Sunday, 27 September 2020

Second World War Japanese in 20mm

I have long had in interest in the Second World War in the Far East, whether it be the campaign in Burma or the long protracted Sino-Japanese conflict. The Japanese approach to war and the nature of the terrain meant the war in the Far East was very different from that in Europe or the Mediterranean, presenting unique challenges for all armies. 

Discovering the Chain of Command Malaya 1942 campaign was my original inspiration to put together a Japanese force for this theatre.

A great starting point and a rich source of information on the structure of Japanese ground forces can be found in the two 'Rikugun' books by Leland Ness. I was lucky enough to get them when first published. I say lucky because unfortunately, at the time of writing, these are out of print and now fetch quite high prices.

I began by building my platoon based on the list used for the Malaya 1942 pint-sized campaign for Chain of Command.

The core elements, the three squads of the platoon, are made up of figures from the Eureka Miniatures 20mm range sculpted by Mike Broadbent, who also did the Australian figures in their range so they are a good match. 

The Japanese range is not extensive and is essentially made up of three rifle squads including an NCO and one Type 11 light machine gunner. All three squads come in the same set of poses, with the only difference being the head wear - the options being helmet with camouflage, plain helmet, or forage cap. 

I have based the figures individually except for the LMG team which is based as a pair simply to make them easier to distinguish from the riflemen.

The Japanese had two versions of their light machine gun. The Type 11 was the most commonly used by the infantry as it was lighter than the Type 97 which was more often found mounted in AFVs and vehicles. It looks like most of the Eureka sculpts are the Type 11, like this one in the Palm Spring Air Museum:

The museum also has a Type 97 and this is the infantry version, as it's equipped with a bipod.

The Australian War Memorial Museum also has a Type 97 on display:

As does the Army Museum in Hawaii.

The Palm Springs Air Museum has a good selection of Second World War small arms (especially considering it is primarily an air museum). That includes a good range of Japanese rifle types:

Eureka also include standard bearers in each squad. I know Japanese made much use of flags but I don't believe they carried them right down to squad level. However when I discovered that the army list for Japanese platoons in the Malaya 1942 campaign included fourteen man squads it was soon apparent that I would need every figure I could get my hands on. I found some nice images of suitably worn looking IJA flags by surfing the net. Once resized down to this scale I simply printed them out and used diluted PVA glue to attach and shape them.

Perhaps a touch ahistorical, but they add some flavour to the table.

Once I had realised that large Japanese squads were not at all uncommon early in the war I knew that I needed to find a source for a few more figures. Rather than repeat the poses in the Eureka range I have found the figures from Simon's Soldiers (formerly Wartime Miniatures) a great addition and they helped to add the variety I needed.

With all the Eureka LMG gunners standing I also like the fact that the LMG team from Simon's Soldiers gave me a prone team who appear to be firing a Type 97 LMG.

As you can see below, the figures from the two different ranges match well together.

I also have some figures from the Early War Miniatures range, but I have mixed feelings about these. They seem to have come from different sculptors and so the quality can vary.

The two EWM figures pictured below match well with the other ranges. They are also nice sculpts, but sadly that doesn't apply to all the figures from EWM.

Originally I had looked at the EWM range because they had figures with submachine guns and I wanted a few of these to use when taking those weapons as support upgrades for the squad leaders. However I wasn't impressed with the sculpts at all, they were rather crude and as you can see from the picture below even a decent paint job won't redeem the SMG gunner.

Their LMG team were similar and I wasn't overly impressed that the loader for the LMG team is the exact same sculpt as the loader for the grenade discharger teams. In their case this looks like they are equipped with a Type 11 LMG. I painted them up and will use them as a spare team if I ever need one, but they won't be first choice.

Talking of grenade dischargers, a squad equipped with these makes up the fourth squad of the standard Japanese platoon with three grenade discharger teams. Eureka do a nice team but they only do it in the one pose. It's a good, dynamic pose but given the teams all act together in the one unit that means during a game they will be close to one another and it looks a bit repetitive.

Simon's Soldiers make a grenade discharger team and that's allowed me to introduce some variety into the squad.

This gives me a total of five grenade discharger teams, probably more than I will ever need. That said I do know that the SNLF Marine platoon had four grenade dischargers in their squad. I suspect this was to make up for the lack of other support firepower given their amphibious landings meant they travelled light and with little additional artillery support.

The grenade discharger is a fairly large weapon and I think the Eureka version is a better size than the one from Simon's Soldiers, which seems a little on the small size. Here are two that I found on display in the Army Museum in Honolulu.

The Australian War Memorial Museum also has a few on display, including this one with a mannequin which gives a good idea of its size relative to the man firing it.

On display is the canvas bag used to carry the weapon which is something that I've never seen before and can't ever recall seeing modelled on a miniature.

The basic Japanese platoon has two senior leaders, a Rikugan Cho-i (second lieutenant) and a Gunso (sergeant). The Gunso operates as an inferior senior leader (having only two command initiatives rather than the usual three). Then there are four corporals, one to command each of the rifle squads and one to command the grenade discharger squad.

The Eureka range only include a NCO/Officer figure with a drawn sword in similar poses. I have three based as squad corporals and one as the platoon senior leader.

While the squad corporals did indeed carry a sword they were also armed with a rifle and so I have these three NCOs with rifles which come from SHQ. Some people find the SHQ figures rather slim when compared with other ranges but I find these don't look out of place with the others I have.

To add variety to the senior leaders I have two from the Early War Miniatures range, one with a pistol and one with a sword.

To differentiate the Gunso (the inferior senior leader) from the platoon leader I have used a kneeling NCO figure from Simon's Soldiers who is holding a rifle and has his other hand on the hilt of his sword 

The full platoon leadership is made up of the Rikugan Cho-i, the Gunso, the corporals of the rifle squads  and the corporal in command of the grenade discharger squad.

That covers the core basic platoon, which as you can see is a large four squad platoon. Support weapons and teams come from a number of manufacturers.

Eureka have a Type 92 medium machine gun team. 

There are only two crew figures supplied with this gun and so additional crew members are made up using figures from various manufacturers.

Here's a Type 92 MMG that's in the Army Museum in Honolulu.

I managed to find an excellent set of plastic figures and weapons to fill a number of gaps in the support lists. This set was originally produced by Waterloo 1815 but is now more widely available under licence from Italeri.

This set contains two sprues with enough to build two Type 92 70mm guns (called M92 Light Howitzer by Italeri) with their crews. In addition there are two rifle grenadiers, two tank hunters with pole charge, two Type 92 20mm anti-tank rifle teams and four figures with binoculars. All in all, a very useful set of figures and weapons. 

The crew figures are very versatile and they have been put to use manning a number of different guns.

Here I've used the crew for a Type 41 75mm Mountain Gun, like this one in the military museum in Beijing.

The tank hunter, anti tank rifle and rifle grenadiers are all very common support elements.

A flamethrower was one outstanding addition to the support lists and this one came from Simon's Soldiers.

Ironically I have found a crew from Simon's Soldiers my preference to crew the Type 92 70mm gun that comes with the set.

Having said that, one of the prone figures with binoculars from that Italeri set makes for the perfect gun commander.

I've seen a few of these guns. This one below is in the Army Museum in Honolulu and has the metal wheels which match the Italeri model.

This one below is in the military museum in Beijing and has spoked wheels. I'm not certain whether those wheels are a Chinese adaptation (of a captured weapon) or is an earlier model.

Early War Miniatures make a Type 94 37mm anti tank gun with three crew and I use the additional crew figures from Simon's Soldiers to make up the remaining members of the crew.

Here is a Type 94 that I found in the collection of the museum in Beijing.

The more powerful 47mm AT gun first appeared in 1942 and proved much more effective against allied armour. This gun and all the crew are from SHQ. As I've mentioned, I find the SHQ figures slimmer than those in other ranges but when grouped together on their own in a setting like this I think they don't stand out as that different. Regardless they always paint up well and look the part.

I've seen a couple of these gun. One in the Military museum in Beijing.

And this one at the Army Museum in Hawaii.

The Italeri figures with binoculars have come in useful not only to fill the role of commanders of gun crews but also for a Japanese themed jump-off-point.

The Japanese were also equipped with SMGs. These are available in the support lists as an upgrade for a junior leader. I have also discovered that the platoon HQ in a SNLF unit included three men with SMG who accompanied the platoon leader. I wanted to add these to the collection but I had trouble finding suitable figures. As mentioned earlier, at first I settled for the SMG armed figure from Early War Miniatures, as that was the only one I could find in 20mm. The sculpt didn't look great on their website and my suspicion was confirmed once they arrived. Nonetheless they seemed to be the only figures available and so I painted them up. I based some as junior leaders and others as regular infantry. Fortunately, someone directed me to 172 Scale Miniatures, a manufacturer I was unaware of, and they have a lovely set of eight figures armed with SMGs. These were not only better looking sculpts, they would also give me a greater variety of poses.

These all carry the Type 100 submachine gun, one of which I found on display in the Australian War Memorial Museum (you can see in the picture below above the light machine gun).

I think the marked superiority of the 172 Scale Miniatures figures can be seen in the picture below.

The figures with rocks on the base are to mark them as junior leaders, those without rocks are other ranks. Those can fill a number of roles including the three man team that accompanies the senior leader of the SNLF platoon.

These are a great improvement and now give me a number of different figures from various suppliers to use as junior leaders. 

The 172 Scale Miniatures range also included sets of two prone snipers. My understanding is that what the Allies often considered 'snipers' were simply normal riflemen firing from concealed positions. These men were not necessarily even marksmen and yet the perception remains that the Japanese made a greater use of trained snipers than was actually the case. 

Despite this I always find a few prone figures useful, even if only for additional crew members for the grenade discharger teams.
The most common Japanese tanks for most of the campaigns I want to cover are the Type 97 Chi Ha and the Type 95 Ha Go. Not many Japanese tanks survived the war but I've come across a few in various museums.

The Tank Museum at Bovington has a Ha Go in good condition.

I also found one outside the Army Museum in Honolulu.

I bought a set of Japanese model tanks on eBay several years ago. These were already painted and required very simple assembly. While not the most detailed kits I picked up three Ha Go for a very reasonable price and with a bit of detailing and a new paint job they were fine for gaming.

The Type 97 Chi Ha is harder to find but there is one in the museum at the Yasukuni Shrine museum in Tokyo.

There is also one in the military museum in Beijing.

The model I've been using for my Japanese force is the venerable old Airfix kit from the 1970s, which I think has held up very well considering its age. I have a couple of those.

The Type 97 Chi Ha was upgunned later in the war and given a larger turret to house the more effective 47mm gun. This was known as the Shinhoto Chi Ha, where shinhoto translates as 'new turret'. This one is from 172 Scale Miniatures.

For earlier in the war and mainly for China I have a Type 89, this is a more modern and detailed plastic kit from IBG.

I also have three Type 94 tankettes. Also known as the Te-Ke these were the most numerous of the Japanese light tankettes, with many more built than the Ha Go. Most were used in China in a reconnaissance and infantry support role. While not well armoured the Chinese infantry had little that could penetrate them. They also saw action in the conquest of Java and Timor as well as Burma and the Philippines. These are resin models from Milicast.

To get some idea of quite how small these tankettes can be, here are they are alongside a 20mm figure.

Late in the war the Japanese also developed a self-propelled gun that could serve as both artillery and a tank destroyer. The Type 1 Ho Ni used the Chi Ha chassis and mounted the 75mm Type 90 gun. As far as I'm aware these were only encountered in the Philippines. I bought this very cheaply on eBay as a pre-painted model that needed simple assembly. It lacks the detail of plastic or resin kits but works fine for gaming.

While there is not much need for soft skin models for skirmish level games trucks can be useful as either scatter terrain or for scenarios that involves escorting convoys etc. I acquired a few Lledo die cast trucks and have mostly converted those into commercial vehicles for the Far East. I had one left over and decided to paint it up as a Japanese captured/requisitioned vehicle that could be used for Chindit games set in Burma.

For non-mechanised transport I have this team of three mules and their handlers from the 172 Miniatures range. I have in mind these might work well as one of the targets of a raid behind the lines by Chindits in Burma or by Chinese Communists in China.

Last, but not least, I like to have patrol markers themed for all my nationalities and the Japanese are no exception. These were designed by John Bond. I print them out and attach to 40mm MDF round bases.

Many of these figures and models can be seen in action in the game reports for the Chain of Command campaigns that can be found on this page

They were used to play the Malaya 1942 campaign against the Australians. This was a tough campaign for the Aussies who had to try to hold back the Japanese with only limited resources. 

It proved very enjoyable and tactically challenging for both sides. You can find the report for the first game here (and then follow the links at the end of each game report for the rest of the campaign).

They were also used to play a Chain of Command campaign that was published in an issue of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine entitled Last Stand on Opium Hill and set just before the fall Singapore. This time a unit from the Malaya Regiment was trying to hold back the Japanese tide on the outskirts of the city. You can find the first game report here.

You can see several of my other 20mm collections for the Second World War by clicking on this link 20mm Miniatures.


  1. Great stuff! I've just abandoned my 28mm CoC Japanese project as the number of required figures was too large and I'd lost motivation. I'd thought if I revisit it at some point I'd do it in 15mm but now I'm wondering about 20mm.

    1. Thanks. Don’t let me be responsible for tempting you into 20mm, that will be entirely your fault! I find it’s a good scale that works well on a 6x4 table and feels ‘right’. The painter in me loves the larger size and detail of 28mm but 20mm strikes the perfect balance between table scale and figure size.

  2. Great article. I have been switching over to 20mm scale. The cost of 28mm figures are a killer. Thanks for point out what companies made the figure.

    1. Thanks. 20mm does allow you to collect (and store) more than 28mm. Price and selection is great. I can also see lots of advantages to 15mm, but I’m too far down the 20mm path now.

  3. That's an epic post. Beautiful army and wonderfully photographed.A much under appreciated theatre of operations and an army not too often represented. This will be a valuable resource for others to refer to. Many thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, glad you found it useful. The scope of the war in this theatre is huge. China and the 1942 campaigns in Malaya, Burma etc have the appeal of early war, which then contrasts nicely with the later war battles of 44/45. You’ve got everything from jungle to urban warfare. You have British, Indian, American, Dutch, Australian, Chinese and even African units. Throw in unusual units like the Chindits, or the powerful US Marines and what’s not to like?

  4. What a splendid post Mark, most informative and inspiring, I was toying with the idea of venturing into Burma next year, I will bookmark this post in case I do.

    1. Thanks Phil. I think Burma has great potential, both sides engaging in attack and defence. I think one reason the Pacific island campaigns lack gaming appeal is that the Japanese player doesn’t have much to do other than try to hold their ground to the last man, all the ‘fun’ is operating the Marines. On the other hand Burma is much more fluid and mobile with lots of options for both players to play sides that are more evenly matched than the island campaigns.

  5. Excellent work Mark, esp like the JOP's

    1. Thanks John. That JoP was a repurposed company command stand I had made for Crossfire many years ago. Good to give it a new lease of life.

  6. Lovely painting and a great read as well. I keep promising myself to go 20mm should I start the PTO one day. Hopefully AB have a fully grown range of Japanese by then...

  7. Thanks Nick. I have mixed feelings about AB doing Japanese now my force is almost complete, I would be sooooo tempted to buy them. You know how it is......

  8. Very comprehensive and useful for anyone wanting to do this period. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, it’s been an enjoyable journey and I’ve learned quite a bit along the way.

  9. Great post. I appreciate seeing your methodology and the model comparisons, both with each other and the real thing.

    1. Thanks. It’s always good to see the real thing to compare with the models I’ve made and I’ll go out of my way to visit a museum that might have a bit of kit I haven’t seen before.

  10. Great post and excellent work as usual. You encouraged me to start building my Japanese army and already ordered some from Eureka miniatures and Simon's Soldiers, next will be EWM and 172 Scale Miniatures... Do you mind sharing your painting technique and / or the paints you use on your figures. There isn't many information about painting Japanese uniforms and yours look Ace!... Thank you

    1. Hi Cem, glad you like them. They are all painted using Vallejo. The uniform has a base of Flat Earth and the main colour is Khaki Grey (despite the name it has just the right hint of green for Japanese uniforms). Highlights are then painted with a mix of Khaki Grey and Tan Yellow. I hope that's useful.

  11. Hi,

    What figure do you use as artillery observer in the last scenario (Opium factory) ?

    Thanks from Paris


    1. Hi John, there are two figures on the base. One lying prone with binoculars is from the Waterloo/Italeri 70mm gun set, the other with a radio is from the Waterloo Japanese infantry set