The Type92 Heavy Armored Vehicle sometimes called “Armored Car” (though this should be avoided since a Type92 Chiyoda Armored Car model exists) was originally used during the invasion of Manchuria by Imperial Japan roughly a decade prior to World War 2. It was a fully Japanese design inspired by foreign-sourced tanks Japan had purchased and analyzed previously. While it was not the first mass-produced tank of Imperial Japan (that honor fell to the much heavier Type89 “I-Go” medium tank), it was typical of later Japanese tanks and tankettes that emphasized smaller size, maneuverability, and less in the way of resources to build. The Cavalry felt that the larger Type 89 medium tank was far too slow for the operations and recon missions they were used to, while the wheeled Armored Cars were too limited in off-road performance, and thus the Type92 HAV was built and designed to suit the needs of the Imperial Japanese Cavalry traveling over rough terrain. Denied the use of “tanks” for the same sort of political reason that the U.S. Cavalry needed to use the term “Combat Car” for it’s M1, the Type92 could not be classified as a light tank officially. Due to its small size and stature, some credit this vehicle as being the first of Japan’s “tankettes,” though it was never classified as a tankette, either.
While the design concept was sound on paper, the Type92 HAV had a number of issues in its first iteration, including the tendency to throw its tracks in tight turns and a lack of speed. These shortcomings, despite the thin armor, meant it was not as nimble or quick as hoped by the Cavalry which wanted armor that could work with traditional horse formations. The initial armament of two relatively small machine guns also made it on par or inferior to other Japanese armored cars suited only for close range conflict.
These issues were worked out in later revised models (detailed below) with improvements to the hull-mounted gun, an improved suspension system, and a mount for a third external machine gun. The first impression of the vehicle as a disappointment stuck, however, and some of its flaws were never fully addressed. While it was a pioneer of sorts in light tank development for Japan, it was not a celebrated vehicle in its time, perhaps due to its limited use by the Cavalry. For this reason, and perhaps also because it was an “interwar” design, it remains a rather obscure Japanese tank today. That said, it was used for nearly 10 years and is recorded as having been in the arsenal in Manchukuo (Manchuria) as late as 1942.
Scale model of an early Type92 Heavy Armored Vehicle. Note the suspension differences and smaller machine gun in the hull and older machine gun in the turret.
In Games: The Type92 mid and late production models are all-around vehicles that offer an appropriate historic “interwar” entry point for Japanese “light tanks” (or tankettes) to compliment the heavier Type89. They should be treated as they were intended, as lightly armored scouting vehicles capable of crossing rough terrain with the added bonus of some anti-air capability on later models. The 13.2 mm machine cannon gives the vehicle a fighting chance in games where early armor meets early armor (including armored cars and trucks), or where enemy biplanes might expect no resistance. Overall the Type92 would be most effective against lightly-armed infantry in a scouting role where they can penetrate unchallenged deep into enemy territory – places where IJA infantry on foot would be vulnerable. Japanese tankettes (to which the Type92 HAV is sometimes compared) were often attached to infantry groups and traveled in numbers, while the Type92 HAV was a recon vehicle, not an infantry support tractor.
Performance and Armament: With only 6mm of thickness in most parts, the Type92’s had just enough armor to be effective against what the Chinese and Mongolian forces could throw at them at the time, mainly pistols and bolt-action rifles. They had superior off-road mobility compared to true wheeled armored cars (like the Type 93 Naval Armored Car or Type92 Chiyoda Armored Car) since they had to operate in rough terrain. Their armament originally consisted of only two 6.5mm Type91 machine guns (one in the turret and one in the hull), but later a heavy 13.2mm Type92 machine-gun – at that time thought to be armor-piercing – derived from the French Hotchkiss 13mm anti-air cannon. The cannon was placed in the hull with the ability to also angle and fire upward at aircraft if needed. There was also a provision / mount behind the turret for an additional 6.5mm Type91 machine gun to be used externally (as seen in the photo above), bringing the weapon total to 4 per vehicle, not including the ability for soldiers to fire small arms out of hinged openings on the tank’s hull.
It is worth noting that the Type98 20 mm Machine Cannon was successfully mounted on several late models. This would have improved the firepower of the vehicle considerably, but by the time the Type98 Machine Cannon was available, the Type92 HAV would have been otherwise obsolete, superseded by the Type95 Ha-Go Light Tank and two newer models of tankettes. For those Type92’s still in the field, however, the addition of the 20mm Machine Cannon (as a replacement for the hull-mounted 13.2mm Type92 machine gun) would have been welcome, along with an upgraded turret machine gun in the 7.7mm Type96.
Above: Imperial Japanese Army Cavalry soldier (tanker) using the engine cover and turret lid as additonal cover while operating the external machine gun. Note the 6.6 mm type 91 machine gun on the turret, suggesting this was an interim variant, not a “late” final model despite the improved suspension components / wheels.
One way to identify the different models is to look at the number of wheels and suspension. Early models had more roller wheels on the return track up top, while later models had a redesigned suspension similar to the Type95 Ha-Go with less return roller wheels leading to a characteristic “slack” in the track.
A Type 92 first production model. Initial armament was two light 6.6 mm type 91, with one mounted in the hull. Belongs to a Cavalry division which took part in the attack of Harbin. 1932.
A standard, rearmed early production type 92. Notice the 13.2mm heavy Mg in the hull. First Special Tank Company of the 8th Division, battle of Rehe, March 1933.
A late type 92, Manchuria, April 1942. Modifications included a new drivetrain, new suspension, new portholes and vision slits, and a new light turret machine gun, the 7.7mm type 96. Note that although this image does not show it, the tank tracks apparently had much more slack in the improved suspension.
As mentioned above, the Type 92 HAV went by the name “Armored Vehicle” or “Armored Car” to be intentionally ambiguous and to avoid the “tank” nomenclature due to military rules of separation. The Imperial Army’s Cavalry operated somewhat independently of the Japanese Army at the time and wanted an armored vehicle that could scout like a horse across tough terrain while protecting against small arms fire.
In practice the Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle performed satisfactorily and saw two more major model revisions during its lifespan. Though called a “failed design” by some, the vehicle served its purpose and offered valuable feedback for further indigenous tankette and light tank designs by Japan.
Within only a couple of years the Type 92’s niche was replaced to some degree by the Type 94 Tankette and the long-lived and successful Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank designs. This did not stop many of them from carrying on for years in locations where they had been originally deployed.