As of late, I have uncovered photos of Japanese tank training in Manchuria sometime in 1937 at a photograph auction. At first I regarded this as just another photographed album of pictures of the inter-war period, but, looking through the album, I came across a photo which deeply intrigued me. Two tanks of unknown design, being tested climbing a rise in the fields outside the Manchurian Tank School. At first glance, I had presumed them to be both Chi-Ha tanks as they fit the typical Japanese medium tank style. Further analysis, however, made me believe that these were not Chi-Ha tanks, rather, two brand new designs of tanks as yet unknown. Consulting with some of my colleagues on this, I have since connected some dots in Japanese tank development history that were previously left unnoticed with the research community. Here today I present my new thesis regarding the steps the Japanese most likely took when producing their tanks.
|Two New Medium Tanks I recently discovered through a photograph auction.|
The Empire of Japan, like other nations, had their own style of classifying things in the military. Japan used the Imperial Calendar when naming weapons and vehicles in the military under the year of enacted service or construction. It emphasized using the last two (or three) digits of the given year as a Type in number form. A common example of this was the Type 95 Ha-Go tank. The Type refers to the fact the given vehicle belonged to the military. The two digit number following the Type meant that the tank was built in 1935 (Imperial Year 2595). This was standard issue for all things in the military, and would follow through to even the current year.
|Type 95 Heavy "Ro-Go".|
I-Go: First Domestic Tank
Ro-Go: Second Domestic Tank
Ha-Go: Third Domestic Tank
The Ro-Go is commonly known as the Type 95 Heavy Tank. Until 2015, the heavy tank was simply referred to as a heavy tank due to no found naming term applied to it. However discoveries with the O-I documentation release confirmed the tank was given the name Ro-Go, as it was the second tank in Japan produced in numbers outside one or two. It was never labeled as a heavy tank in name, only in its description. Hence the common theory arose that the tank was only referred to as the Type 95 Heavy, instead of the proper name Ro-Go. Other tanks such as the Type 94 Te Ke were not included in this nomenclature due to being a tankette, classified as an armoured car. Hence only three tanks were given naming.
Starting in 1937, the Japanese enacted this new nomenclature starting with the Chi-Ha tank, with the new system being called the Iroha Naming Convention. Replacing the previous system where tanks were named in their domestic order, they were instead classed under their weight and the number in which they followed through in order. The Chi-Ha, for instance, is translated as “Third Medium” in the army. Other tank classes were given their own names in Kanji and the respective numbers:
|Chi-Ni Medium Tank.|
Ho: Gun Tank
O: Super Heavy
|Chi-Ha Medium Tank.|
Popular Examples of the Iroha system:
Ke-Ni: Fourth Light
Chi-Nu: Tenth Medium
O-I: First Super Heavy
Chi-Ri: Ninth Medium
Holes in History
The glaring issue with this system was that the Chi-Ha had been labeled the Third Medium tank, despite there being no First and Second Medium tank (I and Ro). Many historians came to the commonly agreed upon conclusion that since the system was only applied to tanks produced from 1937 onwards, the vehicles prior to this were not given the integrated naming change. Japan had produced two medium tanks with the old classification system, the Experimental I tank, which was classed as a medium-like tank, and the Type 89 I-Go. With no knowledge of any other tanks, it was believed the Japanese considered these two tanks the predecessors of the Chi-Ha, and falsely labeled the Experimental I and I-Go tanks as the “Chi-I” and “Chi-Ro” tanks respectively.
Of course, there were problems in this common interpretation that were left unanswered. The Type 98 Ke-Ni, dubbed the Fourth Light Tank, was the first Japanese light tank design with the new Iroha classing nomenclature. The Ha-Go, which was referred to as the Third Domestic light tank in Japan, had too been incorrectly placed before the Ke-Ni in the Iroha naming system. This left a gap in light tank development that had simply been left unfilled. The lack of documented records with early Japanese tank history had given many historians decades later the trouble of securing a firm timeline of tank development and naming.
to presume them to be the first series of tanks to compete for
the role as Japan’s new battle tank.
In this new proposed theory, every spot in the Iroha classing system falls into their proper order up until the 1944-1945 gap where many tanks were scrapped and remain unknown.
Chi-I: (Medium First) Tank “A”
Chi-Ro: ( Medium Second) Tank “B”
Chi-Ha: ( Medium Third) Type 97 Chi-Ha
Chi-Ni: (Medium Fourth): Type 97 Chi-Ni
Chi-Ho: (Medium Fifth) Type 98 Chi-Ho
Chi-He: (Medium Sixth): Type 1 Chi-He
Chi-To: (Medium Seventh): Type 4 Chi-To
Chi-Ri: (Medium Ninth): Type 5 Chi-Ri
Chi-Nu: (Medium Tenth): Type 3 Chi-Nu
Ke-I: (Light First) Unreleased Tank*
Ke-Ro: (Light Second) Unreleased Tank*
Ke-Ha: (Light Third) Unreleased Tank*
Ke-Ni: (Light Fourth) Type 98 Ke-Ni
Ke-Ho: (Light Fith) Type 5 Ke-Ho
Ke-He: (Light Sixth) Currently Unknown
Ke-To: (Light Seventh) Type 2 Ke-To
Ke-Ri: (Light Ninth) Type 3 Ke-Ri
Ke-Nu: (Light Tenth) Type 4 Ke-Nu
Ju-I: (Heavy First) Type 96 Heavy*
Ju-Ro: (Heavy Second) Type 97 Heavy*
Ju-Ha: (Heavy Third) Mitsu-104*
Ju-Ni: (Heavy Fourth) Ishi-108*
* = Tanks currently not publicly available. Kept private with David Lister and I until his book, which was recently contracted, is published.