Warsaw Decorators Pt.1 – Introduction and Painting Soviet Armour


Today Lee kicks off a new series, “Warsaw Decorators”.  This series will look at how Lee models and paints the forces of the Warsaw Pact, starting with it’s MBT.

As I think I mentioned back in the “Tale of Two Leopards” series, I never intended to do a Soviet force for Team Yankee; just a small US force to hold over till the Brits came out, then maybe a Czech or Soviet naval Infantry force if/when they ever came out.

So, it’s surprising to find myself with an ever growing Soviet/East German force.  I had thought that Nathan “I’m never going to play WWII – Oh, now I have all of the Ukranian front in 15mm” Taylor would be our go-to Soviet player and, whilst he did get a Soviet force, he fell for the charms of the Leopard 1 and quickly moved on to West Germans.

Rather than let Dylan be the sole whipping boy of the gathering NATO forces, I thought I’d get a small Soviet tank force that could be re-roled as Czechs later.  One of the local shops was clearing Team Yankee stock so I loaded up on a pair of starter boxes, Shilkas, Hails and some Infantry.

To my surprise, I found I actually quite enjoyed playing the Soviets.  It helps that I had a soft spot for some of their kit, especially the T-72, but the aggressive knife fight play-style also suited me.  The appearance of the East Germans and the BRDM – followed by the Plastic T-55AM2 – also fuelled this.

So, I have, a pile of Soviet kit to paint.  Time to make some compromises on the painting?  Nope; I’m taking this slow and steady, albeit painting more in one go than I used to with the West Germans.  This series (providing I write more of them of course) will look at how I model and paint my Warsaw Pact forces, typically a company at a time.  Mark is currently putting together an article on truly mass painting the Pact (as a man with 50 T-55AM2 needs to!) and I would recommend having a look at that to as an alternative.

This first article is going to look at my technique for painting Warsaw Pact armour.  I plan to follow up on this with an article on detailing the T-72M (I didn’t take enough photos so need to convert some more before I can write that), then one on painting East German infantry.  We’ll see what follows after that.

(prior) Preparation (prevents…)

The first stage of perpetration is easily overlooked but is the bit I enjoy the most — research.  This is usually a lunch-time trawl of google, modelling forums and the like, to find any interesting photos of the subject matter.  Walkarounds are especially useful for working out the fine detail although you have to be a little careful with museum examples as they don’t always get repainted correctly and some of the more interesting kit is removed.  generally a couple lunchtime trawls will generate a small folder of useful shots and I’ll have an idea of what I am after.

Something a bit like this

One of the things I picked up was that the almost olive drab colour that Battlefront use on their models seemed to be one of a few “correct” colours.  A slightly richer green also appeared in a lot of photos.  I’m not sure if its the perils of camera settings but I liked the look so decided to go with it.

The second step is assembling the model.  Ideally we want to leave the tracks separate as it helps with the painting but as I needed to play a few games as Soviets before I had a chance to paint them, I had to compromise and leave the side skirts off.

You can see here the extra detailing I had already added too – we’ll cover that in the future

Next I used a hot glue gun to glue the hulls to small wooden blocks and most of the turrets to clump nails.  A few turrets had some additional magnets added so that they would attach to the clump nails magnetically.  Whilst not as secure as a hot glue bond (noticeable when dry-brushing) it allows me to remove the turret and test the look of the tank as a coherent whole.

I also hot glued the side skirts, crew and AA MG, all still partially on sprue to wooden blocks too.

All that’s left is to put the headphones on and put on some suitable music…


With everything fastened down, its time to crack out the paint.  I use Vallejo Surface Primer Russian Green and applied it in two coats, via airbrush, to the turrets and hulls.


I applied Vallejo Surface Primer Black to the AA MG, skirts and crew.

The Vallejo surface primer does a pretty good job of giving an even finish to the models.  It can also be brushed on which is handy for getting those bits that an airbrush struggles too.  Once I’m happy that the models are well coated its time to move on.

Its not easy being green – basecoating , highlighting and chipping.

The “Russian Green” primer is close but not quite the colour I’m looking for.  Again using the airbrush, I apply Vallejo Model Air Medium Olive all over the green portions.  The Medium Olive gives some richness to the green that the surface primer lacks.

Once that is dry I get a broad dry brush and start drybrushing Vallejo Model Colour Yellow Green all over the turret and hull.  As always, too light coats is better than one think one.

Next, I get an old blister packing piece (the grey spongy things) and tear a chunk off to give a rough, uneven surface.  I dip it in some Vallejo Model Colour Black Brown and dab the majority of it off befor dabbing it over the body, generally on the undersides, edges of the track fairings, edges of hatches and a few dabs on the flat panels of the body.

Next, I thin the Black Brown down and apply a few streaks downwards from the chips.  The trick with all of this is moderation – we want enough to give the impression that this tanks is coming off the back of a summer exercises straight into the thrust for Rotterdam, not that its sitting in a scrap yard!

I also used the same colours to pick out the creases (and add some additional ones) to the canvas cover over the barrel.  Unpainted examples are a Khaki colour but most seem to get repainted and so end up the same, green, colour as the rest of the tank.

Gaining traction

With the dry-brushing and chipping done I can move to the rest of the tank without worrying too much about out of place chipping.  Normally I’d paint the tracks separately but as they were glued on so I could use the tanks unpainted I had to build it into the sequence.

First I painted the tracks in VMC German Camo Medium Brown You’ll notice that I didn’t bother to paint the bit that would be hidden by the side skirt!


Next, I dry-brushed VMC Gunmetal over the tracks.

Then I paint the road wheels in VMC Black Grey.  I also paint the metal reinforced rubber skirts on the rear of the hull (that will line up with the skirts when fitted) and the bits that I kept separate.  I find it easier to cover them all over with Black Grey then pick out the green band  (the metal of the sides of the hull that hold it all in place) separately, using the VMA Medium Olive used earlier.

Then I applied GW Nuln Oil liberally over the tracks, skirts, lower hull and road wheels


Usually this is the last activity of an evening so the wash has plenty of time to dry.

Seeing the light

From about the  late fifties onward, IR driving and searchlights start becoming the norm, especially on Soviet tanks who were big adopters of them.  Most Soviet tanks will feature at least one IR driving light, a main IR searchlight, a searchlight for the commander and sometimes a reserve searchlight for the gunner!  There would typically be a shielded white light driving light too (some Soviet AFV had one or more clusters with one of each type of driving light).

The problem is, IR searchlights are kinda dull to paint.  An IR searchlight is just a normal searchlight with an IR filter over it that gives a dull grey, black appearance to the searchlight.  Painting a black or black grey circle with a black grey/London grey arc highlight on it would suffice.  I did this on the BMP and it looks…dull.  Correct, but dull.

On the T-72 I went “screw it” and painted them like white light searchlights so they were more visually interesting.

First I painted the faces of the driving and searchlights black.  I also picked out the vision blocks and the face of the laser range finder enclosure (this will stay black as its basically a tunnel to a sensor buried quite deep in).  The driving lights were painted with a black circle to give a better idea of their true shape; the casting process makes them quite blocky due to the needs of the steel tooling.

Next I pick out the face in Black Grey, leaving a small amount of Black showing.

Now I paint a fat arc of VMC London Grey to represent the light hitting the bottom of the light focusing “bowl”.  I also pick out the vision blocks with VMC Luftwaffe Uniform as a neutral blue/grey.

Now I paint a thin arc of VC Sky Grey on each light, then add two dots of the same colour to one corner (always the same corner) of each light and vision block for a spot reflection.


Most Soviet AFV are fitted with a large log, the Ditching Beam, along the back of their engine deck.  This is used for unbogging the tanks by lashing it to the tracks and reversing until the log bites into the mud and provides purchase for the tank to back up.  There’s no great technology to it – just a long broad log!

Mostly these get painted with the tank but they get chewed up through use, flaking the paint off (till the next parade requires a repaint) and unpainted logs are often seen in photos – presumably hasty replacements for lost logs!

The painted and damaged logs were painted and drybrushed with the tank.  I then added patches of (or painted the entire log in) German Camo Medium Brown with highlights of VMC Flat Earth and then FlatEarth/Iraqi Sand (much like how I paint wooden rifle furniture)

Got wood?

Markings and Fine Detail

Now is a good time to apply army and unit markings so that the weathering being applied later impacts them equally.  Due to a lack of transfers, I hand painted on the Volksarmee markings by painting a yellow circle, then filling in two thirds of it with red, then filling half of that (so one third overall) with black.  I then overpainted it with a yellow arc and a hammer.  Its fiddly but not overly so.

If using transfers, I’d suggest painting on some gloss varnish in the areas you want the transfer.  Then, when dry, apply the transfer and leave to set before applying matt varnish over the top to seal.

Once the markings are on, I often reapply the Black Brown streaking over the top, if appropriate.  This helps blend the marking in to the rest of the tank.

At this point I also pick out any rear road lights with red or yellow as appropriate (the T-72 doesn’t appear to have any).  A decent tank workaround rear view will help here.

With the majority of painting done, I apply a good coat of gloss varnish (I used to use acrylic floor polish but these days I use Vallejo gloss varnish) as it will help with the washes that will follow.

Weathering the Red Storm

Tanks in the field do not stay clean long.  Painted edges get worn by hands and boots, muddy water sweeps over the tank in fording and dries in the sun, dust thrown up by the tracks goes everywhere, and the various lubricants and fuels will be spilt whilst topping up.

(Actually straying away from the Warsaw Pact with a  Finnish example here)

One of the most likely scenarios for a Warsaw Pact attack into Western Europe was off the back of an exercise (similarly, the Soviets assumed any NATO attack would be thus).  This had the advantage of giving a cover for the mobilisation and movement of a large amount of heavy armour, as well as getting the troops prepared and fired up.  So, even on D+0, its likely that the Soviet tanks would look lived in.

We’ve already applied some elements of weathering earlier with the chipping and streaking so its really dirt and dust.

The first phase of this is to apply a black ink wash.  On the West Germans I experimented with oil based washes and, whilst effective, I found them a bit time consuming.  For the sake of speed, I switched back to acrylic washes, using that old stalwart, Games Workshop’s Nuln Oil.  I apply it as a pin wash rather to any join, dip or grill, rather than as an all over shade.

Once the wash is dry, I then take some VMC Tan Earth and thin it down with water into a wash. I thin it to probably near ten parts water to one of paint.  Then I carefully apply it to anywhere that muddy water would settle, before drying and leaving dust behind.  Obvious points are:

  • Applied liberally over the tracks and lower hull
  • Any corner that would catch water as it flows from high to low (try and avoid any corner where the water would drain or not settle such as inverted corners)
  • Any recess that water would pool in – the corrugation on the sponsons is an obvious point)
  • Around crew access points

How much you apply is really defined by how dirty you want your tank.  I wanted mine to be very dirty to match in with the “post exercise” feel.

I then seal the wash with another coat of gloss varnish.  I let that dry overnight and apply a coat of matt varnish to take the shine off the model.

I then drybrush VMC”Iraqi Sand” lightly over the top surfaces of the model (brushing from high to low), then more heavily on the rear of the hull, the lower front hull and the lower parts of the side skirts, rising up as I go from front to back so that that the rear skirt is covered in its entirety.

One final coat of matt varnish then completes the job, and there we go!

That’s painting Warsaw Pact armour polished off.  Next time I’ll look at how I did some of the detail work we can see above (dropped fuel tanks, improved commander cupola, etc).

Until then, have fun!

3 thoughts on “Warsaw Decorators Pt.1 – Introduction and Painting Soviet Armour

  1. A nice breakdown of your technique, there. Thanks. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

    I’ve got two questions, though. First one is easy; do you spray or brush your varnishes on?

    Second one? Well, the solution, requires more effort; when, oh, when will you boys be putting a lightbox doo-dah into your code so your faithful readers can scroll through your images?? ;o)

    1. Hello,

      I spray my varnish on using the Airbrush. Vallejo range with a bit of airbrush thinner and flow improver added.

      We’ll look at lightbox. I’m not familiar with it but anything that improves things for our readers is worth a look at!

  2. Cool. Thanks. I’ve been, foolishly I think, living in fear of varnishing my tanks because of nightmare stories about humidity wrecking things. It’s sunny today in Oxfordshire; I’m inspired to go for it.

    Foobox is the plugin I use. Seems spiffy enough.

    Thanks again for all the articles.

Comments are closed.