Masking camo on a PSC 15mm StuG
After playing a solid year of a WWII Africa campaign with the DAK pitted against the Indian Army we’ve decided to keep following the historical timeline. With the DAK booted out of Africa this can only mean one thing: Next stop, Italy! We wanted to get more toys on the table so we picked the 1/100th or 15mm scale. This allows platoons of tanks and combined arms infantry tactics. It also requires painting said armour with detailed camo schemes. Let’s have a look at a start-to-finish model build and paint of a German WWII camo pattern.
We are going to need some models to work with. For value and detail the Plastic Soldier Company’s (PSC) 15mm box sets can’t be beat. With a box of StuG III models in hand, let’s get going. These are fantastic little kits. They allow for a broad range of versions, from very early bare-bones StuGs to the bigger guns and schurzen of the later war. The detail is very crisp, with a minimum of flash to clean up, and for the most part everything goes together perfectly.
There remain, however, two significant issues. First, the gun barrel and mantle are in two parts. Even a minimum of plastic cement softens the base of the barrel and makes it flimsy until it sets. It’s still a weak spot even after firming up. I ended up having to replace a barrel with brass rod and don’t have high hopes for the other barrels standing up to a lot of play.
Second, the tracks! For such a great little kit the tracks are a major flaw. The treads come in two parts which – even with a lot of TLC – don’t join properly at the ends when they wrap around the road wheels. Don’t even try to paint the tracks separately and then add them later as you might do with a larger scale kit.
Even if you get the tracks to stick in the right spot the join point of the tracks are highly visible. From a major company like PSC It should have been easy to design the tracks so they fit better overall and had the placement of joins in a hidden area. Better still, the tracks should have been cast as one piece with road wheel and track assemblies done all together. I know PSC can do this because they sell the little tracks as one piece add-ons. There’s no reason at all why the sprues couldn’t have carried one piece assemblies from the get go.
Despite the tracks, once together the StuGs look the business. Having washed the sprues in warm water and dish soap already it’s off to the paint shop for priming. Some Games Workshop and Tamiya primer and paint did the trick nicely. A quick airbrush to pre-shade and darken the panel lines and recesses was followed by a heavy dusting of the base colour. Keep spraying lightly until all that remains of the pre-shading dark areas is a heavy shadow. I then custom mixed up a batch of the WWII German dunkelgelb base colour in order achieve “scale lightening”.
The smaller the model the darker a colour will appear on it.
For example, if a 1/56th scale model and a 1/100th scale model are sprayed with the exact same colour the smaller model will appear noticeably darker than its bigger brother. Because small 15mm models rely on visual ‘pop’ to make them noticeable on the gaming table, and mine were also going to get heavily weathered, I went with a base coat significantly lighter than the historically accurate dunkelgelb or dark yellow.
While leaving everything to dry thoroughly overnight – Tamiya acrylics don’t take that long but better safe than sorry – I pulled up a bunch of photos of German armour in the Sicily and Italy campaigns. The good news is there are a lot of camo schemes for the modeller to draw on for inspiration. There’s everything from carefully applied factory ‘ambush camo’ to colours applied at random in the field using a mop, paint, and gasoline for paint thinner.
Over the basecoat I put some generous strands of Blue Tack and gently pushed it down so that my airbrush didn’t push paint underneath. When airbrushing over the Blue Tack it helps to keep your airbrush at a 90 degree angle to the area you are spraying. This ensures the Blue Tack mask forms a nice solid line with no under or overspray. This is where a screw in the bottom of the model and gloves really help. Here are some pictures of a PSC 15mm Panther I did at the same time as the StuGs to illustrate how to add the successive layers of Blue Tack.
Unsurprisingly, I then got carried away in my attempt to recreate a different camo scheme on each of my five StuGs. In the end it was only the schurzen, or metal anti-antitank weapon skirts, that got the full treatment. I applied the Blue Tack and airbrushed paint exactly as I did for the Panther. For a couple of the camo schemes it was easier to use Tamiya masking tape but for the most part the Blue Tack was all I needed. For the cost-conscious Blue Tack is not cheap, however, once you squish and mix it all up again at the end of a spray session it is almost infinitely reusable. Loads of mixed in paint doesn’t much impact its key properties of malleability and tackiness.
Trusty Future Floor Polish sprayed through my airbrush unified the finish and gave a nice gloss coat onto which my Decal Details turret numbers, balkenkreuz, and tactical markings adhered nicely. Another quick brush of Future sealed the decals and the long and dirty process of making the little tanks look battle worn began. Some oil paint washes and AK Interactive’s Mud Weathering Set behaved really well and was a nice surprise. More on that in a future post. A final spray of Testor’s Dull Cote from a rattle-can dulled down any shine and gave a rock hard final finish that’ll stand up to any amount of rough wargaming treatment.
Despite the issues with the tracks I really enjoyed building and painting these PSC StuGs. Blue Tack takes the pain out of even complicated camo patterns once you get the hang of it. I’ve got dozens of trucks, tanks, and other vehicles to do in my burgeoning German Sicily-Italy army and look forward to many happy hours of airbrushing.