While painting Tim's Japanese tanks I was scanning the web and came across a mention of a Type 97 Chi-Ha armed with a 120mm gun. I was a bit surprised as I had never heard of this before. A bit of research showed that it did really exist, and that after the war at least a dozen were found at Sasebo Naval base, held presumably as part of the SNLF defence force there. There is only one pic I can find....
and it poses more questions than answers, such as "what the hell is that gun?"
One of my pet subjects is the Japanese Navy - mainly the Russo Japanese War (memo to self- got to get those painted) and I have a fair few books. I think it is a fair guess this is a Naval gun mounted in the turret of a normal ShinHoto Chi-Ha. It doesnt look anything like any of the IJA guns I have seen, and the Army didn't have a 120mm gun on the books as far as I know - jumping from 105mm to 150mm. 120mm is however 4.7", a common calibre of naval gun, so I think this is a local project. Next question is the barrel length and whatever that is on the muzzle. That's a very short gun for ship use, but looking through the books, the Japanese did have some 25 and 40 calibre 4.7" mounted on old Coast Defence ships dating from the turn of the Century, so it is not inconceivable these are something similar, dragged out of stores and jury rigged into the Chi Ha turrets. That leaves the thing at the end, which is inconveniently covered by a tarp. I dont think it is a muzzle break - it doesnt look right and you don't get them on naval guns because they don't develop high velocities - at least old ones don't. What it could be, however, is a counter weight, similar to that used on the 95mm Close Support Howitzer the Brits fitted to some Churchills and Cromwells. The counter weight is there to help balance the weight of the breach block inside the turret - see this pic
It sort of makes sense that this could be a counterweight - particularly as the original ShinHota turret was only designed to cope with a 47mm gun, so mounting something this heavy would need some compensation.
Anyway, part of the order I am painting for Tim was a Type 97 from Gaming Models. They had snapped the original barrel and had included a spare turret. I also had a Type 97 hull in the spares box - this time from QRF. Neither the hull or turret are particularly nice castings, but with a bit of plastic rod, and a bit of squinting, I put them together to make my own take of the Sasebo Special - here escorted by a Te-Ke Light tank from PeterPig
I'm quite happy with it, although I think if I were to make another I would use an Old Glory hull & turret as donor as they are much crisper.