by: Russ Amott [ ]
The Japanese Type 97 medium tank, named for the Imperial year 2597 (coinciding with 1937), was developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a replacement for the Type 89 medium tank then in service. Using some features of the earlier Mitsubishi produced Type 95 Ha-Go, the Type 97 was larger, had slightly thicker armor and was initially armed with a Type 97 57mm low velocity gun to be used for infantry support. The tank was powered by a diesel engine to reduce the combustibility of the tank. The four man crew consisted of a driver and hull machine gunner seated in the front lower hull, and the commander/gunner and a loader/radio operator/rear machine-gun operator standing in the turret. There was no turret basket and the two men would walk with the turret as it traversed. The main gun had no elevation gear-the commander/gunner stood against a shoulder brace and raised or lowered the gun by himself. The gun could traverse left or right by 10 degrees inside the gun mount independent of the turret.
Against Chinese tanks of the time the type 97 was sufficient, but the Nomonhan incident (Khalkin Gol battle) proved the Type 97 was inferior in armament and armor to Russian built light tanks, leading to the development of a new 47mm high velocity gun in a new turret. The earlier 57mm armed type 97 tanks continued in service through the course of WWII, serving everywhere Japanese soldiers fought, with the exception of the Aleutians. Successful because it was often the only tank in combat at the start of the war, it was quickly shown to be obsolete and ineffective against better armed and armored Allied tanks. Further information on the Type 97 can be found at Wikipedia, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_97_Chi-Ha_medium_tank and Tanks-encyclopedia, here: http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/jap/Type_97_Chi-Ha_Shinhoto.php. I can't vouch for the overall accuracy of the information at these sites, but the information is consistent.
When it comes to Dragon, there are kits developed by what I consider the "A" team of designers, with excellent detail and good accuracy, and those from the "other team" that suffer in almost every aspect. Dragon's previous IJA releases of the Type 95 and Type 2 light tanks have been all "A" team efforts and this new Type 97 appears to be in line with those releases. The top opening box, featuring artwork is of two tanks seen approaching from the front, set in Malaya. The sprues inside fit neatly in the box and are carefully packaged separately. I found one part knocked off the sprue, but undamaged. I have not noted any sink marks, short shots or molding defects as of yet, nor does there appear to be any flash. Detail is crisp and clean, and the kit features new tracks (more details below).
The parts breakdown is as follows:
Sprue A-final dives, hull parts and tow cable.
Sprue B-X4, track sections, Type 97 machine gun
Sprue C-Turret base, main gun and turret fittings
Sprue D-X2, suspension, drive and idler wheels, hull fittings. One sprue has an attachment with turret hatches and part of the gun.
Sprue E-X4, road wheels, tension spring, spare tracks
Sprue F-Engine deck details, rear mudguards, upper hull
Sprue G-clear parts for vision ports, lights
Part X-Lower hull
Sprue Y-turret shell and commander's cupola
Etch sheet for engine deck screens and optional parts for plastic items
The kit tracks are different here. Called "Neo tracks, they are link and length type, with longer sections and individual links for curves and linking the upper track sections over the idlers. The tracks are slide molded with excellent all around detail. The guide horns are molded solid with an indent at the tip of the guide horn where it should be hollowed out. There is a template provided upon which you bend the upper track sections to create sag, with a warning in the instructions to not bend them too much, especially back and forth, as they will break.
The road wheels are also slide molded with an indentation around the center of the road wheels, which I have seen in walk-around photos. The tires are neatly molded, with side lettering, and the hubs show the reinforcing band between the bolt heads.
The front and rear hull sections are molded separately to increase and improve detail. Hatches have inner detail but there is no interior, something a kit like this calls for as most of the interior is visible through the large hatch openings. All vision ports come as two parts, with the option of having the vision port open or closed.
The instructions are standard Dragon, presented in a fold out pamphlet type with line CAD drawings showing multiple sub assemblies and some kit options, like two types of return roller. Construction is carried out in 20 steps.
The painting guide includes colors called out by number and manufacturer for GSI Creos Aqueous Hobby color and Mr Color brands, and Model Master Enamel paint. The decal sheet is printed neatly, though with basic markings for four specific tanks.
Option 1, 1st Tank Regiment, 3rd Tank Company, Malaya, 1941, 31. This is the box art option.
Option 2, 1st Tank Regiment, 3rd Tank Company, Singapore 1941, 33.
Option 3, 13th Tank REgiment, 5th Tank Company, China, 1941.
Option 4, Fuji Training Grounds, 1941.
The first two options feature the yellow disruptive band as part of the camouflage scheme. All tanks are in a base 3 color scheme of IJA green, wood brown and red brown. Check references for colors.
It appears that a figure was apparently included in the initial release in Japan, but is not for anyone else.
My first impressions of the kit are very favorable. I don't have access to accurate measurements and cannot vouch for dimensional accuracy, but the details look to scale and the overall shape looks good. This review may seem sparse on details of the kit, but I will be doing a build review/blog here to go over the specifics of the kit and how it assembles.
The only parts marked not for use are some individual track links on the road wheel sprues, which could come in handy as many tanks had these draped across the front of the hull or on the turret side. Also, there are four type 97 machine guns included, and only two are needed for the kit, so you end up with two very nicely molded spares, though there isn't a lot available to use them with.
After extensive online searching, I found the kit in stock at Hobby Easy, with shipping included, for around $45.00 US. This is less than half of what it was going for at many other sites. IJA model kits are expensive and hard to find, so this was a deal I didn't hesitate on.