Building and Painting a Soviet Rifle Company (SBX50)

The Soviet Rifle Company is a sight to behold on the table top but is a daunting prospect for a even an experienced player to get to grips with painting and modelling. To start with for each Rifle Company there are the a minimum of 18 DPMG and M1891 rifle teams, an HQ team and a Kommissar so 20 teams before you start to add any of the 7 optional heavy weapons teams or adding the third soviet platoon, bringing you up to a massive 34 teams! That is more teams than most forces field in a full infantry Formation and you still need to paint an equally numerous second black box platoon.

A recent arrival on my doorstep

Battlefront kindly sent us one of these to review so let us look at the models in the box. There are a mix of older hard plastic rifle sprues which includes HQ models and a HMG team and newer flexible plastic sprues with the heavy weapons with a few SMG armed figures. The detail on all these is good with clean edges and not much flash. There is enough detail to give experienced painters plenty to work with whilst not being overly detailed, the novice painter can get a good result with a little care (see the online guide for more details on the sprue configuration and assembly guide). I personally like the hard plastics more than the older metal models in general they don’t look quite as bulky which is good for troops wearing the summer style uniform, there is less clean up work needed plus they are much easier to base up. The flexible plastic is not quite as detailed and is a bit more tricky to clean up being flexible you need a really sharp knife and to take your time.

The box provides enough troops to field one Rifle Company of two platoons plus all its supporting heavy weapons plus a Battalion HQ and a small 3 team Maxim HMG platoon to provide covering fire. So whilst you have purchased a Rifle Company you actually get 3 platoons for your Rifle Company Formation which is pretty good value!

The box can alternatively be fields as both black box options in a Hero Rifle Battalion (EATG) and a Motor or Hero Motor Rifle Battalion from Red Banner, so you can get some games in whilst you paint up the extra rifle teams for that second rilfe platoon. So that’s 3 formations you can field just from 1 set of figures. With the second 50mm mortar team their is the opportunity of using the special order catalogue to build out a second Rifle Company by just getting 5 extra rifle sprues (SS2O2), if you don’t want more PTRD or Flamethrower teams. This route also enables you to boost the HMG platoon up to a healthy 6 teams.

I really like the fact Battlefront think of us players by opening up these options for efficiency of force building enabling us to try out different lists with little or no extra investment initially needed.

Enough on the options this article is supposed to be about how I assembled and painted the set to hopefully show its not as daunting as it looks.

Firstly a bit about me, I’ll be upfront here, painting isn’t my favorite thing to do, I definitely see it more as a necessary task than something I really enjoy a lot of the time but, I have now painted two Soviet Rifle Battalions! I like to think others see my painting as a decent table top standard nothing too spectacular but neat, tidy and picking up the modeled detail. I like my troops to look good when viewed across the table but I’m not trying to win painting plaudits. So the rest of what now follows is my guide to getting to grips with painting a Soviet Rifle Company box set.

My first suggestion is get a notebook write down a quick guide to how you want to paint your models even if like me, you use the guide from the Colours of War book or the army book painting guide supplemented by some light internet research for real world images. It will help when you come to expand your force in the future and can’t quite remember which paint you used or what order you did things in or if you need to do some repairs in the future. A lesson I learnt the hard way when I dropped a box containing my entire urban LW American army onto a gravel drive the first time they left the house, the lid came off!

The first decision to make is to paint first then assemble or to assemble first and paint second. For me with plastic infantry I have erred toward painting first then assembling. It makes it easier to pick out detail but can take a bit longer overall. That decision out of the way let’s get on and get them painted. My next suggestion is do the must haves first there’s nothing worse or more demoralising than finishing painting a really great looking team or unit only to realise you can’t field them because you didn’t paint all the basic stuff needed before hand. This applies equally well to any Formation units always do the must have black box stuff first.

Stage 1 – Clean and prep

I started out by converting all my rifle frames in to strips like the heavy weapons teams, carefully removing the sprue connected to the helmets before I clipped away the outer frame. They only needed a quick tidy up with a sharp craft knife, being careful not to create flat spots on the helmets and they were ready for some undercoat.

Be careful with the hard plastic rifle tips these will snap if you are heavy handed, there is one figure in a running pose that is also a bit fragile luckily there are a few spare figures overall. The soft plastic has the opposite issue the fine parts rather than cut bend! For a detailed guide to working with flexible plastic check out the hobby section on the Battlefront website or follow this link.

To speed the overall process up after washing the sprues in soapy water to get rid of any grease dirt from the clean up I started with a sprayed base coat of GW Zandari Dust to act as both primer and basecoat this is close to my intended finished uniform shade of a lightened Vallejo Model Colour Khaki Grey and saved some time. This is something that I wouldn’t do with metal figures they always get a separate undercoat before a base spray to help minimise chipping and ensuring a good paint bond.

Stage 2 – Basic colours

Basic colours constitute steps 4 to 6 in my notes. I started with all the hands and faces which I also ink washed with Skin Shade. Then a quick tidy up of VMC Khaki Grey for the collars and cuffs where needed. I then used a size 1 brush to add the rest of the base colours painting from lightest to darkest colours so if there are any mistakes they can be easily covered by the darker paint at this stage, I always do metallic colours last due to the nature of the paint. To add some variety and to reflect the slightly random nature of soviet uniform manufacture I swapped around the base colour from sprue to sprue for the kit bag as well as doing some SMG ammunition pouches as leather and some as canvas on repeated figures. I used a more yellow brown for the wood than on my previous set following a recent visit to the Imperial War Museum in London and seeing their display of Soviet small arms which were made from a very yellow looking wood.

Tip buy good quality brushes and look after them, giving them a proper clean with a brush soap at the end of each painting session.

Soviet Heavy Weapons sprue in base colours only
  • Base colours were:
    • Uniform Base GW Zandari Dust spray / VMC Khaki Grey (880)
    • Helmets and  painted metal – VMC Russian Uniform (924)
    • Bread bag, webbing and pouches – VMC Khaki (988)
    • Greatcoat – VMC Tan Earth (874)
    • Kit bag – VMC US Field Drab (873)
    • Leather and wood – VMV Flat brown (983)
    • Boots and rubber – Army Painter Matt Black
    • Metal – VMC dark gunmetal (863)
    • Officer/Kommissar trousers/hats – VMC Luftwaffe Blue (816)
    • Officer/Kommissar piping – VMC Cavalry Brown (982)

Stage 3 – Shadows

The quickest stage to do, an all over wash of Zhukov Shade and leave to dry overnight. This blends together the edges and provides shadows for the deeper recesses on the figures. Just don’ be tempted to rush this step as the wash will reactivate the paint below and all your effort can be wasted through impatience. Try not to overly apply the wash keep a spare (dry) brush to soak up any excess. I apply this from the bottom up to ensure the wash flows into the depths. This reactivation of the paint also means the base pigments become stronger as the pigment of the shade wash reinforces or mitigates the paint pigments, with Zhukov Shade the Khaki areas become more a bit more green whilst the uniform areas just becomes darker increasing the overall contrast between them. This is a good step to finish a painting session on, I generally try do this stage before heading off to bed or out of the house.

Stage 4 – Highlighting

This takes stage care and patience, I use a back to front methodology, where you start with the feature furthest back and finish with the one furthest forward, this enables me to judge the amount I need to lighten the base colours by for the top most highlights more easily. For top highlights where I used the base colour the base colour, it is lightened by adding  some Khaki. So it went uniform, belts, webbing, packs/pouches, weapons and lastly the helmet and boots.

A finished Rifle sprue all ready for basing

I took the opportunity to paint the officer and commissar figures as both a senior officer and commissar to add a bit of extra variety in my basing options after all I would only need a couple of each of these and you get 5, so there is a bit of an opportunity to use these figures to experiment with colours and the levels of detail. Once this has had a short while to dry I then varnish them all with a thin brush painted matt varnish layer, whilst not strictly necessary I have found over the years this provides a more durable finish than spray varnish alone and it prevents me rubbing off paint handling the models whilst basing them. I even do this with tank crew figures and decals before weathering them. Be aware they can look a bit shiny at this point.

  • Colours used  in highlighting were:
    • Bread bag strap and weapon slings – VMC Stone Grey (884)
    • Bread bag and kit bag – VMC Khaki (988)
    • Greatcoat – VMC Tan Earth (874)
    • Wood – VMC Beige brown (875)  or VMC Light brown (929)
    • Helmets/painted metal – 50/50 mix of VMC Russian Green / Flat Green (968)
    • Black Highlights – VMC Panzer Grey (995) and London Grey (836)
    • Piping – VMC Flat Red (957)
    • Officer trousers – 50/50 mix of VMC Luftwaffe Blue(816) / Dark Blue (930)
    • Bullet casing – Humbrol acrylic 16 and Skin Shade
    • Bare Metal – Natural Steel (864)

Stage 5 – Bases

This is the final stage. I start by laying out all the bases and then just resting the models in them swapping them round until I got the whole unit looking how I want with each base telling a story. I then glue the models into the base with a polystyrene cement team by team then added a thin layer of textured filler I used Vallejo Ground Texture Grey Sand on these, it can be a bit messy but I like the overall finish it gives and it adds a bit of weight to the models so am prepared to take my time. I mix this with my base colour to make it the shade I want. Once fully dry which is usually 24 hours they get a a dry brush of a highlight and I add the scatter material I want to use finally I repaint the base edges to clean it all up. Colours of War has some excellent examples of different basing finishes you can use.

Test fitting – overall as there are quite a few spares so there are plenty of options for basing and enough spares to build them up as a complete Heo Rifle Formation (I still had a few more unused figures for later)

My existing regular Soviet infantry are all done with an early spring/late winter theme consisting of an VMC English Uniform (921) base colour with a Tan Earth highlight to which I then added areas of still frozen and snow covered ground and new growth and this is what I have used for these so they can be used with my existing support forces as I am also working on another set of Soviet Naval troops who are getting urban bases.

I start with covering about 30% of the base using a spring undergrowth flock for the thawed areas then add the snow/ice areas to prevent yellowing under my snow flock areas I mix a little white paint into the pva before adding icy snow flock, this covers about 50% of the base. A bit of the snow flock can settle on the green areas but this just adds to the overall frosty ground look. I then added some winter tuft and frozen tuft to create some height and fill any particularly empty area of the base. Finally I give the whole base a couple of light sprays with anti shine matt varnish to seal it all together and to dull down the brushed varnish on the figures.

  • Materials
    • Vallejo Ground texture – Grey Sand (26.215)
    • Paint VMC English Uniform (921) /  VMC Tan Earth (874)
    • PVA glue
    • White acrylic paint
    • Noch Ice Snow flock
    • GF9 Spring undergrowth
    • Army Painter Battlefield XP Frozen Tuft and Winter Tuft

In Closing

For those interested in such things the total elapsed hobby time was 5 hours per sprue so for the 8 sprues it equated to about 40 hours of hobby time, which wasn’t as bad as you might expect when first opening the box! Sure, there is a lot of them and it can get a bit boring to do but they are relatively easy to paint thanks to the limited equipment and basic uniform compared to some of the other infantry teams I have done (German camo patterns spring to mind).

Finally thanks again to Battlefront for supplying the models, overall these painted up nicely and look really good now fully assembled. My only real criticism is of the PTRD figures. I can see why they are moulded in the way they are but the standing gunner looks to me like he is about to climb up a drain pipe, overall they lack a bit of variety and dynamism compared to the other figures. I missed the old metal firing position figure but this is probably not so easily moldable with the soft plastic.

So now you know what you are in for, why not give the Soviet Rifle Battalion a go it’s not so much of a commitment as you might imagine and it has to be one of the most value for money box sets you will ever buy.