Ho-Ru. This was a projected tank-hunter based on the Ha-Go, with the same 45 mm (1.77 in) high velocity standard gun developed for the Shinhoto Chi-Ha. It is unknown if one prototype was built or only a mockup.