The Type 97 Chi-Ha was Imperial Japan’s most produced and most used medium tank and, as such, many variants were based on its chassis. The Shi-Ki Command tank (コマンドタンクシキ, Komandotankushiki) was one such derivative.
A Shi-Ki command tank amidst a company of Chi-Ha tanks. Photo: – D-Day Wiki
The purpose of a command tank on the battlefield was to give a mobile observation position to company commanders. This was a tactic used to great effect by Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht during the Blitzkrieg, in vehicles such as the Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen, a command tank variant of the Panzer I Ausf.B. Command tanks usually sported less armament compared to their contemporaries but carried better observation and communication equipment.
Japan’s take on this type of vehicle was the Shi-Ki. The hull of the Chi-Ha base vehicle remained unchanged. The major changes came to the turret. The standard turret and armament were removed and replaced by a smaller conical turret. Placed atop this new turret was a large cupola with multiple vision ports. The main armament was replaced by a powerful radio which broadcast through a large horseshoe antenna with increased range attached to the top of the turret.
The Shi-Ki wasn’t completely devoid of armament, but it was defensive more than offensive. With a large radio taking up room in the turret, the tank’s main armament, a Type 98 37 mm (1.4 in) gun usually found on the Type 95 Ha-Go, was mounted in the bow in place of the machine gun on standard Chi-Has. A Type 97 Machine-Gun was also mounted in the back of the turret for the commander to use.
It was recently discovered that a replacement was planned for the SHi-Ki. This vehicle would have been known as the Ka-Shi, and would fit the same role. It was a combination of the hull of the Type 1 Chi-He and the modified turret of the Chi-Ha Shinhoto. It was armed with the short 57mm Gun and 2 x 7.7mm machine guns. The turret was fitted with various observational equipment, including a large periscope on the turret roof. It is not known if any of these tanks were built, but a blueprint does exist.
The Ka-Shi Blueprint. Photo: Masao Kimura
A Shi-Ki from an Imperial Navy tank regiment – Illustration: David Bocquelet.
The briefness of this article is due to the rarity of the Shi-Ki and the scarcity of information available about it or its use. It is unknown where the tanks served, with what units or even how many of them were built.
A Shi-Ki leading a column of Chi-Ha tanks. Note the 37 mm gun in the hull and how large the horseshoe antenna was.
Type 97 Shi-Ki specifications
|Dimensions||5.5 x 2.34 x 2.33 m
18 x 7.6 x 7.5 ft
|Total weight, battle ready||Aprx 15 tons|
|Crew||3 (commander, driver, bow gunner)|
|Propulsion||Mitsubishi Type 97 diesel, V12, 170 hp (127 kW)@2000 rpm|
|Speed||38 km/h (24 mph)|
|Armor||12 mm (0.15 in) roof and bottom, 25 mm (0.47 in) glacis and sides|
|Armament||Type 98 37 mm tank gun (1.4 in)
Type 97 7.7 mm (0.3 in) machine gun
|Range (road)||210 km (165 miles)|
Links & Resources
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #137: Japanese Tanks 1939-1945
Osprey Publishing, Elite #169: World War II Japanese Tank Tactics
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