It is considered one of the best light tanks in 1935, being armed with a 37 mm cannon, and powered by a diesel engine, a fuel considered by some to be superior due to its low volatility. As with most armies in the 1930s, including the US Army, the tank, and the light tank in particular, were used primarily to support infantry or serve as cavalry reconnaissance and to a lesser extent, as raiding vehicles. Its speed was about 18 mph cross country, which was comparable to the Stuart's 20 mph nearly 6 years later in 1941. The five-year-old Type 95 could compete against the new American M3 Stuart light tanks, which began rolling off the assembly lines in October 1941.
Type 95 proved sufficient against opposing infantry in campaigns in Manchuria and China, as the Chinese National Revolutionary Army had only three tank battalions consisting of Vickers export tanks, German PzKpfw I light tanks, and Italian CV33 tankettes to oppose them. However, the Type 95, like the M3 Stuarts of the US Army, were not designed to fight other tanks, they were designed to support the infantry. and due to the IJN's priority in receiving technology and steel for warship construction, tanks for the IJA were relegated to receiving what was left. By 1942, Japanese armor remained largely the same as they did in the 1930s, and were regarded as obsolete after 1941. The Type 95 was also used by Imperial Japanese Navy SNLF detachments in Pacific areas during the conflict.
Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) 1939
Under the mistaken belief that the Red Army was retreating from the Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) region, the IJA command in Manchuria transferred the 1st Tank Corps, under the command of Lt. Gen. Yasuoka Masaomi to Nomonhon to cut off the retreating Soviets at the Halha River (Khalkhin Gol River). After a two-day journey by rail, the 1st Tank Corps began unloading its 3rd and 4th Tank Regiments from their trains at Arshaan in Manchuria on 22 June 1939. While the 3rd Tank Regiment was composed primarily of the nearly decade-old Type 89 medium tanks, the 4th Tank Regiment, commanded by 48-year-old Col. Tamada Yoshio, consisted of 35 Type 95 light tanks, eight Type 89s, and three Type 94 tankettes.
From the beginning of Soviet General Zhukov's assumption of command at Nomonhan in June 1939, he had deployed his BT-5 and BT-7 light tanks (Bystrokhodnyi tanks, meaning "high-speed tank"); and incorporated them into all of his combined artillery, infantry, and armor attacks. Although in the same light tank category as the Type 95, also with 3 man crews, and similar dimensions, the BT tanks were nearly twice as heavy, at 13.8 tons but were highly susceptible to close-quarter (tank killer) teams using fire bombs (molotov cocktails); which was primarily due to their gasoline engines. As such, Japanese tank crews held a generally low opinion of the Russian tanks, but the BT tank's 45 mm gun was an altogether different matter. With a velocity of over 2,000 feet per second, Soviet tanks could penetrate IJA tanks, at over a 1,000 meters (the Type 95's 37 mm main gun had a maximum effective range of less than 700 meters); as one Type 95 tank officer put it, "...no sooner did we see the flash, then there would be a hole in our tank! And the Russians were good shots too!"
On 2 July 1939, at approximately 18:10 hours (6:10 pm), Col. Tamada's 4th Tank Regiment of more mobile Type 95 tanks took the lead in front of the medium tanks of the 3rd Tank Regiment, as the 1st Tank Corps launched its first offensive against the Soviet forces at Khalkhin Gol. While the 3rd Tank Regiment passed through Soviet artillery fire, becoming decisively engaged by about 20:00 hours (8 pm) during their movement forward, the 4th Tank Regiment, while avoiding Soviet artillery barrages had advanced in a southeast direction instead of due south, engaging Russian forces southwest of Uzuru pond Observing a Russian artillery battery between himself and his objective, a "junction", Col. Tamada ordered an attack in the darkness. At about 23:00 hours (11 pm), the 4th Tank moved towards their objective with about 6 meters between tanks and 30 meters between companies and platoons. Just after midnight, a thunderstorm struck, conveniently exposing the Russian positions while at the same time masking the advancing 4th Tank Regiment. While at close range, the lightning storm suddenly illuminated the advancing Type 95s, and the Soviet defense line immediately opened fire with heavy machine guns, artillery, BT-7 light tanks, and anti-tank guns. However, since the range was so close, the Russian artillery could not depress their barrels low enough to hit the tanks, and their shells flew wildly over the advancing tanks. At about 00:20 hours (12:20 am) Col. Tamada ordered the 4th Tank Regiment to "charge", and by 02:00 hours his light tanks had penetrated over 1,000 yards through Russian lines and knocked out 12 artillery guns.
Japanese losses consisted of one Type 95 light tank, one officer and one enlisted man killed and 8 wounded,; the 4th Tank had expended approximately 1,100 37 mm and 129 57 mm tank shells, and 16,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition. After the action, the Soviet command acknowledged that 1st Tank Corps armor had reached the Russian guns.
British Malaya and Burma 1941
Considering that the United States military had been operating in the Philippines since the Philippine–American War of 1899–1902 and Great Britain had military bases in Singapore since at least the 1840s; combined, they both had at least one hundred years of "jungle warfare" experience between them. Which no doubt influenced their beliefs that "tanks could not operate in those jungles." On the other hand, the IJA had always been focused upon Russia and China, and had never conducted major campaigns in jungle (tropical) regions. Facing impenetrable jungles, two experienced powerful armies, and lacking any combat jungle experience themselves, the IJA Type 95s led the assault forces into taking Singapore by 15 February, and Corregidor by April 1942. By those standards, the Type 95 proved to be an extremely successful light tank during the early campaigns leading into mid 1942. The proper tactical deployment of a war machine is key to any military success, and the Japanese success in Malaya was partly due to the unexpected presence of their tanks in areas where the British did not believe tanks could be used. The wet jungle terrain, although an obstacle, did not stop the twelve Type 95s, taking part in an attack which broke the Jitra defensive line on 11 December 1941; but the military still needed a rugged reliable tank to conduct those tactics with, and the Type 95 was the light tank that successfully completed those missions in 1942. Poor planning on the part of the British Army resulted in few to none of any type of armor in British Malaya or Burma in December 1941.
America's first clash of armor in WWII
America's first tank versus tank battle of World War II occurred when Type 95 light tanks of the IJA 4th Tank Regiment engaged a US Army tank platoon, consisting of five brand new M3 Stuart light tanks from "B" company, 192nd Tank Battalion, on 22 December 1941; north of Damortis during the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula in 1941. Both the M3 and Type 95 light tanks were armed with a 37 mm gun, but the M3 was better armored, with 32 mm (1¼ inches) thick turret sides, vs the Type 95's 12 mm thick armor; however, based upon the Army's Ballistics Research Lab (BRL) which conducted the first large study of tank vs tank warfare in 1945, the conclusion was that the single most important factor in a tank duel was which side saw first, shot first, and hit first. In this first engagement the IJA reacted first, destroying the lead M3 as it tried to leave the road. The four remaining American tanks all suffered hits as they retreated. On 06/7 June 1942, the Japanese 3rd Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF) landed on Kiska Island during the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, part of today's state of Alaska. The SNLF landing was reinforced by Type 95 light tanks from the IJAs 11th Tank Regiment, which became the only enemy tanks to ever land on North American soil. After the battle, two captured Type 95s were transported to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for study and evaluation; where they rest on display today (see photo United States Army Ordnance Museum).
Two Type 95 tanks were deployed to support the Japanese landing at Milne Bay, in late August 1942. Initially, the tanks proved successful against the lightly armed Australian infantry, whose 'sticky bombs' failed to stick due to the humidity. Although the tanks had proved reliable in the tropical conditions of Malaya, they could not handle the volume of mud caused by intense, almost daily rainfall at Milne Bay. Both tanks were bogged down and abandoned a few days after the landing.
The Type 95 first began to show its vulnerability during later battles against British/Commonwealth forces, where the tank's 37 mm gun could not penetrate the armor of the British Matilda infantry tanks which were deployed against them. The thin armor of the Type 95 made it increasingly vulnerable, as Allied forces realized that standard infantry weapons were capable of penetrating the minimal armor around the engine block, and even its thickest armor could not withstand anything above rifle caliber. By 1944, it was already known that the 10-year-old Type 95 light tank's firepower was insufficient to take on "brand new" US medium tanks, such as the medium M4 Sherman, or the M5 Stuart light tank, although the Type 95 could still give the M3 Stuart light tank a run for its money at close range.
In August 1942, the US launched its first counter-offensive against Japan, when it landed US Marines on Guadalcanal. The US Marine Corps deployed its 1st Tank Battalion, which was equipped with the only M2A4 light tanks to see combat with US forces during World War II. The M2A4 was the foundation for the M3 Stuart, and both vehicles were nearly identical when viewed side by side; with the primary difference being the rear idler wheel lowered to the ground on the M3. Although the M2A4 was newer by five years, being built in 1940, than the Type 95, it was the closest US tank in armament and armor to the Type 95 light tank; with 25 mm (1") thick turret sides vs the 95's 12 mm turret sides; and both tanks were equipped with 37 mm main guns. Several Type 95s were destroyed or captured by the United States Army during the Battle of Biak in 1944. As the tide of the war turned against Japan, the Type 95s were increasingly expended in banzai charges or were dug-in as pillboxes in static defense positions in the Japanese-occupied islands. During the Battle of Tarawa, seven entrenched Type 95s opposed American landings. More were destroyed on Parry Island and on Eniwetok. On Saipan, Type 95s attacked the American Marine beachhead on 16 June 1944, and more were used in the largest tank battle in the Pacific the following day.
In the Battle of Guam on 21 July, ten Type 95s were lost to bazooka fire or M4 tanks. Seven more were destroyed on Tinian on 24 July, and 15 more on Battle of Peleliu on 15 September. Likewise, in the Philippines, at least ten Type 95s were destroyed in various engagements on Leyte, and another 19 on Luzon. At the Battle of Okinawa, 13 Type 95s and 14 Type 97 Shihoto medium tanks of the 27th Tank Regiment faced 800 American tanks.
China-Burma-India theater of operations
In 1942 the IJA pushed through Southeast Asia, through Thailand and into Burma, and headed for India. Type 95 light tanks of the IJA 14th Tank Regiment led the way. They engaged the M3 Stuarts of the British 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, and as the British retreated towards India, the IJA ultimately resupplied their destroyed Type 95's with "some" captured M3 tanks. By 1944, the 14th Tank Regiment was starving to death due to British deep battle tactics of cutting the IJA's logistical lines; and a final push by the IJA was stopped at Imphal, India.
In the Battle of Hukawng Valley, Japanese Type 95 tanks of the 18th Division were joined by remnants of the 14th tank division. They were attacked by the Chinese Army in India's offensive from India but they were virtually annihilated with the rest of the division as only 1700 out of the 12000 strong Chrysanthemum division managed to break out.
When the M4 Sherman became available for the British to use in the North Africa campaign, they were able to transfer their M3 Medium tanks to India and Burma. The Type 95 was outclassed by these.
When the war ended, hundreds of Type 95s were left in China. They were used during the Chinese Civil War.