It’s time to head for the Pacific Theatre and another early Tamiya release – this Type 97 Chi-Ha is number 75 in the Military miniatures series and was first released in 1975. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader here on MKW, I have built a few other early Tamiya 1/35 tanks (the Walker Bulldog from 1964, the Panzer II from 1971 and the Sturmgeschütz IV from 1975). I enjoyed all of them, but there was one common issue: all were initially designed for motorisation, so all had holes for switches in the bottom and sides of the hull. They also all had simplified tracks with little internal detail, presumably to make them function more effectively.
For some reason, this one is different. It has no holes in the lower hull and reasonably detailed tracks. How come? I have no idea! Tamiya did release a revised version of this kit featuring the Shinhoto Chi-Ha in 1987 (35137) by which time they had given up on motorised kits. They still offer this one, but I did notice that while the mould date on the inside of the lower hull here is 1975, there is also text reading “© 1987 Tamiya”, so perhaps the lower hull of the original (presumably motorised) Chi-Ha kit was replaced in 1987? Whatever, I’m just happy to see fewer holes to fill and nicely detailed tracks.
I’m looking forward to building this kit. Fit and detail on the other early Tamiya kits I tried was well above average and construction was simple and straightforward. The colour schemes used on Japanese tanks are also very different, and I’m looking forward to trying that as well as applying some new weathering techniques. Let’s take a look at the Type 97 Chi-Ha.
The identification of Japanese tanks can seem confusing if you’re not familiar with it. In reality, it’s fairly simple and it’s at least partly based on a poem, which isn’t something you can say about many tank naming systems!
A restored Chi-Ha on display at the Yūshūkan Museum at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Like many Chi-Ha tanks, this has a circular radio antenna mounted above the turret.
From around 1935, Japanese tanks were given two-part names according to their weight/type and the order in which they were developed. The weights/types were Chi, Ke and Ho (Medium, Light and Self-Propelled Gun). The development order reference was for a specific model of tank (similar to the German PzKpfw number identifying a particular type). This was not given as a numeral, but instead as a character derived from the Iroha. a Japanese poem written around 1,000AD. This poem is a perfect pangram: that is, it uses every character of the Japanese alphabet just once. This poem is used like the A, B, C of the western alphabet to order Japanese characters. The third character of the first line of the poem is “ha,” so this is used to represent the third item in a sequence just as we use the letter C. Chi-Ha literally translates as Medium – Third, the third medium tank type to be developed.
Chi-Ha tanks on parade after the capture of Singapore in February 1942.
However, Japanese tanks were also identified by a type number based on the last two digits of their year of adoption for service. This uses the Japanese Imperial dating system derived from the Koki calendar, based on the supposed founding of Japan in 660BC. The Chi-Ha was adopted in 1937, or Imperial Year 2597. So, it was given the Type Number 97. It’s worth noting that the type number isn’t unique: it applies to all items adopted for Japanese military service during a particular year. Japanese armed forces widely used, for example, a tankette also introduced in 1937 and also designated as the Type 97 and the machine guns and main gun used on the Chi-Ha were also both identified as Type 97. Requisitioning anything in the Japanese military must have been a tense business – if you ordered a “Type 97,” you might receive anything from a machine gun to a medium tank!
Type 89 tanks of the IJA, 1934.
The first indigenous Japanese tank design was the Type 89, introduced into service 1932. This was a medium tank weighing around 10 tons and armed with a large calibre but relatively low velocity 57mm main gun intended primarily for infantry support and mounted in a fully traversable turret. It was also the world’s first diesel-engined tank. However, it had a major drawback: a top speed of less than 15mph. This was identified as a serous weakness in action and submissions were requested in 1935 for a new design with a higher top speed. Mitsubishi produced two prototypes in 1936: the Chi-Ha (with a 170hp diesel engine) and the lighter and cheaper Chi-Ni (Medium-Fourth) with a 135hp diesel engine. After evaluation, the Chi-Ha was selected for service with the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).
Type 97 Chi-Ha and Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks during an exercise in 1940 at the Tank School of the Imperial Japanese Army at Chiba. The tank at the right foreground in this photograph, hull No. 301, appears to be one of those for which decals are provided with this kit.
The Chi-Ha provided space for a four-man crew including a two-man turret. Although the turret was fully traversable, the main gun could also traverse within the turret up to 5˚ to either side. The 21 litre, air-cooled, V12 diesel engine gave a useful top speed of up to 25mph. In addition to a Type 97 57mm main gun (similar to that used on Type 89), this tank was armed with two Type 97 (7.7mm) machine guns: one mounted in the forward hull and the other in a ball-mount on the turret rear. Armour thickness varied from 15mm to a maximum of 33mm on the mantlet. More than 1,100 Chi-Ha tanks were manufactured and this type saw service with the IJA and IJN in Manchuria, on the Russian border and every location in the Pacific Theatre.
A group of Chi-Ha Tanks of the 11th Tank Regiment on Shumshu in the Kuril Islands during World War Two. The tank nearest the camera is a later Shinhoto Chi-Ha. All the others are the original version.
The Chi Ha was first used in combat in China where it proved adequate. However, in 1939 the Battles of Khalkhin Gol against the forces of the Soviet Union revealed major deficiencies. The high-velocity 47mm guns of Russian light tanks outranged and outperformed the low-velocity 57mm gun on the Chi-Ha. As a direct result, work began on a new version which became known as the Type 97 Kai (Improved), and as the Shinhoto (New Turret) Chi-Ha. It incorporated a completely new, larger, three-man turret armed with a high-velocity 47mm main gun. From 1942 on, the Shinhoto Chi-Ha completely replaced the original version in production and more than 900 examples of this improved type were manufactured.
A Chi-Ha of the 11th Tank Regiment, destroyed while attempting to stop a Russian landing on Shumshu in August 1945. Possibly one of the tanks from the previous image. Photographed on Shumshu in 2009.
What’s in the Box?
Parts are moulded in dark green plastic and provided on three sprues plus the upper and lower hull and main turret mouldings.
Eight poly-cap washers are also provided for attaching the road wheels.
Detail looks generally very good with bolt, rivet and weld detail being particularly nicely done.
Even the provided figures don’t look too bad in terms of detail.
The only place where detail is lacking is the inside of the turret hatch – if you want to show this open, some additional work may be needed.
I have seen it suggested in other reviews that the exhaust heat shields provided with this kit are unusable. For what it’s worth, I disagree. In reality, the silencers on the Chi-Ha were covered with thin mesh screens, as you can see below (this image also shows the inside of the turret hatch).
In this kit, the silencers and mesh heat shields are moulded integrally, but there is some attempt at representing mesh. OK, these aren’t perfect, but I think they’re usable and you can always replace them with aftermarket PE screens if they offend you (though I guess that means you’ll need to fabricate new silencers too).
No external stowage is included though there are a couple of steel helmets that can be placed on the turret side. The vinyl tracks seem reasonably detailed inside and out, though the vinyl of which they are made is fairly inflexible. As far as I can tell, they seem like a fair representation of Chi-Ha tracks.
The instructions provide what appears to be an accurate summary of Japanese tank paint schemes. Prior to 1942 (and most of the early version of the Chi-Ha depicted by this kit were produced before 1942) these tanks were painted in a base of khaki drab (Tsuchi kusa-iro) with a hard-edged “fleeting cloud” disruptive camouflage pattern using mahogany brown (Tsuchi-iro) and light tan (Karekusa-iro). In addition, many tanks were overpainted with an irregular cross in vivid yellow, roughly centred on the turret.
This rare colour wartime image shows a knocked-out Type 95 Ha-Go light tank finished in the three-colour scheme, but without the yellow cross.
However, the actual paints used depended on what was available at the time and there was no published reference for the Fleeting Cloud pattern – each Japanese tank represented a unique work of art. While Tamiya provide suggested paints and a camo scheme, feel free to indulge your imagination!
Decals are provided for six tanks of various identified units. The decal sheet is printed nicely in-register and the colours look strong and consistent.
The instructions generally seem very clear, though they do show an optional externally mounted MG for AA defence. However, unless I’m missing it, there is no clue anywhere in the instructions to suggest where this goes! I have not been able to find a single wartime image of a Chi-Ha fitted with such a machine gun, so I think I’ll be leaving this off.
Would You Want One?
I can’t see why not. This looks accurate, very nicely detailed and if it’s anything like most other Tamiya kits, construction should be simple. The only things that stand out as not being up to current standards are the lack of interior detail on the main turret hatch and perhaps the exhaust heat shields. If you really can’t put up with them, Eduard do PE replacements for the heat shields. The kit tracks are nicely detailed, but they are made from fairly stiff vinyl, so I don’t know how well it will be possible to replicate sag, but again, there are several aftermarket alternatives if you prefer.
If you don’t fancy this one, there are other 1/35 Chi-Ha kits available. Another Japanese manufacturer, Fine Molds, have released several versions of the Chi-Ha in 1/35 since 2008. These are generally nice kits, with far more parts than the Tamiya version including clear plastic items, PE exhaust screens and link and length tracks. Overall these are very nicely detailed kits, though it has been said that the rivet detail perhaps isn’t quite as good as that on the Tamiya version. These are also around twice the price of the Tamiya version which, like many of the older Tamiya tank kits, is now available from around €15.
Chinese manufacturer Dragon released a 1/35 Chi-Ha in 2017, and it’s very nice indeed, with PE parts and Dragon’s DS tracks. Several versions are available and all have lots of detail and are very accurate but they’re typically more than three times the price of the Tamiya kit and I’m not at all certain that they’re three times as good!
Dragon also offer several versions of the Chi-Ha in 1/72 and, if you’re willing to go tiny there’s always the old Airfix Chi-Ha in 1/76 scale. Originally released in 1974, this is one of the better Airfix tank kits from the 70s and it has recently been re-released as part of the Vintage Classics range. And it’s available for less than the price of a couple of fancy coffees!