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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
- “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/>.
- “Hiroshi Ōshima.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 14 July 2015. Web. 18 July 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshi_Ōshima>.
- “Tiger I.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 15 July 2015. Web. 18 July 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_I>.
- 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/>.
- “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>.
- “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>
- “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>
- “M4 Sherman.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 16 Jul. 2015. Sat. 18 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M4_Sherman>
- “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>
- “T-34.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 17 Jul. 2015. Sun. 19 Jul. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-34>
- “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>