Even if you are a specialist reader with bookshelves groaning under the weight of books on the Second World War, it is unlikely that you have much (if anything) on battles between American and Japanese tanks in the Pacific War. Well-known armor historian Steven J. Zaloga fills that gap with M4 Sherman vs. Type 97 Chi-Ha, the 43rd volume in Osprey's popular Duel series. The author has a reputation for detail and insight, which is fully on display in this volume. Frankly, I was amazed at the consistent level of detail - from both sides - that the author was able to put into each armored action described. This is tactical military history at its best. The volume also is complemented by a superb graphics package, with great artwork and B/W photos. Overall, M4 Sherman vs. Type 97 Chi-Ha is one of the author's best works in recent years and warrants a place in any Pacific War library.
The author begins by sketching Japan's development of the Type 97 medium tank in the mid-1930s and the realization after the defeat by Soviet tanks at Nomonhan in 1939 that serious upgrades were needed. The Japanese took the existing Type 97 and upgraded it with thicker armor and a high-velocity 47-mm gun that had a better chance to defeat tanks like the Soviet BT-7. In addition to upgrading their current medium tank, the Japanese began to create armored divisions, in case they had to fight the Red Army again. The author then shifts gears and discusses the development of the M4A3 medium tank, which has also been discussed in two previous Duel-series titles. In technical specifications, the author compares the Type 97 versus the M4A3 Sherman in terms of firepower, protection, mobility and command & control; the M4A3 had a clear advantage in every area but mobility. In this section, there are two color plates depicting cut-away views of the interior of each tank's turret.
The next section discusses the combatants, with which discusses the composition of each tank's crew and their training, as well as battalion/regiment organization. This section was very interesting and detailed, but I was a bit disappointed that it lacked the profile sidebars that this series usually has. I'm guessing that the author could not find enough information on a specific Japanese tanker involved in this campaign to profile. I always found that these sidebars help to put a "human face" on the duel equation. The author also uses this section to set the stage for the Duel, which pits the Japanese 7th Tank Regiment against the U.S. 716th Tank Battalion. The author spends six pages discussing the strategic situation in the Philippines Campaign of 1944-45 and how these forces came to be deployed against each other. The section on combat covers several specific tank-on-tank actions in the Philippines in January-February 1945. In short, the 7th Tank Regiment was ordered to conduct a defense with limited artillery support and was gradually beaten to pieces by U.S. mixed tank-infantry teams. As the author notes, Japanese anti-tank ambush tactics were often conducted at point-blank range and could be very lethal. However, he also points out how Japanese senior commanders mis-used their armor by parceling it out in small groups and forcing it to defend too much terrain. The author's tactical narrative is highly detailed and supported by maps and very relevant photos. Overall, a very good addition to the Duel series and a fine piece of military history on a neglected subject.