|The Type 97 Chi-Ha was the most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II. It was used before, during and after World War II in the Pacific War, including the China and the Kuril Islands. With thin armour, a relatively small main gun and an underpowered engine, it was less effective than most Allied designs. Postwar, a few were used by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
Its low silhouette, aerial spread around the vehicle top, asymmetric turret, complicated body front, and seesaw-type suspension system combined to give the tank a unique appearance that distinguished it from other Japanese tanks of that time. The Type 97 was a development of the Type 95 light Tank and reflects the process of modernization of Japanese tank warfare prior to World War II.
The Type 97 Medium Tank was superior to Type 89 Medium Tank in a number of ways. However, it retained the same short-barreled 57 mm gun as that of Type 89. The designer Tomio Hara was not satisfied with it and thought that the new tank should be armed with a high-velocity cannon, designed specifically for tank on tank combat. The Army did not agree as they were satisfied with the existing gun. Their focus was the war in China where there were no tank against tank actions. The shortcomings of the 57 mm weapon became clear at the Nomonhan Incident, where Soviet tanks' 45 mm gun outranged the Japanese tank gun and the Japanese suffered heavy losses as a result. This convinced the Army that a new weapon was needed, and in 1939 began development of a new weapon. Development of the new 47 mm tank gun was completed in 1941. Although it was a smaller caliber weapon, it used a longer barrel and its armour penetration was superior to that of the 57 mm gun.