When considering anti-aircraft artillery in the 1920s and 30s, Japan saw little need as none of her neighbours had particularly threatening air forces, but there was clearly a need to protect troops from local enemy tactical air support, and this need was met in 1938 when the Type 98 20mm gun was brought into service. Based on a French Hotchkiss design, it was intended from the start to be used as both an anti-aircraft and anti-armour weapon, and it proved to be very useful in both roles. It was light, and so easily moved by ground troops, and quick to set up so it was ready for action. Thousands were made and it was used throughout the War, becoming much the most common light anti-aircraft gun in the armoury of the Japanese Army.
Looking at the gun model first, this is a pretty decent representation of the real thing. It is made in the same medium plastic as the crew, so is not a precision model by any means, and is simplified in many ways, but the general shape is quite well reproduced despite only coming in seven pieces. The gun can be fully elevated, and swivels through 360 degrees, like the real thing, and comes with the tripod supports down as shown, meaning the wheels do not quite touch the ground. When in action the wheels were usually removed entirely, and of course you can do that here too, but we have included them in our image to show what they look like. We found images of this weapon with various styles of wheel (particularly variations in the number of spokes), but while we thought the 15-spoke wheels in this set seemed very unlikely (10 appears much more typical), there may be no one correct configuration.
The five-man crew is a fair selection as it generally took only two or three men to directly serve this gun. However we were confused by some of the poses. What little evidence we could find on how the gun was fired matched the box picture from Strelets, which shows the gunner sitting on a small seat firing and moving the barrel. However Strelets have provided two figures which seem to be firing the weapon between them. The first figure in our picture seems to be resting his shoulder against the shoulder rest and holding the trigger with his right hand. However he is standing, and because of his base he is a bit too tall to match the trigger and shoulder rest of the gun (since the gun has no base). The third figure pictured above is the other half of the ‘crew’, as he is sitting on the little seat, which is attached to the carriage by a long pole, which is the strange appendage you can see between his legs. This plugs onto a peg on the carriage, and means he perches next to the barrel, holding the elevating wheel with his left hand and waving his right hand in the air. So these two are operating the gun, and apart from the supposed commander on the end, the others are probably engaged in feeding ammunition. As the magazines only held 20 rounds, their constant need to be changed slowed down the actual maximum rate of fire.
The men all wear the same uniform, which is a tropical shirt and trousers with puttees on the lower legs and short boots. Four have a helmet while the fifth man wears the classic field cap with neck screen flaps. This is a perfectly typical appearance for the warmer war zones, so looks fine. No one here is armed or has any items of kit, so they are pretty simple figures as a result.
The men are reasonably well sculpted, and while there is little call for fine detail, the clothes look quite realistic, as do the faces. The gun fits together fairly easily, although there is no separate seat affair as suggested by the basic illustration found on the back of the box, so you have to have our friend in the middle or no seat at all. We found very little flash anywhere, so a nice clean production.
The curious way this weapon is being used by the two-man arrangement may be authentic but we could find no evidence to support it. However nor could we find good contrary evidence, so that must be labelled as a question mark against this set. That apart, given the fairly simple nature of the kit, this is a reasonable product that represents its subject quite well and has been nicely produced.