“Deployable” Japanese Armored Vehicles for Alternate Historical Wargaming

747px-Type_1_medium_tank_Chi-He_02 and Chi-Ha Shinhoto

Wargame players and game developers may wish to include Japanese tanks or other armored vehicles in their games that could have taken part in battles of but were instead reserved for defense of the Japanese home islands – or for other reasons did not see combat during WW2. For historical game scenarios with Imperial Japan that allow inclusion of vehicles that were not documented as taking part in specific battles, it may still be important to differentiate between functional production vehicles and single, partial, or rejected prototypes. In some cases, known Japanese tank projects were still being developed when the war ended or were left incomplete for other reasons. Essentially, the question to be answered here is which tanks could have realistically been deployed to battle during WW2. For example:

1. Players of a wargame may wish to include an upgraded light tank in 1944 that could have been deployed for defense of a specific Pacific island. The Ke-Ri and Ha-Go Kai were both projects that mounted a different tank gun or turret on a Ha-Go, but only a few were used for testing and they did not progress to production, so these options might be discarded in favor of the Type4 Ke-Nu which had both numerous manufactured and field-upgraded models that could have been realistically deployed to battle.

2. Developers may not want to include the Type5 To-Ku amphibious tank in games as a “mass-producible” unit, since only one model was produced, specifications are difficult to find, and no detailed photos exist in the public domain. They may instead opt for the Type3 Ka-Chi of which 19 models were manufactured and enough photos and scale models are available for reference.

There exist across the internet and print media many claims and off-hand comments that even specific non-deployed Japanese tanks were inferior to American / Allied designs. These are either based on speculation regarding the specs of the tanks, knowledge only of the Ha-Go and Chi-Ha tanks of the 1930s, or ignorance. A game that is realistic enough to show a Type3 Ho-Ni III’s gun in action against a Sherman tank’s armor (or any number of U.S. light and medium tanks) will tell the true tale of what could have been. Adding the following tanks to games will allow these “what if” matchups to take place. Matilda vs. Chi-Nu, for example.

“Deployable” Tanks that were not documented as having seen Combat (for a list of Japanese tanks that did see combat, click HERE), but were completed, functional, and available for deployment. Includes number produced.

Type98 Ke-Ni (104 built)

Type1 Chi-He (170 built)

Type2 Ke-To (34 built)

Type3 Ka-Chi (19 built)

Type3 Chi-Nu (144 built)

Type3 Ho-Ni III (31 or 41 built)

Type4 Chi-To (2 built)

Type4 Ke-Nu (100 built, more if field conversions are included)

Type4 Ka-Tsu (2 or 8 built)

Type4 Ha-To (4 built)

Type5 Na-To (2 built)

Realistic Locations and Times for Deployment

Additional reasons for allowing or not including a particular vehicle in a game might depend on the location for the scenario or the year. As an extreme example, it would obviously be next to impossible for Japan to have “deployed” the above Japanese tanks onto the shores of England in 1944. Even transport from one end of the Pacific to the other was a risky proposition once Japan had lost air superiority, hence the introduction of innovations like the submarine-borne Type4 Ka-Tsu (for which one could create a “surprise attack” scenario). Development of a game scenarios including these tanks can likely find reasonable historical explanations for their inclusion on the battlefields in question, however.

It is not hard to imagine a handful of any of the tanks listed above being deployed to China or Manchukuo in large numbers as part of Operation Ichi-Go. It is also reasonable to accept 10 or so of any tank above being transported to a key island in the Pacific, based on the expectations of the Japanese at the time that there would be reason to deploy them.

Geography might also come into play. One would probably not send the large and cumbersome Type4 Chi-To to a dense and swampy jungle in Southeast Asia, and one would similarly not want the massive amphibious Type3 Ka-Chi rolling across the open fields of China.

Scenarios can be explored for some historic battle locations. Would the inclusion of 100 Type3 Chi-Nu tanks in defensive preparations of Okinawa have made a difference in some of the pitched battles there? Could key battles have been affected, like the ones on Tarawa, if the Japanese had deployed only 25 of the Ke-Ni light tanks (an improvement over the Ha-Go with their lower profiles) they had on hand instead of keeping them as they had historically for “home island defense” for years, waiting unused and untested on the Japanese mainland? Given that some bloody ground battles in the Pacific came down to hand-to-hand fighting at some points with only a few U.S. Marines hanging on for reinforcements, it’s a question worth exploring.

Overall there is no question the U.S. had Japan out-manufactured and commanded supply lanes toward the end of the war in any case, but a significant enough number of “surprise” tanks could affect single battle scenarios. Any “win” by Japan in these late battles could have been used for propaganda purposes in Japan.

Additional Notes:

  • Please use the Type year as a guideline for when the tanks would have been available to deploy. A short article on deciphering Type numbers can be found HERE.
  • Unfinished prototypes have been removed from the list above. Single prototypes have been removed, even if functional, as have multiple prototypes of rejected projects.
  • Most above were historically were reserved for defense of the Japanese home islands, but some like the Type4 Ke-Nu may simply not have seen combat where deployed outside of the home islands in places like Manchuria or Korea.

Type 4 Ka-Tsu during testing


7 thoughts on ““Deployable” Japanese Armored Vehicles for Alternate Historical Wargaming

  1. As usual, good work.
    I would not call certain prototypes “failed” however, some were just still being developed when the war ended or were left uncompleted for other reasons.

    On a side note, if you would ever like help writing an article let me know.


  2. Also, the Chi Nu were never used to defend the Imperial palace and never fired any shots at any troops. That is an unfortunate myth.

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