Written by Mike Maloney
In July of 1986 I made a visit to the Admiral Nimitz State Historical Park located in Fredricksburg, Texas; Birthplace of Adm. Chester Nimitz. As it was my first visit to the museum from my home town of Austin, Texas it is only a one hour drive. The park is divided into two parts; The hotel that Adm. Nimitz's grand parents owned now the main portion of the museum and the history walk, where all of the large exhibits are kept. When I came out of the first building, sat before me was a W.W.II Japanese Shinhoto Chi-Ha in deplorable shape. I stood there staring at this rare example of the Japanese Armoured forces and decide to see if I can save this piece of history before it rust's away into oblivion.
After a meeting with the museum's director, Mr. Bruce Smith, It was agreed to that I would restore the Shinhoto Chi-Ha to my best ability as they did not have the man-power to do it, and that the museum would offer any and all help and physical resources to my disposal. My work would be done on the week-ends by myself in front of any and all visitors to the museum and that the museum even offered a space for me to live at during the week-ends so I would not have to travel the long distance and waste my gas. This was a very nice gesture on the museums part.
I traveled home that day with my thoughts on nothing but the Shinhoto Chi-Ha and when I got to my home in Austin, I immediatly sat down and wrote Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan about any and all information and interior photo's that they may have in their archives and started to go through my personal library for the same, not knowing fully what lay in store for me in work and surprises.
SIFTING THROUGH THE DIRT
The very next friday after work I loaded my car with referance books, clothes and several tool boxes and I head out toward Fredricksburg. Day 1- I awoke early that saturday morning and inspected the Shinhoto Chi-Ha close up. On close inspection the exterior on the right side hull 2 of the return rollers were broken off, the right track seperated, several impact holes of various calibers all over the vehicle, left muffler completly missing, exterior completly rusted, turret rear access hatch and turret right side vision hatch completly missing. I then consulted the museum records to trace the origins of this vehicle and that itself became a puzzle.
Returning to the Shinhoto Chi-Ha my first task was to try to open the turret hatches as both were rusted shut. After 6 hours I was able to open both hatches. I then climbed in to survay the interior. Decay and rust had settled in, several items such as drivers levers, pedels and such had completly rusted off, a layer of compost dirt of about 3 in. deep had accumulated on the floor. Before any work was to be done inside all dirt had to be removed. I constucted a sifter of a wood frame and fine mesh wire over an empty 55 gal. drum. All dirt was removed by small shovel, brush and other small tools and the dumped into the sifter. Sifting the dirt took up the remainder of the day, but the rewards were just. Found in the dirt was: an aluminum engine data plate, a wood handle tooth brush broken in 3 places with Japanese writing, and several remnants of a Imperial Japanese Forces soft cap. All items were recorded, tagged, and stored in the museums artifact room.
THE MYSTERY TANK
After consulting the documents of shipping and recieving I was able to trace the movements of the Shinhoto Chi-Ha in reverse order: Nimitz Museum from San Clementi Island, from Aberdeen Proving Grounds Maryland, from Odgen Air Force Base. Odgen A.F.B was the initial point of research on captured war material, Aberdeen for the more intense studies for such, and San Clementi island was a target range for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. ( The vehicle has several impact points over the exterior of many differant calibers including an entry point at the rear, tracable from the stowage box, to the oil reserve box, ricocheting off of the rear inside of the engine compartment and lodged under one of the side engine cooling fans, a 57mm a.p. round.)
Anything before Odgen, all hopes end as no documents are provided. The only thing that might help identify where this vehicle came from is that it has turret mounted smoke dischargers and found on the drivers right side plate a faint #99. Beyond that, the Shinhoto remains the 'Mystery Tank of Texas'.
THE TASK AT HAND
That Sunday I spent all day removing the most dangerous parts of the tank; the asbestos panels. Now, I do not know about the other tanks produced by Japan the war, but the Shinhoto Chi-Ha was insulated in this manner. Average thickness of these panels were 1/2 in. thick and average size was 2ft.X3ft. Each panel was held in place by an aluminum strip frame work much simular to ceiling tiles. Good idea, bad choice of materials. Having to wear a respirator, I spent that day removing these panels after making a detailed diagram showing size, shape and location. Due to being open to the elements and age, 75% of all panels removed crumbled at the touch.
After removing the panels in the turret, I noticed some Japanese writing had been left intact. This writing appears to be a makers mark or workers proof mark. These were found just to the right of the gun mount. The primer color found inside of the vehicle appears as a orange/red and the writing in white.
A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
The next 3 months of straight week-end work gave me an insight into the design of Japanese vehicles. Even though this vehicle was badly damaged by time and weather on the inside, several things still worked such as the turret traverse wheels and gun breech. The Mistubishi engine in my opinion was of a very good design as there was no belts of any kind found, every thing ran off of drive shafts including the 'squirrel cage' fans mounted on either side of the engine.
The major downfall of this vehicle that I could find is that the turret was not provided with any turret basket, whereby the commander and gunner had to walk with the turret as it traversed having to step over the drive shaft and engine as part of it was exposed without cover in the fighting compartment(*1). These two men also had to stand or find any place they could to sit as no seats were provided for them(*2). Also, the driver and hull machine gunner had to pass through the turret to reach their positions as no hatches were provided for them.
The turret was found 'frozen' in the 11:00 o'clock position. Turret is traversed by means of 2 hand crank wheels - one located at 11:00 o'clock for the gunner, the other at 3:00 o'clock for the commander who also acted as the loader. One revelution of the wheel would rotate the turret 2 1/2 inches. There is also a flip latch located on top of the gearing mechinism to secure the turret in traveling mode. The gunner was provided a shoulder rest to elevate or depress the gun, no mechinism was used. The triggering device is a simple pistol grip in the shape of the Nambu pistol made entirely out of brass. Sighting was done by means of a single telescopic sight.
The driver sat in the forward right side of the hull, steering was done by means of the steering levers and these were equipped with the locking levers located at the gripping point. A parking brake was located just to the left of the driver, with excelorator and clutch pedels mounted on the floor. The vision port for the driver swings outward and is held in place by via locking arm prop. A rubber pad measuring approx. 4 in.X 8 in. X 1 1/2 in. thick is provided on the vision port for the drivers forehead. The hull machine gunner sat on the left side of the hull had one vision slit provided forward and a pistol port located just to his left on the lower hull, which veiwed from the outside is located behind the first return roller. It was covered by a 'tear-drop' shaped swing plate.
The two hatches located on the upper bow forward are not hatches for the crew, these are access to the transmission gears for maintanence. The main transmission is located between the driver and bow machine gunner. The main ammo bin holding 30 rounds for the 47mm gun is located on the lower left side hull which has a double door opening hinged in the middle and painted a light sky-blue. Another ammo rack holding 8 rounds is located on the right side lower hull, rounds pointed downward. A good portion of the engine is located inside of the fighting compartment exposed showing several fittings and drive shaft mounting; the drive shaft being covered by a thin aluminium shield. Wiring shows internal communication, but found no evidence of a radio mount nor wiring for such on this vehicle. All vision ports were covered with 1 in. thick glass plates that were removable.
WORK COMES TO AN END
The work of the next 3 months comprised of mainly removal of ammo bins, cleaning of the engine of what I could get to, removal of the radiator(made out of brass, weighing 150 lbs.) getting the turret to rotate, general cleaning of all moving parts in the fighting compartment and appliying an anti-rust inhibitant to stop the further decay of the metal. I did this work on the week-ends with an average 14 hours per day. While I was doing this work, visitors would pass by watching all of this going on in front of them and the museum provided a donation box whereby to help with the cost of materials for the conservation of the Chi-Ha which collected around $5,000.00 including several visitors from Japan, one sticks out in my mind, an elderly gentleman (a veteran I think) from Japan learned what I was doing, shook my hand with tears in his eyes.
After 4 months of work, The director of the musuem informed me that work to the Shinhoto Chi-Ha must come to a halt due to policy changes from park officials. I turned in all reports, findings, documents and such, loaded my tools into my car and as I stood in front of this vehicle with it's barrel looming over my head, I had the immense pleasure knowing that I preserved a peice of history for future generations to see and today when you see it, it is bursting out of a grove of bamboo freshly painted with generic markings to represent all of the Japanese tank formations that served during the Second World War with pride.