The Imperial Japanese Army’s armored vehicles in WWII performed just fine when they fought in China or when there was no armored enemy force. Unfortunately, when facing the Allies, in particular the US-supplied armies, the under-armored and under-gunned Japanese tanks fared quite poorly. As a stop-gap measure, the Japanese combined the turret and more powerful gun of a Type 97 Chi-Ha with the hull of the Type 95 Ha-Go to make the Type 4 Ke-Nu. It was not much of an improvement on the other two tanks, but “a little better than substandard” beats “substandard.” In wargaming terms, two models must be broken down and combined to make a third, which is easy to do, but it leaves me with sets of two tanks that are unusable.
- Left-original Chi-Ha hull; Right-outline of Ho-Ro gun shield and parts that would need to be removed
Looking through a “family tree” of Japanese armor I noticed that the hull of the Chi-Ha was used for many different variants including many other tanks and self-propelled guns (SPG). What caught my eye was the Type 4 Ho-Ro, an open-topped Self-Propelled Gun that mounted the Japanese version of the German siG33 150mm howitzer. Information online was scanty, but it did appear that the Ho-Ro fought in the Philippines and Okinawa. With that information, I had what I needed to start working on converting one of the spare hulls I had lying about.
I downloaded as many pictures as I could of the Ho-Ro from actual wartime pictures and a 1/35th scale
painted model. If there was a discrepancy or conflict between models, I went with the actual period photos. I also downloaded a picture of a Chi-Ha so I could make side-by-side comparisons to get the scale as correct as possible. Using the dimensions of the actual vehicles, I was able to calculate the dimensions of the two things that set the Ho-Ro apart from the Chi-Ha: the gun shield and the crew quarters. I used a 1/16th inch drill bit to hand drill (just inside the pencil marks) the main rectangle through the body of the tank. I cut the center out by inserting an X-Acto knife and slowly working it back and forth from hole to hole. Excess resin was cut off with a sharper knife; the edges were filed down with a large file. The crew compartment that is over the tracks was carefully routed out using a Dremel. Corners were made with the tip of a broken X-Acto. [As an aside regarding the use of any blades, the brand new pointy blades lose the point quickly in tasks like this so are useful only in large cutting projects. A moderately sharp knife with a broken tip is most
useful in cleaning out corners. Most of my cutting is done with a dulled X-Acto for good reason, since standard surgery is not performed with a sharp scalpel but the dull edges of instruments. Sharp stuff cuts everything, especially stuff you do not want cut. Using a duller X-Acto blade does take a little more time and over-cutting errors are avoided. The extra time taken with cutting is more than made up by avoiding the repairs required to correct errors caused when the sharp blade cuts through that perfectly flat surface that is no longer perfectly flat.] The bulge on the front of the hull was removed with a Dremel when I determined it would interfere with the angle of the front gun shield.
As with every model I build, I make a frame of the intended final structure out of 3×5 cards. That way, I can test the shape/size/measurements and make any adjustments before cutting
the more expensive plastic sheets. The paper gun shield fit very nicely and the appropriate-sized plastic stock was cut out with gun and vision ports to scale (and taking into consideration the thickness of the plastic). I kept this aside while I worked on drilling out the hull. I used 0.40 inch sheet plastic to make the rough shape of the sides and top of the gun shield. A metal 900 tool, another of those “gotta have” Micro-Mark tools, was used to make sure the sides and top were kept at the correct angle.
The front of the gun shield had lines drawn as guides to place large rivets that were used in this SPG. I used plastic “rivets” purchased from a hobby shop on a previous project in which I glued almost 400 onto the vehicle. A lesson learned was using
Crazy Glue only offered a very brief amount of time in order to get the correct placement. Instead, this time I used an old tube of model airplane glue which gave me a lot of time to position the rivets exactly where I wanted them to be, yet affixed the rivet very sturdily to the front gun shield. A note about the plastic I am using: the basic sheet is the standard 0.04 inch thick plastic I have used for figure bases. The finishing layers are 0.3 and 0.4mm sheet styrene – they may appear expensive at first but I
purchased only one pack of each and have used the same pack to build a Jeffrey-Poplavko armored car, Japanese WWII Tarawa pillbox and many other projects with them. The same goes to the other bags of plastic I purchased for other projects. I still have a lot of everything left over! When the rivets on the front gun shield had dried, the piece was tested in place and I noted the front hull superstructure would interfere with the gun placement, so I drilled it out using a Dremel before the front shield was finally glued onto the model. The remaining sides of the front shield were measured and glued in place.
After the rough gun shield was glued in place, it was covered with a thin sheet of 0.3mm sheet styrene that was cut slightly over-sized and filed down to form straight edges. Areas that were damaged, like the front/side superstructure, were covered in 0.3mm plastic and the gaps filled with ProCreate.
There are two vision ports on this model – one on the bottom of the front shield and one on the top of the right outer shield. These were made from 0.3mm plastic sheet styrene, the trick being to do all the detail work before cutting it from the main sheet. I used a small drill to make the holes at the ends of the vision ports and then cut straight down onto the plastic with a sharp X-Acto. Cutting down is better than cutting along a line as it is very easy to slip and make a mistake with this thin plastic (e.g. I picked up the sheet plastic while holding a knife and realized that the mere pressure of the knife was enough to slice through part of the sheet). Very small, thin round plastic served as the hinges. To make it fit better, one side can be filed very gently to make it slightly flat. Once this was in place, I cut out the ports, filed the edges to make them round and glued it into place. Rivet decals from Archer were used on the top edge.
The next thing I made was the ammo box, not because I was following any schedule but because I was bored and wanted to do something else (and wanted to avoid the difficult task of making the gun). A template was used to find the exact dimensions I wanted and a piece of pressed board was cut from stock I keep for DBA and Might of Arms armies (that I have never gotten around to building). This was covered with 0.3mm sheet plastic with about a millimeter of overlap that was filed down to the straight edge of the ammo box. This was repeated for all six sides with the top and bottom being last so there were no edge lines visible from the top. The hatch tops were also made from 0.3mm plastic. Hinges, like the vision ports, were made from round plastic cylinders. The hatch locks were made from scrap 0.3mm sheet with a rectangle of plastic glued to the top and filed down to give it a rounded appearance. The legs were made of thin rectangular plastic and glued into place.
Looking at the photographs the inside of the gun shield has some detail. I made the “L” shaped brackets at the base of the shield sides by filing the edge off some extra “T” shaped plastic I had lying about. Above the inner right wall was a rectangle made from 0.4.mm plastic. A piece of “H” shaped plastic was filed to make a “U” shape with the ends filed round and glued to the underside of the top shield. The end of a rod of plastic had opposite sides filed slightly flat until it could fit in the U and was glued into place. I had no idea what the last two things were or did but they sure looked good inside the shield and I was happy.
By this time, many of the “easy” parts of this project were done. Things like building the gun, figuring out the correct depth of the crew compartment and the tedious job of placing rivet decals remained. While I was very pleased with the progress of the project to date, I still had a lot to do before this conversion project would be complete. Please look for Part II of this project for more information and pictures. Close up photos and more are also available at: http://historicalminis.blogspot.com/2013/12/trying-something-new-uploading-bunch-of.html