WW2 Japanese Medium Tanks

Type 3 Chi-Nu

Imperial Japanese Army Japan (1944-1945)
Medium Tank – 144-166 Built

The Type 3 Medium Tank Chi-Nu (三式中戦車 チヌ, San-shiki chū-sensha Chi-nu) (“Imperial Year 2603 Medium tank Model 10”) was a medium tank of the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. The tank was an improved version of the Type 1 medium tank Chi-He, which itself was an improved version of the Type 97 Chi-Ha tank. The Chi-Nu was the last tank that was deployed in the Japanese tank forces during World War II. It was designed in 1943, when it became apparent that even the high-velocity 47 mm (1.85 in) gun on the Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai would not be enough against the M4 Sherman’s frontal armor. It was produced from 1944 until 1945 as a means of countering the American-made M4 Sherman, which completely outperformed the smaller and weaker Chi-Ha, until the bigger and better Type 4 Chi-To could be produced in sufficient numbers. This never happened, since the Empire of Japan had massive logistical problems, with a lot of precious steel being prioritized for the Imperial Navy for ship construction. The Chi-Nu was produced until the end of the war.

The last Type 3 Chi-Nu at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Military Ordnance Training School at Tsuchiura.
Source: Wikipedia

Context- Japanese Tank Experience

Past Tank Experience

Since the production of the Type 3 Chi-Nu did not commence until the end of 1944, the Japanese Imperial Army had gathered enough experience from past and more recent campaigns. The backbone of the Imperial Army consisted of lighter and lightly armed tanks and tankettes. Soon enough, it became apparent that these models, which were designed for mainly countering infantry, were insufficient when it came to tank combat due to their weak armor and weaker cannons. One example is the poor showing of Japanese types in tank-vs-tank combat with the Red Army in 1939 at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol. This resulted in the decision to upgrade the Type 97 Chi-Ha.

Another example is that of the Burma Campaign in 1942, where the British were still using the somewhat obsolete M3 Stuarts of 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments. When the Japanese 1st Tank Regiment arrived in Burma, they conducted some test-firing against an M3 Stuart hulk. They discovered that the armor-piercing round of the Type 97’s low velocity 5.7 cm gun (approximately 20 mm at 500 m) could not penetrate the M3 from any angle, at any range. This made them worried about how they would continue any future assaults since they did not possess the means to easily dispatch the enemy armor. This experience made the Japanese realize that their tanks were no longer facing just infantry, but they needed to be able to attack heavily armored targets as well. Thus, when the need for a new tank arose, a lot of past design mistakes were addressed and fixed.

The Japanese Doctrine and Tank Tactics

In order to understand the design philosophy behind the Japanese tanks, the tactics that were also used with these vehicles must also be understood. For the Japanese Army, speed and agility were of high importance, since tanks were used for a variety of roles, from scouting to infantry support. This meant that the tanks had to be able to fire quickly and relocate to the new objective as fast as possible. Japanese tankers would continue to advance even if they outran their accompanying infantry, or the infantry halted or fell behind under enemy fire. In case a tank advanced way too far ahead of the rest of the tank formation, it would normally return to them, but Japanese tankers were generally quite aggressive. If infantry was not available, the tankers would dismount to clear obstacles themselves, and would even attack the Allied troops covering them.

When attacking a strong anti-tank defense, wave tactics were used. If the defenses were light, they would be massed forward. The infantry would follow closely behind the tanks, with artillery neutralizing defenses with high explosive and smoke shells. In some instances, infantrymen rode on the backs of tanks. Japanese tanks were used in both standalone operations (mostly reconnaissance) and combined arms fights.


The Type 3 Chi-Nu medium tank was a further development of the Type 1 Chi-He tank, which itself derived from the Type 97 Chi-Ha tank. In 1943, the IJA got information about new Allied tanks, such as the Sherman, from their military attaché in Berlin. Thus, it was decided that a new and better tank would be needed to face the new threat. The IJA learned of advances in tank technology through samples of the Pz.Kpfw. III, Pz.Kpfw. IV, Panther, and Tiger tanks that were ordered and by examining captured examples of the Soviet T-34s and American M4 Shermans in Germany. Designing an entirely new tank required too much time and the Japanese were in need of a better medium tank as fast as possible, so the Type 3 Chi-Nu was developed as a stopgap. Its predecessor the Type 1 Chi-He was an improved version of the Type 97 Chi-Ha created by using the Type 1 47 mm cannon along with other changes, such as simplifying the front glacis plate using a straight flat plate. Also, more extensive use of welding was introduced to reduce the risk of rivets being shattered inward if hit in combat.

Type 1 Chi-He
source: Japanese Tanks 1939-1945 / Osprey Publishing

Although the new design of the Type 3 Chi-Nu medium tank was accepted for service in 1943, production of the Type 1 Chi-He continued at Mitsubishi until November 1943. The development of Chi-Nu started in May 1943 and was completed in October of that year, which was considered incredibly fast for that time. However, Type 3 Chi-Nu production did not begin until September 1944. Mitsubishi was chosen for production, delivering 55 vehicles in 1944 and 89-111 more until the last days of the war. These low numbers were due to shortages of steel, since priority was given to warship construction.

Type 3 Chi-Nu production line. In the foreground are rolled tank tracks.
Source: AJ-Press Tank Power № 012


Overall Design

The initial Army Technical Bureau program, which would lead to the Type 4 Chi-To, was not ready on schedule, accumulating problems and production delays. The Army decided to produce the Type 3 Chi-Nu based on the Type 1 Chi-He chassis. The Type 1 chassis was very similar to that of the Type 97 Chi-Ha, but slightly longer and wider, with thicker side armor and a 50 mm (1.97 in) strong frontal glacis. The hull was simplistic and easy to produce. It consisted of a slightly angled lower front plate and an angled upper mid-front plate which led to the horizontal front plate.

The fighting compartment, alongside the ammunition storage, was located at the center of the vehicle, with the turret ring on top that was increased in diameter to 170 centimeters. The tank was supported by 6 road wheels on each side. The front and rear road wheels were independently sprung, while the center wheels sprung in pairs by coil springs. The tracks were the most common type in Japanese service, a centered type made from steel and connected with a dry pin.

The turret was manned by three crew members (commander, gunner, and loader) and featured the main gun as well as more ammunition storage. The turret was a brand-new hexagonal design made of welded plates, 50 mm (1.97 in) thick (front). There was a commander cupola similar to that of the Type 1 Chi-He and Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai, equipped with a rotatable ring arm mounting a regular Type 97 machine gun for Anti Aircraft (AA) close defense. The cupola on the turret was on the right-hand side and was given several bullet-proof glass episcopes for observation. Both sides of the turret had observation hatches that also featured pistol ports. Another large hatch existed at the turret’s rear to ease ammunition refilling.

Seventy 75 mm shells were loaded into the tank, 30 of which were placed on the floor of the fighting compartment, and the remaining 40 were placed in the turret. The latter also featured an electric traverse, but fine precision adjustments were performed manually. The radio that was used by the crew was the Type 3 Ko, which could send and receive code and voice signals. The large antennas of the vehicle were located on the rear of the tank, at the left and right edges of the engine block, giving the vehicle an effective range of 15 km for voice communication or 50 km for telegraphic. The vehicle weighed around 18.8 tonnes and the chassis had a height of 2.61 m, width of 2.33 m, and length of 5.73 m.

Side and top views of the Chi-He tank on which the Chi-Nu was based.
The only significant difference was the turret.
Source: Profile AFV Weapons vol.49


The engine was a Mitsubishi Type 100 air-cooled V-12 diesel engine. It was located at the rear of the tank and had a separated compartment. Two small access hatches at the top of the chassis made access to the engine’s batteries easier for the crew. The engine gave out 240 horsepower at 2,000 rpm, giving a power-to-weight ratio of 12.76 hp/t. It had an operational range of 210 km thanks to a fuel capacity of 235 l (Diesel). The maximum speed was 38.3 km/h on the road. The transmission consisted of 4 forward gears and one reverse. Steering the vehicle was made possible with the use of a clutch brake. The suspension was retained from the Type 1 Chi-He, which used a combination of bell crank and exterior coil springs, with three return rollers per side. This type of suspension did not consume as much space under the floor as torsion bars, and it also offered good terrain-following performance. A crawler tensioning device was mounted at the base of the guidance wheels.

Chi-Nu during assembly, showing the transmission and the partially installed controls.
Source: Wikipedia
A photograph that shows a hull numbered no.75, Two roadwheel carriages mounted on the hull alongside the coil springs and the bell cranks can be seen.
Source: AJ-Press Tank Power № 012


Main Gun

The main armament of the Type 3 Chi-Nu was a stopgap weapon derived from the Type 90 field artillery gun, itself derived from the French Schneider 75 mm (2.95 in) field gun of WW1. It was adopted as the Type 90 and, due to the short life of its barrel, was modified to have a lower muzzle velocity. The 75 mm Type 90 gun was already tested as the main armament of the Type 1 Ho-Ni tank destroyer. In 1943, the Japanese Army decided to modify the cannon so that it could be reliably used by tanks and changed its designation into the Type 3 75 mm Anti-tank cannon Models I and II. The Type 1 Ho-Ni III tank destroyer was equipped with the Model I, while the Type 3 Chi-Nu was given the Model II. Both weapons were modified by giving them modern aiming devices which had not been present on the original Type 90 cannon. Just like the Type 90, the Type 3’s long monobloc tube had a horizontal sliding, hand-operated breech block and was fitted with a muzzle brake with six ports for gas escape.

The gun was accepted for use when it was realized that the model Type 90 anti-tank artillery could penetrate the M4 Sherman’s armor at a distance of 500 m. However, it was highly advisable to attack the rear or side of the enemy tank in order to minimize the risk of ricochets.

The Model II had a weight of 1,000 kg, firing a 75 x 424R shell cartridge. The muzzle velocity was 668 meters per second when firing the standard Type 1 armor-piercing projectile (APHE, Armor Piercing High Explosive). The shell weighed 6.56-6.6 kg and was capable of penetrating 84 mm of RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) at a distance of 500 yards (550 m).

Penetration values at a 90-degree angle of impact
Penetration(m) Distance
2.4 inches (61 mm) 1,500 yards (about 1,370 m)
2.8 inches (71 mm) 1,000 yards (about 915 m)
3.0 inches (76 mm) 750 yards (about 685 m)
3.3 inches (83 mm) 500 yards (about 457 m)
3.5 inches (89 mm) 250 yards (about 230 m)

( The data shown above is for the Type 90 gun firing the Type 1 Shell )
Source:,_No._34_Japanese_Tank_and_Antitank_Warfare_1945.pdf p-122)

The main gun as seen from the hull’s interior.
Source: AJ-Press Tank Power № 012

The testing results of the Type 1 APHE shell were mediocre and did not meet the requirements of the cannon. To improve on this, the Army developed a Tungsten-Chromium steel anti-tank shell known as the Type 1 APHE Tokko Ko. This shell had an improved muzzle velocity of 683 m/s and was capable of penetrating 100 mm of RHA at 500 yards, and 85 mm at 1,000 yards. These shells held around 10 grams of explosive material each. Explosives were heavily prioritized for Japanese tank cannon shells in order to cause as much post-penetration damage as possible. Due to problems with the distribution of rare metals, a set of armor-piercing shells contained 0.5 to 0.75% of carbon, unlike American anti-tank shells that were using high-carbon steel and 1% chromium, 0.2% molybdenum, and other small amounts of nickel.

The gun elevation was -10 to +25 degrees. It used a hydro-pneumatic recoil and was loaded manually through a horizontal sliding-block breech.

Gun table data
Designation(m) Type 3 75 mm Anti-tank
Caliber 75 mm
Barrel length 2.850 m (9 ft 4.2 in) (L/38)
Muzzle velocity 680 m/s
Shell Weight 6.6 Kg
Elevation: -10 to +25 degrees
Front view of the Type 3 Chi-Nu tank with the Type 3 75 mm Anti-tank cannon.
Source : Wikipedia

Secondary Armament

The Type 3 Chi-Nu was also equipped with 1 or 2 Type 97 (九七式車載重機関銃, Kyū-nana-shiki shasai jū-kikanjū) 7.7 mm tank machine guns. One was located on a firing port at the right side of the tank’s frontal armor plate, next to the driver’s view port. The second was located on a rotatable ring arm for AA close defense. The weapon was gas operated and air cooled. It was controlled with the use of a specially designed stock and could be aimed with the assistance of conventional sights. When used by armored vehicles, the gun would receive a telescopic sight of 1 ½ power with a 30-degree field of view. The sight was fitted with a heavy rubber eye-pad to protect the gunner. It was fed by a vertical, 20-round box magazine and used the same 7.7×58 mm Arisaka cartridges used in the Type 99 rifle. Due to getting easily overheated, the weapon was fired in bursts. The heavy machine gun ammunition load that was carried per vehicle was 3,680 rounds.

The Type 97 machine gun with the telescopic sight as well as the 20 round magazine.
Source : Wikipedia


The armor was the exact same as that of the Type 1 Chi-He, since they shared the same chassis. Even though this was an upgrade from the Type 97 Chi-Ha, it was still not enough to protect the crew and internal components from the more powerful Sherman or T-34 tanks. The whole armor construction was made possible via welding metal plates that had been processed so that they were harder on the surface while the metal deeper underneath remained soft (face hardening). Starting from the top, the turret had a thickness of 50 mm at the front, the turret cheeks were 35 mm thick, the turret sides 20 mm, the rear 25 mm and the roof was 10 mm thick. The frontal hull armor consisted of a 50 mm plate, the sides and the rear were 20 mm, 25 mm behind the suspension, and 12 mm on the top back plate of the engine compartment.

The entire chassis is clearly visible in this image. The tracks as well as some parts of the turret are still not assembled. 1945.
Source :


The crew was composed of the commander, the gunner, the loader, the driver, and the hull machine gunner. Three members of the crew were housed in the turret and two in the hull. The driver was seated on the left side and had a small-sized viewport, while the machine gunner/radio operator sat on the right side of the hull, behind the hull machine gun. In the turret, the commander’s cupola was located at the right side of the turret roof, which allowed them to have a better field (360 degrees) of view while the loader and the gunner were located on the left side of the turret and were able to enter and leave the vehicle with the use of one large hatch that was located on the top of the roof.


One of the most commonly known variants of the Type 3 Chi-Nu was the Chi-Nu Kai, which used the chassis of the Chi-Nu tank with the new turret of the Type 4 Chi-To tank and the much more powerful Type 5 75 mm tank gun. The gun could be elevated between -6.5 to +20 degrees. It had an 850 m/s muzzle velocity giving an armor penetration of 75 millimeters at 1,000 meters. It was tested at the Irago Firing Ground.

Another variant of the tank came in the form of an early production model that used the Type 90 75 mm artillery field gun before it was redesigned and redesignated as the Type 3.

Front and side view of the Chi-Nu Kai.
Source: Tanks in Japan(in sources)
The original model of the Type 3 Chi-Nu. Prior to mass production, the tank used the Type 90 75 mm artillery field gun.


The Type 3 Chi-Nu did not see any combat since it was kept in reserve for the protection of the Japanese home islands for the upcoming Allied invasion that never came. The tanks would have been used for massive counterattacks and as a shock force to dislodge the Allied forces from their positions. A significant force was in Fukuoka, on Kyushu, and served with the 4th Tank Division. Some of them were kept at the imperial palace with the Emperor’s Imperial Guard until the dissolution of the Empire. At least some of the vehicles received a three-tone camouflage.

Medium Tanks being photographed after the end of the war, on October 14th 1945, in Hakata, Fukuoka prefecture on Kyushu
Source:No.34 The Imperial Japanese Tanks, Gun Tanks – Self Propelled Guns.pdf

The units deployed to counter the potential Allied invasions were the 19th Tank Regiment (20 tanks) and 42nd Tank Regiment (10 tanks) of the 4th Independent Tank Brigade, the 18th Tank Regiment (20 tanks) and 43rd Tank Regiment (10 tanks) of the 5th Independent Tank Brigade, and the 37th Tank Regiment (20 tanks) and 40th Tank Regiment (20 tanks) of the 6th Independent Tank Brigade.

One of these tanks was brought to the U.S. after the war, and another was displayed at the Tokyo Ordnance Depot in Akabane. This was returned to the Defense Agency after the U.S. military withdrew. It is currently stored as a reference weapon at the Ground Self-Defense Force Weapons School in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Type 3 Chi-Nu at the Ordnance School of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force some years after WW2.
Source: Profile AFV Weapons vol.49


Even though Type 3 Chi-Nu was the only Japanese mass-produced tank that could face the more powerful Sherman, it still lacked in the armor sector, since it was only designed to serve as a stopgap tank. The combination of the industrial manufacturing capacity being given to the naval forces as well as the lack of raw materials ended up making the Type 3 a very valuable asset that could not be spared for naval assaults or other offensives in the Pacific. Thus it was kept on the Home Island for defensive purposes only.

Chi-Nu tank captured by the American forces after the Japanese surrender. Notice the writing on the hull and turret.
Source: Wikipedia
Type 3 Chi-Nu
Standard Type 3 Chi-Nu with the army camouflage, 4th Armored Division, Kyu-Shu, late 1944.
Up-gunned Type 3 Chi-Nu Kai, testing the Type 5 75 mm (2.95 in) Tank Gun, mid-1945. Both illustrated by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications Table

Dimensions(m): 5.73 x 2.61 x 2.33
Crew: 5 (driver, commander, gunner, loader, hull gunner/radio)
Weight: 18.8 tons
Propulsion: Mitsubishi Type 100, 21.7 l, V-12 diesel, 240 hp (179 kW) at 2,000 rpm
Suspension: Bell crank
Armaments: 75 mm Type 3 gun
Type 97 7.7 mm machine-gun
Speed: 38.3 km/h
Trench Crossing Capability: 2.5 m
Armor: 12 to 50 mm hull & turret
Production: 144-166

Extra Images

Shock absorber being mounted to the side of the hull.
Source:AJ-Press Tank Power № 012
The right side of a hull with roadwheel carriages and track rollers.
Source: AJ-Press Tank Power № 012
The transmission being installed.
source:AJ-Press Tank Power № 012
After the war, a Type 3 medium tank was confiscated by the U.S. military and is shown here being prepared for transport back to Japan.
Source: AJ-Press Tank Power № 012


  1. Japanese tanks and tanks tactics /ISO PUBLICATIONS
  2. World War II Japanese Tank Tactics / Osprey Publishing
  3. Japanese Tanks 1939-1945 / Osprey Publishing
  4. Profile AFV Weapons vol.49
  5. No.34 The Imperial Japanese Tanks, Gun Tanks – Self Propelled Guns.pdf
  7. M4 Sherman vs Type 97 Chi-Ha The pacific 1945 by J. Zaloga / Osprey Publishing
  9. AJ-Press Tank Power № 012
  10. Tanks in Japan ,Supervised by Tomio Hara ,author ,Akira Takeuchi ,1 revised and enlarged edition ,Kugami Publishing Co.
WW2 Japanese Medium Tanks

Type 97 Chi-Ha & Chi-Ha Kai

Imperial Japanese Army Japan (1938-1943)
Medium Tank – 2,092 Built

The most prolific Japanese medium tank

The Type 97 Chi-Ha, with nearly 2100 units built (including the improved (Kai) version), was the second most produced tank in Japanese history, after the smaller Ha-Go. It was found everywhere in Asia, soldiering from the cold steppes of northern Manchuria and Mongolia to the jungles of New Guinea, Burma, the Eastern Indies, and all around the Pacific.

Early model Chi-Ha’s taking part in maneuvers.
The Chi-Ha (“medium tank third”), or ordnance Type 97, referring to the imperial year 2597, was first preceded by a thorough examination of the main IJA medium tank by 1935, the Type 89 I-Go. It had proven to be too slow to operate effectively on the wide expenses of China, and did not suit well with the new tactical requirements of motorized warfare, as seen particularly during the invasion of Manchuria.
As a result, a new specification was issued to Japanese companies, among those Mitsubishi, which responded quickly with a design of its own, inspired by the fast light tank Ha-Go. The Tokyo Mitsubishi Heavy Industries complex delivered and tested the first prototype as early as April 1937, followed by a second one in June. As required by the ordnance, it had the same 57 mm (2.24 in) gun featured on the Type 89. Meanwhile, Osaka Arsenal also delivered its prototype. Although cheaper than the former, it was ultimately rejected because of the end of all peacetime budgetary limitations, following the second Sino-Japanese war of June 1937.

Hello, dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Design of the Chi-Ha

The Chi-Ha was developed at the same time as the Type 97 Chi-Ni. The Chi-Ni was a cheaper, easier to produce alternative, with many components shared with the Ha-Go Light tank. At the time, the Chi-Ni was the Military’s preferred vehicle, mostly due to its cheapness. However, with the event of the Marco-Polo bridge incident, the beginning of hostilities with China, the Chi-Ha became the favored vehicle as peace-time budget constraints went out the proverbial window.
The Mitsubishi design heavily relied on previous features present on the Ha-Go, as well as some innovations. These included a set of 12 buttons situated in the turret, linked to a corresponding set of buzzers which acted as instructions for the driver, as there was no intercom. The driver sat on the right and hull gunner to the left. The tank commander was also the gunner, seated inside the turret, and assisted by a loader/radioman/rear machine-gunner. Like previous models, the turret had no coaxial machine-gun, but a rear turret ballmount, housing a Type 97 machine-gun. The turret was equipped with a relatively large commander cupola. Later, a horse-shoe radio antenna was mounted.
The suspension was a virtual repeat of the bell-crank system, but with an extra bogie. This gave a total of six road wheels on each side, two paired and two independent. This crude system was meant for easy maintenance, not comfort. The long, bolted hull was still relatively low and narrow, making this model less maneuverable, but faster, more stable and more difficult to hit. The main gun, the Type 97 57 mm (2.24 in), was an infantry support piece of artillery, with low velocity and poor antitank capabilities. However, these were sufficient against most Chinese tanks of the time. An interesting feature is that the gun had a limited traverse (10 degrees) inside the turret. Armor was slightly thicker than on the Ha-Go, ranging from 8 mm on the bottom (0.31 in), to 26 mm (1.02 in) for the turret sides, and up to 33 mm (1.3 in) on the gun mantlet. This was sufficient against 20 mm (0.79 in) and some 37 mm (1.46 in) weapons. However, the propulsion system was quite revolutionary, with a brand new V12, 21.7 liter diesel, air-cooled engine, developing 170 bhp at 2000 rpm. This proved sturdy enough to be produced until 1943. The Chi-Ha chassis-propulsion was successfully reused for other derivatives.

Chi-Ha production and evolution

By September 1939, around 300 units had been produced, and quickly tried in China. A more violent baptism of fire was received against Russian armor at Nomonhan Plateau (Battle of Khalkin Gol). Despite having good performances, these tanks proved themselves ill-matched against most Russian tanks, including lightly protected models like the BT-5 and BT-7. The Soviet models possessed high velocity 45 mm (1.77 in) main guns, which outranged the Japanese tanks. The Type 97 infantry gun proved useless during these engagements. The reports made after these events prompted an upgunning and upgrade effort inside the army. A new 47 mm (1.85 in) high velocity gun was developed and tried at the beginning of 1941. This new Type 1 gun required turret modifications, which resulted in the main variant of the type, the Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai. The Chi-Ha production ended early in 1942, with a total of 1162 being delivered. The production line was adapted for the new improved model.

The wartime evolution: Chi-Ha Kai

The Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai (Sometimes called “Shinhoto Chi-Ha”) was simply a rearmed model, using the new Type 1 47 mm (1.85 in) army gun. This long-barrel (2.5 m), high muzzle velocity (730 m/s) gun was developed when the Type 94 model proved insufficient to defeat the armor of most Russian tanks of the 1939-40 generation. The gun itself had been tested since 1938, and was at first rejected because of poor performance. But, after some improvements, it was adopted by the IJA general staff as the new main antitank gun.
A tank variant was developed by Osaka Arsenal, most being given to the new Chi-Ha Kai. It had better performance, a muzzle velocity of 830 m/s (2,723 ft/s) and a maximum range of 6,900 m (7,546 yd). A total of 2300 of these guns were produced until 1945. The first Chi-Ha Kai prototype was ready only at the end of 1941, and production began early in 1942. This new model completely replaced the Chi-Ha on the factory line. When production finally stopped in 1943, 930 had been delivered, despite an army request for more than 2500. This was mostly due to the lack of raw materials the Japanese industry suffered daily. However, the Chi-Ha Kai design was largely incorporated into the new Type 1 Chi-He and derivatives.


As the most largely produced and tested medium tank, the chassis was found suitable to create countless specialized variants during the war.
The Ho-Ni Lineage: Every vehicle in the Ho-Ni series was based on the chassis of the Chi-Ha. These were the Type 1 Ho-Ni, the Type 1 Ho-Ni II, and the Type 3 Ho-Ni III
Chi-Ha Short-Gun: An infantry support variant equipped with a 120 mm (4.72 in) short barreled gun, designed to support the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF).
Type 4 Ho-Ro: Just 12 of these Self-Propelled Guns were produced on the Chassis of the Chi-Ha. It was armed with a 150 mm (5.9 in) short-barrel Type 38 howitzer.
Type 97 Shi-Ki: Command Tank variant. It has a smaller, unarmed turret topped with a large cupola and horseshoe-antenna. The 37 mm main armament was moved to the hull in place on the bow machine-gun.

Active service

The Chi-Ha was, along with the Ha-Go, formed the bulk of IJA and Navy armored forces in eastern Asia. They were the most often encountered Japanese tanks by the Allies during the entire conflict. It was largely deployed in China after the second invasion of 1937, easily outmatching the ill-equipped tank battalions of the National Revolutionary Army of China. Things became serious with the first deployment on the Russian border, during the incidents which led to the large scale battle of Nomonhan plateau, in September 1939. Here, only four Type 97s were incorporated into the 3rd Tank Regiment of the 1st Tank Corp under Lt. General Yasuoka Masaomi’s command. One of these, serving as the command tank, was stuck in a tank trap and burst into flames after being shot by several BT-5s, BT-7s, and AT guns. Others were disabled, proving their main gun was no match for the Russian long range, high muzzle velocity weapons. Manchurian Type 97s that remained, once again fought against Soviet forces in August 1945. By then, most Russian tanks were one generation ahead.
During the battle of Malaya and of Singapore, Yamashita’s 3rd Tank Group comprised dozens of Type 97s. The 3rd Tank Company under First Lieutenant Yamane (Saeki Detachment) distinguished itself, spearheading the attack on the British defenses. The Chi-Ha proved capable of fending off thick jungle and seemingly impassable terrain and were key to Yamashita’s victory. The 2nd and 14th Tank Regiments, also largely composed of Chi-Has, participated in the Burma campaign. In the Philippines, in May 1942, the first Shinhoto Chi-Ha entered in action against Wainwright’s armored forces, comprising mainly light M3 tanks. Their improved gun proved lethal, enabling the engaged Japanese units to conclude the battle of Corregidor with a crushing victory.
The next step was in the Eastern Indies (Indonesia), against the combined ABDA ground forces. Despite the muddy, hilly terrain, thick, soaked jungle, and scorching heath, some Type 97s participated in the operations, although in limited numbers. They were to be used in Papua/New Guinea, and some fought at Guadalcanal during the offensive of the Solomon islands.
Later, during the Pacific campaign, many Type 97s of the IJ Marines were posted on strategic islands, and found themselves engaged in desperate defensive actions. Their most notable intervention occurred during the combined offensive of Colonel Takashi Goto’s 9th Tank Regiment and Colonel Yukimatsu Ogawa’s 136rd Infantry Regiment, combining nearly sixty Chi-Ha and Ha-Go tanks, along with many tankettes, at Saipan, against the US 6th Marine Regiment. They were broken by a hellish fire from land (tanks and field artillery), sea (naval guns), and air. This was the last and largest Japanese offensive involving such armor during the conflict. On many other islands, Chi-Ha tanks were simply half buried in the ground, as defensive positions, since their armor proved largely inferior to the M4 Sherman and most Allied tanks sent in this sector. Numerical inferiority proved to be an issue too often. At Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the few Type 97s left were outnumbered up to ten to one, and a single infantry battalion counted several bazooka operators, all deadly against the Chi-Ha.

A Chi-Ha Kai belonging to the 26th Tank Regiment dug into a position on Hill 382 on Iwo Jima. Photo: – World War Photos
The last production batches of the Chi-Ha Kai, in 1943, were kept inside mainland Japan, provisioned for the future expected invasion. Other served as testbeds for many new vehicles, or converted for other purposes. Few have survived to this day. A sizable force of captured Chi-Has had been used against the communists, after the war in China by Nationalist forces, and many had been captured during the war. Surviving examples today can be seen in the Japan Yushukan Museum (Tokyo) and Wakajishi Shrine (Fujinomiya, Shizuoka), Brawijaya Museum at Malang (Indonesia), at the People’s Liberation Museum, Beijing, China, and one was at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the United States. Countless rusty wrecks still haunt many Pacific islands today.

Type 97 Chi-Ha specifications

Dimensions 5.5 x 2.34 x 2.33 m (18 x 7.6 x 7.5 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 15 tons/16.5 tons for the Kai
Crew 4
Propulsion Mitsubishi Type 97 diesel, V12, 170 hp (127 kW)@2000 rpm
Speed 38 km/h (24 mph)
Armor 12 mm (0.15 in) roof and bottom, 25 mm (0.47 in) glacis and sides
Armament 47 mm (1.85 in)
3 x Type 92 7.7 mm (0.3 in) machine guns
Range (road) 210 km (165 miles)
Total production 1162 + 930 Kai

Links & Resources

The Chi-Ha on Wikipedia
The Chi-Ha on Tank-Hunter
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #137: Japanese Tanks 1939-1945
Osprey Publishing, Elite #169: World War II Japanese Tank Tactics
Osprey Publishing, Duel #43, M4 Sherman vs Type 97 Chi-Ha

Type 97 Chi-Ha early, unknown unit, Manchuria, 1940.
Type 97 Chi-Ha early, unknown unit, Southern China, 1941.
Type 97 Chi-Ha, 1st Sensha Rentai, 25th Imperial Japanese Army, Malaya, Jitra sector, December 1941.
Type 97 Chi-Ha Burma 1941
Chi-Ha of an unknown unit, Burma, December 1941.
Chi-Ha Navy 1942
Type 97 Chi-Ha, unknown unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1942.
Chi-Ha early 1942
Type 97 Chi-Ha of an unknown Imperial Japanese Navy unit, Burma, 1942.
Chi-Ha late production New guinea 1943
Type 97 Chi-Ha late, 5th Company, 17th Tank Regiment, New Guinea, 1943.
Late Chi-Ha 1945
Late production Chi-Ha, 14th Independent Company Jeju-do, Japan, summer 1945.
Chi-Ha Shinhoto Navy
Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai, unknown unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1943.
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto Philippines 1944
Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai, 11th Sensha Rentai (Armored regiment), 2nd Sensha Shidan (IJA Armored division), based in the Philippines in early 1944. This unit was redeployed, in January 1944, from Manchuria. Later, in early 1945, it was moved to Okinawa with a complement of brand new Type 97 Chi-Ha Kais, renamed 27th Sensha Rentai. The character “shi” before the identification number means “warrior”.
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto Kuriles islands, early 1945
Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai, 11th Tank Regiment, Kuril Islands, early 1945.
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto Luzon 1945
Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai, 7th Regiment, 2nd IJA Armored Division, Luzon, Philippines.
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto Japan, summer 1945
Type 97 Chi-Ha Kai, 5th Tank Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Kyushu, Japan, summer 1945. The blue and white rectangle is a tactical reconnaissance symbol.

Modified Naval variant of the Chi-Ha Kai with a 120mm Short-Barreled howitzer. Assigned to the Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF). Full article on this variant can be found HERE.
Type 97
A Shi-Ki command tank, a wartime variant using the Type 97 chassis. Changes include a new long range horseshoe radio antenna, modified commander cupola, shortened turret, sometimes fitted with a dummy gun, and a 37 mm (1.46 in) antitank gun replacing the frontal machine-gun in a new redesigned casemate. Total production of this variant is unknown. Here is a commander vehicle from an Imperial Navy tank regiment.

Chi-Ha tank gallery

3 view tech drawing Chi-Ha ShinhotoChi-Ha displayed at Nimitz war MuseumTurretless Chi-Ha, Shumshu Shinhoto Aberdeen
Type 97 Chi-Ha tank at the Military Museum of the Chinese Peoples Revolution, Beijing, China
Surviving captured Type 97 Chi-Ha tank at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution, Beijing, China (Photo courtesy of Mark Felton –
Type 97 Chi-Ha tank
Type 97 Chi-Ha tank at the Yūshūkan Museum, Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo Japan. This tank was part of the 9th Tank Regiment first based in Manchuria, then in April 1944 was sent to Saipan. During the battle of Saipan, the unit fought to the last man. After the war, Japanese veterans recovered the tank from Saipan. It was donated to Yasukuni Shrine & Museum on 12 April 1975 (Photo courtesy of Mark Felton –
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