Mid-War Japanese Tank Development Including Interest In German Vehicles Such As The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I Heavy Tank

A Japanese Type 94 Tankette on the engine deck of a USMC M4 Sherman tank, having been captured on Kwajalein

Japanese Tanks During World War II

Japanese tanks during the Second World War did not measure up to their European, Soviet, or U.S. counterparts. Japanese tanks reflected the pre-war/inter-war, and early war designs seen in Europe, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. This includes vehicles such as the British Vickers 6-Ton. tank Medium Mark I & II tanks, the Soviet BT-2, BT-7, and T-26, the French AMR 33 and AMR35, and the U.S. M2 and M3 series. As the war progressed, U.S. armour, and later Soviet armour would prove exceptionally problematic for Japanese forces; in particularly when facing Japanese tanks.

The heaviest U.S. tank used in the Pacific theatre was the M4 Sherman. The heaviest Japanese tank used in the Pacific/Asian theatres was the Type 97 Chi-Ha; although superior vehicles existed in the Japanese inventory by wars end, none, such as the Type 3 Chi-Nu, would see combat as they were reserved for the defense of the home islands.

M4 Sherman Type 97 Chi-Ha
Weight 30.3 tonnes 15 tonnes
Main Armament 75 mm M3 L/40 gun Type 97 57 mm Tank Gun
Armour 93 – 118 mm 8 – 28 mm
Crew 5 4
In Pictures M4 Sherman Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha Tank

Missing from the above comparison is a Soviet vehicle; however it is notable that tanks used by the Soviets were comparable or better to their U.S. counterparts in arms and armour. A good example would be the T-34-85; sporting an 85 mm ZiS-S-53 main gun, 72 – 93 mm of armour, and weighing 26.5 tonnes.

Soviet troops entering Dalian, China on T-34-85 medium tanks, Aug 1945
Soviet troops entering Dalian, China on a T-34-85 tank, in August of 1945.

Japanese armour being what it was, compared to the United States, the Soviet Union, and Germany, it is no surprise that measures were sought to field superior vehicles. By wars end the Japanese were developing, and even producing in one case, more modern vehicles. The Type 3 Chi-Nu, a vehicle comparable to the M4 Sherman, was being produced, although it was reserved for the Home Island defense initiative. The vehicle sported a Type 3 75 mm main cannon, 12 – 50 mm of armour, and weighed approximately 19 tonnes; while it’s armour was significantly weaker than the Sherman, it was a notable step forward from the Type 97 Chi-Ha.

While other vehicles were in various stages of development, only the Type 5 Chi-Ri was at the prototype stage. The vehicle Type 5 75 mm main cannon, with 25 – 75 mm of armour and weighing 33.6 tonnes; the vehicle would have been a further improvement over the Type 3 Chi-Nu and a more formidable opponent for the M4 Sherman.

Limited Information

Japanese soldiers posing with a Tiger tank
Japanese soldiers posing with a Tiger tank.

During the Second World War Japan showed interest in German arms including tanks. Information is limited in this area; however we know a Japanese delegation toured points of interest reviewing German tanks including the Panther and the Tiger. This is reinforced through photographs of the occasion(s). Beyond this, there are some popular explanations that exist; such that the Japanese purchased working vehicles, and even technical data. The veracity of these claims however is poor at best as little historical data appears to confirm them.  What follows is one such explanation of Japanese interest.

Japanese Interest in German Tanks

During the Second World War Japan showed interest in German tanks including the Panzerkampfwagen VI, Tiger Tank. The Japanese ambassador General Hiroshi Ōshima toured the Kummersdorf proving grounds to see the Tiger in person. Impressed with the vehicle, ambassador Ōshima began negations with the Minister of Armaments to procure the vehicle. Japan paid 650,000 Reichsmark for a fully loaded Tiger tank, along with technical documentation on the vehicle. The finished vehicle was to be disassembled and shipped to Japan. The vehicle was sent to Bordeaux in France, although ostensibly it was in the possession of the Japanese, however there was no way to ship the vehicle to Japan. After the Normandy invasion in 1944 the vehicle was procured by German forces, on loan, and used by the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion after it’s arrival in the area; it was lost in action.

General Hiroshi Ōshima, Ambassador to Germany during the Second World War
General Hiroshi Ōshima, Ambassador to Germany during the Second World War.

All in all, the Japanese would purchase four German tanks; one Tiger, one Panther, and two Panzer IIIs. The fate of these vehicles is curious; as noted it is related that the Tiger was procured on a loan and used; one would presume a similar fate for the Panther. It is written that the two Panzer III s would make it to Japan; however we can assume they were either destroyed from Allied bombing, or taken back to the U.S. after the Japanese surrender however no evidence suggests a fate for these two vehicles.

The photos below show at least two Japanese soldiers; possibly General Ōshima, and a Colonel Ishide as they review German tanks.

Works Cited

  1. “The Japanese Tiger: Victim of Circumstance.” The Japanese Tiger: Victim of Circumstance. Wargaming.net, 10 July 2015. Web. 18 July 2015. <http://worldoftanks.com/en/news/pc-browser/17/the-japanese-tiger/>.
  2. “Hiroshi Ōshima.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 14 July 2015. Web. 18 July 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshi_Ōshima>.
  3. “Tiger I.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 15 July 2015. Web. 18 July 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_I>.
  4. Ae, Sun. “German Tanks in Japanese Service – Armor and Armored Fighting Vehicles.” WWIIF. OttoBomb LLC, 7 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 July 2015. <http://www.ww2f.com/topic/54984-german-tanks-in-japanese-service/>.
  5. “日本の「ティーガーⅠ」輸入計画.” Osabetty’s, 21 July 2010. Web. 18 July 2015. <http://osabetty.com/hpgen/HPB/entries/12.html>.
  6. “Japanese Tiger Importation Plans.” Status Report. Blogspot, 21 Mar. 2015. Sat. 18 Jul. 2015. <http://ritastatusreport.blogspot.com/2015/03/japanese-tiger-importation-plans.html>
  7. “101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 14 Apr. 2015. Sat. 18 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101st_SS_Heavy_Panzer_Battalion>
  8. “M4 Sherman.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 16 Jul. 2015. Sat. 18 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M4_Sherman>
  9. “Type 97 Chi-Ha.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 01 Jul. 2015. Sat. 18 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_97_Chi-Ha>
  10. “T-34.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 17 Jul. 2015. Sun. 19 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-34>
  11. “Type 5 Chi-Ri.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 24 Jun. 2015. Sun. 19 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_5_Chi-Ri>

The German Heavy Anti-Tank 12.8 cm Pak 44 L/55 (PaK, (Ger.) Panzerabwehrkanone)

As the Second World War progressed, the need for ever increasingly more powerful anti-tank guns would evolve; to counter ever more powerful and better armed Tanks and AFVs among other things. With the Russians fielding increasingly more powerful guns such as the 122 mm, and tanks such as the IS-2, the need for what would become the PaK 44 became apparent. The guns initial requirements were made in 1943. The  PaK 44 would have the capacity to act as a field gun, firing HE rounds and also act as an anti-tank gun.

It was from the Pak 44 that the main armaments for the Jagdtiger tank-destroyer, and the Maus super heavy tank would be developed.

12.8 cm Pak 44 Anti-Tank gun, Krupp version.
12.8 cm Pak 44 Anti-Tank gun, Krupp version.
Designer Krupp
Designed 1943
Manufacturer Krupp
Produced 1944
Number built 51

The production model was a Krupp design; see blow:

A version was under development by Rheinmetall Borsig but ultimately it was dropped; see below:

In Pictures: Adolf Hitler Reviews The Maus Wooden Mockup and Remote Controlled Model

What follows is an excellent selection of photos, showing Adolf Hitler as he is presented with the scale wooden mockup of the Maus, as well as a remote controlled model. This event occurred on May 1st 1943. Having reviewed the mockup Hitler ordered 150 vehicles.

Regarding the Maus, Heinz Guderian, who would act in many capacities during the war, including Inspector-General of Armoured Troops, wrote in his book Panzer Leader:

On May 1st Hitler had inspected the wooden model of a ‘Mouse,’ a tank designed by Professor Porsche and the Krupp Company which was to be armed with a 150 mm. cannon. It’s total weight was supposed to be 175 tons; it must therefore be assumed that, after Hitler had ordered his usual supplementary changes to the initial design, it would weigh nearer 200 tons. But the model displayed carried no machine-guns for close-range fighting. For this reason I had to turn it down. This was the same mistake that Porsche had made in designing his Ferdinand Tiger and which had rendered the Ferdinand useless at close quarters; ultimately no tank can avoid fighting at close range, particularly if it is to co-operate with infantry. Our discussion grew heated, since everyone present except me regarded the Mouse as a very handsome tank. It did, indeed, promise to be ‘gigantic.’ (“Panzer Leader”, Guderian 309)

These photographs are watermarked bpk; Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, which is the visual archive of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

In Pictures: The Jagdtiger Tank Destroyer

20 October 1943, Adolf Hitler reviews an Italian Carro Armato P 40 and a wooden mockup of a Jagdtiger.
20 October 1943, Adolf Hitler reviews an Italian Carro Armato P 40 and a wooden mockup of a Jagdtiger.

The Panzerjäger Tiger Ausf. B was a German tank destroyer of the Second World War; known more commonly as the Jagdtiger. The ordnance designation for the Jagdtiger was Sd. Kfz. 186. Weighing 71 tonnes, and armed with a 128 mm PaK 44 L/55, it was both the heaviest, and heaviest armored fighting vehicle used operationally during the war. It saw limited service on both fronts from 1944 to the end of the war; with only 88 vehicles built. Tank ace Otto Carius would command a company of Jagdtigers during the war.


A Fascination With Things Massive

While pondering Germany’s Maus Super Heavy Tank, my thoughts shifted to other large scale weapons. The Maus reached the production stage; however production was interrupted early on and canceled, and as such only the prototypes (two) were completed. Of the two prototypes, a surviving example (a combination of the turret of one of the prototypes, and the hull of the other) exists at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Kubinka outside Moscow in Russia. In short the Maus weighed 188 tonnes, and was armed with a 128 mm main gun, and a 75 mm cannon, and two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns as secondary armaments.

Panzer VIII Maus
One of the German Maus prototype undergoing trials; likely at Kummersdorf South of Berlin.

Railway Guns

Railway guns, or cannons mounted on rail carriages, was not unique; numerous examples existed, however, their origins was in the First World War, and by the Second World War examples were limited (operators included Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom). Germany had two notable examples:

80cm railway gun Dora, being inspected by Adolf Hitler.
80cm railway gun Dora, being inspected by Adolf Hitler.

Schwerer Gustav (Heavy Gustaf/Great Gustaf) was the name for one of two 80 cm railway guns used by Germany; the other was Dora. The massive gun was moved on two parallel rail tracks.

V3 Cannon

V3 Super Cannon
The German V-3 (Vergeltungswaffe 3) super-gun

The V-3 (Vergeltungswaffe 3) cannon was a German super-gun using a multi-charge principle where the projectiles velocity is increased by the introduction of secondary propellants. Of two built, one was actually put into action.

The Landkreuzer P.1000 Ratte

The German Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte Super Heavy Tank.
The German Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte super heavy tank.

Beyond the Maus, another colossal tank was proposed, of even greater size than the Maus itself. The Landkreuzer P.1000 Ratte increased on the general concept of more armor, and greater fire power that was incorporated into the Maus.

Other large weapon systems existed, several planes for example, such as the Messerschmitt Me 323 transport; however the above examples, had much more questionable military value.

In Pictures: Tiger I Tanks Operated By The Kingdom of Hungary

During the second World War approximately a dozen (ten to thirteen) Tiger tanks were provided to the Kingdom of Hungary. These tanks would be used in battle; including at least one operated by Hungarian Tank Ace Lt. Ervin Tarczay (credited with 10 kills during his career). These Tiger tanks were provided by the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion along with other armour including Panzer IV and Panther tanks; they were provided to bolster the Hungarian unit(s).