The Type 95 Ha-Go was quite possibly the most recognizable Japanese tank of World War II. It needs little introduction here, since information on it is widely available. Two lesser-known versions of the Ha-Go are worth mentioning, however, and could be introduced to games that want to illustrate a progression of the tank over time, a tank that otherwise saw very little change over the near decade in which it was used when compared to light tanks of other nations. There are some possible reasons for the extended use of the tank, including dispersion across the Pacific – making it easier to leave obsolete tanks in place than to attempt to recall them, a mature manufacturing process, easy availability of parts compared to completely new designs, and popularity with tankers already trained on the tank. Ultimately the military decided that the Ha-Go was “good enough”, and this was the deciding factor in keeping it in use long past its prime. Despite the introduction of the unrelated and newer Ke-Ni and Ke-To light tanks that were more modern and lower to the ground than the Ha-Go, the Ha-Go remained Imperial Japan’s primary light tank for the duration of WW2. That said, there were a couple of attempts to upgrade the basic tank. The Ke-Nu and Ke-Ri tanks were two such variants.
1. The Type 3 Ke-Ri was a prototype that upgraded the Ha-Go in 1943 with a with a Type 97 57 mm gun. One complaint against the Ha-Go was a tight turret, and unfortunately the Ke-Ri, once equipped with the 57mm gun, was even more cramped. Only a handful of the tanks were made for testing purposes and the tank was not selected for mass production.
The Ke-Ri’s 57mm gun, also used in the Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank, would have improved the Ha-Go’s primary role of infantry support, firing mainly high explosive shells against infantry, machine gun nests, structures, and fortifications to decent effect. It was not an effective gun for anti-armor warfare, however, as it had a low muzzle velocity, but did have a penetration of 25mm at 1000m, which was sufficient for disabling or destroying light enemy tanks such as the M3 Stuart, obsolete Chinese Vickers tanks still in service, or armored cars, and packed more of a punch than the Ha-Go’s original Type 94 and Type 98 37mm tank guns.
This tank is a logical upgrade of the Ha-Go in games that allow prototypes to be used, and would be easily implemented in a game also including the Chi-Ha medium tank. It is currently represented as simply a Level 3 gun upgrade of the Ha-Go’s in World of Tanks.
Note: Some current images and scale models of the “Ke-Ri” appear as Type 2 Ka-Mi Amtank turrets and guns applied to the Ha-Go body. This combination of parts would apply only to another very different Ha-Go upgrade project known as the Ha-Go “Kai”, and was not related at all to the Ke-Ri design. Little information on the Ha-Go Kai is available in English at this time.
2. The Type 4 Ke-Nu was more of a common sense, logical progression on the idea behind the Ke-Ri, and one that provided additional armor in the turret. A byproduct of modernization of the Chi-Ha Medium Tank, it simply used the Chi-Ha’s turret in place of the Ha-Go’s. As the Chi-Ha had its gun turrets upgraded, there were many leftover early Chi-Ha turrets to work with. While an official design that took the medium tank turrets and low muzzle velocity 57mm tank guns of the Chi-Ha, the Ke-Nu idea was also a field-applied upgrade in some cases (such as in Manchukuo where one example survived), though the field upgrade examples lacked the same fit and finish of officially built Ke-Nu tanks.
A critical way to look at the Ke-Nu is that is was simply a mash-up of two obsolete designs – the base of the thinly armored Ha-Go and the turret of the Chi-Ha with an outdated tank gun only really useful for infantry support. That said, the Ke-Nu could still have been a useful tank in China even until late in the war, since the Chinese had little in the way of armor and the 57mm tank gun was still a powerful weapon against enemy fortifications and infantry. It also would have been a welcome addition for tank commanders, since the Chi-Ha style turret was much better armored. The downside would have been the effective range against enemy armor (the same problem the older Chi-Ha’s faced), which would have forced commanders to camouflage the tanks and hold their fire until the enemy tanks were close enough to damage.
Summary: The Ke-Nu and Ke-Ri would both have been a “better than nothing” upgrade of the Ha-Go if the Japanese had been able to readily retrofit all Ha-Go’s out in the field, but the way the tanks and troops were spread across the Pacific made this impractical. In practice only about 100 Ke-Nu tanks were finished in Japan, with some shipped to Manchukuo and Korea and none of those saw combat against Allied troops in the Pacific. Ha-Go’s modified in the field with Chi-Ha turrets to be made into Ke-Nu tanks were recognizable as having more of Frankenstein-like appearance with an improper fit and overhang to the turret (the serial production Ke-Nu is said to have had no turret overhang).
Due to the “Ke” used to indicate “Light”, the Ke-Ri and Ke-Ni may be confused by some, so it is important to note that the Ke-Ni and Ke-To tanks are completely different designs and do not share the Ha-Go’s platform as the Ke-Nu and Ke-Ri do. Last but not least, it is worth mentioning the late war “Ke-Ho” prototype light tank, which has already been incorporated into the game World of Tanks, likely to fill a perceived gap in a light tank tier. Also noteworthy was that the Ha-Go itself was also known as the “Ke-Go”. To keep things straight one might turn to the year numbers of introduction, but these do not help as much as they might in disambiguation with the Ha-Go variants since the older obsolete parts of the Ke-Nu were only put together in 1944, or Year o4 = Type 4, while the Type 2 Ke-To from 1942 is really a more modern and superior light tank design.
Both tank variants stood tall when compared to the low-slung and potentially stealthier Ke-Ni and Ke-To tanks, described HERE.
In games: The Ke-Nu should only be used as a late war infantry support tank, and is best offered as an “upgrade” option on the Ha-Go. The turret affords extra armor protection and packs a punch that the Ha-Go did not have, but the Ke-Nu will not succeed against other tanks where either the Ha-Go or Chi-Ha failed previously.
Strategy: The Ke-Nu could use hull down ridge tactics to its advantage more than a Ha-Go could by only exposing its better armored turret. To the enemy, a Ke-Nu hiding its hull with terrain would effectively present the same danger and firepower as a Chi-Ha medium tank.
A Ke-Nu on display