Type 97 Chi-Ha
|Manufacturer||Mitsubishi Heavy Industries|
|Primary Role||Medium Tank|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseIn the mid-1930s, the Type 89 Chi-Ro medium tanks were considered obsolete. The Japanese Army infantry commanders requested a tank design that could travel at the speed of 35 kilometers per hour in order to keep up with the infantry-carrying trucks that were becoming more commonplace. The Tokyo factory of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries completed an experimental vehicle designated Chi-Ha and the Japanese Army's Osaka Arsenal came up with Chi-Ni. The Mitsubishi model was more expensive; it weighed 13.5 metric tons due to the generally thicker armor. The Osaka Arsenal design had a cheaper price tag; it weighed 9.8 metric tons, and the thicket armor was at the turret front at 25 millimeters. In late 1937, the Mitsubishi design was accepted.
ww2dbaseThe Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks had a low silhouette, and their appearance was unique with their asymmetric turrets and the semi-circular radio antennae. They were initially equipped with low velocity 57-millimeter Type 97 guns with two 7.7-millimeter Type 97 machine guns (one on front left of hull and the other either in ball mount in turret rear or on top of turret). The 57-millimeter primary guns were very effective in the infantry support role, which was the most common role these tanks held during the Second Sino-Japanese War against Chinese forces that generally lacked tanks. In Jul 1939, however, during the Nomonhan Incident against Soviet forces where they first met opposing armor, these guns soon proved to be inadequate. During combat, the command tank of the 3rd Tank Regiment of Japanese Army Yasuoka Detachment received a single hit and was destroyed, while shots fired from the other Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks were unable to penetrate the armor of Soviet tanks. Thus, in 1939, research for an improved tank gun design began, which would last for about two years. In the mean time, they were also deployed to Malaya during the Japanese invasion in Dec 1941; though strictly speaking they were also out-classed by British armor as they were opposite of Russian tanks, the element of surprise largely negated the disadvantage.
ww2dbaseIn 1941, development of a new 47-millimeter gun design with higher muzzle velocity was completed. From 1942 onwards, newly built Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks were equipped with these new tank guns, which were mated with larger turrets; these tanks were designated Type 97 Shinhoto ("new turret") Chi-Ha medium tanks or Type 97 Kai ("improved"). About 300 original Type 97 tanks were converted to the new Type 97 Kai specifications.
ww2dbaseAs the Pacific War progressed, Type 97 Chi-Ha and Type 97 Kai medium tanks were used more and more as static pillboxes as they were not on par with better Allied tanks such as the American M4 Sherman medium tanks. One exception, however, took place in Jun 1944 on Saipan of the Mariana Islands, where 36 Type 97 tanks of the 9th Tank Regiment (Colonel Takashi Goto) and a number of Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks of the 136th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Yukimatsu Ogawa) conducted a major counter-offensive.
ww2dbaseDuring the course of the production life, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built 1,224 Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks, Hitachi Industries built 355, and Japanese Army's arsenals built the rest. In all, 2,123 were built between 1938 and 1943; 1,162 of them were the original design, 930 were of the improved Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha/Type 97 Kai design, and the remainder were various experimental or specialized variants. Production ceased at the end of 1943 as the Type 1 Chi-He medium tank became the replacement design. Production quantities, broken down by year, were as follows.
ww2dbaseAfter the war, Chinese forces on both sides of the civil war operated a significant number of captured Type 97 medium tanks; the communist Chinese examples were in use until as late as 1949. The Soviet Union also captured 389 Type 97 tanks during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive in the final days of the Pacific War, although, unlike those captured by the Chinese, these tanks were not placed in use.
Last Major Revision: Jul 2009
Type 97 Chi-Ha Timeline
|17 Apr 1945||A Japanese Type 97 tank and a Type 95 tank, with explosives strapped in the front of the hulls, ambushed M4 Sherman tanks on Route 9 on Luzon, Philippine Islands near Baguio. They rammed the American tanks, but the explosives failed to detonate.|
Type 97 Chi-Ha
|Machinery||One Mitsubishi Type 97 21.7-liter V-12 air-cooled diesel engine rated at 170hp|
|Armament||1x57mm Type 97 gun (100 rounds), 2x7.7mm Type 97 machine gun|
|Armor||33mm turret front, 26mm turret sides and rear, 19mm turret top, 20mm hull front, 9mm hull sides, 20mm hull rear, 8mm hull bottom|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939