FM21, IJA Type 97 Improved Medium Tank New Turret (Shinhoto Chi-Ha). 1/35th-scale styrene/multimedia kit. Contains: 278 styrene parts (including 13 clear), two lengths of soft styrene tracks, one etched brass fret, a four-page historic notes/colors and markings booklet (in Japanese), six water-slide decal markings schemes and eight pages of instructions in 20 steps.
The Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank took part in Japans early victories in the Philippines and Malaysia. Armed with a low-velocity 57mm gun, it was almost immediately seen to have only a limited effect when confronted by enemy tanks. By 1942, a new Type 1 47mm gun was installed in a new turret; a few of these took part in the closing stages of the conquest of the Philippines. Known as the Type 97-Kai Shinhoto Chi-Ha, Japans principle medium tank served through the end of the war, fighting against the Soviets in Manchuria in 1945. Post-war, a number of Type 97s, captured by the Soviet Red Army, would serve with Communist Chinas Peoples Liberation Army. Some Shinhoto Chi-Has were based on the original Type 97 hull, while the remainder had a modified superstructure with different contours at the rear, no drivers hatch lid (probably because of the larger turret ring) and new covers over the engine deck sides.
These come in one length for each side and are made of soft styrene material. This means that the tracks can be fixed together with standard styrene cement. Detail is crisp overall, with the characteristic holes seen in the guide horns fairly well-represented.
This is quite intricate overall, with a parts break-down that helps maximize detail. Virtually every suspension-related part is separate for excellent detail definition. These include mounts for the return rollers, swing-arms, final drive housing and multi-part idler wheel axle housing. Two-part coil spring bundles are complimented by separate armored housings. The four central bogie units each mount four road-wheels, all of which have separate inner and outer hub-caps. The drive sprockets are two-part assemblies, as are the idler wheels. Care in assembly will leave some parts movable, such as the bogie units and road-wheels. The former will allow the finished model to be properly placed on a diorama base with un-even terrain.
The hull is made up of a single slide-molded pan, which includes the belly and side plates. Each side plate has the openings for various suspension components, as well as panel lines and rivets, molded in place. The belly plate also has similar details and includes various circular access plates. Two separate parts are provided to enclose the superstructure sponsons. The front plate receives a three-part tow shackle assembly, while the rear plate mounts a pair of two-part towing eyes, two different tail-lamp assemblies (in clear styrene) and a registration plate.
The main superstructure part consists of molded-on track-guards, most of the engine deck, side walls and glacis plate. Separate access hatch lids, with separate handles are fitted on the glacis plate, along with a separate (optional) part for the IJA five-pointed star. A three-part head-lamp assembly can be fitted, to include a clear part for the lens. The central access lid on the engine deck is also separate, featuring open grill slats. Beneath it is a nicely-detailed one-piece radiator, which can be seen beneath the slats. Separate armored covers finish the area. The rear deck features separate grab handles, a separate access hatch lid with separate handle, optional parts for a stowed or un-stowed tow cable and a stowage box with a separate lid.
The separate forward superstructure plate features separate drivers view-port with clear styrene for the internal glass block. A two-part Type 97 7.7mm machine gun completes the assembly. Although there is no internal backing plate, some scrap styrene can be installed behind the mount and with care, the MG will remain flexible. The roof plate is separate and features the race for the turret molded in place.
The integrally-molded track-guards are topped by a seven-part exhaust muffler assembly on each side, towards the rear. Unfortunately, the exhaust pipe end, in the so-called fish-tail style, is molded solidly without the open slot. This is rather curious since the parts position in the mold could easily have included this feature; it will take some careful, tedious work to get them to look right. Each muffler assembly features a separate armored shield mounted forward of them, as well as perforated etched brass heat shields. A separate styrene part is provided to shape the etched brass parts.
The port-side track-guard mounts an optional three-part antenna base, which is to be fitted with a stretched styrene sprue antenna; the instructions show the length of the antenna rod and also correlate its installation with a specific camouflage and markings scheme. A shovel and a pick are mounted one-above-the-other, forward of the antenna base, on the superstructure side-access hatch lids. The starboard side mounts a two-part vehicle jack, complimented by a three-part mounting bracket, with a pry-bar mounted next to it. In some cases holes must be opened up in this area to mount various stowage items; the instructions show this quite clearly.
The upper shell comes from a slide-mold, which facilitates the placement of various details. The separate base contains the turret ring with the usual bayonet mount to help keep the turret attached to the superstructure roof plate. Behind that a separate part encloses the bottom of the bustle and another part is used for the rear wall. A separate hatch lid is provided for the turrets rear face and its starboard side. The roof receives another separate hatch lid with two separate lift-handles. An anti-aircraft MG mount is given, with instructions on how to cut it down for a different configuration. What I assume is a panoramic periscope housing can be fitted forward of the commanders cupola; it is keyed to a specific markings scheme, while a separate cover plate is provided for when it is not to be used. The turret shell features rivet and panel line details as well as weld seams.
The turret is topped by a multi-part commanders cupola that features clear parts for the glass blocks behind the view-ports. The cupola is topped by a ring and a two-part split hatch lid with separate lift-handle. Naturally, the lids can be posed opened or closed.
The gun mantlet comes as a six-part assembly; care with the glue will allow it to be elevated. Internally, the gun is complimented by an eight-part breech assembly, while externally the Type 1 47mm gun tube is a two-part item with the main tube capped by a separate bore end. The modeler can also choose to purchase Fine Molds item MG-07, which is a turned brass Type 1 gun tube. In typical Japanese fashion a Type 97 7.7mm machine-gun is mounted on the rear face of the turret; it consists of the gun barrel/cooling jacket, which is not movable after assembly.
Amongst the clear parts are two beverage bottles. There are decals for their labels and the modeler is directed to paint them with clear green. I do not know if they are meant to represent Saki or beer bottles.
Molding, Fit and Engineering.
Overall, molding is up to a high standard. Fit of the major parts were checked, and found to be generally quite good. No visible surface shows any ejector pin marks, including the inside faces of all hatch lids. There was some warping of the hull pan as well as the main superstructure part. The former will become square as the front and rear panels are attached and by the addition of the superstructure assembly, while the latter will require a bit of fiddling to become square around its upper edge, especially as the roof and front plates are attached. Shrinkage was encountered on one of the parts for the exhaust mufflers; this is easily remedied with some filling. I have already mentioned the issue regarding the exhaust pipe fish-tails.
Accuracy and Details.
In comparing the kit parts to the drawings seen in the Tank Power books, often there are differences either in angles or shapes (or both). However, I am unsure if the Tank Power drawings are based upon actual measurements taken by the draughtsman, or on other means. In reading over the relevant PMMS review, Terry Ashley makes the point that his sample kit matched well with plans seen in Japanese publications such as the Ground Power series, but not so well with Tank Powers plans. Essentially, this means that I cant say whether the kit or the scale drawings I have access to are correct or not. Also of note is that the rivets in many cases seem to be too small.
The instructions consist of conventional line drawings, with all-Japanese text. In some cases the names of parts are given in English as well. The painting and markings information are contained on a separate four-page leaflet; this also includes what I presume is a historic account, written in Japanese. The painting guides are extremely detailed and colors are keyed to hobby paints from Gunze and Tamiya; the colors are also described in English. Complete five-view drawings for the two basic color schemes are given, which is especially useful since the patterns are completely illustrated.
Decals and Markings Information.
The water-slide decal sheet is printed by Fine Molds and is in perfect register. Color saturation is fine, while the carrier film is matte and cut close to the edge of each individual design. Markings for six Type 97s are included, as follows:
7th Tank Regiment, the Philippines 1942.
9th Tank Regiment, 5th Company, Saipan 1944.
5th Tank Regiment, Saitima Prefecture, Japan 1945.
13th Tank Regiment, China.
8th Independent Tank Company, the Philippines 1945*.
Chiba Tank School, Japan.
The color schemes are broken down to early and late styles, with the former including the characteristic yellow stripes. Within the cited references, I could only confirm, with photos, the accuracy of the markings provided for the Type 97 from the 8th Independent Tank Company.
This is a sound kit, which will build up easily enough into a well-detailed and accurate Type 97-Kai. The inclusion of etched brass screens for the exhaust mufflers places it above other manufacturers renditions in this scale, making this the kit of choice for the more discerning modeler, despite some of its shortcomings
Frank V. De Sisto
References consulted for this report included:
1. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.2, Tank Power 10, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
2. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.3, Tank Power 11, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
3. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.4, Tank Power 12, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
4. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.5, Tank Power 25, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
5. Japanese Medium Tanks; AFV Weapons Profile 49, Profile Publications, by Lt.Gen. T. Hara.
6. Axis Combat Tanks; WW2 Fact Files, by P. Chamberlain & C. Ellis.
7. Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank; Allied-Axis Vol.9, Ampersand Publications, article by J. Hensley.
8. Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank; Military Modelling magazine, Volume 29, issue 9, article by S. Zaloga.
9. Tank Battles of the Pacific War 1941-1945; Concord 7004, by S. Zaloga.
10. Japanese Tanks, 1939-45; Osprey New Vanguard 137, by S. Zaloga & P. Bull.
11. Armour of the Pacific War; Osprey Vanguard 35, by S. Zaloga.
Note: Since May of 2005, I have been working on books for Concord Publications, a sister company to DragonUSA, current North American distributor of Fine Molds kits. The reader may wish to take this into consideration. For my part, I will attempt to maintain an objective viewpoint when writing these reports.
Fine Molds kits are available in North America from DragonUSA. For details see their web site at: www.dragonusaonline.com.
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