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Japanease Tanks - Multi-Turret Designs

Type 91 Heavy Tank1870mm1
Type 95 Heavy Tank2670mm10
Type 4 Chi-To 3075mm2
Type 5 Chi-Ri 3775mm-0-
Type 120O-I / Mi-To 150150mm0

After the Great War, the armies of the world tried to develop solutions for overcoming the linear, stalemated war of that War. The objective was to go beyond positional, attrition warfare and return to a war of maneuver. In order to do this, a breakthrough of the enemys defenses had to be attained. Great Britain, Germany, and Russia all published material in their professional military journals that put forth the idea of attacking in waves of tanks. In these theories, the lead wave consisted of the heavy tanks and the follow-on waves were lighter, faster tanks that exploited the breach.

In the 1920s, doctrine European and American armor envisioned breakthrough tanks preceded the infantry assault to clear obstacles, while a second wave of tanks accompanied the infantry, providing direct fire support. This concept reflected the intended use of American tanks in Great War that was never realized before the armistice. In the postwar years, the Mark VIII served as the breakthrough tank, while M1917 light tanks constituted the accompanying tanks.

During the 1930s, the Japanese Army field tested a number of heavy, thickly armored (by Japanese standards, anyway) vehicles equipped with multiple turrets and designed to exploit an armored breakthrough strategy. These were developed, in truth, partly because the Japanese were fascinated by the concept of big, powerful senshan, but also because Japanese Intelligence had long been aware of Stalin's "land cruiser" programs, which produced a number of functional mass produced multi-turreted heavy tanks during the same period.

IJA Armor In any event, the Japanese experience of heavy tank experimentation was not a positive one. Japan's earliest "heavy tanks", Great War era Mark IV tanks purchased from the British, were found to be mechanically suspect and totally unsuited to the terrain of the Home Islands, let alone the Chinese and Manchurian theatres. When the Japanese developed their own heavy designs, there was very little change in this regard. Heavy tanks of the era tended to be quite prone to mechanical failure; they were also extremely difficult to produce in a country which had only recently modernized its industrial base. An added complication was that top speeds rarely exceeded about 13mph; this was deemed unacceptable by the Imperial General Staff, who viewed slow vehicles as detrimental to their infantry blitzkrieg doctrine.

Only one heavy tank of the multi-turret class seems to have been field tested under combat conditions. This was the Type 95 Heavy Tank, developed in 1934. It was quite an interesting vehicle, with a top speed of 13.7mph and three distinct turrets. The largest of these held a 70mm gun and 6.5mm LMG in the rear; a second, mounted just below and to the fore of the 70mm turret, mounted a 37mm. To the rear of the vehicle, the third turret housed an additional 6.5mm LMG. Curiously, the Type 95 Heavy had no forward facing machine guns.

The Type 95 Heavy was field tested in China and/or Manchuria on a number of occasions, showed up in the occasional state photograph, but seems to done its greatest duty as a sort of show vehicle for the Imperial Army to prove its martial prowess. In practice, the Army seems to have despised the design, finding it to be far too slow and, therefore, far too vulnerable on the vast battlefields of China and Manchuria.

Most likely, the single Type 95 Heavy saw very little, if any, combat. During the actions in Manchuria in the 1945 campaign, however, a number of prototype vehicles were thrown in the path of the advancing Soviets in an attempt to slow them down. It is certainly at least marginally possible that the Type 95 saw action in these desperate attacks.

Very little is known about the Project "Oni" / Project "O-I" design. It occurred as a direct result of Japan's observation of successful German heavy tanks, particularly against overwhelming odds. It may also have been partly influenced by the Soviet development of the IS-1 and IS-2 series of super heavy vehicles, which were seen as serious threats to the war effort in China, should the Soviets break the truce. Of course, sheer machismo may also be the culprit. The project to develop a Japanese super-tank was known either as Project Oni, or Project O-I. It may also have been known by both names. Frankly, sources conflict. What we do know is that the armament particulars were fairly impressive - most notably, a 105mm anti-tank gun was to be turret mounted. A long treasured story of obscure trivia fanatics says that the hull and turret were shipped separately to Manchuria. The vehicle was never reported in combat by the Soviets, and it is, in short, a complete mystery. A sort of Japanese "Maus".

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Page last modified: 19-06-2019 18:27:04 ZULU