The line of Imperial Japan’s first heavy tank prototypes with multiple turrets do not receive enough attention in games or media, and are largely unknown. When most hear “large multi-turret Japanese tank” they think of the almost mythical “O-I” ultra heavy tank, but these tanks far predated it and were not simply half-baked projects. Experimental and not used in combat, they were functional tanks just the same. With games allowing even partial prototypes Japan’s heavies deserve a second look, if only to be used to add interesting and unexpected flavor to game scenarios.
These tanks were designed and built around the same time as smaller production Japanese tanks such as the Type 89 I-Go and Type 92 Heavy Armored Vehicle, and were researched and designed over several years with 3 iterations from 1927 until 1934 culminating in the Type 95 Heavy Tank. It appears at least one of the models was also seen in Tokyo on parade. According to differing sources either 1 or 4 of the Type 95 Heavy Tank prototypes were produced, preceded by the “Experimental Tank No.1” and the “Type 91 Heavy Tank”. All models were noteworthy for being large and multi-turreted in a way that was popular at the time. This style of design can be seen in the Soviet T-28, for example, though it should be noted that the “Experimental Tank No.1” predated the T-28, and likely drew heavy inspiration instead from the Vickers A1E1 Independent tank from 1925. Japan had imported other Vickers tanks prior to developing its own tanks and no doubt looked to the A1E1, though that tank was itself only a single prototype.
Ultimately this tank was not deemed necessary for the sort of campaigns waged by Japan in China and elsewhere, but it would have been interesting to see how it could have performed in the Battles of Nomohan, for instance. And in games, all is possible! A scenario suggestion would be to have 1-3 of the Type 95 Heavy tanks pulled into service in a fantasy scenario against the USSR, supporting the lighter, smaller tanks of the Japanese forces.
The Type 95 Heavy Tank is notable for:
- A 70mm main gun, up from 57mm on earlier prototypes.
- Up to 35mm of armor (decent for the time and its intended role).
- A secondary turret with a 37mm tank gun in front, and a dedicated 6.5mm machine gun turret in the rear.
1. Experimental tank No.1 (1927)
2. Experimental Type 91 Heavy Tank (1931)
3. Type 95 Heavy Tank (1934)
Type 95 Heavy Tank
Number produced: Up to 4 (including revamped older prototypes)
Length: 21.25ft/ 6.47m
Hull Width: 8.8ft/ 2.7m
Height: 9.5ft/ 2.9m
Crew: 5 or 6
Weight: 24 tons
Engine: 290hp diesel engine
Top speed: 13.7mph/ 22 km/h
Max Range: 110km
Main Turret: One 70mm gun and one 6.5mm machine gun
Front Turret: One 37mm gun
Rear Turret: One 6.5mm machine gun
There have been few scale models available for this series of tanks, but a nice one is out there now from Fairy (a niche Japanese model company) which makes resin model kits of rare Japanese armor.