by: Russ Amott [ ]
In WWII, the primary Japanese tank was the type 97 Chi Ha. Based on what the Japanese considered the most promising western design, the British A6, with some simplifications and innovations of their own, the type 97 was initially armed with a 57mm low velocity gun. When this proved inadequate against Russian armor in the Nomonhan incident, a new 47mm high velocity gun was developed in a new turret. The Japanese army also determined the need for self propelled artillery, and so in 1941 issued a requirement for a type 90 75mm field gun to be mounted on the type 97 tank body. The gun was placed in an open casemate with an armored shield to the front and sides. The main gun could traverse 10 degrees and range of elevation was from -5 to 25 degrees, limiting the maximum range of the gun. It was intended to operate out to 12000 meters. Adopted in 1941, it went into production in 1942. 124 vehicles were produced before production transitioned to a 105mm gun mounting.
The type 1 Ho-ni was used for the first time in combat in the Philippines in 1944, not as mobile artillery but as an improvised tank destroyer along the lines of the German Marder series. One vehicle was captured and taken to the US for evaluation and is currently in the collection at Aberdeen proving grounds.
Tamiya originally released the kit of the Ho-ni in 1975 and have re-released it from time to time. It is back again, with the addition of the 4 figure IJA infantry set from the same time period. For molds that are nearly 40 years old, they have held up quite well, and the original detailing is still very good.
The kit comes in a medium sized top opening box with artwork depicting the vehicle in action and infantry moving up alongside. Inside the contents are packaged carefully, with the sprues in separate bags to protect them. There is room inside so that they are not crushed. Condition of the plastic is good, with no major flaws or issues visible.
Sprue A is the road wheels, drive sprocket, idler wheel and return rollers. Detail is generally very good, with clear bolt heads. The rear idler wheel has a flat face with no detail, but it is mostly hidden from view. Separate hub centers are provided for wheels.
Sprue B has suspension parts, front and rear hull plates, radiator and cover and simplified muffler.
Sprue C has the gun and mount, with some interior parts as it will be visible. The barrel is in two halves, not unexpected for a kit of this age. Two crew figures are also included here. In spite of their being molded as complete leg, torso and head, with only the arms separate, the molding is quite good-as good as most available figures and better than some very recent IJA releases. They represent the loader and gunner. Alas, no driver is included. Normal crew is listed as from 3 to 5 men. The two figures are wearing a one piece coverall, which is nice to see. There are two spare rounds provided to give the figures something to hold. No other rounds or ammo boxes are provided.
The upper and lower hull sections are also well molded, and fit appears to be quite good. Rivet and plate detail is clear and well represented. The hull bottom is flat and smooth-no detail here, but it won't be seen unless the kit is turned over. There is no grill cover for the air intake on the underside of the upper hull-an open void consistent with Tamiya's habit of leaving openings between the upper and lower hulls in many of their armor kits.
The tracks are also pretty good for their age, but they are the old style vinyl, fairly stiff and requiring a heat weld from a screwdriver to flatten the placement pins. There are individual tracks available, but they are more expensive than the kit itself.
In comparison with the only other styrene type 97, the Fine Molds offering, detail is quite good. Rivets are better pronounced and much more scale like in appearance, hull details and shape match well, and only the lack of underside detail leaves the Tamiya kit short. As this is the only Type 1 SPG kit that I have found in styrene, it is fortunate that Tamiya took the time to make a good representation.
The instructions are as old as the kit-two copies are provided, one in English and one in Japanese. Assembly is shown in line drawings and the instructions are simple and clear. Photos of the completed kit are included showing placement of parts. A paint guide is provided but is fairly generic. The late style three color pattern is represented on this vehicle, with Tamiya paints called out in earth, dark brown and dark green. There are a number of recent improved paint releases that reportedly represent the true colors more accurately, although it is based more on personal opinion than actual representation as there is currently no known perfect paint sample to go with. Dark earth, light earth and a dark green are the generally accepted tones for a late vehicle, with dark green as the base.
Markings for four vehicles are provided. First is from the field artillery school. Second is from the 2nd company, 2nd artillery regiment, 2nd tank division, third is from the 4th platoon, 14th tank regiment and last is from the 4th army technical laboratory. The vehicle at Aberdeen is the second painting option provided.
The included figure set comes on two sprues, with the four figures on one and weapons and accessories on the other. The officer is depicted kneeling, carrying a sword. The first infantryman is running forward, rifle slung over his back, carrying a type 10 grenade discharger, often referred to by US forces as a knee mortar. Figure three is kneeling, firing his rifle. Figure four is crouched in a semi kneeling-crawling pose. Again, molding is quite good, all equipment is well represented and appears accurate, with only the bolt handle missing on the rifles. Decals are included for the figures to represent rank, with a rank table included on the instruction sheet, as well as placement of rank tabs and paint guide.
For fans of Japanese armor, there is little to choose from. It is nice to see an old kit like this come back into production and stand well against other kits. It is available online for around $16.00 before shipping and provides most of what is needed for an instant diorama. While I always hope that a newer, updated kit will come along, I can settle for this bargain as it will build up nicely.