Japanese Ground Vehicles in Games

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Scale models are a good source for 3D modeling of Japanese tanks and other vehicles since quality photos can be scarce and Japanese modelers are fanatical about detail

War Thunder, World of Tanks, Men of War Assault Squad (1&2) and other video games have helped pioneer recognition in the gaming community that Imperial Japan had some worthy innovation and design in tanks and armored vehicles. That is not to say this recognition is entirely new. Interest in Imperial Japanese vehicles for games has been around in boardgames like the ever-popular Axis and Allies, along with the miniatures game Flames of War and Warlord Games’ Bolt Action, to name a few. Outside of gaming, Imperial Japanese scale models have thrived in a hobby culture niche in Japan, and recently appear to have a growing following overseas as well, with companies like Armo in Eastern Europe producing resin kits, and with products from Japanese plastic model makers Tamiya, Finemolds, and PitRoad available on auction sites internationally. Knowledge about a wide range of Japanese tanks both production and prototype, long held back by language barriers and perhaps a sensitivity toward the wounds of World War Two, is finally being spread far and wide. Games are one place where Japanese vehicles of war can once again be seen and heard operating outside of old black and white videos.

What made Japanese tanks special? All tank designs from countries that pursued tanks were a product of their environment. Japanese tanks were allowed to develop in a relative vacuum for many years, and a number of unusual designs and approaches were tried to achieve goals the Japanese Empire had in mind with the resources available to them and transport concerns. Some were made without the same level of concern around how those designs might stand up against the pressure of tanks of other nations. In the beginning, the Japanese had no strong competition from any other nation in Asia for armored fighting vehicles. This meant they could operate under their own rules. For example, the Japanese were able to continue to use tankettes, small two-man operated tanks that doubled as tractors for supplies, long after the Europeans had moved away from them. The Chinese and British were attacked successfully by the Japanese with these tankettes (and other Japanese vehicle designs), and other than their encounter with the overwhelming armored force of Soviet tanks at Nomohan, they had little reason to make any major departure from their design preferences for tanks.

While the Germans are well known for their large “invincible” tanks for armor vs. armor battles, the best-known Japanese tanks of WW2 (such as the Ha-Go and Chi-Ha) were not originally intended for anti-tank warfare. For a long time Japanese tanks performed quite well in their role support of advancing / invading infantry. Even through the early phases of WWII, Japanese tanks deployed widely around the Pacific were often leftover designs from 1930s campaigns against the Chinese and Soviets, but still capable of performing adequately. Since most Japanese tanks were relatively small, they were easily transported, and perhaps more importantly, they were capable of traversing narrow raised dirt paths that ran between rice fields in much of Asia.  Perhaps due in part to an overall lack of resources such as steel, Japanese tank designers often opted for inexpensive smaller tanks. These were favored over large, thickly armored, and slow ones incapable of being shipped efficiently or crossing weak bridges and rough, unpaved, and narrow Asian roads.

Since they are an island nation and had ambitions of aggressively taking the goals of their conquests by surprise (a tactic further reinforced by the success at places like Pearl Harbor) Japan also was allowed to explore many interesting amphibious tank designs and delivery systems (even submarine!) that game designers who look for pure balance among nations tend to leave out, perhaps because they break the “rules” of simplistic map design that makes certain water terrain impassable for ground units. But this oversight cripples Japanese forces unnecessarily. If the Germans can have their “invincible” tank designs, surely the Japanese should be allowed their “surprise” tanks such as the Type 3 Ka-Chi, shouldn’t they?

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In the latter days of the war, the Japanese did work to make powerful and well-armored tanks to counter the U.S. tanks they met on the battlefields of the Pacific. In most cases, however, these tanks were too little, too late. The largest and best-equipped Japanese tank designs never saw battle, since they waited on mainland Japan for the expected attack from the United States that never came due to the atomic bombings and subsequent surrender of Japan. In the few cases such as one where some late war tank destroyers were shipped out to the Philippines, they were outnumbered to the point where their effect on the war was negligible.

They can float, too! The Japanese did shine in other areas of tank design. Emphasis was placed on amphibious tanks to a larger degree than any other country during WW2, and while they were often used ineffectively in static positions long after Special Naval Forces landings on unoccupied islands, Steven Zaloga once wrote that the Japanese amtank designs with removable floats were the best during the war. Used more effectively, these amphibious tanks could have been a major thorn in the side of the U.S.A.’s island-hopping campaign.

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So how to work Japanese tanks into games? The Great Law of Game Balance in multiplayer games dictates that all nations be equally matched from Tier I to Tier XX. This means in some cases that Japanese tanks are matched up against tanks from different eras to allow for similar armament. This is not realistic, of course, since when the Japanese Ha-Go Medium Tank was new, fast, and powerful and being used in Manchuria, the tanks of other nations like the U.S. was working on the T2E1 prototype for the M2 Light Tank or the machine-gun only M1 Combat Car and was not at war.

The M1 Combat Car and Japanese Type 95 Heavy Tank also expose another Great Law of games, which is the Law of Gaps. If there is a Gap in a tech tree, it must be filled or risk leaving a disappointed devotee to one nation’s vehicles. This allows for many prototype, experimental, and tanks that never saw combat during the war, but it can also prevent the inclusion of a tank, depending on how the developers want their “game balance” to work. For example, the M1 Combat Car may be seen as a suitable “early” tank, while Japan’s Type 95 Heavy Tank prototype is passed over as too “over-powered” as an early tank or given a high battle rating to keep if from competing at the same rank.

And there is the ever-present Law of Equal Sides. Both teams should have an equal number of vehicles, and start out on equal footing, on identically shaped sides of a map. History is not so kind. If anyone thinks that all historic battles were fought in 15 minutes by equal sides owning 16 tanks each of similar design, they need to read a history book. That said, there are several skirmishes that the Imperial Japanese participated in that could be recreated with close to equal engagement, including what Ralph Zumbro wrote about in his book ‘Tank Aces‘, where several Type 2 Ka-Mi were attacked by a similar number of U.S. Army LVT-1s off the coast of Leyte during history’s only Amtank vs. Amtank action. Armor of the Ka-Mi was comparable to the LVT-1 which was also 6–13 mm thick. Initiative ruled the day, and the Japanese tanks were destroyed when the LVT-1s discovered them. But what might happen when both sides are wary and looking for the enemy in a game? (Edit: Later conflicting research leads to the conclusion that the Ka-Mi amtanks were actually attacked and destroyed by U.S. artillery at Leyte, not the LVT’s themselves, so developers may want to work this into the scenario, especially since the LVT’s in question may only have had machine guns).

In short, if Japan is to be an attractive nation to play, they must be allowed to be fearsome, especially in the early game. This is not a new concept in RTS titles at least, where the “zerg rush” was made famous, and Company of Heroes 2 even acknowledges that some countries have a better early or late game than others. Japan historically had an “invicible period” when they went after Western targets such as the Phillipines, Burma, and the Dutch Indies with great success, and since the Japanese developed their main tank force in the 1930s, they should in fact be able to start with the “large gun” in the Type 89 I-Go tanks (along with smaller tanks and tankettes) while the U.S. has nothing comparable and is struggling with light tanks like the M2A4 or even the machine gun variants. The U.S. should be able to catch up and surpass Japan in the late game, with an easier ability to pump out / manufacture advanced heavy tanks while Japan will find this slow and resource intensive to match.  This of course is more difficult to pull off during a 16 v. 16 first person shooter type game like War Thunder or World of Tanks, but the same result can be achieved in effective “year of development” tiering and tech tree advancement that would favor Axis nations early on.

What kills the successful use of Japan in games is to try to match guns or some other random vehicle specification with other nations by the numbers alone (for instance gun size), ignoring the fact that Japanese tanks in some cases were developed/used 5 or 10 years earlier. This results in unbalanced match ups of the Ha-Go light tanks from 1935 with the M24 Chaffee light tanks from 1944 (that were even used in the Korean War in 1950!), instead of the Ha-Go going up against a more comparable US M2A4 from 1937.

The true way for Japanese tanks to shine in games, is to let them be used mode or less as they were intended, when they were developed/manufactured, even if that intention was not realized in war against all relevant nations in a game. For example, a group of amphibious tanks could move between small islands in a way where large Sherman tanks could not (while remaining armed and dangerous at sea with their turrets still active in the water) and help infantry take strategic high ground. They could surprise an enemy that had just landed on a beach, or roll up onto undefended spots on Chinese shores. They could also cross water obstacles too wide and deep for normal tanks to cross.

Japanese tankettes could be used to traverse the narrow raised berms between rice paddies and get to a target point faster than any large European-style tanks that would get bogged down in the muddy rice fields or take the long way around.

Some comparison here can be made to the highly successful Japanese “Zero” A6M planes. These were designed to travel long distances over water, not just to be good dogfighter planes. Allied and German planes, by comparison, were often designed without the need for extended flights over water.  These planes could be relatively heavy and heavily laden with armament with the full realization that they could return to ground bases to refuel and rejoin the fight – while the pinnacle of Japanese airplane achievement was something that might not translate well to small game maps — effective fighters with long distance flight and carrier-landing capabilities. In a multiplayer map which runs for 5 minutes, it might seem challenging to turn this strength into an advantage, but the map setup and scenario could somehow favor the Japanese planes’ ability to operate far from their bases.

Gun depression is also a factor in favor of Japanese tanks. They are known for being able to angle their main guns downward to an extreme not seen in the tanks of other nations. This allows Japanese tanks to use ridge line tactics that only expose the turret to an enemy and allow them to keep their hulls concealed by terrain. Tanks that cannot do this must rely on the thickness of their turret and frontal / glacis plate armor to survive. Japanese preferred stealth and camouflage, and since their tanks were often less heavily armored good gun depression was essential to Japanese tank tactics. Gun depression could also aid in defense of the tank against approaching infantry when in close combat or tight urban areas.

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Coaxial or paraxial  turret-mounted machine guns on the opposite side of the main gun are also an advantage of many Japanese tanks. While American tanks often had no internally controlled machine guns (only an external pintle mount or no mount at all), Japanese tanks usually had one or two ball mount machine guns in the turret and in the hull. The Japanese used machine guns extensively in their tanks offensively and defensively against enemy troops in addition to gun slits for pistols.

In games where the biggest gun and the thickest armor determines the winner on a featureless, barren, and flat land map, the Japanese designs would often likely lose. This hold especially true if the tanks introduced into the game include post-war designs, for obvious reasons that the Japanese had no indigenous post-war designs for many years. At least 5 years passed before the Japanese started to make new designs for their Self Defense Forces.

Japanese tanks excelled at ambush tactics and fighting in the thick of lightly-armed infantry in urban environments or jungle. The Japanese can be competitive if prototypes and even “paper” designs are included, but just as placing carrier-based Zeroes meant to fly thousands of miles with low weight and armor against heavily-armed and armored European land-based fighters deep in the heart of a European land-only game map is not really “fair”, having Japanese tanks designed with Asian transport and mobility needs in mind face off against German behemoths is not realistic or historically accurate. Even Americans with their manufacturing might needed to be concerned about the weight of the tanks they deployed on landing craft in the Pacific, lest they be stuck in the sand and muddy jungles.

Other concerns with The Great Law of Game Balance could include:

1. Reliability – A tank’s reliability in the field is rarely portrayed in games. How reliable were Soviet-built tanks on the field versus German tanks? Estimates of reliability for prototype tanks may be made based on whether or not they were simple conversions of existing tanks or built on one-off parts.
2. Numbers – One estimate is that there were 500 Soviet Tanks to 135 Japanese Tanks at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. It is hard to simulate anything with historic accuracy in a game with that sort of “imbalance” for players, unless it is a single player “campaign” type of game where enemies come in waves or the player moves a small force from one part of a larger battlefield to the next, with the assumption that much action is happening in the background. It is also difficult to simulate in 15 minutes of “real time” fighting what took the Japanese and Soviets weeks and an eventual stalemate to determine. Photo evidence shows Japanese infantry taking parts of the battlefield where Soviet arms and armor were abandoned, so the overall battle was not one-sided. One way to illustrate this would be to take the battlefield in small chunks. The Japanese were able to penetrate Soviet lines in that battle of Khalkin Gol / Nomohan, but later pushed back. The former successful push could be a part of a one-person Japan player-centric game, and if historic accuracy is preferred, the player could succeed at his tasks while Japan loses the overall battle.

On the topic of numbers, game balance may also serve to misinform players on historic events. If they see the blurb “Khalkin Gol was won by the USSR” but see only 16 vs. 16 tanks in a battle map, they will assume naturally that the Japanese tanks (and the tacticians on the Japanese side) must have been inferior to lose an equal battle.

Another factor is sheer numbers  and when they were deployed vs. when they were produced – the Type 1 Ho-Ni tank destroyers deployed in Luzon late in the war were too few in number to make an impact on the overall battle, but given a small, isolated slice of the battlefield in a game scenario may have proven effective. They were also produced in 1942, 2 years before the battles at Luzon, so how would they have performed in a battle 2 years prior if Japan had not held them back?  Tank technology during WW2 made leaps in bounds over the years.

3. History versus “Tiering”: In the game War Thunder, the B5N2 bomber is a “Tier 2” plane as of this writing, despite being first flown in 1937 and designed in 1935. This places it against much more advanced aircraft from later years, not to mention the fact that the B5N2 lacks forward firing guns. Why? The explanation seems to be that the effectiveness of the B5N2’s torpedo against ships in the game is so great that it was considered too “overpowered” for Tier 1, or that it carries a big bomb. The result is the player must fly against player kill-seeking competition that has them far outgunned in faster aircraft. Similarly, if a very old Type 89 Japanese medium tank were placed in a game with “tiering” it might have to face off against much newer vehicles from the USA, since nothing comparable existed in the US arsenal at the time in 1928 when it was first introduced. While historically there should have been battles that included the much older Japanese tank, simply due to the fact that they were left in areas the Japanese conquered only to encounter the Americans later, it is hardly “fair” to pit a vehicle from 1928 against a U.S. tank from 1940 in a game where “balance” is touted. That said, War Thunder has introduced some lesser-known old U.S. tanks like the M2 Medium Tank, which is welcome news for head-to-head battles with tanks in Japan’s arsenal designed around the same time.

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Solutions for Effective Introduction of Japanese Tanks in Games:

1. Historic Accuracy: Where possible, Japanese tanks should be used in the roles they were successful in – namely the invasion of countries throughout the Pacific and China. Where possible, they should face off against real vehicles of the enemy and not the “best of the best” that players are more familiar with. For example:

  • The M2 Tank used by the U.S. Marine Corps in Guadalcanal should make it into games with Japanese tanks.
  • The British should be afforded their armored vehicles used in Malaya, namely the Lanchester 6×4 armoured car, Mark I.
  • The Chinese should be given the array of foreign-purchased tanks they used against the Japanese during the invasion of Shanghai and other battles, including Vickers Carden Loyd Light Tanks and T-26 tanks.

A game that gives the Chinese “premium” Soviet tanks that are better armed and armored than the Japanese tanks in a 193o’s scenario is not only historically inaccurate, it’s misleading and allows Japan no room to shine during their initial Asian conquest “Invincible Years” phase. If balance is desired, the Chinese positions can be fortified with pillboxes and more Vickers tanks, for example. It is not unusual in a game like War Thunder for there to be unequal numbers in historic / “realistic” battles.

2. Varied maps with water for Amtanks: The Ka-Mi and Ka-Chi amtanks had great potential for use on shores and islands in terms of mobility. It’s worth noting that the pontoons were often left on for the sake of convenience and for a bit of extra armor. There should be a weight/speed/mobility advantage if the player chooses to drop the pontoons, at the expense of some time lost for the conversion.

3. Resources: Japanese light tanks and tankettes should be “cheap” to produce and produced in large numbers early in a game. Since infantry with heavy weapons can defeat these tanks “spamming” them should not be a concern.

Major Japanese Ground Vehicles for Games:

Armored Cars:

Japan had several armored car designs, many of which are not well-known or understood by Western military enthusiasts, so information on them is limited, and the names attached to available photos are often wrong. Some effort is made on this site to correct that deficiency. The Armored Cars represented currently in games may not accurately represent production numbers, but could simply be due to the existence of a few nice photographs. For example, the Type 92 Chiyoda Armored Car (often mislabeled simply “Aikoku Armored Car” based on a single photo with that lettering on its side) is probably one of the most heavily produced non-rail-going armored cars in the Japanese stable, but the low-production Naval Type 93 of which only a handful were built is included instead in Men of War Assault Squad, as in the screenshot below. It is not entirely realistic, since if only 2 models of the Naval Type 93 ever existed and were only deployed in Shanghai, there should not be an unlimited number to deploy on a map in Tarawa in a game. The series of Sumida Rail-Capable Armored Cars (“So-Mo”) are among the best and most unique options for adding into a game, were produced in good numbers, and were used for many years well toward the end of World War 2. The model is mostly the same for the Naval Type 90 Sumida Armored Car, which is the earlier road-going version, allowing for shared 3D modeling and development.

Armored cars were used on railroads and in urban settings primarily. For off-road performance, the Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle, while appearing to be more of a tank, was produced as a sort of off-road armored car or tankettes, and can be used in an Armored Car tech tree early on, later replaced by tankettes like the Type 94 and Type 97 Tankettes.

While not heavily armed or armored, the Type 1 Ho-Ki troop transport could mount a Type 92 heavy machine gun and was an option for Japanese troops to travel with protection from small arms fire, though the Japanese army seemed to prefer the speed of trucks for transporting troops versus half-tracks (and the trucks were much cheaper to produce and maintain).

The Type 93 Naval Armored Car shown in Men of War Assault Squad 2

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Tankettes:

The Type 94 TK and Type 97 Te-Ke have multiple variants, including chemical warfare (mustard gas) and cleanup (bleaching agent) variants of the Type 94. Machine-gun equipped versions of these tanks are actually the most common historically, but the Type 97 had a 37mm tank gun version as well, which is already represented in games like World of Tanks.

To add utility in-game, the tankettes can be used as tractors to pull supplies which infantry could use to restock. Detaching the trailers would allow the tankettes to move faster.

It is also worth noting in games that are not Tank vs. Tank that since the tankettes were usually equipped with machine guns and not tank guns, they were good multi-use support vehicles for infantry and could even serve as mobile armored machine gun nests.

Since the Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle is technically a tank and also quite small with very similar dimensions to a tankette, it would be a suitable entry level vehicle for a Tankette tree as well.

Light Tanks:

Though categorized in a variety of ways, the Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle is probably best classified as the first mass-produced Japanese “light tank.” That said, without a doubt the Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank is the most iconic and was the most common of Japanese light tanks. At the time in 1935 when it first rolled off of the factory floor, the Ha-Go was a very capable light tank. It was maneuverable in a turn, reasonably fast, and could cross rough terrain, though with some discomfort for its passengers. The basic armament was a 37 mm cannon, and a 6.5 mm machine gun. It was unusual in that it was powered by a diesel engine.

The Ha-Go chassis continued to be used in a wide variety of other Japanese light armored vehicles including the amphibious Ka-Mi, though the Ka-Mi bears little external resemblance to the Ha-Go.

Type 95 Ha-Go U.S. Army Evaluation Video:

After the Ha-Go there were a handful of improved light tank designs introduced and manufactured, but none were able to effectively replace the Ha-Go in the field due to resource constraints or the fact of Japan’s bias toward Naval and Air units. The Type 4 Ke-Nu was an interesting tacit acknowledgement of sorts to the dominance of the Ha-Go. The Ke-Nu took surplus Chi-Ha medium tank turrets and fixed them to the top of Ha-Go tanks, swapping out the old turret in exchange for a larger gun and a better-armored turret. Unfortunately the Chi-Ha itself was already obsolete by the time this conversion was applied, and the Chi-Ha’s big but outdated 57mm gun was only really useful for infantry support. That said, for game developers the Ke-Nu would be an easy to develop upgrade that could re-use the models of both Chi-Ha and Ha-Go.

The Type 98 Ke-Ni and its successor the Type 2 Ke-To were superior light tank designs that should have logically replaced the Ha-Go, but they were not produced in large enough numbers to replace the Ha-Go. For the most part they were kept for defense of the home islands and it is not clear whether or not they saw combat action. Those tanks should earn a place in games where progression and upgrades are important, however, since their much lower profiles and better stats make them more competitive vehicles than the older Ha-Go.

Medium Tanks:

Japanese forces first delved into heavy and medium tanks for mass production, and the first mass-produced Japanese tank was the the Type 89 I-Go (sometimes “Chi-Ro”) Medium tank. It was a late 1920’s interwar-era infantry support tank that served the Japanese successfully in the invasion of China and Manchuria during the 1930s. Despite the fact that many nations had nothing similar to face up to the I-Go back when it was introduced, I would propose that this tank is essential to add to any game where Japan is to be a “feared” enemy or fun to play, since it is the very fact of Japan having these tanks in Asia when no one else did that made them so effective. The following video illustrates well how the Imperial Japanese troops used the Type 89 tanks as a large moving shields.

Japanese video of the Type 89 in action:

The Type 97 Chi-Ha was the most widely used and produced medium tank of WW2 and is the iconic Japanese tank of that period, alongside the Ha-Go light tank. It spawned several variants, including the 120mm SNLF naval gun-mounted Chi-Ha. Other support vehicles used the Chi-Ha chassis, and it was the basis of further medium tanks like the Chi-He and Chi-Nu. During its long lifespan it had several improvements, but the most major was the Shinhoto Chi-Ha or “new turret” model.

The Type 97 Chi-Ha is perhaps the easiest and cheapest plastic scale model to obtain, and even die-cast or resin models are available. The most interesting variant for a “cool factor” of the Chi-Ha is perhaps the 120mm Naval Short Gun model that the Special Naval Landing Forces used in small numbers.

The Type89 I-Go Medium Tank. It can be recognized as the “Otsu” model by the machine gun mount’s position to the right 

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Heavy Tanks:

Japan had some relatively large tanks like the Chi-Nu, or the aforementioned 10 meter-long Type 3 Ka-Chi amphibious tank with a crew of seven. The German Tiger II Heavy Tank was 7.38 m long, for comparison. Other than a few experimental tanks and late war prototypes, however, Japan did not embrace the “heavy tank” idea and had little reason to do so in the China/Pacific theater until a later point in the war by which time they were heavily resource-constrained. The resource risk-reward equation did not support having expensive large tanks shipped out on transports that might be sunk before ever reaching the battlefield. Consider that the Japanese empire was largely comprised of islands separated by great distance, where naval transport (including tanks launched from submarines!) was a must and things such as weight and loading/unloading were important.

When the Japanese wanted a powerful tank with a big gun, they typically favored a medium tank chassis, usually based on the Chi-Ha design, mounted with a large gun in the event where added firepower was required.

That is not to say that for the sake of gaming some large Japanese prototype tanks cannot be included in a tech tree.

The Type 95 Heavy Tank: Japanese did have a pair of “Heavy Tank” prototypes built in 1934. The Type 95 was 6.47 meters long, and had a 70mm cannon. The secondary turret below the main turret held a 37mm machine gun. An interesting way to include this in a game would be to have a single copy of this prototype show up as a sort of “surprise” unit unique to a single scenario. It should not be something that can be “mass produced,” however.

There are a couple of “Super heavy tank” projects that existed such as the O-I, but their addition to games should be only for games that lean heavily toward “what if” and fantasy scenarios.

If the Japanese could barely ship out light tanks without transports being sunk late in the war, would they want to pin their success on one giant untested battle tank and hope that it might make it through the supply lanes? It was not as if the Japanese could easily “island hop” such a vehicle, and its use would be limited to the Japanese home islands, Manchuria, or China. Developers with games that hew tightly to history are best avoiding the “O-I” altogether and to focus instead on interesting and uniquely Japanese vehicles like the amphibious and massive Type 3 Ka-Chi. Tankettes like the Type 94 and Type 97 also offer something mobile, small, and different – cheaply made and quite suited for jungle terrain, weak and ancient wooden Chinese bridges, and narrow paths between Asian rice fields. If large and impressive arms are desired, introduction of the Ha-To Mortar Launcher is one way to get a big “bang” for the Japanese near the top of their tree, and there were other tank destroyers with impressive armament as well such as the Type 4 Ho-Ro, or the Type 5 Na-To, 0r 120mm Naval Gun Shinhoto Chi-Ha.

Amphibious Vehicles and Amtanks:

Japan dabbled in amphibious tanks for years before settling on mass-produced designs. Any number of these could be incorporated into games and some are as of yet untapped like the Ishikawajima Amphibious Type 92, a variant (actually a prototype and forerunner) of the Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle. As an island nation Japan had several designs that were in essence assault landing vehicles, or vehicles that would allow for transport of troops and supplies across deep water and then beyond onto shore. Unusual designs such as the Toyota Su-Ki, a sort of boat-truck, were developed along with concepts like the bizarre-looking Sumida-AMP.  In the end, however, the Japanese settled on using amphibious tanks based on their existing land-based designs. This meant a string of concept amphibious tanks based on tankettes, light, and medium tanks emerged, culminating in a few accepted production designs.

The IJN produced nearly 200 Type 2 Ka-Mi amtanks, and they are widely recognized as innovative and unique amphibious tank designs. They had removable pontoons in front and rear that when attached made it look like an armed patrol boat in the water, and a tank when detached and deployed on land. The pontoons were often kept on the Ka-Mi on land for a bit of extra armor and to save the time required for removal.

The Type 3 Ka-Chi: Though hardly “medium” at over 10 meters long with its removable pontoons similar to the Ka-Mi, the Ka-Chi was nevertheless built off of the chassis of Japan’s “Medium” tanks, and therefore keeps this designation. Though only a couple were built, these giant amphibious tanks would add great flavor to a game with Japanese vehicles. Armo makes a good resin model kit that is easy to assemble for any budding game developers looking to make a 3D model, and they ship worldwide.

The Type 4 Ka-Tsu was an interesting design that was submarine launched. It was primarily meant to be a means of supplying troops with supplies, and had a mount for a machine gun, but it also had provisions for mounting two torpedoes that could be fired at U.S. ships in harbor. It was meant to be used in Operation Yu-Go, a Pearl Harbour–style surprise attack raid on American shipping at Majuro atoll, five IJN submarines – I-36, I-38, I-41, I-44, and I-53 – were to be modified to allow each to carry four torpedo-armed Ka-Tsu vehicles.

The Type 5 To-Ku took learning from the Ka-Chi and Ka-Mi before it and would have been a formidable force in the water and on land, but it came too late. Only a single example of this tank was made before the end of the war. Still, it was a real amtank and not a paper project. It did not share the Ka-Chi’s massive profile, but in games like World of Tanks that would be a good thing. It is leaner, lower to the ground, and meaner-looking.

Type5 To-Ku and Type2 Ka-Mi side by side, both had removable pontoons, shown attached here

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Tank Destroyers:

Though few were deployed into combat, there were several Japanese tank destroyer designs, and a handful are listed below. It’s worth noting that with the exception of the Type 5 Na-To, most of Japan’s tank destroyer designs, both production and protoype, were variants of the Chi-Ha medium tank and Ha-Go light tank.

The Type 1 Ho-Ni I was developed by utilizing the existing Type 97 chassis and engine, replacing the standard turret with a 75 mm Type 90 Field Gun mounted in an open casemate with frontal and side armour only, which made it very vulnerable in close combat. The mounting for the 75 mm Type 90 field gun allowed for ten degrees of traverse and elevation from -5 to +25 degrees. The Type 1 Ho-Ni I carried 54 rounds of ammunition.Type 3 Ho-Ni III was a 75 mm Type 90 Field Gun, loosely based on the French Schneider et Cie Canon de 85 mle 1927 which was also used in the Type 3 Chi-Nu tank. Previous gun tanks, Type 1 Ho-Ni I and Type 2 Ho-I, were not really optimized designs. The fully enclosed and armored casemate of the Type 3 Ho-Ni III was intended to address the issues, and an order was placed with Hitachi Ltd in early 1944. Production was hampered by material shortages, and by the bombing of Japan in World War II, and only 31 or 41 units were completed by the time of the end of the war.[31] Although the Type 3 Ho-Ni III were assigned to various combat units, most were stationed within the Japanese home islands to defend against the projected Allied Invasion.

The Type 2 Ho-I was made by mounting a Type 41 75 mm Mountain Gun onto the chassis of the Chi-Ha medium tank. The adapted mountain gun, known as the Type 99 7.5 cm Tank Gun, was completed in 1940. By 1942, with the start of World War II, the Japanese army began to encounter the Allied M4 Sherman and M3 Stuart tanks, which they could barely cope with. The design parameters on the Type 2 were then changed to include a tank destroyer role, with its 75 mm gun equipped with armor-piercing shells.

The Type 3 Ho-Ni III was an improvement over the Type 1 and used a 75 mm Type 90 Field Gun. Previous gun tanks, Type 1 Ho-Ni I and Type 2 Ho-I, were not really optimized designs. The fully enclosed and armored casemate of the Type 3 Ho-Ni III was intended to address the issues, and an order was placed with Hitachi Ltd in early 1944. Production was hampered by material shortages, and by the bombing of Japan in World War II, and only 31 or 41 units were completed by the time of the end of the war. Although the Type 3 Ho-Ni III were assigned to various combat units, most were stationed within the Japanese home islands to defend against the projected Allied Invasion.

The Type 5 Na-To made use of the chassis of the Type 4 Chi-So medium tracked carrier, which was also used on the Type 4 Ha-To Heavy Mortar Launcher. The superstructure had an open top and rear, with an enclosed armored drivers cab. Its main anti-tank armament consisted of a Type 5 75 mm Tank Gun which was the same gun that was used on the Type 4 Chi-To tank

The Type 5 Ho-Ru prototype was a light tank destroyer armed with a Type 1 47 mm tank gun II. The Type 5 Ho-Ru utilized the chassis of the Type 95 Light Tank, but its suspension was enlarged to a 350 mm track link width. The wheel guide pins were set in two rows to hold a road wheel between them. The development of the Type 5 Ho-Ru started in February 1945, with only a single prototype was completed.

Support Vehicles:

The Japanese had many armored and tracked support vehicles, several of which were often based on the Chi-Ha and Ha-Go platforms, but also included halftracks and the Type 97 Te-Ke tankette. Among these were artillery observation vehicles like the Type 100 Te-Re, or timber cutting vehicles. Some had timber cutting roles, and others were engineer vehicles used to provide temporary bridges. The Chi-Yu was a mineplow or mine-clearing tank, these support vehicles could add variety to what the Japanese could offer, especially in a single-player campaign game.

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