Type 95 Ha-Go (Ke-Go / Kyu-Go)
At its inception, the Type 95 Ha-Go was the best Japan light tank offering, less so by the time of World War 2.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited:
The Type 95 "Ha-Go" was a light tank design primarily utilized by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during World War 2. She was fielded earlier during the Second Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan but clearly made her mark in the upcoming global conflict against both British and American forces across Southern Asia and the Pacific. The light tank maintained an excellent top speed and was appropriately armed by mid-to-late 1930s standards. She operated with a crew of three personnel and was utilized to good effect during the early territory-capturing campaigns that signified the early years of World War 2. The Type 95 was the first enemy tank to be engaged by the Americans in the conflict.
The Light Tank
Light tanks are generally a class of tank that are seldom designed and constructed for the modern army. Armored warfare could be traced back to its humble origins in World War 1 with the British perhaps making the best use of their systems by the later years of the conflict. The first tank-versus-tank battle was inconclusive and saw the British "lozenge" shaped tanks square off against lumbering German box designs. The war spawned several light and medium classifications and most were generally fielded in support of infantry actions as opposed to dealing with enemy tanks directly. These tanks could cut cross barbed wired fences, obstacles and enemy trenches while supplying their crews with protection from small arms fire - meaning the tide of a single battle could change at a moment's notice.
However, the interwar years (that is, the period following World War 1 and preceding World War 2) saw multiple studies carried out by major world powers into the validity of a fast-moving, "mechanized" army dealing with the enemy through both firepower and speed - a forerunner to the modern "Shock and Awe". These "battle tanks" could now spearhead such an aggressive movement with infantry support following along with their "infantry support" tanks in tow. This, coupled with calculated air support, could turn any army into a major military player seemingly overnight. Like Germany in the West, the Empire of Japan was quietly building up a war machine to conquer her interests throughout Asia and, ultimately, the Pacific. The light tank would, therefore, prove vital in the Empire's upcoming actions.
Type 95 Origins
Japanese military authorities were keen on the presence and power of the tank in future operations. Existing systems proved ill-equipped to keep up with a large, fast-moving force so preparations were set for a "new-look" IJA. Utilizing experience garnered from procurement and operation of foreign tank systems, the Japanese produced a prototype light tank - this design built on pure speed with light armor protection - and unveiled the system in 1934 at the Sagami Arsenal. There were early concerns about the type's lack of armor protection for the crew and engine but this was deemed acceptable to maintain the required speed for the class. As such, the new tank design was assigned the rather plain designation of "Type 95" (nickname of "Ha-Go") and production began in 1935 at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Type 95 Production
In all, some 2,103 examples were ultimately delivered. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was an early primary maker of the tank system though Sagami Arsenal, Hitachi Industries, Niigata Tekkosho, Kobe Seikosho and Kokura Arsenal combined to deliver over 1,200 additional examples by war's end. It should be noted, however, that critical war materials and technological advancements were primarily earmarked for consumption by the Imperial Japanese Navy over that of the Japanese Army. This often led to "second rate" weapons developments for her land forces and can put into perspective the somewhat limited reach of the IJA during World War 2. Her tanks were generally outclassed by competing Allied designs, particularly late in the war, and her armored force was nothing in comparison to that of the Germans. Warships proved the top priority for the Japanese Empire in World War 2 and her land army would suffer for it.
Type 95 Reception
The Type 95 was made operational with the IJA in 1935. At its inception, the tank system was one of the better designs in the class of light tanks anywhere in the world. Its 37mm main gun was potent for its time and, as a whole, the Type 95 compared favorably to foreign designs. She was fast, well-armed for her role and helped to make those early IJA mechanized operations a success.
Type 95 Variants
Success of the tank soon brought about several notable variants to her family line. The Type 3 Ke-Ri was a proposed light tank design fielding a heftier 57mm main gun though this tank was never put into production. The Type 4 Ke-Nu was produced in 100 examples and melded the turret of the Type 97 Medium tank with the Type 95 chassis for improved crew conditions. The Type 95 "Manshu" served as a Type 95 crew trainer. The Type 95 "Ta-Se" became a proposed anti-aircraft design fitted with a 20mm cannon. The Type 95 Ri-Ki was a battlefield engineer vehicle fitting a 3-ton boom crane. The "Ho-To" was a self-propelled gun mounting a potent 120mm main gun. The Type 5 Ho-Ru was another self-propelled gun initiative, this mounting a 47mm main gun. The Type 98 Ke-Ni was a lighter form of the base Type 95 yet fielded thicker armor. Some 200 examples of this improved tank were produced beginning in 1942.
The most notable Type 95 variant became the Type 2 "Ka-Mi" amphibious tank. This model was based on the Type 95 chassis but modified for use in amphibious operations and used extensively across the "island hopping" campaigns dotting the Pacific Theater.
Type 95 Walk-Around
Design of the Type 95 was conventional by any standard. Thin treads were assigned to either track side. Drive sprockets were fitted forward with the idler at the rear. Two track return rollers were set under the top of the treads. There were four road wheels to a track side, these joined in pairs and utilizing a simple bell crank suspension system. The Type 95 took on a noticeable "nose up" appearance with the raised front hull and track system. The forward hull maintained a nearly flat lower facing with a highly-angled glacis plate leading up to the superstructure. The superstructure feature flat-faced and angled armoring across all facings. The forward facing just above the glacis plate sported a machine gun port on the left side and an access hatch with vision port on the right. The powerplant was fitted to the extreme rear of the hull with the exhaust system and muffler arranged along the right side of the rear hull. The rear hull was a large rectangular vertical facing. The turret, containing the primary armament, was cylindrical in nature with a hatch located at the top. The keen observer would note that it sat offset to the left of the hull superstructure. It maintained 45-degree rotation (manually-operated by hand) and was armed with the main gun and a secondary machine gun, the latter facing aft to cover the tank from the rear. The interior was lined with asbestos as a helpful layer in reducing heat build up inside the tank as well as serving to pad the crew during travel on uneven terrain. Crew conditions were generally cramped, particularly in the turret and driving with hatches and panels open was done whenever possible, especially when combating the Pacific heat.
Type 95 Crew
The Type 95 was crewed by three personnel - a commander, machine gunner and driver. The commander doubled as the loader and gunner of the main gun held in the turret as well as controlling the rear-facing turret machine gun. The machine gunner manned the bow gun at the forward left of the hull and doubled as the crew mechanic responsible for maintaining the engine and initiating light repairs when required. The driver maintained his position along the forward right of the hull with access to a rectangular hatch for improved vision. Not the most efficient arrangement of crew members to say the least but, as a light tank design, the Type 95 was an improvement over previous mechanized Japanese offerings.
Type 95 Powerplant and Performance
The powerplant was a single Mitsubishi NVD 6120 series air-cooled diesel engine delivering up to 120 horsepower seated in a compartment to the rear of the hull. Initial production tanks were offered with the Mitsubishi air-cooled diesel engine of 110 horsepower as found on the Type 89 I-Go medium tank, limiting speeds to 40 kilometers per hour so the 120 horsepower engine was an improvement to performance. Its rear placement ensured some level of protection for the system and she provided the Type 95 with a maximum speed of 45 kilometers per hour with an operational range in the neighborhood of 250 kilometers. Altogether, the Type 95 weighed in at about 7.4 tons and sported dimensions of 4.38m length, 2.06m width and 2.18m height.
Type 95 Armament
Primary armament was the 37mm Type 94 main gun. While capable of piercing light armored vehicles and some fortifications, the weapon was sadly lacking against most allied medium tank designs by the middle and latter years of the war. Elevation was limited to -15 to +20 degrees and the limited turret rotation certainly worked against the tank crew in the thick of a fight. Projectile ammunition available was split between a standard armor-piercing round and a high-explosive round - these chosen as needed by the commander who operated the main gun. Machine guns were generally of the 7.7mm Type 97 family, one fitted as a rear-facing system in the turret and the other in a limited-track, bow-mounted position. These served as anti-personnel measures to protect the crew from enemy infantry bent on directly attacking the Type 95. Additionally, these machine guns could serve an advancing company well by providing cover fire for a time.
The Type 95 in Action
The Type 95 Ha-Go was utilized extensively indecisive Japanese operations against the British across Malaya and Singapore and also pushed into British India. The British were not prepared for Japanese armor and their defenses eventually gave way, preserving victories for the Japanese Empire throughout Asia and the Pacific. The Americans, upon their eventually involvement in the war, ultimately fielded the M3 Stuart light tank by late 1941 but the older Type 95 could still handle these newly-designed implements with success. An early meeting between the two light tanks went favorably for the Type 95 crews, they having spotted, engaged and attacked the American crews using the initiative - proving that it was more the crews themselves than the tanks they were given. The loss was an interesting "experiment" of sorts which saw the better-armored M3s - fielding a similar 37mm main gun and newly minted from American factories - lose out to a foreign design that was at least five years older. In the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands off of the coast of Alaska, the Type 95 became the only enemy tank to ever operate on American soil in the nation's history. However, Type 95s here held little value and the Aleutian Islands campaign - often times referred to as a forgotten battle of World War 2 - proved a compete loss to the Japanese in the end.
Interestingly, the Type 95 proved an operational success in all its different operating environments, particularly when considering the harsh nature of the Pacific jungles. However, the little design ran into trouble where heavy rainfalls would soon turn the ground into a thick mud soup. This led to Type 95s being abandoned by their crews after getting stuck. The Type 95, it seems, had her inherent limitations after all.
By the middle-to-late years of World War 2, the Type 95 had finally met her match, especially against the heavier American and British tanks arriving in the Pacific Theater. Her armor was proving too thin and her 37mm main gun armament was sorely lacking against the heavy armed and armored British Matildas and American M5 Stuart light and M4 Sherman medium tanks. Additionally, the man-portable "Bazooka" rocket launcher employed by US Marines dealt swiftly with the now-aged Type 95s in service. As such, the IJA began resorting to using remaining Type 95s as seemingly suicidal offensive spearheads in an attempt to break Allied defenses. Additionally, the IJA fielded Type 95s as static pillbox defensive fortifications when not on the attack.
The Type 95 in the Post-War Years
Many Type 95s survived the war and some fell into service with the Chinese Army, making an appearance in the upcoming Korean War as well. However, as the Japanese found out, the Type 95 proved no match against the mighty American M4 Shermans.
Some 39 Japanese units were equipped with the Type 95 during World War 2, this at the Brigade, Company, Division and Regiment levels. Beyond Japan and China, the Type fell into service with the South Korean Army during the Korean War (1950-1953) and Thailand. Thai tanks served up until 1952.