Support Vehicles in Japanese Service
Armored Personnel Carriers
Always interested in speed, the Japanese developed a number of soft skin
vehicles for moving infantry from place to place. Indeed, as early as 1934, the
Japanese had been experimenting with mechanized formations in China.
Nevertheless, the Japanese development of armored transport was rather
belated. The general view seems to have been that armored transports were
slower than their soft-skin cousins and were, as a result, less than valuable in
the support of Japan's infantry blitzkrieg doctrine. As such, the Japanese never
took the armored truck concept beyond a prototype phase, and half-tracks
were given relatively short shrift. Most support tracks were used primarily as
artillery tractors, but they were not (for the most part) armored, and fall outside
of our focus here.
Two armored personnel tracks that did make the transition from concept to
deployment, however, were the Ho-Ha and the Ho-Ki APCs. Because the
Japanese developed doctrine for independently operating armored divisions
only late in the war, Japan's half-tracks differed from most of those used by the
other belligerent nations in that they were designed as support units for
mechanized and infantry detachments as opposed to being developed for use
by "armored infantry".
The Type 1 Ho-Ki was developed in 1942 as a result of a request from the Army
for a heavy prime mover which could also serve as a personnel transport. It
featured an unusual silhouette, in that the driver's cab did not reach across the
front of the hull, but stopped short about mid-way across the center line. Only
one operator was required, a driver, who manipulated a pair of tiny steering
wheels which could adjust the left and right movement of the tracks. Transport
capacity was about fifteen men, and the maximum armor thickness was about
6mm. While the Ho-Ki is often classed as a half-track, it was in fact a fully
tracked vehicle which incorporated some unusual control features common to
The Ho-Ki had been designed to pull artillery as well as to carry infantry, and it
differed from other vehicles of the type in that there was no rear exit hatch. It
was apparently felt that the towed weapon might interfere with the rapid exit of
any onboard crew and/or riflemen. All entry and exit, therefore took place
through three doors mounted side by side on the driver's side (left) facing of the
vehicle. Top speed achieved was fairly respectable for a prime mover, about 21-
22mph under ideal conditions.
The Ho-Ki was not, normally, armed, but a ring had been provided to the rear of
the driver, which allowed for installation of an anti-aircraft/anti-personnel
machine gun. In the style of most armies, Japanese squads carried by the
vehicle could mount their squad machine guns in the same position.
The Type 1 Ho-Ki was deployed wherever the Japanese Army went, but
production seems to have been fairly light. It was primarily encountered by the
Chinese and by the Americans in the Philippines.
The second Japanese armored half-track of note was the Type 1 Ho-Ha,
developed in prototype form in 1941 but not actually accepted for production
until 1941. Like the Ho-Ki, it was a diesel vehicle, but it differed significantly in
that it was based upon the German Sdkfz 251 halftrack, and bore at least a
passing resemblance to that vehicle in profile.
Like the German vehicle from which it had drawn inspiration, the Type 1 Ho-Ha
featured a pair of road wheels mounted to the fore supported by a pair of short
tracks. It could do about 25mph and had excellent mobility. As with the Ho-Ki, a
towing hitch was provided. The Ho-Ha was armored to a maximum thickness of
about 8mm. The hull of the Ho-Ha was longer than that of the 251, and it could
carry about fifteen men (as in the case of the Ho-Ki). This number seems to
have been arrived at as a means of transporting both a rifle squad and the
crew for a weapon in tow.
The weaponry of the Ho-Ha was a bit unusual. It carried three light machine
guns as standard, but these were mounted in somewhat inconvenient places.
One each was mounted along each side, just to the rear of the driver's
compartment, and had a rather constricted firing arc, which made firing directly
forward or directly rearward impossible. A third machine gun, mounted to the
rear, was intended as an anti-aircraft weapon (as in the case of the 251). It had
a slightly wider arc of fire, but was (once again), in capable of being fired
directly forward. This was, obviously, a bit of a tactical dilemma for the
Ho-Ha was produced in only limited numbers, with most seeing action (once
again) in China or the Philippines.
A third APC developed for use was the so called Ka-Tsu. It had been developed
for the Navy and was, essentially, the stripped down hall of the Ka-Chi
amphibious tank. It does not seem to have gone beyond the prototype phase,
however, as an APC. It was, however, fitted with torpedoes and intended for
use in an audacious scheme as a sort of amphibious kamikaze during the
events of 1944. It was never actually used for this purpose, however, all
examples being abandoned or captured before they could be put to such a use.
This must surely rank as the only time in the history of warfare in which an
armored personnel carrier has been armed with torpedoes.
Typically, command tanks in Japanese service were merely vehicles provided
with extra radio equipment (or, in the case of some models, provided with radio
equipment when their subordinate vehicles were not generally provided with
any whatsoeever). A few special modifications were made, however, to
accomodate specific wishes of officers in the field.
The most commonly encountered of these was the Type 97 Shi-Ki. This was
identical to the standard Type 97 Chi-Ha medium in all respects, save armament
and radio equipment, which was considerably increased in range and
functionality. Generally speaking, all Type 97 Shi-Ki tanks were provided with
the turret ring antennae seen on only some examples of the standard Chi-Ha,
which allows for immediate identification of possible command vehicles at a
Armament of the Type 97 Shi-Ki was completely removed from the turret, and
instead, a dummy gun (which may have functioned as a long range antenna)
was installed. This was supplemented with the removal of the hull machine gun
and the emplacement of a 37mm anti-tank gun in the same position. The precise
number of Shi-Ki command vehicles produced isn't clear. Some may have been
converted from damaged Type 97s, or converted directly to Type 97B
A second command vehicle sometimes see in the field was the Te-Re, based
upon the Type 97 Te-Ke. This replaced the turret with an open topped
configuration and a suite of enhanced optical equipment for artillery observation
along with a long range field radio. The Te-Re was usually found as a command
vehicle with artillery formations. It does not appear to have had any defensive
armament, and was produced in extremely limited numbers. Crew was
increased to a whopping eight personnel!
The Japanese built a very large number of armored engineering vehicles.
Comparatively few of these saw combat, largely because they were not
regarded as combat vehicles by the Japanese; as a result, very few were
armed to make participation in combat practical.
The most commonly encountered engineering vehicles in the Japanese arsenal
were typically encountered once the Japanese ground forces had taken a
predominantly defensive role (ie: from about January, 1943 onward). These
were encountered largely because they had been used by the Japanese to
construct some of the brilliant (and not so brilliant) defensive positions of
Japan's island barrier strategy.
One of the most unusual vehicles was the so called "Type SS" engineering
vehicle. Developed in the early 1930s, the SS was built upon the hull of the
Chi-Ro, and according to some sources actually predated it in field service.
Initially, the SS had been envisioned as a vehicle for breaking through Russia's
defensive positions along the contested Manchurian border. As such, the initial
vehicle was equipped with a series of cutting blades for clipping barbed wire,
detachable mine rollers, and a hull mounted flamethrower. All were supported
by defensive machine guns. In addition, modular components could be fitted
which allowed for any of the following, according to a Japanese source:
"(1)destruction of pillbox, (2) digging trench, (3)mine sweep, (4)destruction of
wire entanglements, (5)disinfection, (6)scattering poison, (7)flamethrow,
(8)crane, (9)smoke discharge"
The presence of a flamethrower was particularly unusual; Japan had a cultural
distaste for fire (to put it lightly), and the use of flamethrowers by the military
was extremely rare, the IJA and IJN believing (with some justification) that
flamethrowers were more trouble than they were worth. So great was the
difficulty in finding volunteers to operate such weapons, in fact, that those who
went through the training and became combat flamethrower operators
(including members of the Type SS crews) were automatically awarded
Japan's highest award for combat valor - the Order of the Golden Kite.
Interestingly enough, the Type SS was never actually used in the anti-Soviet
role planned for it. Several examples were deployed against the Americans and
the Chinese, however, and these were in fact used in a bunker busting
capacity. Some were reported in combat as late as the Liberation of the
Philippines. In all, around one hundred and twenty were built. Maximum armor
thickness was about 25mm, and a top speed of around 17mph could be
reached. There were five crewmen.
There were other "unique" ideas by the Japanese which were produced, and
deserve an honorable mention.
One of these was the Yi-Go engineering vehicle, a radio-controlled explosive
carrier based upon Japanese evaluation of the German "Goliath". Nearly three
hundred such vehicles were produced, with the intention of blowing up Soviet
bunkers along the Manchurian border. The idea was that they would be wire
guided to their targets and lay their explosives before safely withdrawing to
friendly lines, as opposed to the German "Goliath" concept (which essentially
allowed for the Goliath itself to explode, if necessary). All of the Yi-Go RC
vehicles were deployed to Manchuria with the 27th Independent Engineer
Regiment. Not a single one of them saw action, though two variants were
produced. They were, apparently, destroyed to prevent capture at the end of
Finally, one could certainly not end such a discussion without briefly giving an
account of the bizarre "Type 97 Ka-Ha". The brainchild of a combat engineer,
the Ka-Ha was based upon Japanese observation of Allied communications via
uninsulated field telegraph wire, a practice particularly prevalent in Soviet
defensive positions. It was observed that, during particularly bad electrical
storms, men operating the field telegraphs could sometimes be killed when
receiving charges through the lines, while communications networks could be
temporarily or even permanently destroyed; and so... the Ka-Ha "High Voltage
Dynamo Vehicle" was born.
The Ka-Ha was physically identical to the Type 97 Chi-Ha, but replaced much of
the internal machinery with a high voltage dynamo mounted inside the hull of the
vehicle which could produce a powerful electrical charge. In theory, the vehicle
would move toward an enemy telegraph line and release its dynamo, sending a
powerful charge in the direction of the telegraph station, potentially destroying
communications for a position and killing anyone unfortunate enough to be near
Apparently, at least four such devices were built, and actually saw combat.
Whether they had success, and whether the Japanese managed to work out a
way to keep their own men safe is unrecorded.
The Japanese particularly liked the idea of the Universal Carrier concept, first
pioneered by the British during the 1930s. A number of experiments were
attempted and vehicles designed, using purchased examples of the
Carden-Lloyd carrier as inspiration.
One such vehicle, which actually saw use in combat situations, was the "Type
FB" Swamp Carrier, first developed in 1935. According to one Japanese
source, the FB was equipped with standard tracks surrounded by rubber
rollers. The idea was that the vehicle could move equally at ease through
swamp and on dry land, to serve a variety of purposes in the support role. At
least one hundred forty six FB's were actually produced, and some saw
service against the Allies.
They must have been somewhat successful, given the relatively large number
produced. Nevertheless, size must not have been very large, as the vehicle
could carry perhaps three or four men at maximum.
SENSHAN - Japanese Armored Vehicles of the Second World War