Tanks of World War II - Tanks of Other Combatants - Japan


Like the US Army (which utilized French and British tanks in World War I), the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) did not have tanks of its own in World War I, so it started out by purchasing foreign tanks for evaluation during World War I, and then began developing its own designs. Like many other nations, the Japanese initially didn't embrace the tank, as it didn't have the cavalry tradition. Cavalry was used for reconnaissance in the mountainous countryside, and initially, as with most other armies, the first designs were constrained by the tank's infantry support role. Inspired by European designs, the Japanese tank program designed and developed the tanks which facilitated their campaigns in China and Nomonhan against the Soviet Union, prior to WWII. They introduced many innovations as they built their designs, including bell-crank suspensions, were pioneers in amphibious tanks, and the use of diesel engines as they were less likely to catch on fire versus the regular gas engines that were being used at the time. The Japanese Generals had made a mistake in their assessment of the tanks used against China, a country whose army had only three tank battalions, and few antitank weapons.

By 1937, Japan fielded 1,060 tanks in 8 regiments, most designed for and used in the infantry support role. But this focus left the IJA without a tank capable of taking on other tanks, a deficiency that was brought home hard during the battle of Khalkin-Gol (also known as Nomonhan), a decisive defeat inflicted by the Russians on the Mongolian border in 1939. This proved fatal later when they faced the new generation of Allied tanks, as the great majority of the Japanese models were lightly armored, and not heavily gunned. With the priority of steel being consumed by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Air Force, the Japanese Army was relegated the remaining material for its tanks. Thus the 1930s designed vehicles went on being mass-produced, and the warning of Khalkin-Gol was too slowly recognized. By 1940 they had the fifth largest tank force in the world behind the Soviet Union, France, Britain and Germany, but were behind in medium and heavy tanks. After 1941, with the new focus on building warships and aircraft, and with the entry of the United States into the conflict, priorities shifted to weapons that were more conducive to naval warfare; attacking across the Pacific, and defending the Empire from the advancing Americans.

So although the Japanese Army deployed approximately 200 tanks to the Pacific Theater of Operations, the tanks that Allied forces in the Pacific faced were primarily designs of the 1930s, such as the Type 97 medium and Type 95 light tanks. Even so, these tanks were often delayed by shortages of raw materials, and even after arriving off of the assembly lines doctrine called for them to be held for the defense of the mainland, and not dispersed to the far flung Imperial Japanese Army or Navy forces. The Japanese built tanks to match up against the Allied tanks, such as the Type 2 Ho-I Infantry Support Tank with a 75 mm gun designed as a self-propelled howitzer or tank destroyer for the close fire support role, to provide Type 97 Chi-Ha equipped Japanese tank regiments with additional firepower against enemy armored fighting vehicles, but in limited amounts. Between 1931 and 1945, Japan produced 6450 tanks. Half of them (3300) were made by the Mitsubishi Company. The sub-total of tanks produced between 1940 and 1945 is 4424, i.e. a yearly average comparable to Italy. For a country as large and as industrialized as Japan, that is modest. Before 1945, the fleet and the air force had priority. It changed when the homeland went under direct threat but it was too late.

Read more about this topic:  Tanks Of World War II, Tanks of Other Combatants

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