Watching Paint Dry

The Tank Museum has received an unusual donation that will be of particular interest to the tank model making community.

This 80-year-old German card container was used to hold different emulsion pastes for German Units in the field so that they could apply camouflage schemes to their armoured fighting vehicles.

By taking a small sample of the solidified paste, it was possible to reanimate it with thinners to produce a colour swatch. Once dry, the swatch was compared using the mark I eyeball against a German RAL Comparison and reference sources with the closest being the Rotbraun (Red Brown) RAL 8013. The eight signified brown and the 3 related to the shade. This colour was approved by the German Army in 1942.

The German RAL paint identification system ‘Reichauschuss für Lieferbedingungen’ (State Commission for Delivery Terms) came into use with the German Army, the Reichswehr, in 1925 to standardize colour schemes. By 1927, the RAL 840 B designation introduced 40 colours, and further iterations were periodically released throughout the 1930s and of course during WWII. In March 1940 a new colour designation was introduced which split the colours into nine groupings based on their hue and this lasted until 1945.

Battered cardboard box with paste
It has seen better days, but the contents are still intact inside the card `tin’. Panzer crews would have opened the container up, removed some paste and diluted it with what was to hand. Weather conditions, type of thinner and type of application as well as the number of coats would all have an impact on the vibrancy of the colour.

A new tricolour camouflage system was introduced in February 1943, regulation H.M 1943, No. 181. This specified that heavy equipment, such as tanks, should be painted in RAL 7028 Dunkelgelb (dark yellow). Camouflage colour schemes using RAL 6003 Olivgrün (olive green) and RAL 8017 Rotbraun (red brown) should be applied by troops in the field.

Jagdpanther featuring a recreation of a Tricolour camouflage
The Tank Museum’s Jagdpanther featuring a recreation of a Tricolour camouflage pattern. Note the rotbraun coloured roadwheel.

Consequently, card tins of emulsion paste were sent to units to use and these would be thinned and diluted with what was at hand (petrol, water etc.) and applied with spray guns, brushes, rags, or cloths.

Nearly 100 years later, the RAL system is still very much in existence having undergone various revisions and updates as well as the addition of new colours. Whilst it’s possible to get approximate matches for wartime colours, rare donations like this allow us to understand how the paint was stored and used in the field.

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