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  Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank (Matanikau River)  
IJA
1st Independent Tank Regiment

Former Assignments
2nd Tank Regiment
4th Company

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USMC October 24, 1942

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USMC 1944

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Peter Flahavin 2004
Driver Sgt. Kanichi Tamura (KIA)
Gunner Fukuhata (KIA)
Disabled  October 24, 1942

Tank History
Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) as Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank manufacture number unknown. Assigned to the 2nd Tank Regiment, 4th Company. Later, assigned to the 1st 1st Independent Tank Regiment. Transported to the South Pacific and embarked as cargo aboard Sasako Maru.

Wartime History
On October 12, 1942 departs Rabaul transporting the Imperial Japanese Army (IJN) 230th Infantry Regiment (less 2nd Battalion) soldiers and cargo including this tank and the 1st platoon with the rest of the regiment aboard Sakito Maru as part of a high speed convoy "Tokyo Express" that proceed southeast to Shortland Harbor. At 2:00pm roughly 100 miles off Shortland spotted by U.S. aircraft and attacked by 30 planes without damage. At 3:30pm again targeted by U.S. aircraft without damage.

On October 13, 1942 at Shortland Harbor and prepares for the remainder of the voyage down "The Slot" to the southeast. On October 14, 1942 departs Shortland Harbor and proceeds southeast down "The Slot" towards Guadalcanal by late afternoon the convoy was near the southeast tip of Santa Isabel Island and was were again targeted by U.S. planes without damage and the force continued to proceed southeast to Guadalcanal.

On October 15, 1942 around midnight the transports arrive off Tassafaronga Point on Guadalcanal. Sasako Maru begins unloading near Bunani Point and by dawn had finished unloading. At 10:30am U.S. aircraft from Henderson Field attack and Sasako Maru was hit by a bomb that caused a fire and was deliberately run aground but was a total loss. During the landing one member of the platoon was killed and two wounded with one tank destroyed by gunfire.

A total of nine tanks were landed and advanced along the coastal road to the southeast to stage for the Japanese Army attack against the U.S. perimeter. Advancing along the coastal road, the Type 97 Chi Ha No. 1, 1st Platoon commander's tank had engine trouble and did not participate. Also tank no. 2 and no. 3 did not participate in the attack.

Mission History
On October 23, 1942 this tank was manned by driver Sgt Kanichi Tamura with gunner Fukuhata. In the evening, the Japanese assault began with an infantry regiment assaulting supported by the tanks that attempted to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal. As the line of tanks crossed the sandbar, they were hit by gunfire from the U.S. Marines on the eastern bank and disabled on the sandbar. As the crew of this tank attempted to flee they were killed. By October 24, 1942 in the early morning, the Japanese assault had failed with heavy infantry casualties and every tank disabled. For the tanks, a total of thirty were killed and ten wounded. The sole survivor was Sgt Seizoh Watanabe who fled at the start of the battle and later became a Prisoner Of War (POW).

At high tide, several of the tanks were swamped by waves and ruined. Later than morning, a photograph of the tanks disabled on the sandbar was taken from the U.S. Marine positions on the eastern side of the river looking westward. Afterwards, the Americans deliberately destroyed the tanks with gunfire and demolition charges to prevent Japanese soldiers from using them as fighting positions. All the tanks were destroyed aside from this tank that was partially submerged in the mouth of the Matanikau River. Later, American personnel posed for photos with the tank.

Stan Jersey adds:
"The head on the tank was from the 4th tank in the crossing photograph. The first tank was the leader, the second tank was the adjutants tank, the third was the 3d Tank, 1st Platoon, the fourth was 3d Tank, 2d Platoon. It is believed there were two bodies in that tank. The fifth tank was a light tank (3d Tank, 1st Platoon)."

Wreckage
This tank remains submerged off the mouth of the Matanikau River with the turret above the surface and visible from shore. Over the decades, the sandbar and mouth of the river have meandered widely. During the wet season when the river floods, the sandbar is washed away then gradually builds up again almost immediately. During the 1990s, there was at least one failed salvage attempt when a Japanese person hired an Australian to attempt to salvage the tank but the crane used could not get a firm hold on the hull and the effort was abandoned.

References
Hell's Islands The Untold Story of Guadalcanal (2008) by Stanley C. Jersey
Thanks to Stan Jersey and Peter Flahavin for additional information

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Last Updated
October 28, 2021

 

Tech Info
Type 97
Chi-Ha

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