Before producing the Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA Medium Tank, Japanese Army observers watched tank developments in Europe and studied as avidly as any European military officer the operational experiences gained by German, Soviet, and Italian tanks in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
What they saw and reported convinced Army Technical Headquarters that the Type 89 medium tank was too lightly armored and gunned to meet Western tanks on an equal basis. A heavier, faster tank with strengthened armor was needed to provide long-range fire support for the Type 95 Light Tank and the new mechanized brigades.
In 1937 two prototypes -- one designed by the General Staff, the other designed by the engineering department of Army Technical Headquarters -- were tested, Although the General Staff design was cheaper to produce, the outbreak of war with China that same year eliminated economy as a concern.
The design by Army Technical Headquarters won and was put into production the following year, The winning design, built by Mitsubishi and designated the CHI-HA, used the Mitsubishi air-cooled diesel engine now up-rated to 170 horsepower. The Type 97, as finally approved, used the same reinforced-girder construction as the Type 95 Light Tank. Armor plate was considerably thicker than the Type 95.
The Type 97 mounted a short-barrel 57 millimeter Type 90 gun and two 7.7mm machine guns and carried a crew of four. The tank commander and the gunner sat in the turret. With the gunner in the turret also, the tank commander was relieved of the multiple duties of having to command the tank; act as observer, machine gunner, and loader; and lay and fire the main gun. The driver sat in the front right-hand side of the hull, the machine gunner the front left-hand side.
The suspension system was similar to that used in the Type 95 but was considerably stronger. Six bogie wheels per side were mounted on bell cranks: four wheels on each side in two independent pairs of bell cranks and the fore and aft bogie wheels on separate bell cranks. All were supported by resisting springs encased in armored tubes.
Three return wheels carried the track on top. The center roller bore only the inside half of the track, while the other two supported the track along its full width. The tracks were driven from a front driving sprocket by a drive shaft that ran through a tunnel in the hull from the rear-mounted engine to a gearbox.
Continue to the next page to learn what variations of the Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA Medium Tank existed.