The Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank was the most important and most produced medium tank the Japanese Army had in WWII. Designed as a replacement for the Type 89 tank, it was a compromise design. Japanese Army leaders could not decide between an easily mass produced tank and a heavier tank that front line commanders demanded for infantry support. The designation of Type 97 comes, as far as I understand, from acceptance of the vehicle design in the year 2697 of the Imperial calendar. All prototypes designed in that year were designated at Type 97 items.
The Type 97 Chi-Ha (Medium "C" or third model) tank was unique with its asymmetrical design and complicated front. Armor which in the turret was 33mm thick, but the hull front dropped to 22mm and only 9mm on the hull sides. Initially armed with a 57mm low velocity gun, a brief clash with Soviet forces in Nomonhon over a border dispute in Manchuria demonstrated that the 57mm gun, and the tank itself, were inadequate for modern combat, particularly against other tanks. As a result, a new 47mm high velocity gun (modelled after Soviet guns captured at Nomonhon) was designed and installed in a new turret (Shinhoto) which was then placed on the original Type 97 hull.
In combat use, the type 97 initially fared rather well against British and US forces in the Pacific. It was light (13.5 metric tons) and could go into areas thought impassable to armor, however, its weak armor was a liability. Against the US M3 Stuart, the 57mm gun could not penetrate. The 47mm gun could defeat the armor at 1000 yards. The 37mm gun of the M3 could defeat the armor of the Type 97. Against the M4, the 47mm gun could achieve penetration of the hull sides at close range. Armor piercing rounds of the M4 would pass completely through the Type 97 without destroying the vehicle. As a result, US tank crews used high explosive rounds, which proved quite effective.
Of a total of 2123 vehicles produced, 930 were Shinhto variants. They were used in most areas of the Pacific theatre, but with generally little success. As the war progressed, they were frequently expended in suicide attacks, or used in fortified positions.
I have an interest in PTO subjects, and previously reviewed the Type 1 Japanese tank. FineMolds released the Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha after the Type 1, and I wanted to see how they had improved the product.
The box art shows a Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha in early war paint scheme (with the yellow disruptive stripes painted over the camouflage) and a captured M3 Stuart in the background. I would assume the setting is the Philippenes or Manchuria. Inside the box are 7 plastic sprues, all carefully packaged, one separate hull tub, two lengths of gluable track, a brass photo etch sheet and decals.
Molding is quite good, with many small parts finely detailed. There is a small amount of flash present on parts but I didn't see any ejector pin marks on any visible surfaces. Some parts are from the previous Type 1 kit but are marked not for use on the front page of the instructions. Be careful to use the correct parts as you build the kit.
Instructions are typical fold out type, mostly in Japanese but with colors and minor details called out in English. Construction consists of 20 steps clearly laid out in easily understood drawings. There are small call out boxes for construction details and attachment references. Step 20 shows the actual length to make the antenna, from .6mm rod. Some parts are optional depending on which of 6 vehicles you wish to build, based on decal markings. A separate information page, is included with painting schemes showing the early and late paint schemes, as well as decal placement. Paints are called out in GSI colors (I think Aqueous and Mr. Hobby) and Tamiya.
Plastic parts are as follows;
Sprue A (X2)
Muffler, suspension parts, transmission hatches, antenna base and handles. Molding on these parts is crisp, with rivet heads and spring detail shown clearly. The plastic is a little brittle, so removal of the several very small parts must be done with care.
Sprue B (X2). Suspension
This is from the Type 1 kit, and only the road wheel assemblies are used. There is some minor flash on the idler wheels, but otherwise detail is again very crisp. Bolt heads are well defined, and separate hubs are included for the center four wheels. All hubs have grease nipples present. There are spare rivet heads on the back of the sprue plate.
Parts for the 47mm gun, with complete breech, loaders hatch with interior detail and the turret AA mount for the rear hull MG. It would have been nice to have some extra detail for the turret to show off with the very nice breech, but aside from the gun the turret sits bare. Spare rivet heads are again included on the back of the sprue plate.
Sprue E upper hull parts and turret
The complicated hull front with driver's vision port and hull MG are nicely represented. The hull MG is on a moveable ball mount. A new mantlet is provided which includes better detail than the original Type 1 kit offered. Engine access doors feature molded on handles in a folded down position which still look very nice, decent hinge and rivet detail, and no blemishes. The turret has a small amount of flash, easily removed. Raised weld seams are delicate. The commanders cupola is included with detail on both sides of the split hatches. The vision port can be built open or closed. There is an option for what appears to be a periscope on the top of the turret, or a plate to cover the opening, depending on the variant to be built.
Upper hull with nicely detailed vent slits for the air intakes, uniform bolt heads and individual plate sections. There is a separate vent cover and a radiator with screen detail well represented. The slits in the cover are large enough that the detail of the radiator will be clearly seen, a very nice touch for the kit. The hull front and rear plates are again well detailed, with uniform rivet heads. Final drive assemblies, rear hull tool box, pioneer tools and multi part jack also look very good. Sponson inserts are included as well, to nicely close up the hull.
Sprue H clear parts
This includes head and tail lights, vision blocks and as a bonus two bottles which can be used to accessorise the kit. Decals are included as labels for the bottles. Sadly, the vision blocks in the cupola are not visible unless the cupola hatches are molded open.
Part J hull tub
This has good rivet and plate detail on the bottom, rivets and separate plate sections clearly defined on the sides, and brackets for the front and rear fenders molded to the sides. There is no interior detail, which is the one feature this kit is really crying out for.
Part M photo etch
Here there are two very nice looking muffler screens, much better than the plastic mesh screen in the Type 1 kit. There is a former on the F sprue, part 23, just for forming the screens.
Two lengths of gluable track are included. They have decent but soft detail on them, and a somewhat serpentine appearance (slightly wavy from side to side) because of the molding process. They are certainly useable, but aftermarket upgrades might be a better option if you want a better appearance. Fruil and Vision Model both offer options. Early Type 97 shows some track sag, but photos I have seen, and the built kit depicted on the side of the box, show almost no sag. Those photos I have seen depicting sag were usually of knocked out vehicles.
Decals are for six vehicles.
- Option 1, 7th tank regiment, 1942. Location not indicated.
- Option 2, 9thh tank regiment, 5th company, Saipan, 1944.
- Option 3, 13th tank regiment, China.
- Option 4, 8th independent company, Luzon, 1945.
- Option 5, Chiba tank school.
All of the above are the early scheme, Dark green, red brown and earth (Tochi-iro) although it looks like they have red brown and earth reversed in the painting directions. Yellow disruptive stripe is part of the pattern.
Option 6, Earth (tochi-iro), Grass green (Kusa-iro) and Parched grass (Karekusa-iro) is for a vehicle from the 5th tank regiment, Saitama prefecture, Japan 1945. The paints for this scheme are offered as a set from GSI Creos. I have seen photos of tanks sporting what appears to be the late scheme from Saipan, Leyte and Luzon.
Based on my build of the Type 1, I expect this kit will go together easily right out of the box. The details are very nice and I really like the "extras", such as the radiator and photo etch muffler screens. The price is about what I paid from Lucky Model, including shipping, taking advantage of their 7th anniversary sale. In comparison to how much you get in the box, the price still seems a little high. I still want a full machinegun for the turret, either to have the hatches open, or display in the AA position. Vision slits on the sides of the cupola are not present and will have to be carefully added. However, the kit is an improvement on the Type 1 kit. The only other option for this tank is from Tamiya. I would recommend the FineMolds kit for the details. Easy to assemble, not parts heavy, and clear directions make it a good choice if you like, or are looking at getting into the subject of Japanese armor.