There is much confusion over the Japanese armored cars used in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the War in the Pacific. This is due to the fact that there were multiple manufacturers engaged in building a variety of similar armored cars around the years 1930-1933. There were also a number of very limited production “custom” armored cars of which only a photo or two still exist that were little more than trucks with slab-sided riveted armor plates set onto them.
This is an attempt to make clearer what is muddy or confused by other sources particularly around the early 1930s. This list does not include earlier armored cars such as the Sumida-Wolseley or Vickers Armored cars from the 1920s.
Keep in mind the “Type 92” is equal to 1932, and Type 93 is 1933, and so on. For more on Types see Deciphering Japanese Type Numbers.
More specifics on these vehicles can be found at the links.
Main Model Types:
1. Type 90 Naval Sumida Armored Car – Also known as the “Sumida P” this was a versatile design meant for urban assault and security. Photos of this vehicle are in urban settings in Shanghai and Japan and were donated by the Hokoku organization. Used by the Special Naval Landing Forces in Shanghai. Only a handful (2-3) at most were produced, though this platform was used for the Type 91 Broad Gauge Rail Tractor by the Army as an on-off rail convertible armored car. On-road the types are nearly indistinguishable visually aside from the mount points for removable rubber wheels on the sides and rail-specific gear on the front bumper on the Type 91, but the Navy did not operate the rail-going version. The naval “sunburst” flag is seen on the Type 90 images, and the Type 90’s are noticeably less “busy” on their sides and front bumper area.
2. Type 92 Chiyoda Armored Car – The first officially produced Japanese armored car of the Imperial Army, the Type 92 Chiyoda was based on the Chiyoda 6-wheeled Type Q truck was called the Chiyoda QSW by the manufacturer. The words “Aikoku” on the sides simply represent the Aikoku donation organization that donated vehicles to the Army from private contributions (the Naval organization was Hokoku). This vehicle should not be called the “Aikoku” as it is by some sources because there were a variety of vehicles and planes donated by the Aikoku organization, and while the existing promotional photos of the Chiyoda QSW include “Aikoku” markings, not all of those used by the Army necessarily had that marking. In fact, it is unlikely all were donated by Aikoku since some estimates of production are over 100. This is one of the most produced armored cars, and a better candidate for games that allow “unlimited” unit production than some other low-production models listed here, but they were primarily used in northern China, Mongolia, and Manchuria.
3. Type 92 Osaka Armored Car – The photos and information on this model are very limited and the designation “Osaka” and even the Type year may be incorrect. This model is included because it is also listed as a “Type 92” and is frequently confused with other type 92s with which it shares very little. Notably it is not a 6×6 wheel configuration like many other Japanese armored cars. For disambiguation purposes the word “Osaka” should be included, though it is worth noting that Osaka is a city in Japan, not necessarily a manufacturer name, and this designation could refer to the vehicle being donated by the city of Osaka (through Hokoku or Aikoku). This model was likely only used in early campaigns against China well prior to WW2.
4. Type 93 Naval Armored Car – One of the latest / last models of heavily armed wheeled on-road armored cars used by the SNLF for urban security. Sources indicate that it was based on a license-built Ford truck chassis and engine. Note that this vehicle has more permanent mounts for machine guns than some other Japanese armored cars that incorporated gun slits. There also appears to have been a rear-mounted machine gun, allowing this armored car to cover all sides. Only a couple (at least 2) are known to have been produced, and those in photos were donated by the Hokoku organization. Notable are the machine gun mounts more akin to those on a tank and a pintle mount on the turret for an external machine gun, also like a tank. One photo exists that shows the Type 93 alongside older Vickers armored cars. This vehicle is a playable unit in the game series Men of War Assault Squad (1 & 2). Its inclusion in all maps including those in the Pacific is not very accurate, however.
5. Type 91 (and later) Broad Gauge Rail Tractor / on-off rail Armored Car – The Type 91 “So-Mo” is also a Sumida design based on the “Sumida P” in #1 above. It shares many similarities visually but had two major differences in an adjustable suspension and removable solid rubber tires that allowed the armored car to travel on rail in places like China. They also carried replacement rails for repair of damaged sections of railroad. Apparently the process of going from road to rail and vice versa only took a few minutes with a trained crew. Its biggest positive feature was its ability to travel across long distances and deep into China at a better speed on rail and more directly than any other similar vehicle. For this reason it was in Japan’s arsenal into the 1940s and was even used in the Philippines. The Type 91 shared a problem of the Type 90 Naval Armored car, however, in that the suspension and solid rubber tires were harsh over anything but good roads, and as such it was not designed for going off-rail in rough terrain. Pairs of these vehicles are sometimes shown in photos with one pulling the other on rails, with the rear armored car facing backward. Armo offers a resin scale model of this armored car, as shown in the second image below.
Other Armored Cars:
There were a number of armored cars researched by Chiyoda Weapons Labs well prior to their mass-produced Type 92, and here are a few:
This includes a number of prototype one-offs and captured enemy armor.
Among these appears to be a variant of Austin-Putilov, probably captured from Russian forces. This is offered by Fairy resin models as a “Chiyoda Type 92 Au Gata” which seems to draw on the “Au” from “Austin”, and it’s capture year rather than year of introduction in its model year since the Austin-Putilov designs were popular about ten years prior to 1932.
The Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle or “Car”
The Type 92 HAV is by any fair observation really more of a light tank or tankette than an armored car, and should not be grouped with Japanese Armored Cars. It was only given its ambiguous name due to a rule that prevented the Japanese Cavalry branch of the Army from owning “tanks” much in the way the U.S. Cavalry could only have “Combat Cars”.
Due to the “Type 92” and “Armored Car” naming, this vehicle adds further confusion to the lineup of Japanese Armored Cars of the early 1930s. Recommendation is that this tank always be named a Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle for purposes of disambiguation. If it must be grouped and aligned in games with any group of vehicles, it is best slotted as the first of Japan’s Tankettes, followed by the (similarly sized but unrelated) Type 94 and Type 97 Tankettes, though technically the Type 92 was not a tankette, either.
More on the Type 92 HAV HERE.
USE IN MOVIES
Movies depicting Japanese armored cars usually take some features from each of the vehicles listed above and mash them together. This may be due to budgets or simple confusion between model types. These are rarely accurate and the differences between the actual models can be readily spotted by a trained eye. From a distance they have the proper visual cues, but now you will easily spot where they are wrong. Below are some examples from movies.
The Great Raid (Hollywood) – The armored car here appears to be a cross between a Type 90 Naval Armored car and a Type 93 Naval Armored Car. It shares many visual cues of a Sumida armored car quite faithfully, but has the thick inflated (not solid) rubber wheels of a Type 93, probably for the convenience of building it on a modern truck platform. The grille and front bumper are also incorrect and other proportions are off. The rear also seems overwrought and too big and angular in the second photo. Still, it is an interesting amalgam and not an impossible vehicle to imagine coming out of Imperial Japan at the time.
Empire of the Sun (Hollywood): This also appears to be a mixture of vehicles, and again the Sumida P influence is heavy. It looks a bit of Type 93 Naval Armored Car and perhaps a Type 92 Chiyoda Armored Car, with Type 91 Broad Gauge Rail Tractor thrown in for good measure! Note the rail-shaped protrusions alongside the rear half. The camo is typical of what was seen on Type 92 Chiyoda Armored Cars operated by the Army, and it is traveling alongside an Army tank (notable is the standard Japanese flag, not the Naval flag) to its rear. The army tank is also a strange mix of influences and does not resemble any particular Japanese tank with the large empty slab on its upper surface (this is likely based on a car with non-working tracks).