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Rising Tons

Rising Tons

Rising Tons:
The Development Of Japanese Tanks 1919 To 1939
with Wayne Turner

Following the success of tanks in the First World War, Japan, like many other nations, took an interest in this new technology. Initially they purchased a variety of designs from Britain and France. The first Japanese tank forces was established in 1925 with one British Heavy Mk IV tank, six Medium Mark A Whippet tanks, and thirteen French Renault FT tanks. In the late 1920s and early 1930s further British and French designs were added to this arsenal.

Medium Tanks
These designs inspired the first native Japanese designs, which keeping with the traditions of the Japanese military they served in the infantry support role, rather than the cavalry breakthrough role of the European tradition.

In 1929, the Type 89 (1929) tank was developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Initially it started life as a light tank design, but was re-designated a medium tank once its weight had gone over 10 tons. Production of the Type 89 began in 1931 and it became the main tank of the Imperial Japanese Army. The Type 89 entered combat in Manchuria in 1931, and saw action during the battle of Shanghai in 1932, all against various Chinese forces. It fought strictly in the infantry support role where its 15mm of armoured protected it from small-arms fire and its short 57mm Type 90 gun proved effective at knocking out Chinese machine-guns nests. It continued to be used in China throughout the 1930s.

Rising Tons
During the Nomonhan Incident the Type 89 equipped the entire 3rd Tank Regiment (Shesha Rentai, actually a battalion sized unit) and one company of the 4th Tank Regiment. The two regiments attack the Soviet line on 2 July 1939, punching through a Soviet infantry regiment under the cover of a thunderstorm, only be stopped once they had reached a Soviet artillery position. The Type 89 tanks used at Nomonhan were a mix of the original petrol and a new diesel-engine-model. The diesel version proved more reliable and was made standard in later medium tanks.

The replacement model for the Type 89 was the Type 97 (1937) Chi-Ha (medium-3) tank. It was a relatively new model in 1939 and only four fought at Nomonhan as command tanks. However, it became the most widely produce Japanese tank of WWII, and saw service on all fronts. Initially it was armed with a 57mm Type 97 gun similar to the Type 89, but later models were fitted with a 47mm Type 1 gun with better performance against enemy armour.
Rising Tons
Tankettes and Light Tanks
The Type 89 was meant to be a light tank, so when it was decided it wasn’t the Japanese set about designing a tank to fit this role. The first attempt was the Type 92 (1932) cavalry tankette designed for reconnaissance. A following new design was the Type 94 (1934) TK (special tractor) tankette, which was initially envisioned as a supply carrier, but saw extensive use in China as a tankette supporting infantry. Both Japanese tank regiments at Nomonhan were armed with a compliment of Type 94 TK and the later, but similar, Type 97 (1937) Ke-Te (special tractor-tankette).

Rising Tons As well as the tankettes, the Japanese also developed a proper light tank. One of the reasons for this design was the slow speed of the Type 89, which had difficulty keeping up with infantry mounted in fast trucks that could move at up to 40 km/h. The new design, the Type 95 Ha-Go, was lighter and faster than Type 89. It was armed with a 37mm Type 98 gun, as well as a turret machine-gun and a hull machine-gun. Once the Type 95 had entered service in 1935 it proved a capable tank as good as any light tank in the world. The Type 95 Ha-Go fought with the 4th Tank Regiment at Nomonhan, equipping three of its four companies.
The first major Japanese attack at Nomonhan on 2 July 1939 was a major success for the Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks of the 4th Tank Regiment. They avoided Soviet artillery barrages before striking the Soviets line under the cover of darkness and using the illumination of a thunderstorm to spot the enemy positions. They were not noticed by the Soviets until they were very close. They weathered a storm of fire from guns, tanks, and infantry. The tanks attacked and push over 1,000 metres through the Red Army lines and knocked out twelve artillery guns. The attack only cost the 4th Tank Regiment one Type 95 Ha-Go light tank, two crewmen killed, and eight crewmen wounded.
Rising Tons
Rising Ton The experiences of the Nomonhan battles influenced later design, thought was put towards improving anti-tank capabilities and improving armour. However, as the Japanese entered war against Britain and the United States they were soon playing catch-up, finding it difficult to match up to the Sherman tanks used by the Americans. When they finally clashed again with the Soviet Union in Manchuria in 1945, the Japanese tanks and assault guns were completely out matched by six years of rapid Soviet tank development.

~ Wayne.


Last Updated On Thursday, February 13, 2014 by Blake at Battlefront