Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Japanese Armour WWII

Some Chinese warlords and the Guomindang had a hodgepodge of tanks imported during the 1920s, notably several dozen Renault FT-17s (Model 1918). During the early 1930s, China acquired Carden Lloyd Mk VI patrol tanks, about 20 Vickers 6-ton light tanks, and several dozen Vickers medium tanks, as well as Italian L. 3/35 tankettes and German Pz-1As. The Guomindang acquired Soviet tanks and armored cars in 1938, mainly T-26s, BA-10s, and BA-20s. The United States provided some Lend-Lease Shermans to China from 1944 to 1945. 

The Japanese were only marginally better off than the Chinese in terms of tank design, but they had many more tanks. Most were light or tankette types, copies of early French Renaults or British Vickers models. The standard Japanese tank from 1932 was the 10-ton Mitsubishi Type-89 Chi-Ro medium, which was basically an infantry assault vehicle mounting a small 57 mm gun. It was produced until 1942. A few Type-95 "heavy" tanks were built. The first Mitsubishi Type-97 Chi-Ha medium tank rolled off the assembly line in 1937. It weighed under 16 tons and mounted a small 57 mm gun. It became the standard Japanese model of the war. The Japanese Army also used its tanks differently. It deployed armor in "tank groups" (sensha dan) of three or more regiments of 80 tanks each. Japanese doctrine dictated that all armor act in an infantry support role, until the Japanese experienced what massed Red Army tank divisions could do at Nomonhan in 1939. It still took Japan until 1943 to deploy its first true armored division, which was sent to Manchuria and saw little to no action. Shortages of all critical materials meant that Japan only produced five light tanks in 1945. Despite improvements to Japanese tanks and doctrine, Soviet armor again rolled over the Japanese during the Manchurian offensive operation (August 1945). 

The major Western Allied nations fighting in Asia used the same models built in abundance to fight Italy and Germany in Africa and Europe. The topography of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific was not generally conducive to armored warfare. The central plains of Okinawa saw more tanks used by both sides than in any other battle outside China.

With the exception of the remarkable Soviet T-34, Allied tanks, on a vehicle for vehicle basis, were generally inferior to German tanks. In the Pacific theater, however, the Allies, particularly the Americans, had the advantage. The Japanese militarists had created a formidable force in the Imperial Army, but they had largely neglected armor. As a result, they fielded only two major types of tanks, both outclassed by the American Sherman. The lack of emphasis on the tank is understandable, since the Japanese correctly envisioned fighting on Pacific jungle islands, not the open spaces of the European battlegrounds. What tank designs the military did order were light to medium, capable of being readily sealifted and landed. 

Type 95 light tank (Ha-Go).
The Type 95 light tank, the Ha-Go, was developed in 1933 by Mitsubishi and was used throughout World War II. Light and durable, it could be readily landed during amphibious operations, and it performed well in the absence of roads and across marshy or monsoon- soaked ground. Its air-cooled, six-cylinder diesel performed well in Northern Manchuria as well as the Pacific jungles. Crewed by three or four, its small turret accommodated only a single man, so that, in addition to directing the driver, the commander had to load, aim, and fire the main 37-mm gun. Armor plating was very light, making the Type 95 extremely vulnerable to fire of all kinds. Although the Type 95 was a reasonable match for a U. S. M3 Stuart, it was readily outclassed by the Sherman.

Type 97 medium tank (Chi-Ha).
The Type 97 medium tank, called the Chi-Ha, went into production in 1937, just in time for use in the Sino- Japanese War. Heavier than the Type 95, it was a medium tank of reasonably advanced design, but it was too heavy for the jungle terrain of the Pacific. It therefore did not enjoy great success in that principal theater of the Pacific war. Nevertheless, Mitsubishi produced about 3,000 of the vehicles mounting a 57-mm main gun as well as specialized versions used as tank recovery vehicles, flail mine clearers, bridge layers, and self-propelled gun mounts for antiaircraft guns. Very late in the war, the Imperial Navy even installed a 120-mm gun on some Type 97s.

List of Japanese armored divisions of the Imperial Japanese Army. During World War II, the IJA only organized four divisions, these were:

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