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A Ka-what!!?? Rare Japanese tracked vehicle housed on MCLB

June 18, 2020

This report originally publishes at marines.mil.

Anyone that has been assigned to, currently assigned, or works aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow will tell you that it is a very unique installation especially when compared to other Marine Corps Bases.

It is strategically located between two major interstate highways, a major rail spur, airport, and shipping docks. Aside from its location in the Mojave Desert with our friends to the northwest, the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, and our sister base to the northeast, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, MCLB Barstow is a major storage and industrial facility.

What makes MCLB Barstow really unique is that it is home to the only Japanese Ka-Tsu in existence, a tracked vehicle developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Imperial Japanese Navy to give it a ship-to-shore capability similar to the United States’ landing tracked vehicles, according to http://GlobalSecurity.org.

Introduced in 1944, the 16-ton vehicle could carry up to 40 troops or four tons of cargo, plus a crew of five. Access to the cargo area was via six hatches in the top deck, so it was unable to carry vehicle or large military pieces. It was armed with two pedestal-mounted Type 93 13mm machine guns. Propulsion in the water was via two propellers which gave it a top speed of five knots, or 12 miles per hour.

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According to http://nationalinterest.org, the Type 4 completed testing in March 1944 and was accepted into service. But by then, the IJN was looking to use the Type 4 offensively as it grew clear the Japanese home islands would soon come under attack.

At first Japanese Navy considered using the Type 4 in a kamikaze role similar to it Kaiten manned torpedoes. But eventually, the IJN instead decided to modify the Type 4 to carry two 450 millimeter Type 2 torpedoes mounted atop each side of its boxy hull. The U.S. Navy often anchored ships in shallow island lagoons that would be virtually impossible for Japanese submarines to penetrate. But the Type 4s could simply cross shallow reefs on their tracks.

Five large Japanese “cruiser” submarines were modified to carry two Ka-Tsus each for a planned raid on U.S. warships anchored at Majuro in the Marshall Islands. Seven smaller submarines would escort the tank-carrying subs into position, and then pick off American carriers as they tried to flee the carnage.

Lugging two 1,870-pound torpedoes left the Ka-Tsu unbalance and underpowered however. Moreover, the submarine branch hated the idea, accurately forecasting the Type 4’s engine compartment would flood while the submarine was submerged. Furthermore, trails revealed it took 20 minutes to remove the Type 4’s watertight engine covers and start its engine, during which time the surfaced submarine would be visible to enemy radars and highly vulnerable to attack. The noisy, ponderous and lightly armored swimming tanks would have been sitting ducks to the small PT boats assigned nearby for base security.

So on May 3, 1944, a Combined Fleet notice announced “…it was discovered that the special Type 4 assault boat had performance defects such as noisy engine, low speed, and caterpillar tracks breaking in sediment. It was judged that the May 12 operation [Operation Yu-Go] was impossible, and it was postponed.”

The Ka-Tsus which were already built never saw action and were later found abandoned after the war in Kure. Of the approximately 49 Ka-Tsu produced, only one has survived and is located here on MCLB Barstow. You can see the vehicle near the main gate on display with four other U.S. produced LTVs from the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War eras.

More detailed information on the Ka-Tsu can be found at: http://GlobalSecurity.org and https://nationalinterest.org.

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