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Painting a 15mm Stuart Tank (American Armor)

By Anthony Karl Erdelji

For the past few months I have been taking a break from fantasy figures and have been working on a World War II American tank force. I often get bored painting the same figures over and over, and switching to something different recharges my painting batteries. Changing modeling projects is also helpful to one's painting skills in general. For example, in this article the wash technique I will be using on a tank would also work perfect on say, rusted or dirty armor or weapons on any larger scale miniature. Imagine what it would look like on, say, a Warmachine warjack? So before you click away assuming this article has nothing of interest to you, give it a chance and you may just learn something.

For anyone looking to start on their first 15mm World War II force, I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is, unlike painting fantasy or sci-fi, you cannot use solely your own imagination when it comes to painting. Normally I encourage painters to get past those "official" manufacturer paint schemes and to use their own colors and ideas. But alas, that is not the case here. Part of painting of historical army is painting it to match its historical counterpart. If something is painting the wrong color, or modeling incorrectly, you can bet some chubby old-time historical gamer is going to point it out.

Now the good news is we have some leeway since even those old timers cannot always decide what is historically correct. During World War II vehicles and equipment from both sides was produced by different factories and at different times. Variations in color of clothing and equipment were commonplace. Vehicles as well were not always painted the same. Different factories, troops repainting their vehicles in the field, different thinning agents for the paint, oxidation, dirt, grime and the weather; all altered the look of the paint. Just take a look at here at all the possible variations in color of the "official" color of German tanks, dunkelgelb.

When it comes to American armor, the official color was olive drab, which looked like an extremely dark green when it rolled out of the factory. However it was highly susceptible to fading from sunlight, resulting in anything ranging from a dark green-brown to a pale green.

What this all means is that when painting a WW2 army we must follow a guide, but we do not have to follow it to the letter. We can also throw in a bit of artistic license here and there to make our army unique. For my American force I did lots a research to make sure my army would be historical (and found lots of conflicting information) to a degree, but I would add some elements that I knew would not necessarily be accurate. I want to keep painting and modeling a fun hobby, not turn it into a paint-by-numbers project!

This article will be focusing on an American M5A1 Stuart tank from the North Africa or Italy campaign. The model is from Battlefront, made of a resin hull and turret, with metal tracks and bits. The model cleaned up and assembled out of the box with a few additions. Various bits from Battlefront's Allied stowage pack were glued to the back. A small hole was drilled into the hull and an antenna, a bristle from a shop brush, was glued into place. The hull-mounted machine gun was also added, a small piece clipped from a standard push-type pin. After assembly it is sprayed down with a common household degreaser, rinsed with warm water, and set aside to dry over night before black spray primer is applied.

To make holding miniatures easier I mount them onto old paint jars with a hot glue gun. Hot glue holds the minis securely and to remove it at the end, just slide a warmed, blunt knife under the miniature and it pops right off! The tracks make it a little difficult to gun down the tank, so I made a small rise out of super glue and cut craft sticks to support the bottom of the hull.

Once mounted onto its stand, give the tank a thin coat of black paint to cover any areas missed by the primer.

Please note the hull and turret are both being painted at the same time in the same manner, but I decided not to photograph the turret for simplicity.


The entire tank gets a good coat of Vallejo Model Color (VMC) Brown Violet.


Next the tank gets a heavy wash of VMC Smoke and VMC Black. The wash should be almost, but not quite, pure black. To make the next step easier, wipe the wash off any large flat panels.  The paint is very soft right now, so let the wash fully cure, at least one hour, before moving to the next step.


Now the tank gets a heavy drybrush of VMC Brown Violet.


Now we move onto some highlights. The tops and edges of all the panels get a few thinned coats of VMC Russian Uniform. Be sure not to get any in the crevasses.  Do not worry about highlight the road wheel or suspension. We will take care of those areas during the weathering process.

If you wish you may drybrush this step, I prefer quality to speed.


For the second and final highlight layer, add a drop of VMC Green Grey and a drop of VMC Yellow Ochre to VMC Russian Uniform. The exact of Green Grey and Yellow Ochre to add is up to you. In fact I regularly alter to mix from tank to tank to add a little variety to the army.

Apply this mix just along the edges of armor panels.

Now is the time to add some decals. When researching this project I did extensive work learning the proper location of various insignias and markings. The only thing I did learn was like variations in colors of vehicles, there was no definitive on the proper location of markings. Markings and their locations changed throughout the war. For example, there were four different styles of American stars used during those few years during WW2. When tanks were repainted in the field, crews often repainted markings in different places or left them off entirely. In fact American tank crew often painted over the stars on their tanks, which were just bulls eyes for German tank crews. This is just another example that you can have a little variety in your force and it can still be historically accurate.

Since decals have more uses than just on military vehicles I moved this section into its own article. Click here to see the decal applying section of the article. Go ahead. We'll wait till you get back.

Back yet? No? Well too bad 'cause we are moving on!

The decals were too bright and clean as-is. They are dirtied up with a thin wash of VMC Smoke. The wash is dabbed on as to appear blotchy. Grime should not be uniform!

The lower hull area behind the suspension gets a very heavy wash of VMC Smoke.

Then the tracks and rubber areas of the road wheels are painted with a mixture of VMC Black with just a small touch of Vallejo Game Color (VGC) Earth.

Time to get all mucked up! Tanks in the field tend to only get washed when it rains. Driving cross-country through all kinds of weather, soot from cannon fire, leaking oils and engine grease, and a crew climbing all over, tanks get very dirty extremely fast. The tank in this article would be considered very dirty, so you may want to go a bit lighter on the washes if you want a cleaner tank.

The weathering process begins with a wash of VMC Smoke applied in the corner panels, on the lower hull, and around any raise lips, like around the turret mount. I usually use around three washes, letting each one dry completely before applying the next. The more washes, the dirtier the tank.
Now for some rust. A small amount of VGC Parasite Brown is mixed with VMC Smoke. Thinned into a wash this mix is sparingly applied to the tank. Just around the turret ring, the corners above the front fenders, and very lightly around the hatches.

This mix can also be used to add oil/rust streaks down the sides of the hull and turret, which is better shown in the photo below.

Now comes the dirt. VGC Earth is lightly drybrushed over the tracks, road wheel, suspension and lower sections of the hull. How far up drybrush is up to you. Using a fine brush and some thinned VMC Earth you can add some splashed mud on the hull above the tracks. To add some texture some VGC Khaki is applied in the same manner to represent dried mud.

The lower hull behind the suspension also needs some dirt and texture. Stipple on VGC Earth followed by VGC Khaki.

Here I freely admit I am not painting "accurately". Constantly moving and grinding away, track links and track teeth would never get this rusty. However after painting on all that dirt I prefer to have something visually stand out on the lower hull. If you want your tracks a bit more realistic, switch these two painting steps. Paint the tracks and then drybrush on the VGC Earth as shown above.

Before painting the track links you may want to give them a thin wash of VMC Black, depending on how messy you were with the drybrushing. You will also need to paint in the empty spaces in the road wheels black.

The teeth are painted with a mixture of VMC Smoke, VGC Parasite Brown, and VGC Dark Fleshtone. By adjusting the mixture you can paint them as rusty or dirty as you want.

Oil drums, crates, and jerry cans are other areas where you can get away with adding different colors to your tank. Traditionally each was the same color as the tank, olive drab. However you can add a little variation to the color or paint them something entirely different. Since such items were not standard equipment on a tank one can agrue the crew picked these items up along their travels from nearly any source.

Oil Drum #1 Oil Drum #2 Jerry Can Crate

VMC Russian Uniform

VMC Smoke Wash

Add VMC Green Gray to VMC Russian Uniform to highlight


VMC Desert Yellow + VMC Smoke

VMC Smoke wash

Highlight with VMC Desert Yellow

Highlight again by adding VMC Ivory


VMC Olive Drab

Wash with VMC Black

Add VMC Russian Uniform to highlight


VMC Chocolate Brown

VMC Flat Earth

Highlight with VGC Cobra Leather

Highlight with VMC Desert Yellow


The wooden parts of the stowed tools get a basecoat of VMC Flat Earth followed by a highlight of VMC Desert Yellow.

The metal areas are painted with a mix of VGC Gunmetal, VMC Smoke, and VGC Stormy Blue. The hull and turret machineguns are painted with the same mixture. Highlight very lightly with straight VGC Gunmetal. Clean up the retention straps with VMC Russian Uniform, if necessary.

Give the model two light coats of Testors Lusterless Flat and we are done!