WW2 Japanese Infantry Support Tanks

Type 97 Chi-Ha, 120 mm Short Gun

Empire of Japan (1944-1945)
Artillery Support Tank – Approximately 12 Built

The 120 mm equipped Chi-Ha, officially the Short Barrel 120 mm Gun Tank (ショートバレル120 mmガンタンク, Shōtobareru 120 mm gantanku), was an infantry/fire support tank built on the chassis of the Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha, the most produced medium tank of the Japanese Empire.


This was a late war variant of the Chi-Ha and was specifically produced for the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy). They requested the construction of a gun tank similar to the Type 2 Ho-I, but with greater firepower, to support the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF). This use of the tank has sometimes led it to be known as the Chi-Ha SNLF.
Four 120mm Armed Chi-Ha's at Sasebo, photograph taken by the US Marine Corps on September 22, 1945. Photo:
Four 120mm Armed Chi-Ha’s at Sasebo, photograph taken by the US Marine Corps on September 22, 1945. Photo:


The standard Type 1 47 mm (1.85 in) Tank Gun was replaced with a Naval Short-Barreled 12 cm (120 mm) “anti-submarine” gun which was fitted with a bespoke muzzle break and introduced onto the vehicle. An official designation of the gun is unknown. Elevation angles of the gun were +20 degrees, and -10 degrees.
A photo taken through the commanders hatch, showing the breach of the 120 mm width=
A photo taken through the commanders hatch, showing the breach of the 120 mm
This howitzer type gun was developed as a high-angle, multi-purpose weapon that could provide close-range defensive fire against aircraft, small attack boats, and even submerged submarines. Due to the extremely short barrel, accurate long-range fire was almost impossible. Due to the high-arc and low projectile speed, hitting fast moving targets was equally as impossible.
It should be noted that there is no source available as to what shell was used for the anti-aircraft role, but it was likely some sort of air-burst round. Its effectiveness is doubtful.
The tank also carried a single Type 92 7.7 mm (0.3 in) machine guns. This was ball-mounted on the right of the bow.


The 120mm Howitzer was designed to fire 2 types of HE shells. One type had a fuse at the base of the shell, with a soft flat cap designed at its point. The shell is what gave the gun its ability to face submarines. Once fired these shells would to dive and explode in a similar fashion to depth charges. The Other Shell was a nose fused shell with settings for time delay or detonation on impact. When the captured vehicles were assesed, they wer found with both types of shell.
True AP rounds, though a rarity, were available to the gun. Field reports of their use are unavailable, though a technical booklet concerning the guns ammunition types can be found. (See Links & Resources section)
120 mm high-explosive would perform extremely effectively against large infantry formations, fortified emplacements or lightly armored vehicles, but would be next to useless against enemy armor, aside from giving the crew of something like a Sherman a bad headache. One must remember, though, the vehicle was designed for infantry support, and not tank-to-tank combat.

A personal photo of the 120mm armed Chi-Has in Sasebo. The original photo can be seen HERE.

The Chi-Ha 120 mm Gun Tank in a simple livery. Illustration by David Bocquelet
The Chi-Ha 120 mm Gun Tank in a simple livery. Illustration by David BocqueletAnother shot of the vehicles at Sasebo, taken in 1945. Photo:
Another shot of the vehicles at Sasebo, taken in 1945. Photo:


Unfortunately, information concerning this variant of the Chi-Ha is as rare as the tank itself. What is known is that the vehicles were deployed with the Yokosuka No. 16 Special Land Battle Corps. The Corp was divided into 2 Battalions, with each battalion divided into 2 squadrons. The Type 3 Ka-Chi and Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tanks were was also deployed with this unit.
It is unknown how the tank actually made land to support the troops. Not being amphibious like its battalion mates, it is likely it was deployed via a landing barge.
Most photographic evidence of the vehicles comes from those captured at the end of the war by advancing American troops. None of the vehicles survive today.

Long Barrel 120mm

The Short Barrelled howitzer was not the only 120mm to be mounted on the Chi-Ha chassis. A rarer field modification saw a naval Type 3 high-velocity 120mm mounted onto a damaged chassis. Its practicality is questionable, the recoil from such a large gun on such a small chassis could only result in catastrophic failure. Only one image is known of this field-mod, the one below, and it is unknown if it was the only of its kind.

An article by Mark Nash

Type 97 Chi-Ha 120mm 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 Shinhoto
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 120 mm Short-Barreled Naval Gun (4.72 in)
2 x Type 92 7.7 mm (0.3 in) machine guns
Range (road) 210 km (165 miles)
Total production ~12

Links & Resources

The 120mm Chi-Ha on IKAZUCHI
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #137: Japanese Tanks 1939-1945
Delta Publishing, Grand Power November 1996 issue, “The Japanese military vehicles of the Second World War”
Japanese Field and Amphibious Equipment, Kyushu Defense Systems. Account of a U.S. Naval Technical Mission to Japan, September 4th 1945, Published Febuary 1946. Online copy avalible HERE.
Japanese National Archive File 陸戦兵器要目表 Reference: A03032103400. Research Department, Tateyama Naval Gunnery School. Read HERE. (In Japanese, Ammunition Data).
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By Mark Nash

Member since 2016. Specializes in weird. 120 articles & counting...

5 replies on “Type 97 Chi-Ha, 120 mm Short Gun”

what rounds does this fire HE only or just more than that???
(seeing if some game needs to fix their stuff)

If i’m remembering this correctly, wasn’t the 120mm on this thing originally used by the IJN to destroy submarines? I know they had a number of anti-submarine guns and mortars available during the war and several of them were listed as 120mm.

You should check out the Wikipedia pages for the Long Gun, it’s an entirely different vehicle and was an army self-propelled gun, not a navy gun tank and, unlike what you said in this article, it was going to enter mass production if the war hadn’t ended.

The “ガンタンク” and “gantanku” from “ショートバレル120 mmガンタンク” is actually English transliteration of Japanese kana. In other words, “gantanku” is simply how Japanese saying “gun tank”.

For Japan in the WW2, however, calling its own equipment in the language of its enemy looked rather anachronistic. No offense, but are you sure this is its official callsign rather than characters like “炮戦车”?

(“ショートバレル120 mmガンタンク” itself actually is how Japanese saying English “Short Barrel 120 mm Gun Tank”, I really wonder if this is the result of the automatic translator.)

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