by: Jan Etal [ ]
Originally published on:
The Japanese Type 97 Chi Ha was to be the main Japanese medium tank of World War Two. Over 1,100 of the original 57 mm gun-armed models were produced by Mitsubishi between 1938 and 1942. Weighing in at around 16 tons, the tank had a four-man crew and was powered by a Mitsubishi 12-cylinder diesel engine developing 170 horsepower.
By 1930’s standards the tank was average, but was quickly surpassed by allied armor when war with the US and Great Britain broke out in 1941. The tank was originally designed to fulfill the infantry support role, and as such its main armament was the low velocity 57 mm gun. Secondary armament was in the form of two 7.7mm machine guns with one mounted in the hull left front, and the second in the turret rear. Armor was modest with an average thickness of 25mm overall to a maximum of 33mm on the gun mantlet. Due to its shortcomings, a new model , the Type 97 Shinhoto (improved) with a high velocity 47mm gun, would supersede the original in 1942. The chassis was also used as a base for several variants, including an Armored Recovery Vehicle, Self Propelled Gun, Flail and Command Tank to name a few.
Dragon Models has now released a 1/72nd scale Armor Pro IJA Type 97 “Chi Ha” Late Production Saipan 1944 kit (#7397).
Included in the box are:
1 medium-sized sprue
an upper and lower hull (all moulded in standard Dragon light grey styrene)
the turret top
a small six-part PE fret
a small sheet of Cartograph water-slide decals
2 Dragon DS styrene tracks
A four-sided instruction card displaying a parts diagram, two pages with six assembly steps in the form of exploded view drawings with arrows for parts placement, and one page showing painting and markings.
Despite having reviewed a couple of recent Dragon kits, this reviewer was somewhat surprised by this kit’s contents. The single larger sprue included in the box contains a scant 49 parts. With the separately-bagged lower and upper hull and the DS tracks, total plastic parts are 53. The PE fret contained two screens or guards for the tank’s exhausts, and four very small parts that are meant to adorn the turret cupola. Compared to previous parts counts in Dragon kits that I have reviewed, these last few kits appear to be a change in direction from the past.
Moulding of the parts has to be seen to be believed. This is evident right down to the cast-on suspension springs and delicate rivet detail. Flash is all but nonexistent, and mould seams are for the most light and easily removed with a scraping of a sharp hobby knife. There are a few light ejector pin marks, but all live in areas that will not be seen after construction. The only sink holes that exist are on the interior of the lower hull and therefore of no concern.
With this kit we also see that Dragon has moulded all the external tools as separate pieces. The only moulded-on detail is a towing cable on the hull rear plate. Slide-moulding is used to create the pairs of return rollers, idlers and front/rear dual road wheels. One glaring omission is that all these parts have no detail on their rear surfaces. This might be fairly noticeable with the single pairs of road wheels.
Inspection of the sprues shows that attention has been paid to the sprue attachment points or gates. In the vast majority of cases, they appear very small, and should prove a pleasure to deal with when compared to previous kits. The turret main hatch is composed of two separate pieces and these can be attached in the open or closed position. While the main gun carries some beautiful breech and other details, the turret and hull interior are lacking in any detail at all. As one has come to expect from Dragon, the bore of the main gun is hollow thanks to slide-moulding. All other hatches and ports are moulded-on, including the machine gunner’s hatch, but their rendering is nicely done.
As stated previously, there are six construction steps. Steps 1 and 2 are most busy, and comprise the attachment of all the suspension components to the lower hull. All the bogies are pretty much universal, so they shouldn’t present a problem that normal assembly care cannot resolve.
Step 3 focuses on the complete construction of the turret. Here again everything looked straightforward with the exception of part A17. The arrow in the diagram showing its placement is misleading to say the least. The arrow points to a position on the left turret side, while the actual part should be positioned at and beside the cupola rear. This can be seen in the images of the turret on the box top side.
In step 4 all the upper hull exterior pieces are added. The only issue that I can foresee is the bending of the PE exhaust guards to fit over the mufflers. Construction is completed in step 6 with the attachment of the upper to lower hull, turret placement and tracks.
One interesting point that I noted is that with this kit, Dragon has placed an information box at the end of the construction diagrams giving pertinent information about the DS tracks. It informs the builder of the number of links expected for each track, and also their required scale length in millimeters. A further two notes inform the builder that the track length may vary due to the elasticity of the material, and that if necessary, the tracks can be stretched to lengthen them.
decals & painting
The painting and marking pictures are for one tank of the 9th Tank Regiment on Saipan in 1944. The colour references provided are for GSI Creos Aqueous Hobby Color (the same company’s Mr. Color and Model Master enamels).
I saw no reason not to follow the original order of constructions, so I began with Step 1 by assembling the two drive sprocket halves. This involves cementing parts A1 and A2 (referenced in the instructions as sub-assembly “B”) together. A bit of care had to be taken, as the mating features create a somewhat loose fit. Therefore it is important to make sure the drive sprocket teeth on each half line up.
Next I started on the paired road wheels (subassembly “A”) using parts A10 and A11 (X2). Here again the fit of the pin on the A11 parts into the hole in A10 is a bit loose. The duel return rollers (A26) were then attached to each side. These had a slightly tighter fit, and were easier to attach at the point before any road wheels were glued on.
After studying the instructions and some dry fitting of the various main road wheel pieces, I decided to attach the front- and rear-most road wheels (A28). These come as a single pair part, and I surmised that with their nice snug fit, they would facilitate in allowing for all the main road wheels to end up with their bottoms touching on an level plane.
Continuing with the suspension I decided to attach the rear idler pair (A27) to each side. This was another case where the fit was a bit loose, so one needs to be careful with the final orientation of these wheels. Once the parts were attached, I was ready to put on the two tandem paired road wheels (subassembly “B”) to the hull. The fit of these parts was also a bit loose, so I decided to use tube gel glue for this purpose. Once these wheel sets were attached, I placed them on a flat surface and made sure that they were all positioned properly.
After the glue had dried, I examined the suspension and found the single pairs of road wheels front and back did not rest fully on the surface. All four were slightly elevated, while all the other road wheels sat flush. The discrepancy was a little less than half a millimeter, and I could find no references as to if this was a feature of the actual suspension or a slight flaw in the kit. I decided to leave the road wheels as they were, and hoped that with the tracks on, it would look acceptable. Save for the gluing of the sprockets, the suspension and lower hull was now complete.
With step 3, attention was focused on the construction of the turret. My first action was to attach the gun to its mantlet. The gun slides into the mantlet with a nice snug fit, and no provision is made for its elevation. This complete assembly was then attached to the upper turret body, and once dry, the lower turret was glued in place. Next on the turret I attached the two hatch parts for the cupola (A20, A21). When building the tank with the main hatch closed, part A20 (the larger part) must go on first. This is because A21 will mate with its larger cousin. After doing some extensive scouring of images of the real vehicle, it became evident that part A17 is part of a machine gun mount. Its location is at the back of the cupola, and a slot appears there to which a pin on the part is inserted. The pin is extremely shallow, so care will be needed when positioning the part.
The second-to-last part to complete the turret was to attach the tubular antenna. This was an exercise in hand control, as five pins on the five support arms must mate with their five respective holes in the turret top. The entire part is quite fragile and does show some flexibility. I glued it in stages starting at the left back, and then successively inserted each mounting arm in turn. With the attachment of the turret rear machine gun, the turret was complete.
Steps 4 and 5 have the builder concentrate on the upper hull and its parts. I started this by attaching the front armor plate (A24). The two mufflers (A16, A17) and their rear guards (A4, A5) were next, but care will need to be taken with their positioning, as the locating holes are larger than the tabs that mate with them. The shovel and pick tool (A12) fitted nicely into its location, but the jack hole turned out to be too large for the pin that engages it. The fender-mounted pry-bar, headlight and a few remaining pieces were glued on, and the build was nearing completion.
I had purposely left the forming and addition of the muffler screen guards until everything else was attached to the hull. The little screens themselves bent quite easily, and I used a scratch-built styrene form to the approximate dimensions of the muffler for the forming. However, if the mufflers are not glued on, then the builder could use them as a form for the bending.
The last step (#6) is to attach the upper and lower hull to each other, put on the tracks and finally the turret. The hull halves didn’t have a bad fit, but the front part of the top piece (“B”) didn’t sit quite properly with its lower counterpart. Some light sanding in a few areas rectified the situation.
The last thing for me to do was to put the tracks on. I have found it easier to leave the drive sprocket loose while test-fitting the tracks for length. The instructions state that the tracks should be 158mm in length. Mine measured out almost perfectly to that. I removed one track from its sprue and joined the ends and attempted a test fit. The track was a little tight going on, but seemed to sit fairly well. While the instructions mention that the DS tracks can be stretched, I must caution the builder that these particular tracks are especially delicate, fine and thin.
With this kit I believe that we are now seeing a change in the way Dragon creates kits in Braille scale. Despite having a more limited parts count than some of their previous offerings, there is no sacrifice in detail. In fact, the details on this kit will in many ways rival their larger scale brethren. In the past, Dragon kits have often suffered from excessively large sprue attachment points. This offering seems to show there has been even more improvement, even over recent releases.
Overall, this Chi Ha is a promising kit for any modestly-skilled modeler, and has definite potential for those with more skill. The latter might convert it into one of a number of variants that used this chassis: assault gun, flail, engineer. Having said that, it would not surprise this writer if Dragon did not have plans to use this base kit for some of those versions in a future release or two. I would highly recommend this kit.