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Type 97 automatic cannon

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Type 97 automatic cannon
Japanese Type 97 20 mm anti-tank rifle.gif
TypeAnti-tank rifle
Place of originEmpire of Japan
Service history
Used byImperial Japanese Army
WarsSecond Sino-Japanese War
Soviet–Japanese border conflicts
World War II
Production history
ManufacturerKokura Arsenal
Unit cost¥6,400
No. built1108
Mass52 kg (115 lb)
Length2.09 m (6 ft 10 in)
Barrel length1.065 m (3 ft 5.9 in)

Cartridge weight162 g (5.7 oz)
Caliber20 mm (0.79 in)
Rate of fire12 rounds/min
Muzzle velocity790 m/s (2,600 ft/s)
Maximum firing range2,000 m (2,200 yd)
Feed system7-round box magazine

The Type 97 automatic cannon is a 20-millimeter (0.79 in) Japanese anti-tank rifle that began development in the 1930s. It was used by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Soviet–Japanese border conflicts and the Pacific War. Ever-greater thicknesses of armour on tanks rendered the Type 97 obsolete by about 1942.

Development and description[edit]

Concerned by reports of Chinese purchases of Vickers 6-Ton tanks[1] and rising tensions with the Soviet Red Army along the Manchurian border,[2] the IJA issued a requirement for an anti-tank rifle in 1935. The Nagoya Arsenal submitted a weapon derived from their copy of the 13.2-millimetre (0.52 in) Hotchkiss M1929 machine gun while the Kokura Arsenal submitted a new design using a 20×125mm cartridge. The first round of testing in March 1936 was not satisfactory and both guns were returned to their designers to rectify problems encountered during the trials. The Kokura Arsenal built eight prototypes for the second round of trials held at the Army Infantry School in 1937, after which the IJA rejected the Nagoya weapon. It identified several problems that needed to fixed and a batch of fifty guns was built for operational trials in 1938. After another round of trials in December at the infantry and cavalry schools, the weapon was accepted as the Type 97 Automatic Cannon.[1]

The gun has a gas-operated delayed-blowback mechanism in which the barrel and receiver also recoiled to help steady the weapon.[3] Despite reports that it can fire in full-automatic mode,[1][4] the weapon lacks a selector switch to distinguish between single-shot and fully automatic modes.[3] The Type 97 was the heaviest anti-tank rifle of World War II and weighs 52 kilograms (115 lb) ready to fire, minus the gun shield, and 68 kilograms (150 lb) including the shield and four carrying handles, handily exceeding its design weight of 40 kilograms (88 lb). It uses a seven-round removable box magazine mounted above the receiver.[1] The gun can fire a dozen rounds per minute.[4] It has an overall length of 2.09 metres (6 ft 10 in) and the removable barrel, including the muzzle brake, was 1.065 metres (3 ft 5.9 in) (53-calibers) long.[5]

The Type 97 fired solid-steel armour-piercing-tracer (AP-T), high-explosive-tracer and high-explosive incendiary-tracer shells.[6] The initial AP-T round was the Type 97 and it had a softer grade of steel than the later Type 100.[7] The 162-gram (5.7 oz) AP-T projectiles had a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s).[8] Based on a captured Japanese ammunition table, the Type 97 round was credited with the ability to penetrate 30 mm (1.2 in) of armour at 90° at a range of 250 metres (270 yd). The same table credited it with the ability to penetrate 9 mm (0.35 in) of armour at 2,000 metres (2,200 yd).[9]

Production and service[edit]

Production of the Type 97 began in 1939 at the Kokura Arsenal with the first of 950 that were made through 1941. Production ceased that year, although a further 100 rifles were built by the Nihon Seikosho Company in the first half of 1943. Including prototypes, a total of 1,108 rifles were manufactured. The anti-tank rifle cost ¥6,400 at a time when a normal rifle cost ¥77.[10] Beginning in 1940, the barrels were chrome-plated to extend their lives.[2]

The Type 97 was assigned to IJA infantry battalions, normally on the basis of a single anti-tank platoon allocated to each infantry company. Each platoon had two 11-man sections each with a single Type 97. In addition to the section leader, there were four men assigned to carry the gun, four ammunition bearers and two horse-holders for the nine horses nominally assigned to the section. Over long distances, the Type 97 was broken down into three parts to be carried by the horses.[11]

The weapon first saw combat during the Battles of Khalkhin Gol in 1939, where it reportedly disabled a number of the lightly-armoured vehicles used by the Soviets at that time. The Type 97 was not extensively deployed in China until the following year, by which time they were mostly used as infantry support weapons. Reflecting this change, most of the ammunition produced in 1941–1942 was high-explosive, not armour-piercing.[Note 1] The rifle was not widely deployed in the Southwest Pacific during World War II, although it was used by the Teishin Shudan paratroopers of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. The Type 97's 20 mm round was no longer effective against modern tanks after 1942.[11] The Ho-1 and Ho-3 autocannon were developed from the Type 97 for use on aircraft.[3]


  1. ^ This is not confirmed by the figures in Ness.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Zaloga, p. 29
  2. ^ a b Ness, p. 92
  3. ^ a b c Williams, p. 220
  4. ^ a b Handbook, p. 216
  5. ^ Zaloga, p. 70
  6. ^ Zaloga, p. 31
  7. ^ a b Ness, p. 93
  8. ^ Williams, p. 226
  9. ^ Ness, p. 94
  10. ^ Zaloga, pp. 30–31
  11. ^ a b Zaloga, p. 66


  • Ness, Leland (2015). Rikkugun: Guide to Japanese Ground Forces 1937–1945. 2: Weapons of the Imperial Japanese Army & Navy Ground Forces. Solihull, UK: Helion. ISBN 978-1-909982-75-8.
  • Handbook on Japanese Military Forces TM-E 30-480 [Chapter 9]. US War Department. 1 October 1944. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  • Williams, Anthony G. (2000). Rapid Fire: The Development of Automatic Cannon, Heavy Machine Guns and Their Ammunition for Armies, Navies and Air Forces. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife. ISBN 1-84037-122-6.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. (2018). The Anti-Tank Rifle. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4728-1722-8.

External links[edit]