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Imperial Japanese Army - Armor / Sensha

After 1929, equipment including tanks and aircraft was given a Type number based on the last two digits of the year counted from the founding of Japan in 660BC by Emperor Jimmu. A "Type 97" was accepted for service in the year 2587 (1937 AD). The Mitsubishi Zero entered service in 1940 which was the Japanese year 2600, thus it was designated Type 0. Tanks can be introduced in the same year. In order to create less confusion, the Japanese devised various designations such as 'Chi' (the abbreviation of "Chiu", meaning Medium), 'Te' (tankette) and 'Ke' (assault gun). The first portion of the tank name indicates its classification, so Chi indicates the medium tank. The second portion of the name is a Japanese alphabet and it shows the order of development. Japanese alphabet is as follows: I(Yi) Ro Ha Ni Ho He To Chi Ri Nu Ru .... So, Chi-Ha means "The third developed medium tank".

tankette / Chokei Sensha - less than 5 tons
Type 9227.7mm 1000
Type 94Te-Ke37.7mm
Type 97Te-Ke437mm
Light tanks / Kei Sensha - 5-11 tons
Type 92 Ju-Sokosha313mm167
Type 93 86.5mm-0- !
Type 94 "Chu Sensha"837mm-0- !
Type 95 Ha-Go / Kyu-Go737mm1200
Type 98 Ke-Ni737mm100
Type 4 Ke-Nu 957mm100
Type 5 Ke-Ho 1047mm1?
Floating tanks
AMP 36.5mm1
Type 92 A-I-Go413mm2
SR I I-Go86.5mm1
SR II Ro-Go76.5mm2+
SR III Ha-Go86.5mm1+
Type 2 Ka-Mi 1137mm180
Type 3 Ka-Chi 2947mm20
Type 4 Ka-Tsu 1813mm18
Type 5 To-Ku 2947mm1
Medium tanks / Chu Sensha - 11-22 tons
Type 87 Chi-I / 1-Gou1657mm1
Type 89 Chi-Ro 1357mm404
Type 94 Chu Sensha 1557mmnone
Type 97 Chi-Ha 1457mm3000
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto1547mm
Type 1 Chi-He 1747mm170
Type 3 Chi-Nu 1975mm66
Heavy tanks / Ju Sensha - over 22 tons
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
Armored Personnel Carriers - Tracked
Type 98 So-Da200
Type 100 Te-Re 150
Type 1 Ho-Ha 97.7-mm?
Type 1 Ho-Ki77.7-mm?
Type 4 Chi-So 5-?
Armored Cars - Wheeled
Type 87 Vickers 57.7mm12
Type 90 Sumida P87.7mm3
Type 92 Chiyoda QSW67.7mm100
Type 92 Kokusan 77.7mm100
Type 92 Osaka 67.7mm1
Type 93 Sumida 87.7mm100
Type 95 So-Ki9-121
The Japanese didn't embrace the tank {Sensha, from the words sen which means battle, and sha which means wagon), as it didn't have the calvary tradition that the other countries that developed the tank more extensively had. In traditional Japan, Calvary was used for reconnaissance in the mountainous countryside. Horse cavalry was the army of a wealthy home or noble graduates, raised at his own expense.

In 1916, Japan began to evaluate the possibility of using armored vehicles in its armed forces. Observers on the Western Front reported the great success in the use of these vehicles by Japan's British allies, and a considerable amount of interest was shown in the Japanese Army for the possibility of use in Japan's further operations. By the end of the Great War, Japan had acquired a fair number of French FT-17 and British Mark V tanks.

Because the Japanese did not yet have the industrial experience necessary to design their own tanks, very few uniquely Japanese designs were initially attempted, and on the contrary the FT-17 and Mark V tanks employed in Japan were stripped of their component parts, studied, and copied, much in the same way that Japan had acquired a great deal of its modern arsenal throughout the twentieth century. This greatly increased expertise in the production of such vehicles.

Before long, the Japanese began to build their own, unlicensed copies of these vehicles, modified as necessary for the particular needs of service in Asia. The FT-17, in particular, saw widespread use in Japanese service, and was modified for use in every capacity from stretcher carrier to flame thrower tank. Elements of the FT-17 and the Mark V continued to appear for some time afterward in Japanese tank designs. In 1923, Major Tomio Hara designed a unique bell-crank and scissors type suspension which became the standard system for Japan's new generation of armored vehicles. From that point, the Japanese greatly expanded their interest in armored vehicle production.

After the Great War the Japanese acquired several different foreign tanks. A Vickers Model C tank was delivered in March 1927. During trials the engine burned out. Six month later a replacement arrived. This accident led to the Japanese developing diesel engines for their tanks. By 1932, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was producing an air-cooled diesel engine that was suitable for tanks. This was placed experimentally into a Type 89. This later became known as the Type 89-B. In 1933 a prototype diesel engine was developed and then adopted for use in 1936. Air-cooled diesel engines were preferred as water was scarce in Mongolia, Manchuria, and North China.

Despite lacking a serious cavalry tradition, the Japanese seem to have been utterly fascinated by the concept of the tankette, though perhaps initially more as a utility and support vehicle than in the mold of the "new cavalry" as it had been envisioned in most of Europe. In the 1920s, the Japanese purchased a small number of British Carden-Lloyd tankettes, the same vehicles upon which the design of the Italian CV series were based. These vehicles greatly interested in the Japanese Army, and a number of experiments were carried out to determine whether the production of such a vehicle would be feasible as part of the domestic armaments program.

Some 1700 vehicles were in service by 1938 - a fairly impressive accomplishment for a nation with no experience of building its own armored vehicles prior to the 1930s. As a point of comparison, during the same period, it has been estimated that only two hundred of the four thousand automobiles built in Japan between 1930 and 1939 were built by native Japanese firms.

By 1938, Japan had the world's fourth largest tank force, just behind France. Of course, Japanese tanks were always built to a different standard than those of their Western competitors. The Japanese had experimented in the mid nineteen thirties with a series of heavy, thickly armored, multi-turreted tanks in Manchuria. The results had been that most of these vehicles were too slow to keep up with the rapid advance of Japan's "infantry blitzkrieg" tactics, and too fragile to be used in the difficult terrain typical of the region. They were completely worthless in coastal areas, where, owing to their weight to ground pressure ratio, they simply bogged down in soft soil. Many Japanese officers considered the tank to be cost ineffective as a result of these experiments.

As a result, Japanese tanks were largely constructed with the idea of mobility and speed as opposed to protection or heavy slugging power. This was quite adequate when used in an infantry support role, even superior when used for recce, and dynamically successful in areas wher heavier tanks simply could not operate. The light armor of these tanks was constantly upgraded in order to sufficiently defend against their most lethal opponents - Chinese machine guns. No great need was seen for the sacrifice of mobility in exchange for protection against the scarcely seen Chinese anti-tank units, and so, the matter was settled and became an entrenched part of Japanese tank strategem - even after experience against the Soviets had shown that this was, perhaps, not the correct approach.

The Japanese Army simply failed to accept that the tank could be a battle winner. With an infantry heavy force and very little in the way of any significant cavalry tradition, the Japanese saw little need for a shock force. All of the weapons employed by the Japanese ground forces were designed and intended as support assets for the infantry, and the concept of an armored breakthrough was complete anathema to the Japanese military mindset.

Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese Army widely employed tanks within the Pacific theater of war. They played a key role in the conquests of Singapore and Malaya, as well as their later use in Burma, Saipan, and the Philippines, including in the amphibious assault of Corregidor. Their use in the most difficult of terrain is a testament to their ingenuity. Japanese tanks are much maligned as under-protected and under-gunned. While this may be true after early 1942, Japanese tank technology was close to the forefront in the 1930s. Tank development succeeded against the odds, with the program often neglected to pursue the higher priority of warship development.

The Second World War began September 1, 1939, but the Japanese Empire began its "big war" much earlier and led it the longest of all other countries - more than eight years in total. The loudest victories were won by the Japanese fleet and aircraft, and in the tank building Land of the Rising Sun seriously lagged behind the leaders (USSR, Third Reich, Great Britain, USA), producing only 6,500 tanks. But Japanese tankers had a chance to fight in all theaters of operations, in the greatest variety of conditions - from the Central Asian deserts to tropical islands - against Chinese, Soviet, Mongolian, American, British, Australian, Indian, Dutch troops.

Japan only built 2,515 tanks and self propelled guns during the war. The US built 88,410, the UK 27,896 and Canada built 5,678. The Japanese followed the standard inner war doctrine of using tanks to support infantry. This was satisfactory since the main opponent was the Republic of China which possessed a small mixed bag of tanks. When the aggressive Kwangtung Army initiated a series of border conflicts with the Soviet Union the Japanese tanks was found wanting.

In their operations in China, however, the Japanese had an opportunity to utilize tanks much more extensively than elsewhere because of the character of the terrain and the large areas over which the fighting occurred. As a matter of fact, China was the great proving ground for Japanese armored vehicles of all types. The Japanese also used light and medium tanks to some extent in the Malayan campaign and in the siege of Singapore, as well as in the Philippines, Burma, Guadalcanal, and Papua. Subsequently, on Guam and Tinian, comparatively large numbers of Japanese tanks have been in action; on Saipan more than 80 were destroyed, many by aerial and naval bombardment before they could be moved from assembly areas.

In suitable terrain the tank was an ideal weapon for the favorite envelopment tactics of the Japanese. Although their armored units continued to be considered primarily as infantry support weapons, the potentialities of tanks in wide encircling movements to cut enemy lines of communications and to disorganize his rear areas was not overlooked. Equipment remained inferior in comparison with armored vehicles used by the other modem armies, but the study of German and United Nations designs encouraged important modification in the construction of Japanese armored vehicles. Japanese industry was able to provide a limited volume of production, which, although small in comparison with the USA, made possible the commitment of tank units on a large scale.

In 1941, after extensive experimentation and observation with both Allied and Axis forces, and partly at the urging of the Emperor himself, the Imperial General Staff determined that a larger tank force would need to be developed. As such, tank production was stepped up, and 1942 witnessed the single largest production run of armored vehicles by the Japanese in a single year, some 1,290 vehicles. Thereafter, however, production sharply declined again, priorities being given to aircraft and warships. In 1944, the IJA grudgingly conceded that heavier vehicles would be needed to defend against the increasingly successful Allied counter-offensives in the Pacific, and a new doctrine was envisioned. Japanese tankers travelled to Europe and studied with German armor schools, and in at least one instance a Japanese tank crew served in a Tiger during a combat operation. Heavy designs were stepped up and increasingly scarce metal reserves were set aside for new production of armored vehicles.

The operational thinking system of the Japanese Army was basically as primitive after the Nomonhan incident as before - it lacked scientific thought, was self-satisfied, and was narrow and simple. Having over-estimated the moral characteristics and psychological factors, it avoided the power of modern warfare, mechanization, and the reality of the aeronautics. The rationale behind the quality and quantity of equipment possessed by Japanese was that high morale, dignity and fearlessness in close combat against infantry and tanks could offset the enemy's scientific and technological superiority. One elderly gun commander stated that the lack of equipment provided the Japanese forces with the opportunity to demonstrate their spirit and bravery over their enemies. It was stupid, but at the time it was a normal opinion.

IJA Armor

IJA Armor

IJA Armor

IJA Armor

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