First published in the November 2010 AMMS Brisbane newsletter
Dragon has announced that it will release a kit of the Ka Mi, and it has done this because I have two unbuilt resin kits in my stash. Nonetheless, I’m now looking forward to building Dragon’s example as well.
The Ka Mi, of which 184 were produced, was introduced in 1942 and saw action on Saipan and in the Philippines. It was also deployed at Biak, the Marshall Islands, Rabaul and Shumushu. It had a crew of six and was armed with a Type 1 37mm main gun and two Type 97 7.7mm MGs. Unusually for a Japanese tank, one of the MGs was mounted coaxially with the main gun. Also unusual for a Japanese tank was the use of an intercom for crew communication. The name Ka-Mi is derived from the Japanese word for launch, "naikatei," and the name of the designer, Kaminishi.
Whilst the running gear for the Ka Mi was derived from the Type 95 Ha Go light tank, the drive sprocket, road wheels, return rollers, idler wheel and track are all different. Ha Go track is 250mm wide while the Ka Mi’s is 300mm (and incidentally the Type 97 medium tank track is 330mm). The amphibious capability of the Ka Mi was achieved by large pontoons attached fore and aft, secured to the tank by claw-like clamps. Once on terra firma, the clamps were undone from inside the vehicle, the pontoons were jettisoned, and the vehicle fought like a normal tank. The front pontoon was either a one or two-part component, while the rear was a single unit which also included the two rudders.
The rudders were operated by a cable that ran via pulleys to an internal steering box that could be used either by the tank commander or the driver. The cable could be disconnected from inside and was jettisoned with the rear pontoon. While on water the air intake had a tall cover over it, and there was a sort of conning tower over the turret hatch.
A Ka Mi captured at Biak came to St Lucia here in Brisbane, before being ferried to the USA where it was exhibited during war bond drives. As I understand it, it was destroyed in a scrap metal drive during the Korean War. However, other examples of the Ka Mi survive today with the best one located at Kubinka in Russia.
The vehicle shown on the Dragon box is in Araii State on Babelthuap Island in the Republic of Palau. This is at least the fourth location for this vehicle since I first saw it in 1985 – it has stood up to all the moves fairly well, considering it was pushed around by a bulldozer! The building in the background is the old Japanese Navy radio station which was used in the final scene of the movie Hell in the Pacific which starred Toshiro Mifune and former US Marine Lee Marvin. The gun on the tank is in fact a steel pipe. There are seven other Ka Mis in Palau, some of which still have the rear pontoon attached. Some of the air intake towers also survive, but while there was a two-part front pontoon there in 1985 and 1987, it appears that it has now been scrapped. The Ka Mis in Palau were part of an 18 strong unit headed for Biak but were stranded when their transport ship was sunk. Ka Mis were not used on Peleliu.
If Dragon has travelled to Palau to research this vehicle, then we should expect a fairly accurate model. Thanks to Blacky for giving me a heads-up on the forthcoming release.
Ka Mi at sea, Rabaul 1945
Ka Mi front
Ka Mi rear pontoon & rudder controls