I’ve long been a fan of historical modelers. I find historical armor models particularly impressive; plastic-kit builders take a tremendous amount of care with the weathering and detail of their projects.
While reading up on the German offensive into Russia during the winter of 1942, I came across some pictures of German tanks in ad-hoc winter camouflage. They looked awesome—all grimy and beat up. I thought, “I wonder if I could do this with a Khador ‘jack? Now that would be cool.” So I tried it, and it worked, and it went into the catalog, and people liked it, and WARMACHINE fans have been sending me questions about it ever since.
Studying for simulation
The ferocious winter gave the Germans a host of problems. One of the most significant was that the dark grey German tanks on fields of white snow made inviting targets for Russian aircraft, artillery, and armor. German vehicle crews were issued temporary white paint to use as camouflage. This paint came in paste form. The crews mixed the paste with water or even gasoline and applied it with whatever was available—spray guns, rags, or brooms, for example. The temporary paint went on unevenly, got very dirty, and wore off the vehicles’ edges and corners over time.
Art imitates life
The basic technique for painting WWII winter camo reflects the actual way the vehicle crews did it during the war. We start with the basic paint job; we paint our whitewash over it; we dirty it up; we wear it off the edges. Let’s go!
I’ve painted flat colors on this Destroyer after the fashion of the 5th Border Legion. I’m not crazy about the bright red, so I’ve chosen a more orangey color for the shoulder plates. If you want markings or freehand, make sure they’re painted on and fully dry before you start with your camo. The camouflage process is extremely messy and sloppy, so there’s no point in painting the metal bits until everything else is done.
Once your base colors are fully dry—let them sit overnight just to be safe—thin down some white paint in your palette. You are going for translucency here, so don’t worry about it being too watery. Then wash it all over the colored areas of the model. Unlike a usual wash, you don’t want it to pool. Unlike a usual glaze, you don’t want it to go on smooth. Just slop it on and streak it up, remembering to wick it back out of the cracks and corners before it dries.
WWII vehicle crews often wiped away camo, dirt, and slush from the vehicle markings to facilitatie coordination and maneuver. If you have numbers, freehand, or any other markings that you want to show through, dab the white paint away with a lint-free cloth before the paint dries.
After this first wash of white is fully dry (again, let it sit for as long as you can), do it again.
Let this coat of whitewash dry and then clear-coat the model. You don’t want subsequent washes and weathering to peel the thin white paint off the model. There’ll be plenty of wear and weathering, but you want it to be deliberate.
After your clear coat is dry, it’s time for dirt. You’re not using real dirt, obviously, but Vallejo Smoke makes a nice grainy substitute. Smoke won’t look right if you just mix it in with white paint for a wash. It’ll look better if it’s layered on.
Mix some Smoke together with Glaze Medium and water, and wash the model with it. This time you do want the wash to pool in crevices and around rivets. If you want a darker dirt color, you can put a spot of black ink in with the Smoke.
Whoa! Really really dirty. I actually overdid it on this guy—you want your dirt coat to be more translucent than this. If your dirt winds up too thick, like mine did here, it makes the next step more of a pain.
Once the dirt’s on, you need to bring the white color back. Use a large brush to drybrush white onto the flat parts of the armor plates. You want to avoid the crevices and the edges. What you’ll wind up with is some rough-looking “cleaner” white on the flat areas, leaving dirt and grime accumulating in the crevices.
As you can see, all that dirt makes it hard to get good coverage. I had to go in with a regular brush and some thin white paint to touch up some areas before the model looked right.
If you want your model to be very dirty and beat up, repeat the above wash/clear-coat/wash/drybrush process a number of times to really build up the weathering. It takes more time than just glopping on the Smoke, but it gives a smoother and more realistic finish.
Once the model is weathered to your satisfaction, take your original base colors and do a very light drybrush around the hard edges and corners of the model. This simulates the original paint showing through where the white has worn away.
The hard part’s done! The metals almost paint themselves. Start by applying an even coat of GW Boltgun Metal to the metallic areas of the model.
Wash the metal with a 1:1 mix of blue and brown ink, with a smidge of Bestial Brown added in. This adds definition to the metal and gives it an oily look.
Add a “grime layer” of Vallejo Smoke, just like the one you used over the whitewash. Then touch up the edges and corners with Boltgun Metal to show where the grime has worn away.
I think the Smoke wash here is adequate for my weathering purposes, but you may wish to add rust to your model. I recommend a product called Rustall. It’s used for rust effects on model railroads. It dries to a startlingly realistic rust color and texture. Coat the metal areas with Rustall—it has very low surface tension, so be careful—and use a fine-tipped paintbrush to paint little streaks on areas where rust might have run down over the white paint.
Although it’s not strictly realistic, I like to paint the rivets in pure Boltgun Metal after all of the weathering is done. It makes the rivets “pop” visually and goes a long way toward neatening up the appearance of the model. I also like to do a little darklining here and there with a mix of black paint and brown ink. It gives better definition to the armor plates and makes the weathering look more deliberate. Lastly, I blacken any vents or smokestacks on the model with black pastel chalks or drybrushed black paint.
You will naturally want to base the model in the snow. Check YW7’s snow basing article for some detailed techniques. Whichever snow you wind up using, make sure not to lay it on too neatly! A little mud and slush on the base will really complement your weathered camo paint job. I use Hudson & Allen Muck to mix in here and there with my Hudson & Allen Snow. You can also do the trick with brown paint or brown ink. Put more mud & slush behind the warjack, where it’s already slogged through the snowfall. Put a little mud on the model’s feet to complete the effect.
That’s all there is to it! Have fun experimenting throughout the long cold Russ—I mean, Khadoran—winter.
Until next time—