Monday 30 September 2019

Painting French armour for 1940

The French had some distinctive camouflage schemes for much of their armour and there are a whole host of possible schemes to choose from. The two AMR 35 tanks below have seen better days, but this contemporary colour photograph shows one of the paint schemes very clearly.

Many, many years ago I bought the original Matchbox 1/76 set that included both a Char B.1 and a FT17. While Airfix was always my first love I did have a lot of time for the Matchbox sets which came complete with a display base.

While you can still come across the original Matchbox kits on eBay the same kit has been produced more recently by Revell and I picked up one a few years ago from a local hobby store.

The toughest decision was to select a suitable colour scheme for both. Not always easy to see but a close inspection of the Char B1 in the picture below shows a similar paint scheme to that on the AMRs in the first picture and I liked the idea of something along those lines.

The French tank museum at Saumur (Musee des Blindes) has recreated similar schemes on restored tanks in its collection.

And this has been replicated in the collection at Bovington.

I've been fortunate to see several FT17s and a couple of Char B.1 in various museum collections. The FT 17 crops up in several and the one below, with the 37mm gun, is at the Musee de L'Armee in Paris.

The Tank Museum at Bovington has one in the First World War hall.

This one below, with a pipe in place of the main armament, is in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Finally this one which is in the First World War halls of the Musee des Blindes at Saumur.

The Matchbox FT17 appears to be a fairly good replica, especially considering the age of the kit. Surviving examples of the Char B1 appear to be less common and I've only seen two of these. The one below is also at the Musee des Blindes at Saumur, which perhaps unsurprisingly, has an excellent collection of French AFVs.

And the other is in the Tank Museum at Bovington. This one doesn't appear to have been restored, however it is almost impossible to work out what the original colour scheme might have been.

One of my reference books is an excellent guide produced many years ago by Steven J Zaloga and is a great source of inspiration and information.

Looking through the book I liked the idea of trying out this scheme for the Char B.1.

So here are the Matchbox kits of the Char B.1 and the diminutive FT17 after construction. Both kits come in two tone plastic and a display base (as was the way with all the Matchbox kits) .

Using the photographs I've taken as a guide I've added a few details using plastic card to both plus a chain on the rear of the Char B.1, but other than those these are pretty much as they build out of the box.

Both models were primed in matt grey and then sprayed in the base green colour. The camouflage patten was marked out using Silly Putty. I find Silly Putty perfect for this job as it's easy to manipulate and and has good adhesion to the model to prevent any seepage of paint.

It is workable like plasticine but doesn't crumble in the same way. It is adhesive, but unlike blu tac it doesn't adhere so strongly that it will lift the paintwork. It's perfect for this particular job where you want a hard edged camouflage in an irregular shape.

The whole model is then sprayed with the lighter sand colour.

The Silly Putty is then removed to reveal the camouflage. Despite being covered in paint the Silly Putty can be rolled back together and is good for multiple uses (as you can see from my earlier picture, that blob is well used as it usually comes in a uniform flesh colour when new).

There's no easy was to get around painting the black key line between the two contrasting colours, that's a job for a good paintbrush and a reasonably steady hand. The tracks are painted with a dark grey. With that done the whole model receives a spay of a gloss varnish and once dry decals are applied.

I kept things very simple with the FT17, after all there really isn't a lot of room to play with on such a small model.

The decals were sealed with another coat of glass varnish to protect them. The next stage is a pin wash using diluted oil paint (I haven't record this here but you can follow the technique in this post about painting a Cromwell tank). Once dry the whole model receives a thorough coat of matt varnish.

The final detail apart from the usual weathering was to try to replicate the look of the tracks on the Char B.1. Looking at the tanks at Saumur and Bovington I wanted to get the same sort of metallic quality with more wear evident on the surfaces that were likely to connect with the road. While the tanks in the museum are not running regularly it's quite easy to distinguish the areas that would receive the most wear.

Using a very similar technique to that which I used on the Cromwell I worked up the worn metallic look using a base of acrylic paint and then detailing with oil paint. The dusty look was obtained using pigments.

Something very similar was done with the tracks on the FT17.

Overall I was very happy with the result and the Char B.1 in particular has a very distinctive finish. Quite a contrast to the monotone greens on my US, British and Soviet armour. I used a very similar technique to paint these FT17s and Vickers tanks for my Chinese forces in the picture below.

In this instance the FT17 models come from HaT and the Vickers is from UM. By the way the infantry are based for Crossfire and one day I plan to get around to re-basing them individually in anticipation of creating a platoon for Chain of Command. I suspect the publication of the forthcoming Far East Handbook will be the prod I will need to get started.


  1. Fne work on these two! Really love the early French camouflage schemes. One day I might have a go myself.

  2. Lovely work - must get some silly putty for myself :)

  3. Top job! Great tip on silly putty too. Definitely going to punch that idea!

  4. Looks terrific. I just finished painting the 1/56 version of the Char from Warlord/Italeri, and I have a Somua in an utterly outrageous blue, brown, light green /dark green combo. French tanks are fun.

  5. Fantastic - I do agree the French camouflage schemes are really interesting and you have pulled it off nicely.

  6. Great work. Your guides are always inspiring.