Development

The first development and test model was made in 1936 by the Hino Motor Company it was fitted with a 37mm gun. It followed the configuration of the type 94 (which it was to replace) with the frontally mounted engine and the turret at the rear. However, after initial tests, it was found unsatisfactory. So it went back to the drawing board and went another redesign this time with the engine at the rear and the turret mounted frontally this second test model was completed in November 1937.

Trials and tribulations

However, after further trials it was accepted and this little tankette saw service from 1938-45 and was a replacement for the then ageing Type 94. This was to be the last of the 2 man tankette series.

Unfortunately, it was proved to be obsolete before the beginning of the Second World War which was basically just after, or on production. It had 25mm armour and initially mounted a 37mm gun which proved to be inadequate when facing much thicker enemy armour.

This led to very few of the tankettes being deployed against the American forces later in the conflict as early lessons were learnt when they initially were deployed against Russian armour such vehicles as the BT-7 and BT-5 with the high velocity of the 45mm during the border conflict in 1938-39.

After realising the limitations of the type 97 they were pretty much assigned in pairs to an infantry support and reconnaissance vehicles. The Type 97 was also used as an ammunition carrier that could tow an ammunition trailer. They had learnt in combat that the vehicle suffered heavily when faced with a 50 calibre machine guns, which could easily penetrate the Te-Ke.  With a total of 616 produced from 1938 to 1944.

Standardisation

The Imperial Japanese Army wanted to standardise fuels for armoured vehicles so this led to the type 97 having a 4 stroke in line 4 air-cooled unit diesel power unit. This proved to be a good choice knowing that it would be unlikely to catch fire upon round impact. However, this was a small consolation for the operating crews with the thin armour and inadequate firepower.

 

Technical details

Here are just some specifications for the vehicle:

Machinery One Ikega air-cooled 4-cylinder diesel engine rated at 48hp
Suspension
2-wheel bogie
Armament
1x37mm Type 94 gun or 1×7.7mm Type 97 machine gun
Armor
4–16 mm
Crew
2 person
Dimentions
Length 3.70 m
Width 1.80 m
Height 1.77 m
Weight 4.7 t
Speed and consumption
42 km/h
Range 250 km
Manufacture

The Type 97 was made of a riveted construction and the driver sat on the left of the commander. The interior was lined with heat absorbing asbestos sheets and the turret had a hinged access door at the rear for the commander.

Roles of the tankette crew

The driver was to simply drive the vehicle and was left pretty much undisturbed by the commander aside from the odd instructions.

The commander however had many big tasks such as:
• Commander
• Observer
• Pointer
• Spotter
• Gunner
• Loader
• Over all chief in charge

This was to test even the most experienced of commanders in battle as not much help could be given by the driver due to the confines of the hull within the vehicle.

However, during the conflict, the tankette made a successful contribution towards the success of the Imperial Japanese Army during its conquest of foreign lands. This was due to its lightweight and its ability to cross damaged bridges, so its weakness in armament also proved to be its strength in most cases. This was not to mention the fact that, it was highly manoeuvrable and narrow, so it excelled in small twisty roads whereas other bigger and heavier armoured vehicles so often failed. However, once it was uncovered it became very vulnerable to enemy fire and soon became an easy target.

Thanks to Paul from Megraphta for submitting this great article for publication. If you would like to submit your own articles please contact editor@archmdmag.com

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