Japanese Ordnance Material of WW II

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The text below was extracted from several series done by Mike Yaklich and originally posted to the WW II Discussion List. In adition to the technical details of weapons Mike discussed the organization of the Japanese Army and its tactics. This however is beyond the scope of Technical Intelligence and are not included here. Anyone who wants the full text of the series should contact Mike by e-mail at: : MFY@vms.cis.pitt.edu I have followed Mike's articles with some comments by Bud Smith, another WW II Veteran and member of the WW II List.

Japanese Armor In World War II

The Japanese Army essentially employed three categories of tank during the Second World War. Almost all these vehicles, regardless of category, were rather small by western standards. Their fighting compartments tended to be cramped, even for the smaller physique of the average Japanese (I can't cite the source but remember reading that the statistical average height for recruits accepted into the Japanese Army during World War II was five feet three inches). Perhaps most importantly, just about all of the Japanese tanks compared badly with many contemporary European and American designs in terms of such qualities as gunpower and armor thickness. However, before judging the Japanese too harshly on account of the latter, it should be remembered that the Japanese Army was not planning to fight on the open steppes of southern Russia or the hedgerows of Normandy, where tank versus tank confrontations were frequent, and the European opponents were relatively close to their own bases of power. The Japanese war would take place on the other side of the world, in Asia and on various Pacific islands. Here the opposition would either be the other independent or semi-independent Asian countries, who would have only small quantities of light armor, if indeed they possessed armored vehicles at all; or else western colonial powers, the European component of which was already involved in an all-consuming war closer to home, all of whom would be fighting at great distances from their native lands, and at the end of a very long supply line. In these conditions the technical qualities of the Japanese tanks were often secondary to the very fact that they had tanks available at all, since (at least during the Japanese period of conquest in the early part of the war) mere possession of tanks often proved a great advantage, as their enemies did not have any.

Japanese armor is often dismissed rather hastily in writing about the Second World War, in part because of the small size and general unimpressiveness of most Japanese designs (at least by European standards), and also because of the relatively limited numbers of tanks the Japanese were able to produce during the war. In the entire period 1931-45 the Japanese built barely 6,500 tanks of all kinds (Mitsubishi, the most important firm in Japanese tank production, made 3,300, or just over half of these). That quantity may seem trifling compared to some of the other combatants-- for instance, the Germans built more than 20,400 battle tanks of over ten tons alone (and another 14,000 self-propelled guns), the Americans churned out some 49,000 Shermans-- not to mention their other types!-- in 1942-45, the Soviets produced some 40,000 T-34's alone 1940-45, and the British made 8,600 tanks of all models in a single year, 1942. But Japan's other Axis ally, Italy, was able to complete only a little over 2,000 battle tanks over ten tons during the war, and perhaps an additional 2,500 light tanks and tankettes. And the hapless Italians were indeed deeply involved in 1940-42 in a theatre (North Africa) where tanks were often the decisive arm, and where sizeable tank- versus-tank battles were the rule rather than the exception. More to the point, despite the relatively anemic overall production (a result of both an industrial base too small to sustain all the demands of total war against such powerful enemies; a scarcity of raw materials which drove the Japanese to initiate the war with the westerners in the first place, and which grew much worse in the second half of the conflict; and, lastly, of the relative priorities accorded tank production in the allocation of scarce materials and facilities), Japanese tanks did appear on a wide number of battlefields throughout Asia and the Pacific. And, as will be seen below, they often made a significant contribution to victory in the period of greatest Japanese success. Their significance in the Far Eastern conflict may well be underated.

The smallest of the three main categories of Japanese tanks was not a tank at all, really, but rather a "tankette." That is what its British designers called it, at any rate, and in the late 1920's they sold these little tracked vehicles, with or without turret, to a plethora of countries not only throughout Europe but all over the world. Many of the major European countries which acquired examples-- for instance, Germany, the USSR, Italy, Poland-- subsequently modified and developed the designs to suit their own specifications, and this was true for Japan as well. Like the Italians and the Poles (and many smaller nations), the Japanese at first were interested in using the tankette as a reconnaisance vehicle, specifically (again like the Italians and the Poles) to support the horse cavalry that usually carried out the task of scouting in these armies. Having one or more mobile, armored machinegun nests-- which was essentially what the tankette was, in its most common variations-- to call upon for quick back-up seemed like a good idea to most of the horse troopers. The Japanese, though, came to also use the tankette in their infantry divisions, performing a direct reconnaisance role either as a substitute for the horse cavalry, or as a supplement to what was available.

Type 97 B Tankette

The chief Japanese tankette during World War II was easily the Type 97, also known as the "Te-Ke" (I believe this was just a Japanese phoneticizing of the abbreviation "TK" for "tankette"-- as opposed to tank-- a designation which was also retained by the Poles for their vehicles of this class). It was a small, four and a half-ton vehicle, with two crewmen-- a driver in the hull and a gunner, who was also vehicle commander, in the turret. The normal armament in that turret was a single 37mm cannon. The Type 97 did not carry a machinegun, although there was a variant wherein a 7.7mm machinegun replaced the 37mm gun as the tankette's sole weapon. However, the version with the cannon seemed to have been by far the most prevalent, at least by the time of Pearl Harbor. The Type 97's armor was about two thirds of an inch thick (16mm) on its front surfaces, at other places (like its belly) well under a quarter of an inch (4mm). With an acceptable but unspectacular road speed of about 25 miles per hour, it was hardly an overpowering fighting machine in any respect. Nonetheless, the Type 97 proved extremely versatile. As mentioned, its initial role was supposed to be reconnaisance, but often these little tankettes were forced into battle in an infantry support role, leading or closely following groups of riflemen in attack in lieu of regular tanks to perform that function. Some of the Type 97 tankettes were also employed as armored front-line observation posts, often for use by artillery forward observers. Not only was the Type 97 Te-Ke, therefore, utilized for infantry support, as a sort of armored cavalry, and by the artillery arm, but it also saw service in supply tasks. The vehicle was rather widely used as a front-line armored ammunition carrier (the Japanese even built a small trailer for the Type 97 in this role, although these did not always accompany the tankette when in an ammunition-carrier capacity. I'm not sure if the trailor was armored or not).

Type 97

Because of its versatility and general usefulness, the Type 97 was encountered virtually everywhere the Japanese Army fought during World War II. But it was seldom encountered in any great numbers. The Japanese generally did not group their tankettes into units larger than a company, which would be anywhere from 10 to 17 vehicles, and a total of at least 80 men including the organic supply and maintenance personnel and the command staff. Most regular Japanese divisions were organized to include a so-called "infantry group," which essentially consisted of a separate headquarters establishment which directly controlled the division's three infantry regiments, subordinate to divisional headquarters. In addition to the 70-110 men comprising the "infantry group" HQ, that headquarters also normally controlled one tankette company, as its own separate reconnaisance resource. This was the case, at least, in the type "B" divisions which made up the bulk of the Japanese Army, and most of the units employed against the westerners.

Type 94

The Japanese also used considerable numbers of the older Type 94 tankette, especially in China (and China, where security duties and counter-insurgent warfare made huge demands on the Japanese forces throughout the Second World War, was a theater and a type of fighting where older armored vehicles could remain useful far beyond their prime). Even smaller than the Type 97 Te-Ke, it weighed less than three and a quarter tons. Like the Type 97, the Type 94 had a two-man crew. Its small, offset turret housed a single 7.7mm machinegun, and was so primitive that the means of traverse was by the crewman inside pushing it around with his shoulder! Armor was at most only half an inch thick (12mm), and speed 25 mph on a good road. Japan's first tankette design, the Type 92, also remained in service in China (there is some confusion because for a time the Type 94 was mistakenly called the Type 92 by the Allies, but both vehicles were employed, the Type 94 in greater quantity by 1941). Like the Type 94, the Type 92 was a two-man tankette mounting a single machinegun in its turret.

Light Tanks

The Japanese tankettes were in reality auxiliary vehicles, designed and adapted for a variety of support tasks. The true battle tanks were grouped into two different categories, light and medium. The most numerous light tank in December 1941, and in fact throughout most of the war, was the Type 95 or "Ha-Go." In fact, this was probably the most numerous type of tank in the Japanese forces at the time of Pearl Harbor. The Ha-Go weighed seven and a half tons, and accomodated a crew of three. In the hull the driver and a machinegunner sat side-by-side (if the tank had a radio, which few Japanese vehicles did prior to the end of 1942, at least, the bow machinegunner was also the radio operator). The third man was in the turret, which had a 37mm gun mounted in the front, and the tank's second 7.7mm machinegun in its rear, in a ball mount (hence hand-aimed by the crewman in the turret). The fellow in the turret therefore had plenty of tasks to keep him busy. First and foremost, he was the vehicle commander, which meant he had to maintain contact with the other tanks in his unit, keep an eye out for the enemy, constantly evaluate the situation and decide what to do from moment to moment, convey those intentions to the rest of his crew through orders, and, as in many tanks of the period, since he had the best view he would frequently find himself helping to direct the driver, whose field of vision when "buttoned up" was much more limited. In addition to all that the man in the turret had to fire both the cannon and the machinegun (both of which were of course pointing in opposite directions) as suitable targets presented themselves, which also meant ensuring that the turret was pointing the right way to do so, and he also had to reload these weapons as required (which for the 37mm gun was after every shot). And if by chance the tank commander was also the commander of his unit, he had to do all that while doing the thinking for his entire command. The restricted working space within the vehicle's cramped interior did not render his multitude of tasks any easier.

Type 95

The Type 95 was not well-protected, with armor to a maximum thickness of only 12mm, and not particularly well-shaped (and, of course, a round which penetrated the Ha-Go's crowded fighting compartment was almost certain to hit part of a crewman's body and/or something which would explode or catch fire). The Ha-Go's best feature was its mobility, capable of a resectable 28 mph on a good road. Furthermore, there was one design area in which the Japanese most definitely got things right, and that was in the provision of diesel engines for their battle tanks, including the Type 95. This might seem a relative no-brainer in a nation which started the war primarily over disputes regarding oil supplies. At any rate, the Ha-Go could drive up to 130 miles between fill-ups, which was a useful characteristic in an Army that was often resource-starved.

The Type 95 was virtually ubiquitous during the great initial tide of conquest, appearing wherever Japanese battle tanks were employed. However, in 1942 the Ha-Go was phased out of production. This was because a newer and better design of light tank had appeared, the Type 98 or "Ke-Ne." Rather than simply upgrade the tested but aging Ha-Go, the Japanese had opted for a fairly complete redesign. The new vehicle was a bit lighter than the Type 95, weighing just under seven and a quarter tons. It too carried a three-man crew, but now only the driver was in the hull. This meant that the vehicle commander had an assistant with him in the turret to help with such mundane tasks as reloading the 37mm. There was no hull machinegun, and no mg in the rear of the turret. In the Type 98 the machinegun was mounted co-axially with the 37mm cannon that remained the tank's main armament. Thus both could be traversed, elevated, and aimed by the same mechanism. The Ke-Ne's armor was no thicker than that on the Ha-Go, a mere 12mm at most, but it had been extensively reshaped, and was much more highly sloped to provide a greater chance of enemy rounds glancing off. Finally, the Type 98 got both a new engine and a better suspension, giving it a very good top speed of over 31 mph.

All in all, the Type 98 was much better than the venerable Ha-Go, but nonetheless it never succeeded in completely replacing the older vehicle during the war. In part this was due to the difficulties inherent in re-tooling to make a new model tank which differed in so many details of design from its predecessor, hence would require a multitude of completely new parts. In part it reflected the diminished need for light tanks in general by the second half of 1942, when the Ke-Ne was beginning to enter production. By that time the Japanese were fully on the defensive in many areas (light vehicles whose best qualities are their mobility being more suited to the requirements of offensive warfare), and furthermore they had by now recognized that the tendency in the present war was toward the construction of ever heavier combat tanks. These factors combined to limit the total production of the Type 98 to less than 200 vehicles. Thus the little Ha-Go remained in action, even up to the decisive battles of 1944-45, almost a decade after it first entered service (this was especially true in tank units which had been deployed overseas in the first year of the war, and which subsequently remained in operational theatres, with very limited opportunities for re-equipment).

Medium Tanks

The tank regiments into which the Japanese battle tanks were usually formed in general consisted of roughly equal numbers of light and medium types. The medium tanks were the heaviest category of Japanese armored vehicles. The principal model in service at the time of Pearl Harbor was the Type 97 or "Chi-Ha." It was a machine of about 15 tons, carrying a crew of four-- two each in the hull and the turret. This was the newest tank in the Japanese Army at the start of 1941, as well as the biggest. It mounted a short 57mm gun in the front of the turret, with the conventional Japanese arrangement of two 7.7mm machineguns, one in the front of the hull and the second in the rear of the turret. The 57mm cannon, with its low velocity, was of very little use in engaging enemy tanks. Its intended role was to deal with machinegun nests and other field fortifications that might impede the infantry, preferably by firing directly into them at short range. The Chi-Ha had armor up to an inch thick (25mm). It was not particularly fast, managing less than 24 mph even on roads. It did however possess a diesel engine which gave an adequate range

Type 97 Chi-Ha

Far from overpowering compared to many European tanks in 1941, the Chi-Ha had still not completely replaced the even more outdated old Type 89, Japan's first true medium tank. This was a vehicle of 13 tons, with the same armament scheme as the Chi-Ha (short 57mm gun and two machineguns, the latter mounted in a similar lay-out), and it also took a four-man crew. But it had even less protection than the Type 97 (17mm maximum armor), it was much slower (just over 15 mph tops), and it had a rather high silhouette for such a light vehicle, with a prominent sloping front hull (not entirely unreminiscent of the American Sherman). The Type 89 was so unwieldy that most of the ones remaining in service were fitted with a sort of tail to ground them and prevent them from tipping over backwards when traversing particularly uneven ground, or crossing shell holes and ditches. Still, this ancient tank remained in use not only in China (of course), but a fair number were also present supplementing the Chi-Ha in the medium tank units of Yamashita's 25th Army during its invasion of Malaya and Singapore, and a few also saw action in Burma before being either retired or relegated to the China theatre by mid-1942. In the Malayan campaign, at least, they shouldered the same combat burdens as the newer Chi-Ha's and the light Ha-Go's, and this was in many ways their last great hurrah in the war.

Type 89 A

Type 89 B

Although at this time they had still not completely replaced even the old Type 89 with the Chi-Ha, in 1941 the Japanese Army had introduced a new and improved medium design, the Type 1 or "Chi-He." Though incorporating some design principles of the Chi-Ha, the Chi-He was a major improvement which differed from its predecessor in many important respects. At 17 tons, it accomodated a five-man crew, which meant three men within an enlarged turret (the arrangement generally felt to be the most efficient by most nations in the war). The turret gun was the 47mm, an adaptation for tank use of the new antitank gun being introduced in the Japanese Army at large in 1942 (and itself adapted from a high-velocity light naval cannon). This weapon packed considerably more penetrating power than the 37mm gun used in the Ha-Go and the Type 97 tankette (which was based on the previous generation of Japanese Army antitank gun)-- a reflection of the understanding that a creditable capacity to engage enemy armor was now a basic part of the World War II tank's job description. Whereas the Japanese 37mm antitank gun (as mounted, in only slightly modified form, in the aforementioned Ha-Go and Type 97 Te-Ke) had a maximum penetration of about an inch and a quarter (32mm) at 500 yards, the 47mm gun could smash through better than two and three-quarters inches of plate (70mm) at the same range (these tests however being conducted against armor at zero degrees-- i.e., not sloped at all-- hence representing a "best-case" scenario). The Chi-He also carried two machineguns, one each in bow and turret. Its own armor was increased to two inches (50mm) on front surfaces, and the combination of bigger engine and better suspension design gave a pretty good top speed of 27 mph on roads. In short, the Chi-He was in every way better than the Chi-Ha it was meant to replace.

However, the new medium tank, scheduled to begin full production in 1942, immediately ran into difficulties reaching that status. Much of this was due, once more, to the problems of a rather extensive re-tooling necessary before Japanese factories could start making the new vehicle. As time passed the increasing shortage of the important raw materials used in its manufacture also became a factor, as did the increasing Japanese emphasis on giving priority to aircraft production in allocating materials, factory space, and workers. Thus the Chi-He never reached the forces in the field in anywhere near the quantities which were originally intended.

As a result of the delays in getting the Chi-He to full production status, and of the mere trickle of vehicles completed during the first year or two of its manufacture, the decision was also made to modify and upgrade the existing Chi-Ha, to bring it more in line with modern requirements. This resulted in the so-called "Shinhoto Chi-Ha" or "modified turret Chi-Ha." The idea was to mount a new turret, capable also of mounting the high-velocity 47mm gun (and in some respects a scaled-down version of the Chi-He turret) on the current Chi-Ha chassis. In terms of mass production, this was an excellent solution. Since the turret ring remained the same size, the vehicle was hardly altered from the hull down, therefore requiring much less in the way of re-tooling. It was even possible to simply fit new turrets on existing hulls. The "Shinhoto Chi-Ha" therefore was a practical expedient, and, entering service during 1942, it rather than the better Chi-He became the principal Japanese medium tank for most of the remainder of the war. With the new turret the "Shinhoto Chi-Ha" weighed a little over fifteen and three-quarters tons, but otherwise it remained essentially the same vehicle as the original Chi-Ha (the new turret also retained the normal Chi-Ha's maximum armor of 25mm, although some of the later models increased this to 50mm, like the Chi-He). The crew of the "Shinhoto Chi-Ha" stayed at four men.

Despite the difficulties in getting the Chi-He into service in large enough numbers, the Japanese pressed on with the design of bigger and better medium battle tanks. In 1944 a new model, the Type 3 or "Chi-Nu," was in theory ready to start production. This was basically the Chi-He chassis modified to take a larger turret, big enough to house a 75mm gun of reasonable velocity. The cannon was in fact the tank-mounted variant of the Type 90 gun, a Japanese adaptation of the French Schneider 75mm field gun (the "French 75" of First World War fame) to an antitank role (with considerably changed appearance but essentially the same ballistics as the original French gun), which the Japanese Army was trying (in, as it turned out, very limited numbers) to introduce as a heavy antitank gun in the final years of the war. The new turret had little room for anything besides the 75mm gun and three crewmen. The Chi-Nu therefore had only one machinegun, in the front of the hull. It weighed eighteen and a half tons, and took a total crew of five men. Top speed was about 24 mph on a good road, and the armor remained a maximum of 50mm thick in front. Though it was the first Japanese tank with a gun capable of competing with that on western designs like the American Sherman on something like equal terms, this was almost irrelevent. For although production began in 1944, the number built remained small, and few of those that were made ever left the Japanese home islands, most being retained by the forces the Japanese were organizing to defend their own country against a projected US invasion in the war's final year.

Still, the Japanese designers, at least, kept working. In 1944, with the Chi-Nu proceeding to production status (at least on paper), they unveiled the ultimate tank to exist in concrete form for the Japanese Army during the war, the Type 4 or "Chi-To." This was by far the biggest armored fighting vehicle developed by the Japanese during the war, coming in at 30 tons. It was again a fairly thorough re-design. The Chi-To's main gun was a 75mm, but this was an adaptation of the Type 88 antiaircraft gun, with a longer barrel and a considerably greater velocity (hence better penetrating power) than the Type 90 75mm. The Chi-To also carried two machineguns, one in the front of the hull, the other mounted co-axially with the main gun in the turret. With the standard crew of five, its frontal armor was now three inches (75mm) thick. A new V-12 diesel engine delivered a top speed of 28 mph, quite respectable for its size. This would have been by far the best tank used by the Japanese Army in the war, and the first one which stacked up decently against European and American designs in use in 1944-45. However, it never entered production at all. A total of only six examples, all prototypes, were constructed. By 1945 Japanese industry in general, and especially the sort of heavy industry concerned with tank production, was on the ropes, being systematically eradicated or relegated to insignificance by the direct attacks of American bombers targeting the factories, and the indirect (but possibly even more crippling) effects of a highly successful blockade of the Japanese home islands by US submarines, Allied aircraft, and, more recently, extensive mining of the waters surrounding Japan by American planes. In these conditions there was no chance that such a large and material-consuming piece of hardware like the Chi-To (or even the Chi-Nu) would ever see the light of day in numbers large enough to make the slightest difference.

Type 97 Special

Japanese Armor

(Other Armored Vehicles)

One more bit of clarification regarding Japanese light tanks. Just for the record, the model I mentioned that was supposed to succeed the Type 98 (Ke-Ni) was the "Ke-To." It was so heavily based on the Ke-Ni that just about the only appreciable difference was the provision of a 37mm main gun with slightly increased velocity. It is not surprising that the Japanese Army saw no reason to rush this little tank into action, although beginning in 1944 a few were made and deployed to units. The number, however, remained very small. Also, I said earlier that the older, machinegun-armed Type 94 tankette was chiefly used in China after 1941, but this was not exclusively so, and the British, for example, encountered a few in Burma in 1942 and after. I also caught one more typo from my previous three efforts, in the chapter on medium tanks I skipped a word, meant to say that few of the limited numbers of Chi-Nu's built ever left Japan, but didn't get quite all of that in the same sentence. That said, time to forge on...

Like the major European powers (and the US), the Japanese modified and adapted their basic tank designs to fulfill a variety of specialized roles. Unlike British and Americans, however, they were seldom able to produce these vehicles in sufficient quantities to be even noticed, much less effective in their secondary but often important tasks. One obvious example in the Pacific war was that of amphibious armored assault craft. The Japanese Navy did obtain a number of Ha-Go light tanks, and developed them into an amphibious tank, the Type 2 or "Ka-Mi." Two large detachable floats, shaped like the bow and stern of a boat, were fitted to the front and rear of a modified Ha-Go. The modifications consisted mainly (besides the hardware necessary to attach the floats, of course) of enabling the tank's transmission to drive a pair of screws when in boat mode, and also of steering wires which could be run into the tank itself allowing those inside to work the rudders on the stern float. The Ka-Mi had a top speed equivalent to about six miles per hour when in the water. The floats brought the vehicle's total weight to over 12 tons, and three additional men (besides the normal three-man tank crew on land) were assigned to the craft to help manage it when afloat, and also one imagines to give a hand installing and removing the floats. When striking the shore the Ka-Mi could drive right up on to the beach on its tracks, and it could even fight in amphibian mode, as the turret had full clearance and could be operated as soon as the rubber seals to make it watertight were removed. However, the encumberance of the heavy floats made the tank extremely awkward on dry land, and the intention was to remove them as soon as possible and then fight like a regular tank, in which case the vehicle reverted to being the basic Ha-Go in all important respects.

A problem with the Ka-Mi, first and foremost, was that the Navy wanted it as an amphibious assault craft for attacking defended beaches, but the vehicle only entered service in 1943, at a time when the Japanese were already largely on the defensive. Thus its usefulness was somewhat limited. Still, a few were encountered from time to time. Here is where memory gets a bit hazy, I can't find the source but think that perhaps the Japanese light tank that attacked the Marines on Betio in the Tarawa atoll (I seem to recall that two light tanks were discovered on the little island, but will stand correction in that particular as well) may well have been a Ka-Mi fighting without its floats. However, I'm not sure of that, it could have just been a regular Ha-Go in Navy service. Nevertheless, despite their seemingly more limited opportunities for employment-- and of course the manufacturing difficulties, alluded to in previous instalments, of building such complex and specialized machines-- the Japanese designed even bigger and more complicated amphibian tanks as the war progressed. The Type 3 or "Ka-Chi" followed hard on the heels of the Ka-Mi, appearing just as the latter was entering combat service. Based on the Chi-He medium tank, it had much more engineering for the aquatic side of its duties, including a large chimney-like air intake for rough seas. Few if any of these saw service, but as late as 1945 an even larger, purpose-built amphibian assault craft was being designed (with a Navy 25mm gun in its turret and a 57mm cannon in the front of the hull), although how anyone in the Japanese Navy could have imagined they would ever actually need such a vehicle at that stage of the war is frankly beyond me.

The Ka-Mi amphibious tank was introduced in 1942 (not 1943). The point to be made is that although they could build and deploy a handfull of these aquatic oddities, the Japanese could never produce the kind of amphibious armada the US forces were able to deploy by the middle of 1944, and which proved a major factor in the successful prosecution of their island-hopping campaign.

The Japanese Army also produced many permutations on its standard medium designs, particularly the omnipresent Chi-Ha. The most common of these adaptations in actual service was the "Shi-Ki" command tank. In this case the Chi-Ha was altered by fitting a dummy 57mm gun in the turret (leaving room inside the cramped interior that otherwise would have been taken up by the breech and mount), a loss of firepower that was compensated by replacing the hull machinegun with either a 57mm or 37mm cannon (examples of both existed). The Shi-Ki featured improved optics (which were not particularly good in the regular Japanese tanks) and communications-- it not only had a radio, it had a long-range radio, and in fact the Shi-Ki could be easily distinguished by the rail antenna around the top of the turret. Though by definition not produced in large quantities, individual examples of the Shi-Ki were nonetheless found in action in numerous places throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia during the war, even in early 1942.

Other specialized variants of the Chi-Ha medium tank were less widely encountered. There was, for instance, the "Type G" mine-clearing tank, a regulation Chi-Ha fitted out as a flail, with a rotating drum whipping chains against the ground in front of the vehicle. The arrangement was familiar in British and American hands in Europe, but the Japanese example was something of a rare bird. There was also the "Se-Ri" recovery vehicle, a more extensively altered Chi-Ha that had the original turret replaced by a smaller type with sloping sides, mounting only a single machinegun (there was a second mg in the hull). Designed for recovering knocked-out or broken down tanks, its rather rudimentary gear for that purpose consisted of a small jib crane for hoisting and a winch for towing, both attached to the rear of the vehicle. The Se-Ri, too, was relatively seldom seen, although an occasional example did make it to the fighting zones. Japanese tank recovery efforts were not noteworthy during the war, and they appear to have developed this aspect of armored warfare much less extensively than the Germans, or even the western Allies, despite the paucity of resources that would seem to militate for getting the maximum use out of everything they had for as long as they could. However, Japanese maintenance work in general must not have been too bad, as evidenced by the number of antiquated Ha-Go's and Chi-Ha's that remained serviceable as late as 1944 or even 1945 (and also by the mileage they got from even more obsolescent vehicles in China).

The Japanese also had an Armored Engineer Vehicle designated "SS" It was introduced in 1931 It had a weight of 13 tons. Dimensions: 4.865 x 2.52 x 2.088(h) m The armor (max) was 25 mm and it had a maximum speed of 37 km/hr It was powered by a diesel Engine 145 PS/1800 rpm The armament consisted of 2 or 3 Flamethrowers and a Light Machine Gun. It had a crew of 5 Production Qty : 119 SS had following nine functions; (1)destruction of pillbox, (2) digging trenches, (3)mine sweep, (4)destruction of wire entanglements, (5)disinfection, (6)scattering poison, (7)flamethrowing, (8)crane, (9)smoke discharge, and a bridgelaying function was added later. At first, the SS was developed in order to destroy the Soviet pillbox on the border of Manchuria. However, during its development, many functions were added at the request of users. SS could achieve many functions by replacing the devices mounted on the vehicle. Though the SS had a lot of functions, most of them were insufficent and the only really useful one was as a bridgelayer. The first four SS were deployed in the 1st Independent Mixed Brigade and they executed the flamethrower mission in the battle near Peking on July 28th, 1937. It was the first time that the SS saw action. After that, SS was deployed in the special engineer regiment for SS, which was established for the destruction of the Soviet pillboxs. When the tank divisions were established, the engineer regiment for SS was taken over by the tank divisions. In tank divisions, the SS was mainly used as a bridgelayer. When the 2nd Tank Division went to the Philippines in the last days of WWII, some SS were also sent there. The action of SS in the Philippines is not known, but eight SS were captured by American forces. The development of the SS, resulted in five models, Ko, Otsu, Hei, Tei and Bo. The photo below is the Bo model.

A principle adaptation of the "Shinhoto Chi-Ha" was the design of a bulldozer plow blade that could be fitted to the front of the tank without extensive alterations or greatly diminishing the vehicle's combat capacity. This modification was also seen in various parts of the theatres where Japan fought, although again only in very small numbers, and it could hardly be called commonplace.

Japan, like other nations building their own designs of tank in the war, also developed self-propelled guns based on those tank chassis. Once again, the workhorse Chi-Ha served as the basic mount. There were four main models, all of which consisted of the gun in question mounted on an open-topped Chi-Ha chassis, behind a fairly large shield which however provided only a relatively small amount of protection from the side. The main difference between the types was the gun each carried. The "Ho-Ni 1" mounted the 75mm Type 90 (see the section on "medium tanks," above), the "Ho-Ni 2" fitted instead the 105mm Type 91 field howitzer, ( Some times the Japanese 105mm howitzer was designated as the Type 91 and references to it as the "Type '31" refer to the year it was introduced in the western calender, but not the one the Japanese were using for designating weapons design) .and the "Ho-Ni 3" was provided with the powerful 75mm Type 88 antiaircraft gun. The "Ho-Ro," which might have been the first to appear, carried the 150mm howitzer, one of the most effective weapons of the Japanese field artillery. None of these vehicles ever saw service in numbers enough to make a difference, and in fact there were so few built that they were only rarely encountered. Probably the Ho-Ro was the most widely employed (it is at any rate the only one I've seen a visual representation of, even as a drawing).

3 views of the Type 97

The picture above is probably one of the "Ho-Ni" models, one of which had a 75mm gun, a version of the Type 90 field/antitank gun, and another with the Type 88 AA gun. Mike Yaklich thinks it is the Ho-Ni series which was based on Type 97 chassis. He is about 98% sure that what is shown here is the Type 1 "Ho-Ni," i.e., 75mm Type 90 gun on Type 97 medium tank chassis. The only reason for any remaining doubt is that the gun itself lacks the characteristic small muzzle brake found on the field and antitank gun versions of the Type 90-- it looks almost more like the original 1897 Schneider, the "French 75," but I think this is just a case of the Type 90 revealing its ultimate ancestry when the muzzle brake is removed. Lacking any reference to another SP mounting for the 75mm field gun, and seeing that this is pretty clearly a Type 97 chassis and that the gun reveals Schneider design characteristics, I'd say the odds are pretty high that's the call-- "Ho-Ni I," officially called the Type 1.

Another avenue pursued by the Japanese in the realm of self-propelled artillery was the so-called "Gun Tank Ho-1," introduced in 1942. This was the Chi-He medium tank with a new turret, mounting a short 75mm gun. It could therefore be described as the Japanese equivalent of the early-war German Panzer IV, and it was made to fulfill exactly the same role, accompanying the battle tanks (which had relatively small-calibre, high-velocity guns mainly chosen for their armor-piercing qualities) to provide more effective high - explosive shellfire in taking on targets like antitank guns and pillboxes. Given that the Japanese were having greatly difficulty producing the Chi-He tank on which the "Gun Tank" was based, the number of Ho-1's built was miniscule, and the need for such a vehicle was completely eliminated with the appearance of the Chi-Nu, carrying a gun which could effectively fire either HE or AP (the aforementioned Chi-Nu already in the works in 1943).

These adaptations of existing tanks were in the end refinements which a materially overmatched nation like Japan could never hope to build in more than trifling quantities, and therefore almost a wasteful diversion of effort. More important, at least numerically speaking, were the Japanese wheeled armored cars. Their role in the Japanese forces was not usually that of conventional combat, but rather security duties in the vast conquered areas of the Asian mainland, especially China. Though secondary, this task was far from unimportant or simple, particularly in view of the amount of territory to be controlled. Japanese armored cars tended to be primitive and obsolescent. The principal model during the World War II years was probably the Sumida Type 93, a large, rather unwieldy six-wheeler. It weighed over seven tons-- as much as the Japanese light tanks-- had a six-man crew, and a top speed of only 36 mph.

Armor also matched that of the light tanks, up to half an inch (13mm). The Sumida carried up to six machineguns, one in a small rotating turret on top of the vehicle, the rest poking out of the sides and rear of the large, van-like body. Its best feature, and one that particularly suited it for a security role in these countries where railroads were often the best way of covering large distances, was the ability to have its wheels replaced with a solid steel variety that allowed it to run on rails. This proved very handy in China and many parts of Southeast Asia. Earlier types of Sumida armored cars were also in service during the war. The outdated nature and less than overpowering fighting qualities of these types of vehicles did not however render them unfit for the type of service to which they were applied, and in fact they often proved quite useful in maintaining a Japanese military presence in conquered areas.

One final type of specialized light armor explored by the Japanese was the armored personnel carrier. The Japanese had adapted a half-track designed for towing antiaircraft guns into an armored personnel carrier called the Type 1 "Ho-Ha" (although I'm not sure who the joke was on). It could transport up to a dozen footsoldiers, the vehicle itself having an additional three-man crew. Like most of the above machines, this was rather rarely seen in action anywhere. Even more rare was a full-tracked armored personnel carrier (unfortunately I am not able to currently locate the source which I know would tell me exactly what this critter was called). However, the Japanese apparently got at least one of these latter vehicles to Guadalcanal, because I've seen a post-war photo of it, rusting away as the jungle overgrows it.

I have read reference to anti-aircraft tanks built by the Japanese, but I have to believe these never went beyond prototype stage. I will nonetheless dig up those details and post them in a footnote. And now, before the jungle (or my own vagueness) starts to overgrow me here at the keyboard, I'd better wrap up this chapter. Next: "Japanese Armored Units" (and still to come, "Japanese Armor In Action").

Yes, in fact the Japanese had a variety of full-tracked artillery tractors, the armored personnel carrier I was describing was based on the chassis of one of these. Now that you mention it, it probably would make more sense to find some artillery tractors on Guadalcanal, as the Japanese did bring in some of 17th Army's heavy artillery (four 150mm howitzers and some 105mm long-barrel guns), exactly the sort of pieces these tractors were designed to lug around. However, the vehicle in the photo I saw had the distinctive large rectangular body which matched drawings I've seen of the Japanese APC. I don't believe the pure artillery tractor variants had that big, enclosed box-like superstructure

Lastly, I promised a few words about Japanese anti-aircraft tanks. As I said, I would be extremely surprised if any of these got beyond the prototype stage, but here's what I dug up. Basically there were three designs. The "So-Ki" mounted twin 20mm guns on the chassis of a late-war light tank, identified in my lone source as the "Ke-Go." Unfortunately, I never heard of the "Ke-Go" but assume it was in the Ke-Ni line. There was the Ke-To actually produced in small numbers in 1944, and a "Ke-Ho" light tank design on the drawing board in 1945. Whether one of these was the "Ke-Go" cited I am not sure, but the relative rarity of the chassis further inclines me to assume that this particular self-propelled AA vehicle probably never saw the light of day as a production model. The 20mm guns were to be mounted on a turretless tank chassis.
The "Sa-To" was a project to mount a single 20mm gun in a fully enclosed, rotating turret on the Chi-Ha chassis. A third variant, the "Ta-Ha," was to feature twin 37mm antiaircraft guns on a turretless Chi-He. Since the 37mm AA gun was not a weapon commonly found in the Japanese Army for most of the war, and (as seen in an earlier chapter) the Chi-He was never produced in the quantities desired, this last combination also appears unlikely to have existed in any number worth mentioning. Of the possible use or non-use of the "Sa-To" I must confess my utter ignorance...


In December 1941 the typical Japanese footsoldier carried a 6.5mm Arisaka Type 38 bolt-action rifle. Arisaka's bureau had copied this rifle more or less exactly from the 1898 Mauser, except for the use of the smaller calibre, their one major contribution to the design being the addition of a sliding metal bolt cover. Intended to keep dirt out of the mechanism, this was not a successful innovation, as the cover made a great deal of noise when the bolt was operated, and the Japanese soldiers tended to discard it in the field whenever possible. The Arisaka was known neither for its power nor its reliability, as declining standards of manufacture resulted in a slow, sticky action and other maladies. It used a five-shot charger clip, like virtually all straight Mauser designs (ironically, the US soldiers and Marines who opposed the Japanese throughout the first year of the Pacific war were almost all armed with their own straight copy of the 1898 Mauser, the '03 Springfield, which did however fire a much more powerful .30-06 cartridge). The smaller calibre employed made for no real savings in length or weight, as the Arisaka weighed in at over nine and a half pounds. A sniper version, known as the Type 97, was also made in small numbers, fitted with a low-powered scope sight.

<Picture Type 97 6.5MM Rifle>

The limitations in range and hitting power resulting from the 6.5mm ammunition were supposedly noted during the China campaign, with the result that a new variant, the Type 99, was introduced in 1939. It was pretty much the old Arisaka, with one major difference. The Type 99 was chambered to fire a much more potent 7.7mm cartridge, which had in the initial stages of its design been copied directly from the British .303-inch round, which the Japanese were already using in some of their machineguns. Another distinguishing feature was a thin metal rod which fitted under the barrel, and could be extended to brace the rifle against the ground like a flimsy monopod. Otherwise there was not much difference between the Type 99 and the earlier rifle. The new Type 99 did not really get into service in large numbers until the second half of the war, 1942 or later, although by 1944 it was the main rifle in the hands of the troops facing the Americans in the Marianas and the Phillipines, and was also being encountered frequently by the British in Burma. But the older 6.5mm Arisaka remained in widespread service until very late in the conflict, and was never completely replaced. The smaller rifle had one advantage in jungle combat, and that was its relatively limited report and muzzle flash (and the Japanese had a pretty good smokeless powder, at least until manufacturing went down the tubes late in the war) made it harder to locate the source of its fire in heavy foliage. Also, the shorter ranges of the average combat in the close cover of the jungle disguised one of the 6.5mm Arisaka's greatest shortcomings, its lack of range, as the weapon was still capable of being plenty dangerous out to at a quarter mile or so (440 yds or 400 meters), which was the maximum for most serious infantry combat in World War II at any rate. But the greater punch of the 7.7mm not only resulted in better stopping power, but also could make a difference in shooting through all that foliage with lethal effect.

3 views of the Type 99 7.7 rifle

Along with his rifle, each soldier also had a bayonet. The Japanese favored an extra-long, "sword" type bayonet, which was certainly a wicked-looking affair (and much of the effect of a bayonet is often psychological anyway). The extra length of the "sword" type may have helped compensate for the shorter reach of the average Japanese soldier, who, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was only about five foot three (one of the qualifications for promotion to private first class was that the soldier had to be at least five foot three inches tall).

The most powerful weapon available to the average rifle squad, though, was its light machinegun. In 1902 Col. Nambu's ordnance board had adopted the French Hotchkiss machinegun for the Japanese Army. These performed impressively in the Russo-Japanese war a couple years later, and the Japanese Army subsequently got their money's worth out the design, as nearly all of Nambu's later developments were variations on the basic Hotchkiss operating mechanism and air-cooling system. However, these were not necessarily adaptable enough to meet all demands, and in particular did not translate well into light machinegun designs (as Hotchkiss found out with their own unwieldy light machinegun design, the Greek Army being about the only force to employ it in quantity during World War II). The first attempt at a bipod-mounted gun was certainly one of the most awkward-looking such weapons of the Second World War era. But the Type 11 Nambu had deeper problems. The Japanese home-produced versions of the mechanism when in light machinegun mode did not function well enough to give the cartridges the tug they needed to feed smoothly. To remedy the problem, a small oil pump was inserted into the workings, which automatically lubricated each round as it fed, in order to prevent sticking. The Italians, who used a similar system (for similar reasons) found that this led to all sorts of fouling nightmares, as various kinds of dust, dirt, mud, and other gunk-- including carbon fouling which mixed with the oil-- conspired to cause repeated jams. The Japanese seemed to have made the system work-- or at any rate to have experienced less problems than the Italians-- probably because of the different approaches the two armies generally took to questions of discipline. The brutal discipline in the Japanese Army, with its emphasis on immediate and corporal punishment for the slightest offenses, made it possible to instill in the soldiers a meticulous approach to keeping their weapons clean.

<Picture Type 11 6.5MM Light Machine Gun>

The Type 11 was nonetheless a rather clumsy weapon, rapidly approaching obsolescence by 1939. Weighing 22 lbs, it fired eight or nine shots per second when functioning correctly, with a very unusual feed system. Instead of a removable magazine it had a hopper on top, into which up to six standard 5-shot rifle clips could be stacked. This did have the advantage that ammunition could be readily collected from the riflemen to keep the all- important machinegun firing, but it was a bit awkward in practice. By the time of Pearl Harbor a newer light machinegun model had appeared, much more modern in its general lay-out. The Type 96 resembled the Czech ZB30 (and the British Bren gun directly based on same) in appearance, although it retained a mechanism similar to the older Type 11, oil pump and all. It had a curved, 30-shot "banana" clip feeding from the top in place of the hopper, a carrying handle on top of the gun, and a conventional wooden shoulder stock plus a pistol grip behind the trigger (instead of the bizarrely curved shoulder stock of the Type 11, which was shaped so as to perform both functions). Weighing only 20 lbs, the Type 96 was a general improvement, but it was only starting to reach the troops in quantity in December 1941 (Yamashita's 25th Army in Malaya was one of the first to be largely re-equipped with it). The old Type 11 remained in use in many units, and in fact stayed in service (though in constantly declining numbers) to the end of the war in some areas.

3 Views of Type 96 6.5MM Light Machine Gun

Both the Type 11 and the Type 96 fired the 6.5mm round, to match the Type 38 Arisaka rifle. The introduction of the new 7.7mm ammunition into the rifle squads demanded a squad light machinegun to match, and this was the Type 99. The type 96 machine gun did not have an integral oiler in the gun as did the Nambu, Type 11. Both the Nambu and the Type 96 lacked initial slow extraction and required lubricated cartridges. The Type 11 had an oil pump in it which was operatd by the recoiling bolt. On the Type 96, this system was done away with and the oiler was made part of the magazine loader. The rounds were oiled as they were loaded into the magazine.

But the Type 99 was more than a simple upgrad of the Type 96 to fire 7.7mm, although it did look very much like the earlier gun. However, the Japanese had also improved the weapon internally, This new bipod-mounted gun resembled the ZB30/Bren family much more in its internal workings as well. The Type 99 was generally introduced into rifle units equipped with its companion piece Type 99 7.7mm rifle, again mainly in 1942 or later.

<Picture Type 99 7.7 MM Light Machine Gun>

One final characteristic which distinguished the Type 99 light machinegun from the Type 96 visually was the fact that the Type 99 fitted a cone-shaped flash suppressor at the muzzle, which was lacking on the earlier Type 96. I should also mention that all of the Japanese machineguns descended from the Hotchkiss (including the heavier models) were gas-operated. The Japanese (both Army and Navy) made use of the Lewis gun as a second-line model, calling it the Type 92 (the Japanese were already using one type of 7.7mm ammunition that was virtually identical to the .303-calibre fired by British versions of the Lewis, which were the most widely encountered). The Japanese Lewis guns saw some service in China but were not widely encountered by the western Allies.

I should also say a word about the sometimes confusing Japanese nomenclature in terms of year designations for their weapons. For instance, in tripod-machineguns, to be discussed in a moment, the Type 1 was introduced 27 years AFTER the Type 3, a seeming contradiction until the Japanese system of using years of introduction is understood. See, the Type 3 machinegun was really the Taisho Type 3, Taisho referring to the emporer reigning at the time of its introduction, and 3 for the third year of his rule. There were some World War II Japanese weapons, such as the Type 38 Arisaka rifle and the 75mm Type 41 field gun, which were actually the Meiji Type 38 and 41, respectively, brought into service during the reign of the previous emporer (before Taisho).

However, the Japanese did not formally bestow the name by which a given emporer's reign would be officially known to posterity until after that emporer died. As Hirohito, the reigning emperor during the Second World War and throughout the decade preceding that conflict, was very much alive, the designs taken into Army service during his reign were simply known by the last twodigits of the year in the traditional Japanese calendar. Hence "Type 1" was introduced in 1941, a year ending in 01 in the Japanese calendar. Type 99 was 1939, and so forth. The most famous example, perhaps, was the Navy's Type 00 fighter plane, the "100th year fighter," Mitsubishi's A6M model better known, from the year of its introduction in the Japanese system, as the "Zero."Hopefully this will clear up some of the confusion. The Type 11 light machinegun was thus actually the Taisho Type 11 (1922), while the Types 96 and 99 were from Hirohito's time and thus simply the calendar year.

Completing the arsenal of the front-line rifle squads was the hand grenade, and a very important component it was, tactically speaking. The most common Japanese grenades during the war were the Type 91 and Type 97. These were very similar in external appearance, the main difference between the two being the length of time the fuze burned before setting the grenade off. Both were small segmented cylindrical affairs, weighing one pound and containing two ounces of explosive as the bursting charge. The contemporary German "stick" grenade had more than three times that much explosive in its warhead, but it was a blast effect grenade (only producing incidental shrapnel from the parts of the grenade itself), while the Japanese examples were fragmentation types, thus counted less on making a big bang than on sending dozens of sharp little chunks of metal whizzing in all directions when they exploded. The Type 91 and 97 had a smaller, smooth cylindrical head, with a safety pin through it. Removing the pin did not activate the grenade, it only allowed it to be activated. To start the fuze burning the soldier had to depress the moveable top portion of the head back into the body of the grenade, which required pushing it with some small force. Usually this was done (once the pin had been removed, of course) by bashing it against some hard object-- if there was no conveniently-placed wall or large rock handy the usual method was to bang it against the helmet or the butt of the rifle, two objects which generally were present.

Battle-savvy American Marines learned to recognize the metallic bonk of a grenade being armed by striking the helmet, and to take it as a warning to move somewhere else in a hurry. Once the grenade was thus armed, the Type 97 exploded four and a half seconds later, if the fuze cutter was having a good day when that particular example had been manufactured. The Type 91 originally had a delay of more than seven seconds, which was excessive for combat situations, leading to the introduction of the modified Type 97. Both of these grenades were widely used during the war.

There was an earlier Japanese type of wooden-handled "stick" grenade also produced in fairly large numbers. It was much more compact than the German model, less than eight inches long including the warhead. It was also a fragmentation type, with an iron sleeve around the bursting charge (only three ounces of explosive, compared to about seven in the German model, but again this sufficed as fragmentation of the metal sleeve was the principal lethal agent). Otherwise the Japanese stick grenade functioned in the same way as the more familiar German variety, having a pull string which ran through the wooden handle. Yanking it set the fuze burning, with an intended delay of four and a half seconds. Unfortunately for the Japanese, the stick grenade was well into the process of being phased out of service by December 1941. A large percentage of those that did eventually see service during World War II had been pulled out of storage facilities, where they may have been kept for years, especially since the Japanese dipped into stocks of these older grenades most heavily in the late war years, when they were struggling to re-equip their forces (particularly on the Chinese mainland) after losses and depletions from that theatre in order to reinforce the war against the westerners in the south. The fuzes did not handle the long periods of storage under varied conditions of temperature and humidity very well, with the result that when they were finally used many of these stick grenades had problems, and either failed to explode at all, or, more alarmingly, were in some cases subject to premature detonations. Still, many were encountered in north China and Manchuria late in the war, so much so that the Chinese Communists captured large stocks of them, and used them for several years afterward in their own forces, despite their poor reliability.

Japanese officers were typically armed with a pistol and a sword. The sword was modelled on the classic katana blade which had been the lethal arm of the samurai for centuries. Japanese officers tended to take their swordsmanship very seriously, and often honed their skills with constant practice in this martial art which had been evolving for hundreds of years. Japanese small unit commanders definitely employed these blades in actual close-quarters combat when they had the opportunity, as well as utilizing the sword in its historical symbolic role as a sort of pointer and rallying stick for getting the men's attention and emphasizing orders in the noise and chaos of combat.
The Japanese Army's chief pistol for front-line use was the Nambu Type 4 (Taisho). This weapon was a serious contender for the worst pistol in large-scale use by any major power in the war. One author questioned why, with so many perfectly acceptable pistol designs available on the market, and a demonstrated Japanese penchant for simply copying weapons they liked, Nambu's people insisted on developing their own (and demonstrably inferior) model, and concluded that national pride was the only likely answer. The Type 4 looked like a cheap home-made knock-off of the Luger, but in operation was far inferior. It was rather poorly made and problem-prone, and it fired a uniquely Japanese 8mm round of extremely low stopping power. The Type 4 accepted an 8-shot clip. A supposed improvement, developed by a government arsenal, was the Type 14 (also Taisho), but these were more popular with security personell in rear areas, so although widely encountered throughout the Japanese sphere of influence in the war they were not seen too often in the hands of front-line troops. The improvement, at any rate, was minor, and the Type 14 resembled its predecessor in most respects, using a similar action, the same unsuitable 8mm ammunition, and 8-shot clips. The later Type 94 was a compact, snub-nosed variation (with 7-shot clip) primarily employed by the Army Air Force fliers, who liked its handiness.

In the Japanese forces many front-line sergeants also carried pistols (and a few of the senior ones had swords as well). Demand for sidearms led to a great many of the old (Meiji) Type 26 revolvers being issued, mainly to noncoms. This was a six-shot revolver in 9mm calibre. It was found on the bodies of many Japanese sergeants in the Phillipines.

The main reason for such inadequate (not least because they could only be effective at extremely short ranges, virtually or literally within touching distance of the opponent) personal weapons for the Japanese company officers was the failure of the Japanese to mass-produce a submachinegun during the war. This was a glaring omission, as the submachinegun often proved, in American and British hands, an ideal weapon for jungle warfare, where its major failing, a relatively short effective range, was not as big a drawback given the generally closer combat imposed by the heavy foliage and limited open areas. The Japanese did produce a submachinegun design, the Type 100 (1940). It was a less than inspired design, a wooden-stocked model fed by a curved 30-shot clip feeding in the left side, with a relatively low rate of fire of only seven or eight shots per second, and further hampered by use of the low-powered Japanese 8mm pistol cartridge. Nonetheless, any submachinegun was a significant improvement in the close-range firepower of forward units. But about the only combat use of this weapon came from the Japanese Army paratroopers, who employed it during their drop on Palembang in Indonesia (Sumatra) in February 1942, and gave a very positive report of its effectiveness afterward. Despite this about the only other time I have read of it being seen in action was, in smaller numbers, during another jump by the Army paratroopers on Leyte in October 1944. I have seen a photo of a Japanese Navy "marine" equipped with this submachinegun-- and wearing a bullet-proof vest-- but am not sure where it was taken, and would speculate that if not merely a publicity photo (the fellow's uniform was also immaculately clean and tidy) the person wielding this weapon was probably employed on some rear-area security task.

Infantry support weapons

The most basic support weapon available in the average rifle platoon was the 50mm grenade launcher, erroneously known to the Americans as the "knee mortar." In reality it was hardly a mortar at all, more akin to the American M79 grenade-launcher (40mm) of Vietnam era fame, at least in terms of its lightness and general handiness. Unlike the later US weapon, however, the Japanese Type 89 grenade launcher was not shoulder-fired, but rather was meant to be braced against the ground when shooting, in this respect resembling the conventional mortar family. But the 50mm Type 89 was very light, weighing only ten and a quarter pounds ready for action. It could easily be carried, and if necessary fired, by one man, although for the maximum rate of fire of about 25 shots per minute a second crewman was needed to drop the bombs into the discharger cup, and normally the Japanese assigned three men to each "knee mortar." The Type 89 fired a projectile weighing just under two pounds, which was essentially little more than a standard fragmentation grenade with fins added. Its maximum range was about 700 yards, with an interesting system of range adjustment that involved screwing the trigger housing on which the discharger cup was mounted so that more or less of the spigot-like triggering device projected into the cup (the longer the projectile remained inside the cup, the longer it was subjected to the full burst of the propellant charge, hence the greater push it got before reaching the muzzle-- thus the length of the cup, altered by screwing the trigger mount in or out, directly affected range. There were graduations marked on the trigger housing so the gunner could adjust this with some exactitude, but since the weapon was still hand-held to a degree, firing it accurately was still an inexact science calling for practice and skill on the part of man wielding it).

The Type 89 could also fire various colored flares for illumination or, more commonly, signalling purposes. Although the Allies tended to discount its effects somewhat, the Japanese made excellent use of this weapon. One British officer I saw interviewed on TV remarked how even when his troops did manage to get the jump on the Japanese in jungle encounters, the enemy would usually recover quickly, and be hitting back with their "knee mortars" in short order.

This fire tended to keep the enemy's head down while the Japanese themselves deployed to meet this new threat, and began probing for the opponent's flank. All in all it was a very useful little device, and the Japanese certainly got plenty of mileage out of it.

The Japanese also had a much more powerful 50mm mortar, the Type 98. This was in appearance a conventional mortar, with a larger, flat baseplate and (unlike the "knee mortar") a bipod supporting the barrel. The unusual feature of the Type 98 was that it worked something like the bottle rockets kids in the US shoot off (if they can get them) around the 4th of July. That is, the projectile itself consisted of a warhead considerably larger than 50mm in diameter (and containing seven lbs of explosive) with a smaller, stick-like tail that fit into the mortar barrel (the German Army later used a similar concept for an antitank rifle grenade, firing a projectile with a 61mm warhead from the 30mm "Scheissbecher" cup, and even adapting the principle to use with their 37mm antitank gun and a hollow-charge shell). The range of the mortar was only about 400 yards (i.e., a little less than a quarter of a mile), and it weighed a full 48 pounds, so the much more potent destructive effect of its shell was perhaps not enough to encourage the Japanese Army to widely adopt it. At any rate, it was rather rarely seen in action, while the 50mm Type 89 "knee mortar" was ubiquitous in the Japanese forces whereever they fought, and was even carried into action by Japanese Army paratroops.

As mentioned earlier, each Japanese infantry battalion (and the horse cavalry, too) normally contained a machinegun company with 8-12 tripod-mounted machineguns. The tripod-mounted guns were also developed by Nambu's board, and closely patterned on French Hotchkiss designs. The (Taisho) Type 3 was basically a Japanese copy of the First World War (1914 model) Hotchkiss, in 6.5mm calibre, a gas-operated weapon with the trademark Hotchkiss radiator air-cooling fins on the barrel. However, the Japanese, besides having to add an oil pump to the mechanism in order to keep it operating smoothly, somehow managed to bump the total weight of the weapon with mount up to 122 pounds (25 lbs heavier than the Hotchkiss). Given the smaller physique of the average Japanese, this seemed to present a real problem, but an ingenious (and uniquely Japanese) solution was devised. The front legs of the tripod had sockets built into their feet, into which short metal poles could be stuck (or wooden "field expedients" if the originals got lost or damaged), parallel to the barrel of the gun. The rear leg of the mount also had a socket, into which a device very much resembling a bicycle handlebar was fitted. Thus three or four men could conveniently carry the gun, the front two grabbing the poles much as one would lift a stretcher, and one or two others picking up the carrying handles at the rear. This not only gave the gun mobility, as the weight efficiently distributed among three or four men presented much less of a problem, but also the weapon could quickly be plunked down, virtually ready to fire. It was a fairly handy arrangement. The Type 3 Nambu, like the Hotchkiss, was fed by 30-shot strips fed in the side. It had a fairly slow rate of fire, only seven or eight shots per second, and the characteristic steady tapping of its audio signature led the Americans to nickname it "the woodpecker."

The heavy machinegun was actually the first weapon in the Japanese inventory to be ugraded to 7.7mm calibre. The Type 92 tripod-mounted gun appeared early in the 1930's, but never completely replaced the old Type 3 even during the Second World War. In essence the Type 92 was very similar to the older weapon, except for the change in calibre. Otherwise, there were adjustments made to the arrangement of the firing handles and trigger, and some (but not all) Type 92's had a cone-shaped flash hider at the muzzle. But the method of operation, cooling, feed, etc, remained the same as in the Type 3, as did the piece's slow rate of fire. The Type 92 was probably the most common model of tripod-mounted machinegun used by the Japanese during World War II.

A call was eventually issued for a lighter version of tripod-mounted machinegun, not to exceed 88 lbs (40 kg). This resulted in the 7.7mm Type 1, which first appeared in 1941, but saw service in only limited numbers during the war. The Type 1 successfully achieved its goal of being much lighter, weighing only 70 lbs with mount (nonetheless the carrying system in use with the older guns was retained). In operation it resembled its predecessors, but could be distinguished visually-- other than by its greater compactness-- by the fact that it always fitted the flash hider at the muzzle, and also because its handles alongside the trigger pointed outward (parallel to the ground) instead of the up-and-down arrangement on the Type 92.

Another very unusual weapon in the Japanese front-line battalion was the 20mm Type 97 antitank rifle. This was a fully automatic piece, firing six or seven shots per second, fed by a top-loading seven-shot clip, although a capacity for single shots was also included and probably the more common practice. In firing position it weighed 115-120 lbs, but once again the same carrying system found in the heavy machineguns was employed, with two poles fitting into the feet of the bipod in front (there was also a monopod under the shoulder stock for further bracing when firing) and the handlebar-like device attached to the buttstock. The weapon might also come with a small shield, which brought the total weight up to 150 lbs! All this weight was not necessarily wasted, as one author who test-fired it gave the remarkable report that this small shoulder cannon actually had no more kick to its recoil than a .30-06 rifle, in part due to the exceptional padding of the shoulder stock, and also to the recoil-absorbing system. But the antitank rifle was difficult and expensive to manufacture, and, with the capability of penetrating no more than half to three-quarters of an inch of armor plate, even at the relatively close range of 200-300 yards, the Japanese obviously didn't think it was worth the cost to produce them in great quantity. A few were reportedly encountered in the hands of 25th Army in Malaya and Singapore (those who have managed to read through my entire series so far will by now start to recognize that 25th Army was generally one of the best-equipped field armies in the entire Japanese forces in December 1941), and it was also seen in the southern campaigns against the Americans on a few rare occasions (even supposedly used in at least one case for beach defense, to shoot at incoming landing craft). But generally speaking this weapon was seldom encountered, despite the fact that the "standard" table of organization called for at least one or two in every battalion.

The Japanese used three types of heavier infantry mortars during the war. The Type 97 was a straight Japanese copy of the 81mm Brandt design also used by the US, France, and Italy in the war (as well as Poland, Romania, and a number of smaller powers). Weighing 124 lbs fully assembled, and breaking down into three parts (bipod, baseplate, and barrel) for transporting, it fired a seven-pound shell to a range of about two and a half miles. However, the Japanese did not make really wide use of it. A much more compact variant known as the Type 99 (and reminiscent of the later German "Stummelwerfer," although the Japanese weapon in fact came first) was developed to supplement and, eventually, largely replace it. With its cut-off barrel, the Type 99 weighed only 52 lbs, firing the same 7-lb shell to a range of a mile and a quarter. Its general handiness made it much more popular with the Japanese, and during the second half of the war growing numbers were in service. Early in the war against the western powers the Japanese did not widely employ 81mm mortars, and, furthermore, when they were introduced in greater quantity they tended to group them separately from the regular infantry, in "light mortar battalions" of up to 48 mortars each, which were usually allocated as independent formations directly to field army headquarters.

Another infantry support mortar which saw a degree of use in the war was the 90mm Type 94. It threw a shell weighing 11.5 lbs to a maximum range of about two and a quarter miles. The Type 94 had a sophisticated double recoil system, partly hydraulic, mounted in a "U"-shaped saddle around the barrel, which complicated apparatus had the unfortunate effect of bringing the total weight of the piece up to a staggering 340 lbs. This may have curtailed its attractiveness for field operations somewhat, but the Japanese did employ it on a regular basis throughout the conflict (for example, it was used in the Solomons on both Guadalcanal and New Georgia). A lighter 90mm mortar was being developed later in the war but saw little service.
Regards Mike Yaklich

Commmentary by others with a knowledge of the subject

There are perhaps some people who have always heard that Japanese Rifles were "Junk." Perhaps some people who have not seen a Japanese Rifle, or if they did , did not realize that these rifle appearances changed during the war due to "wartime influences." The purpose of this article is not to change anyone's opinion or belief about Japanese Rifles. It is to present some facts known or some that may not be as well known, concerning a rifle that deserves, in my opinion and a few others, something better than to be called "Junk."
For brevity, there are generalizations included, and details left out.

The Japanese produced over 6.4 million rifles and carbines in the 40 years from 1906 to 1945. Japanese arms and equip- ment, although less sophisticated and technologically inferior to ours, served their purposes. The WWII Arisaka Rifle used a modified Mauser bolt action. It began under Colonel Nariaki Arisaka in 1905, with Captain Kijiro Nambu designing the action. The improved Arisaka bolt action featured a hollow firing pin with an internal coil spring, a straight bolt handle, and a large distinctive round safety knob on the rear of the bolt. The bolt on closing was secured by two front locking lugs, and was one of the strongest military bolt actions ever produced. The Safety was operated by pushing the knob forward and rotating it about one-eighth turn to the right. Unlike other Mauser-inspired actions, the bulky safety knob of the Arisaka also served to deflect gases blown back as the result of a cartridge case failure or punctured primer. (Partial Ref: #3.)

The Rifles:
Type 38, chambered for the 6.5mm Japanese semi-rimless centerfire cartridge. The simplified bolt consists internally of a firing pin, firing pin spring and safety. This design reduced the Mauser type action to components that were extremely reliable, functional, and cost effective. The Type 38 rifle manufactured for 35 years remained essentially unchanged except for minor improvements. Production was discontinued in 1940. When the break down of the supply line from Japan to the China Expeditionary Force occurred in 1943, arsenals were set up in China. Full-scale production was just getting under way when World War II ended. Almost 3 million Type 38's were produced.
Type 99, chambered for the 7.7mm semi-rimless center-fire cartridge. Experience in China as early as 1932, indicated that a cartridge with greater impact energy was required. Also, the continued development to larger caliber machine guns made it opportune for a change to a infantry rifle of similar caliber. The type 99 was placed into production in 1939, Approximately 1942, changes had to be instituted because of the lack of steel, wood, etc. (See "Substitute" following.) In 1943, all manufacturing companies began production of the "substitute Type 99 rifle" which was produced until the end of the war in 1945. This substitute" rifle is discussed later. Approximately 2.5 million Type 99's were produced.

Lt. Col. John George, Army Officer, Scholar, Adventurer and Distinguished Rifleman was on Guadalcanal. He commanded a company, which fought beside the Marines in the clean up of the island. In Burma he was in one of the battalions of Merrill's Marauders. In his book "Shots Fired in Anger" published by the National Rifle Association of America, he goes into great detail concerning the 6.5mm & 7.7mm Japanese Rifles. It is a very good comparison of the Japanese Rifle to the 98 Mauser and 03 Springfield. On page 269, he mentions the 6.5mm is a pretty good gun, clumsier than any of ours, but in slow fire it is easier to shoot. It has practically no recoil (long barrel, moderately loaded cartridge, and weight of 10 lbs.) It has fair accuracy up to about 500 yards, muzzle velocity of 2,400 foot seconds, which puts it up in the high power military class and gives it a maximum range of some 2,600 yards. He mentions, "In spite of all it's shortcomings, some of which were so stupid that they defied belief (almost as much as certain of our own ordnance inanities concerned with the adoption of our Springfield) it proved to be a good, reliable combat rifle.
One item of side interest is the "Dust Cover." Colonel George mentions that another fixed idiocy was the receiver cover. He mentions that it is a foolish contrivance, which would give the working parts of the rifle negligible contribution. He mentioned that the receiver cover on the weapon rattled alike all of the proverbial tin pots and pans in hell. This Dust Cover was a controversial decision arousing much debate whenever the Type 38 rifle was being developed. Japanese Army experiences during the Russo-Japanese War convinced the development commission that this sliding dustcover was essential. During dust storms many Type 30 (previous rifle that the Type 38 was replacing), had been left inoperable, and soldiers had resorted to wrapping receivers with cloths for protection. This Dust Cover was primarily designed for the China Area of operations. Many a Japanese Soldier did discard his Dust Cover, but probably so reluctantly as equipment issued, belonged to the Emperor, not to the Soldier and he was fully accountable for it.

Colonel George mentioned on page 264. "The Arisaka bolt can be disassembled faster than any others of the Mauser type; a rank amateur can jerk it into its five basic units in four seconds and keep a hand free to toy with his gal's ear all the while, if she happens to be close by." He did not care for the straight bolt handle, but he mentions that they committed less non-constructive butchery on the Mauser than did the designers of the '03 rifle.
One technological feature that the Japanese Rifle had, and I believe no other nation had at the time (the United States incorporated it halfway through the war) was a chrome plated barrel and bolt face. The Japanese incorporated it in their Type 99 rifles beginning in 1939. It was fore-sight on their behalf, taking into consideration the high humidity conditions of the Jungle, salt weather influence, perhaps lack of proper cleaning supplies & the corrosive powder in ammunition.
Chuck Karwan (Ref. 5) wrote an article entitled "The Top Guns of WWII"

He details various weapons, but under bolt action rifles, he states that he believes the best was the British .303 No. 4 Enfield. Then he goes on to say - "There is another excellent WWII bolt action rifle that is often overlooked and in some circumstances might even be better than the No. 4 Enfield. This is the Japanese 7.7mm Type 99 Arisaka, particularly in its somewhat simplified version that dropped the monopod and aircraft engagement sight features of the earlier versions. This rifle is easy to make, extremely strong, light and handy, accurate, has a removable action cover for such operations as amphibious landings, and has a chrome lined bore. Its bolt has only six parts, which includes a safety, and can be disassembled for maintenance in seconds without tools. Its manual safety is very positive and extremely fast to disengage. In extremely rough field conditions, I might prefer the Type 99 over the No. 4 Enfield because its ease of maintenance and chrome line bore would keep it operating longer particularly with the corrosive ammunition commonly in use at the time."

He then rates the U.S. .30-06 M1917 as third.
He mentions in the area of bolt action carbines, the clear standout is the British .303 No 5 Enfield commonly called the "jungle carbine." He goes on to 9  state that the only other WWII bolt action carbine that even comes close to the British No. 5 and that is the Japanese 6.5 x 50mm Type 38 Arisaka carbine, particularly the variation made at the Mukden arsenal with a peep sight. "This little gem is nearly 5 inches shorter than the No. 5, about the same weight, has most of the good features of the Type 99 rifle mentioned earlier (though not the chrome line bore), and is chambered for a very effective cartridge that has low recoil. (It was not uncommon for U.S. Marines to pack one of these on jungle patrols in preference to their Springfield M1903s early in WWII.) (emphasis in ( ) was mine.)

"Substitute Rifles"
The basic design of the Type 99 rifle remained the same until 1943. Simplification for many reasons had to be accomplished, i.e., lack of metal, good wood, lack of money, etc. Changes as an example were: Deleting such items as: The sling, the bolt cover, shortening and eventually eliminating the cleaning rod, substituting inferior steel for the bolt & barrel, eliminating the chrome in the barrel & bolt face, using an inferior wood on the stock, a peep sight zeroed to 900 ft., and minimizing machining of the weapon.
If a person was to view one of these 'Substitute Rifles" without being able to see the "standard" wartime production, then it's very likely that an impression that Japanese Rifles were "Junk" could be formed. "Junk" opinion could also be formed after reading part of what a well known author wrote concerning the "Substitute" rifle, even though the "Substitute" rifle and the standard run action were the same. A statement from: Small Arms of the World, Joseph E. Smith, 9th Edition. (Ref 1). "In 1943, a substitute Type 99 was introduced which was made of inferior materials, without bolt covers and sling swivels and without chrome plated bores. The rifles had fixed rear sights. It is inadvisable to fire them, since they can be dangerous. On the subject of material and strengths of actions, tests conducted after World War II showed that the 6.5mm Type 38 action was stronger than the U.S. Springfield, 1917 Enfield or the German Mauser Action. We all know that after the war, numerous Japanese Rifles were converted to Deer and Sporting Rifles.

After the War:
The Chinese modified Type 99 rifles to 7.92mm. The Nationalist Army absorbed a large number of Type 99's. They were rechambered to 8mm. A number were also converted to 30-06. In 1951 estimates from 4,000 to 133,000 Type 99 rifles were modified to 30-06 by the U.S. Ordnance Depot. They were used by the allied troops of the Korean Augmentation of the U.S. Army. The Chinese Army converted Type 38's to 7.62. In the late Fifties, during the Vietnam Conflict, the Viet Minh concerted a number of Type 38's and Type 99's to 7.62x39mm which had become the standard round of both the Soviet Army and Chinese Army.

Ref 1: Small Arms of the World, Joseph E. Smith, 9th Edition

Ref 2: U. S. Infantry Weapons of WWII, Bruce N. Canfield

Ref 3: Japanese Rifles of WWII, Duncan D. McCollum

Ref 4: Shots Fired in Anger, Lt. Col. John George

Ref 5: The Top Guns of WWII, Chuck Karwan

An introduction to Chuck Karwan:

Well known to Soldier of Fortune readers for his many insightful articles on Tools of the Trade, Chuck Karwan has published more than 100 features in various military and weapons magazines. Karwan, a West Pointer, served with 1st Calvary Division (Airmobile), 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and the 10th and 5th Special Forces Groups.
Bud W. Smith Mannbud@email.msn.com