Regarded by many as the best quantitative Japanese tank fielded during all of World War 2, the Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha was actually an improvement of a line of medium tank stemming from the earlier Type 97 Chi-Ha design. The Chi-Ha was arranged as early as 1936 and saw production of 1,162 vehicles from 1938 into 1943. Classified as a medium tank, the vehicle was adequate against the lesser-equipped forces encountered during the Japanese conquest of Asia and the Pacific. However, its original 57mm main gun proved wanting in the thick of the war - particularly when facing American armor. Its value quickly declined after 1941.
Engineers were urged to improve the Chi-Ha design so to this was added an all-new turret design with faceted angles and a thick gun mantlet. Main armament was a high-velocity 47mm Type 1 main gun and a pair of 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns offered the necessary defense against enemy infantry attacks. Maximum armor was now improved to 33mm in thickness over the orignal's 28mm peak. The vehicle came in slightly lighter at 14.8 tons. The same Mitsubishi SA12200VD V-12 air-cooled diesel engine (170 horsepower) was retained as was the bell crank suspension system. Road speeds topped 24 miles per hour on ideal surfaces. The operating crew numbered four - driver, commander, loader, and gunner. Dimensions included a length of 18 feet, a width of 7 feet, 8 inches, and a height to turret top of 7 feet, 4 inches. The changes introduced to the Chi-Ha naturally forced a revision of the designation to "Shinhoto Chi-Ha" though the Type 97 identifier was kept.
In practice, Japanese mechanized forces equipped with the new Type proved the armored system as viable. First actions were in the Philippines during 1942 and then followed further operations across Malaya. One of the greatest assets of the design was its speed and agility which made for a tough target to range in on and one that could quickly overrun an Allied position. The gun offered the necessary firepower against some fortifications and light vehicles (including light and some medium tanks) as well as infantry concentrations when engaging with High-Explosive (HE) projectiles. It was only during the turn of the tide in the Pacific War that the limitations of the newer Type 97 shown through.
It proved susceptible to the guns of even the American light-class tanks and assuredly so against the M4 Sherman Medium Tanks. The series fared no better when it faced the famous stout Soviet T-34 Medium Tanks with their effective 76.2mm main guns during the Manchuria campaign.
Despite its rather outclassed nature by the end of the war, the Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha became a vast improvement over previous Japanese Army tank types. Additionally, it was produced in the numbers required which allowed it to see extended use in many of the notable engagements of the Pacific Theater. As the Japanese Army began to lose ground, its armored force took heavy losses and never reclaimed the initiative it lost.