Throughout the conflicts with the Chinese Army in the late 1930s, the Type 89 I-Go/Chi-Ro and the Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks had been the mainstays of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). They performed well and achieved most of their objectives.
However, the IJA was soon concerned about the future viability of the I-Go/Chi-Ro and Ha-Go. These were support tanks, used mostly to assist in infantry operations, but the rapid improvements in general battlefield technology meant that they would soon be obsolete in the battlefield. Thus the IJA began their search for the best replacement for the job.
The Japanese eventually arrived at two main options. The General Staff office of the IJA desired a medium tank that was similar in design to a light tank, with a higher production rate. However, the technical headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Army felt that a medium tank truer to its designation would be a much better alternative, even if the production time was longer.
It was eventually decided that both departments were allowed to produce their own variants and thus two tanks were created; the Chi-Ni by the General Staff office, and the Type 97 Chi-Ha by the technical headquarters. Due to its tougher armour (which was better than the Chi-Ni), the Type 97 Chi-Ha was chosen as the main battle tank of the IJA, and remained so until the end of the War.
Effectiveness in Battle
The Chi-Ha was, in the beginning of its deployment, the best tool for the job. The IJA first began to field the Type 97 in conflicts within Manchuria and China, which were defended by a force with no suitable tanks to counter them. This, along with the speed in which the Japanese Army advanced its forces, resulted in a highly successful performance with regard to the tank itself.
However, this amazing success eventually became a problem of its own. So effective was the Chi-Ha that the IJA opted to use it as its main tank for much of the war, sending these machines to fight in the islands throughout the Pacific with great results. Tank research and development, while still ongoing back in Japan, began to slow down due to a sense of complacency among the IJA.
End of the Chi-Ha
As the war progressed, the IJA gradually began to realise that the Type 97 was becoming obsolete. The new American M4 Sherman tanks was too tough for even the main gun of the Shinhoto Chi-Ha, which was a modified variant of the Type 97 designed to counter the M5 Stuart light tank.
Unfortunately, there was not much the IJA could do to keep up. Japanese production rates were dwindling quickly at the closing stages of the war, and the newest tank prototypes never made it past the testing phase. As a result, the Chi-Ha remained in service as the main tank of the IJA until the end of World War II.