Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA Medium Tank

The Japanese Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA Medium Tank was intended to replace the slower, more lightly armed Type 89. See more tank pictures.
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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).

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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.

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The Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA Medium Tank received its combat baptism in Manchuria and against Soviet forces on the Mongolian border in May through September of 1939. Post-battle analysis showed that the CHI-HA was handicapped by its low-velocity gun when dealing with enemy tanks.

A new turret mounting a more powerful high-velocity, long-barrel 47mm semiautomatic gun of 48 caliber was designed and tested. But the new turret and main gun were not put into production until 1942. Complacency after easy victories in China and Manchuria, as well as the conquests of Vietnam, Malaya, Burma, and the Dutch East Indies, caused the delay.



When the Type 97 entered service, properly equipped and supported mechanized infantry units were realized. The skill with which Japanese commanders maneuvered their mechanized infantry divisions was best seen in Malaya. Japanese units moved so fast, and were so heavily supported by armor, that British defenders never had a chance to establish effective defense lines.

A number of variations of the Type 97 were produced with more powerful engines and heavier armor. The Type 1 CHI-NE had 2 inches of armor and a 240 horsepower air-cooled diesel engine. The Type 3 CHI-NU was equipped with a new turret and a 75mm gun. The Type 4 CHI-TO had a longer hull, weighed 30 tons, and carried a 75mm 38 caliber gun.

The last variation, the Type 5, weighed 37 tons and was armed with a 75mm main gun and a secondary 37mm gun. It carried 3 inches of armor and would have been superior to the American M-4 Sherman. The war ended before it could be built.

The Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA served against Allied forces throughout the Pacific and east Asia and against the Soviets during the July-August 1945 Lightning War in Manchuria. Its 47mm gun could almost penetrate M-4 Sherman armor.

Continue to the next page to learn the specifications of the Type 97 SHINHOTO CHI-HA Medium Tank.

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The Type 97 SHINHOTO CHIN-HA Medium Tank was distributed in three or four companies per armored regiment. Each company was made up of three platoons containing three tanks each. Three to five additional Type 97s were attached to regimental headquarters. Find specifications for the Type 97 SHINHOTO CHIN-HA Medium Tank here:

Date of service: 1938

Country: Imperial Japan

Type: Medium Tank

Dimensions: Length, 5.51 m (18 ft); width, 2.33 m (7.6 ft); height, 2.23 m (7.3 ft)

Combat weight: 15,000 kg (16.5 tons)

Engine: Mitsubishi 12 cylinder air-cooled diesel

Armament: One 57mm Type 90 main gun, later up-gunned to 47mm 48 caliber; two 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns

Crew: 4

Speed: 38 km/h (23.5 mph)

Range: 210 km (130 mi)

Obstacle/grade performance: 0.8 m (2.6 ft)

For more information about tanks and the military, see: