Japanese tanks have tended to be overlooked (and even derided) because of their poor performance in the later stages of the Pacific War. As a result, it is seldom considered that in 1940 Japan had the fifth largest tank force in the world and their development up to then had kept pace with European armies. How the Japanese got to that point and why they then lagged behind is outlined in this new book from Osprey Publications. This is a new volume in the New Vanguard series covering a seriously under-represented subject and is presented in the usual Osprey format of mixed text and photographs, with a central colour-plate section.
Japanese Tanks 1939-45 (New Vanguard #137) is authored by Steven J. Zaloga and illustrated by Peter Bull and follows the standard New Vanguard format of 48 pages, including 8 pages of colour plates, and black-and-white photographs.
The book is divided into the following sections:
• Prewar development and deployment
• World War II development and deployment
• Tank combat of the Great Asian War 1941-45
• Further reading
• Color plate commentary
Osprey New Vanguards, by nature of their format, tend more to be primers than in-depth studies and that is true of this book since there is a lot of ground to cover. As the contents list above shows, the title on the cover is something of an understatement and the book in fact covers Japanese tank development from the aftermath of World War I to 1945. The content is, as you would expect from Steven Zaloga, well written and easy to follow. From a stylistic point of view, there are thankfully few tables which mainly cover production information.
The headings above are also rather arbitrary and don’t really reflect the structure of the book which in the main reads chronologically with development interspersed with service use. It’s only towards the end, when Japanese tank development had largely been strangled by the low priority of the Army’s needs, that the book switches over to the grim series of defeats inflicted on the out-classed Type 95s and 97s.
Coverage of development is thorough for a subject on which little is available in translation (the AJ Press series is more biased towards service use) but necessarily brief. Each tank model gets at least a mention and usually a photo, with some of the more common (or outlandish, like the Ka Tsu) getting additional detail. The book clears through a lot of the misinformation retailed in more derivative books and gives the correct nomenclature for the early tankettes like the Type 94, blowing away the accretions of lazy copying of World War II intelligence reports.
As with most countries, Japan started off by buying in British and French tanks, but soon development took a distinctly different path, including early use of diesel engines and bell-crank suspensions. Development was for a long time constrained by the tank’s infantry support role, which left the IJA without a tank capable of taking on other tanks, a deficiency that was brought home hard at Khalkin-Gol. After that a lack of resources left tank development stuck in the doldrums, with little new production, and new designs stock-piled ahead of the awaited Allied invasion of the Home Islands. Coverage of service use is similarly brief but reasonably thorough, ranging from the tremendous successes of Malaya and the Philippines in 1941-2 to snap-shots of increasingly one-sided encounters like Garapan.
There are black and white photographs on nearly every text page, which limits the size of the images, and reproduction is generally to a good standard with the notable exception of the first photo in the text which might not entice browsers to look further into the book. Over half are familiar to me as I have had a long interest in Japanese tanks.
In terms of the color plates, Peter Bull is a new artist to me and his work is not quite up to the standards of Tony Bryant for example, but better than digital illustrations that appear in some Osprey books. The plates include the usual double page spread cutaway presented across the spine of the book, which might be served better with a pullout for ease of viewing. The commentaries are clear and begin with a short note on the difficult subject of the colours used by the IJA and SNLF.
The further reading section is extensive and helpful, but underlines how little there is available on the subject in English.
Highs: Useful single-volume summary with colour notes and plates. Wide range of photographic coverage. Lows: Content restricted by small format.Verdict: Best viewed as a single-volume primer and source for further reading in-depth. Worthwhile colour illustrations.
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About David Maynard (Drader) FROM: WALES, UNITED KINGDOM
From south Wales originally, I became an archaeologist by chance and have continued being one for about 20 years. Which is a lot of mud shifted. The nursing home where I was born is now part of the Celtic Manor and, by a nice bit of irony, I did the archaeology for several of their golf courses. I h...