Armor expert Stephen J. Zaloga's Japanese Tanks 1939-45 is another fine addition to Osprey's New Vanguard series. As the other notes in the bibliography, there are not a lot of English-language sources on Japanese armor in the Second World War, so this volume fills a valuable niche in military history. Overall, this is a very good volume, that balances technical description with operational history fairly well, although clearly there are some "nice to have" items (such as an order of battle listing Japanese tank units, more data on guns/armor/penetration) that space did not permit.
The volume begins with about 10 pages focusing on pre-war tank development in Japan, starting with the rather clunky Type 89 tank in 1931. The first relatively modern tank the Japanese built, the Type 95 Ha Go light tank, appeared in 1936 and this type was encountered by U.S. forces during the Pacific War. In the next 10-page section, the author details Japanese tank development in the Second World War, culminating in the production of medium tanks by late in the war. As the author notes, the Japanese recognized the technical inferiority of their tanks after their defeat by the Soviets at Khalkin Gol in 1939 and vainly struggled to catch up with foreign medium tank designs. Instead, the Japanese Army was saddled for most of the Pacific War with tanks that were too lightly armed and armored to compete with Western tanks. Zaloga comments that at Peleliu in 1944, U.S. Marine Corps anti-tank guns blew the attacking Japanese Type 95 light tanks into so many fragments that the Marines were unsure after the battle how many enemy tanks had actually been destroyed -a telling indictment of the incompatibility of a weapon system on a modern battlefield. Although outside the scope of this volume, the author does not mention that the Imperial Japanese Army also had fairly obsolete artillery and infantry weapons as well.
In the final 9-page section the author goes over the operational history of Japanese tanks, campaign by campaign. This section is very good and lists units and numbers of tanks involved, as well as opposing Allied tank units. Throughout the volume, the B/W photos are quite good, most from NARA. The color plates by Peter Bull are also excellent, depicting most of the various Japanese tank models. The author also provides two charts on Japanese tank production. The only area that appears slighted in the technical description of Japanese tanks was in communications - there was no mention about internal communications (intercom?) or radio. Yet several of the B/W photos show old-style radio aerials on one or two tanks and clearly the battalion or regimental commanders must have had radio. Additionally, the volume really could have used a chart listing the major technical characteristics of the main Japanese tank models, since this was difficult to pull together in the text. Nevertheless, this volume is a nice addition to Second World War literature.