Fifty shades of Panzer Grey

I’m about to embark on a wee project: WWII gaming, starting with the invasion of France in 1940, in 20mm scale. Since I’ve not completed a vehicle kit in a while I wanted to see what weathering technique I like best, and also to come up with a panzer grey colour. Not wanting to experiment on a vehicle that would forever haunt my wargames table, I went along to the hobby shop nearest my work and got the cheapest vehicle kit they had in Panzer Grey: a 1/35th Italeri Schwimmwagen. Until early 1943, German tanks were painted in RAL7021 Dunkelgrau (Panzer Grey), sometimes with a disruptive pattern in brown or green. I always thought that Panzer Grey was a dark colour, as its name suggests, but the current fashion in some circles is to use a lighter grey.

Two filched pictures of Panzer IIs, showing the spectrum of greys that you see these days

Two filched pictures of Panzer IIs, showing the spectrum of greys that you see these days

Certainly there are lots of photos showing quite light coloured German tanks, as well as plenty of others showing a dark colour.

Panzers... a medium/light colour

Panzers… a medium/light colour

An early WWII traffic jam. Interestingly there is not a horse in sight, and note the fluoro orange recognition panels... but I digress, these vehicles are a dark colour.

An early WWII traffic jam. Interestingly there is not a horse in sight, and note the fluoro orange recognition panels… but I digress, these vehicles are a dark colour.

A few journeys through Google didn’t really help much, but I had a Eureka moment the other day. Although there are plenty of genuine colour photos of German vehicles, I’ve seen none that show a light colour, but there are plenty of black and white photos that do. Having, as a kid, built pretty much any kit I could get my hands on, I now find it weird that different sorts of modellers don’t seem to talk to each other. Something that I’ve seen mention of in aircraft modelling circles, but not in the armour modelling world, is orthochromatic film. Basically, a good deal of WWII black and white photography was done using a film that changed the tonal value of certain colours. Because RAL 7021 has a fair bit of a blue component, orthochromatic film has made it look lighter. It’s weird and counterintuitive that a black and white film might mess with tonal values, but this neat page explains it well. I’m pretty happy with the colour and tone I got by putting 10 drops of Vallejo Model Air white in with 1ml of Lifecolor RAL7021, although I could have gone darker.

Completed base coat on my Italeri schwimmwagen

Completed base coat on my Italeri schwimmwagen

The accident I had when airbrushing my F9F Panther has rendered my ‘good’ airbrush out of action, perhaps permanently. So I used my trusty old Badger 350 for this job and I found it a breeze to use. I do agree with a forum post I read somewhere that airbrushing with Lifecolor takes ‘intestinal fortitude’. Today’s effort took three coats to cover a black undercoat (thinned with about 40% water), and with the first two coats I felt like I was painting the whole kit with paint splatter. But the results are fine, and now I know how the paint works I’ll keep using it. In the background of the photo below is a Sparrow Casting Steyr 1500 that I also airbrushed today, just to try the paints out, using Vallejo Model Air dark yellow and lots of white. As you can see the coverage was fine with just one coat, but the colour is too yellow. When I get on to late war I’ll have to either lighten the dark yellow with a different colour, or choose a different colour to begin with.


4 responses to “Fifty shades of Panzer Grey

  1. Funny how throughout the modelling history everyone has been using dark grey with a blue tinge to it and it has been the accepted norm. I always built my models that way but one day, an old German soldier who served through the war stated that there was too much blue in the panzer grey. He stated that the panzer grey on German vehicles and tanks had a more greenish tinge to them…not blue at all. I took him to task on it but he insisted that there should be more green in the panzer grey than what is generally accepted in all modelling circles. I am trying to find out more on this! I know when I was in Dresden I had taken pictures of vehicles in the war museum and they appear to have a slight green tinge to them vice blue. However, after having moved several times, I must find those photos again…or go back to the war museum and take more pictures.

    • Interesting. In theory you could go down to your local home improvement store and buy a pot of RAL 7021 to use as a comparison. I don’t think I have the white balance right in the photo I posted because the schwimmwagen doesn’t look as blue under natural light. Once I finish the weathering I’ll post another shot. The Panzermuseum at Munster is also worth the trip, but I’m not sure whether the vehicles are in their original paint, or if they were repainted during restoration.

  2. hey stephen,
    did you get any follow up from Norbert Kausen on panzer grey being far more greenish than blue?

    • Hello Robbert, no that’s where the conversation ended I’m afraid. The colour balance on that Life Magazine photo looks a little odd. The sky in their photos is always rather strange. But if you compare the colour of the road with the vehicles you can see that the vehicles definitely seem to have a tint of something!

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