PAINTING WORLD WAR TWO GERMAN INFANTRY
On this page I will not deal with every tiny detail of German uniform, nor with every type of German soldier. Instead, this is a quick and quite (I hope) adequate guide to painting wargaming figures for German infantry in 1/72nd scale, with as much detail as you are likely to be bothered with. There are many sources for greater detail than this. I got my information from all over the place. If you really want to go further than this you can start buying up any of the many hundreds of books on the topic. The obsession with German uniforms can get a bit worrying, though. I was in one shop that had a few large hard-backed books on the topic of just German helmets. On the net a while back I came across what I hope was a spoof site on "Underpants of the Third Reich".
Film makers portray all German soldiers as wearing all-grey throughout the war. In fact the various types of German soldier wore different colours, and later war Germans wore very little grey. The basic colour of the classic German infantry uniform was feldgrau or "field grey", which was actually a shade of green. The tunic of the uniform was this colour. Here you see a soldier with a feldgrau tunic. His trousers are "stone grey" and you can see that they contrast with his tunic.
The paint I have used is Citadel "ghoul grey", but you will probably have to mix your own. There is no need to be very precise since the many factories producing German uniforms produced quite a few different shades, which then faded in the sun, or got wet and muddy. It is a pale green, with a hint of grey.
The figure is from the very-good "Panzergrenadiers" box by Revell. He has had a chunk of plastic carved away between his rifle and his body, which was there to help him get out of the mould. Actually, the box should more accurately be called "Early War German Infantry", because nothing in it is specific to Panzergrenadiers.
His helmet is grey, being slightly darker than his trousers. Very early war Germans and those acting as ceremonial guards and the like had shiny grey or feldgrau helmets, but otherwise they were matt. The chinstrap was leather (usually black).
The collar and shoulder-boards are a dark, very slightly bluish, green. The collar had "litzen" on it. At this scale, this complicated design is impossible to paint, and I find that two horizontal white stripes do the trick. The shoulder-board have piping around the edge, and this is of "branch colour". The colour of this piping indicates what kind of soldier the man is. This man's colour is white. He is an infantryman. The main branch colours you might want to know are:
- Infantry (white)
- Anti-tank gun and tank crews (pink)
- Panzergrenadiers (grass green)
- Signals (yellow)
- Military police (orange)
- Mountain troops (light green)
- Artillery and general officers (scarlet)
- Reconnaissance and cavalry (golden yellow)
- Engineers (black)
- Transport (light blue)
- Medics and vetenarians (dark blue)
- Chaplains (violet)
This page used to claim that Panzergrenadiers wore pink piping. This is what I read in the Osprey Men at Arms 311 - German Army Blitzkrieg book. A visitor to this site kindly wrote in to say that this was wrong. Having consulted a fair few other sources, I have now learned that there was quite a bit of confusion. For early war Panzergrenadiers, pink was the standard colour, showing that they were attached to panzer formations, but this was changed to grass green, officially in 1939, but actually in 1942/3 (and even then many men chose to keep their old colour). Some units converted to a different type, but kept their old branch colours, only being issued a new colour when the old uniform wore out. Hitler knew that men could be made to feel prouder of their military role if it had a good name. One of his many changes was in late 1943 when he changed the rank of 'Shutze' to 'Grenadier'. This meant that after this time, many 'Grenadiers' were in white piping. Some (but not all) Panzergrenadier units attached to Panzer Brigades wore pink rather than green piping, so as to show unity with the tank crewmen. The upshot of this is that you could argue that Panzergrenadiers could conceivably have green, pink, or white piping. Motorised (in lorries but not armoured half-tracks) units would often be designated as 'grenadiers' and wear green, and some 'light infantry' or 'Jaegers' did too. It was always a bit of a jumble, and as the war progressed it become more so. Just because a unit was officially 'motorised', this didn't mean that the men in it were originally trained or recruited or even equipped as motorised troops, nor did it necessarily mean that they had any working lorries with fuel.
A piece of good news is that you can avoid the whole branch-colour issue by painting troops that are wearing their shoulder straps upside-down, with the fabric showing being the same colour as the tunic underneath. Some troops had plain covers to go over their shoulder straps. This was sometimes the practice on the front lines, the idea being that enemy spotters would have trouble identifying units. So, if your troops are supposed to be men in the thick of it, as if often the case with wargaming figures, you could just paint the tunic and shoulder straps in one go all the same colour. Should anyone criticise you for your neglect, you could counter by telling your critic that you have done your research.
When away from the front, unit insignia would be worn on the shoulder-boards but this was removed at the front. I painted the shoulder-boards by painting a wide stripe of white first, and then a narrower stripe of the dark green within it. I found this much easier than trying to paint a very thin stripe around the edge.
His jack-boots are black, although at the front they would normally have quite a lot of dust on them. His belt pouches are also black. These were leather, which might be brown, but I preferred to paint them black. I also paint most of the shoulder straps black, but on this figure I used brown. The colours I choose are often those that give me the greatest contrast (why go to all the effort of painting details if the results can hardly been seen?) and greatest difference from troops of other kinds.
On his chest hangs a square bag with his gas cape in it. This hangs from a thin strap. This is seldom seen on late war troops. The colour is browny green.
Just visible behind one shoulder strap is a horizontal white stripe representing a "sovereignty badge" or Wehrmacht eagle. This was worn over the right breast pocket and showed that the man was passed fit to bear arms. Only the Wehrmacht (ordinary army) had these. The SS had slightly different eagles worn on the arm.
Here we see two men of a forward observation team. One is using a range finder. Later in the war (1943 onwards) these would typically be painted a sandy colour.
Their tunics are quite green. This is a shade often seen in photographs on the period. Photographs are very unreliable as guides for colour, because many of them were not true colour photographs at all, but coloured-in black and white shots, and even the colour shots distort the colours a lot. If you ever watch "Dad's Army" notice how the colour of the men's uniforms changes in the indoor and outdoor scenes. Indoor scenes were shot with video cameras under artificial lights in a studio, and the uniforms look definitely green. Outdoors, under sunlight and shot with a film camera, the uniforms are definitely brown. In truth, the uniforms were probably somewhere between these two colours. Nevertheless, many sources agree that German tunics were often this shade of green. Some photographs appear to show the tunic as grey as the trousers, but this was certainly not the norm. German troops were issued with secondary "fatigue" uniforms for use work duties. Early in the war these were a cream colour, but later they became "reed green", and these lighter-weight uniforms were often worn in summer instead of the feldgrau woolen tunic.
Here you see a rear view of some early war infantry. Each man carries a metal cylindrical gas mask holder. If you can be bothered, you could dry-brush the edges with silver to represent the paint's having been chipped away exposing bare metal. The canister is dark green.
Each man also carries a cloth "bread bag". The official early war colour of this is beige. I have used a very pale beige for contrast. Later in the war, these were any kind of military colour: grey, brown, green.
The man on the right has a pouch for carrying three MP40 magazines. Often these were ochre brown, but I did not want to draw attention to it on this figure, so painted it an equally authentic olive green.
The man in the middle has in the centre of his equipment a rolled up shelter-quarter. This was one quarter of a tent, that doubled as rain and camouflage cape. It is "splinter pattern" - dull brown, pale green, and dull darker green splodges. The pattern was the standard camouflage pattern for ordinary German infantry. The splodges all overlapped, and had sharp jagged shapes, and an overlying patten of tiny dark green dashes, but these details are lost at this scale. Just above this is a metal tin (mess tin, I think) which was a similar colour to the tunic.
Running down the left thigh of a couple of the men you can see the haft of an entrenching tool, which was bare wood. Often, next to this were the hafts of stick grenades which were carried in the same "frog". You can just see this on the crouching figure on the left.
You can also just see on the left side of the centre man's helmet, a dark shield-shaped mark with a white mark within it. This was a white eagle on a heraldic shield. At the very start of the war, on the right side of the helmet was a national shield with diagonal stripes of black, white and red. These were all painted over by March 1940, because they were too conspicuous in battle. Later in the war, the eagles on the left side were often painted over too. Photographs of troops that ended up in action unexpectedly show that both symbols were on their helmets. An example is the garrison of Dieppe, which in August 1942 was suddenly attacked from the sea. The garrison troops all had their national shields and eagles on their helmets. Troops expecting to go to the front would usually paint over these conspicuous symbols.
You can see the metal butt-plate on the rifle of the man on the left, and with a keen eye may even be able to make out the dark dot in the middle of the side of his rifle butt, which is a metal-lined hole running through the butt, which (I once guessed) was for locking the rifles up in racks in the armoury. Another visitor to this site who owns one of these rifles took the trouble to write and tell me that this metal-lined hole was actually used for reassembling the bolt and spring after stripping. The bolt and spring were pushed down into this to be fitted together.
You need to know which bits to paint as dark metal and which as wood on the rifle. This is a crude drawing I have done which I hope makes it clear enough. Drawing with a mouse is rather tricky. This shows a Kar.98k - the standard German rifle. I'll add that the picture on the cover of the Revell "Panzergrenadiers" box is an accurate painting guide.
The men on the left wear great coats in the same colours as the tunic underneath. The buttons the men use are a dull metal colour. Their cloth caps are the same colour as the tunics, and have a "national cockade" on the front. This was a circular metal badge with black rim, and white ring within it, and a central red dot. Given that it was so tiny, I'd recommend that you represent it with either a black or white dot.
The NCO in the centre has white braiding around his collar, to distinguish him from the other men.
The officer on the right has a brown despatch case hanging from his belt, as well as a black leather holster. These were both leather and could be black or brown. As ever, I choose contrasting colours. Note his high slim riding boots.
A sustained-fire machinegun (SFMG) team. You can clearly see the men's water-bottles, which were covered in hazelnut-brown felt, and topped with a black-painted aluminium cup, and held on with a black vertical leather strap.
Also clear on the man on the left is a marking denoting how long he has been a soldier. This marking (triangle with dot, and lower edges white) means six years of service. Without the dot is lance-corporal (Gefreiter) of six months. After 2 years he would get a second stripe to his marking. There were a few variants of these which changed over time. One was a small black circle with dot in the centre, which indicated an Obersoldat of six months service. I am not sure of the way in which the rank of the soldier and the length of service combined. Some of these markings were awarded for length of service and seemingly little else, while others required promotion. The dots are actually little pips, and the stripes are actually braid, but at this scale no one can tell. Yet again, a visitor to this site has pointed out an error - these triangular patches were apparently worn on the left sleeve only, and not as you can sometimes see here, on both sleeves. The same man has ochre-brown magazine pouches for his SMG.
The soles of the men's boots would have hob-nails on them (metal), and would, as here, often be covered in mud.
The MG has a wooden stock, but otherwise is dark metal coloured. I mix in a little silver with some black, to give a metallic-black effect. It is a mistake to use unmixed silver to paint the metal parts of guns. They were shiny, but a colour much closer to black than silver. I have painted lines of dots down the barrel to represent the air-cooling holes on the gun. The tripod is dark grey - the same grey that early-war tanks were and many other metal objects, such as 81mm mortars and ammunition tins. After 1943 many of these same things would be "dunkelgelb" sand. A pile of spent cartridges (copper electrical flex clippings) lies next to the gun.
You can see in this extreme close-up, that I have mixed "static" flock with saw-dust flock, for an effect I like.
I really should photograph my figures soon after finishing. This figure has been in a fair few games of Crossfire and has gone shiny through handling. I'd be interested to know if anyone knows of a good gentle way to remove grease without spoiling the bases.
I went to town on this guy, giving him hairy forearms and a five-o'clock shadow. On his helmet you can see a bread bag strap (beige). Such a band might also be a rubber band made from a bicycle inner tube. It was for attaching foliage to the helmet.
I painted this guy as a Panzergrenadier, back in the days when I though that the branch colour for them was pink. The frog of his entrenching tool is the regulation black leather, and his binoculars are black, although often they were slate grey, and later in the war were often "tropicalised" to sand colour.
The above figure is a good example of the effect of putting paint in with the varnish. The dark shading you see in all the recesses was achieved with very little effort. I mixed black enamel paint in with the main coat of varnish, and this sank into the recesses and the thickness of the varnish held it there. I use black for Germans because it looks good against the colour of their uniform, because it makes them look a bit more evil, and because they have so much black on them already (boots etc.) and the effect is not great when the paint mixed in with the varnish is lighter than the paint on the figure.
50mm mortar teams. The weapons are gun-metal coloured, and the bombs are red. I doubt that all German mortar bombs were red, but I have a photograph clearly showing men using bright-red bombs in a larger calibre of mortar, so I think it is reasonable to paint these red. Mortar bombs were often painted bright distinguishing colours so that crews would not confuse smoke rounds with high explosive or illumination rounds.
You can also see the black "frogs" (holders) on the entrenching tools. The bayonet was also kept here, and on its side there was a little white eagle, manifesting here as a tiny white dot. These little touches of white are small, but they leap out at you and bring the detailing on the figures to life.
The figures on the far left are by SHQ. All the 50mm mortars are scratch built. The middle crew are a converted Esci radio operator and Revelllight machine gunner's assistant. The nearst team is made out of a converted Esci standing mortar crewman, and an Esci prone rifleman.
This is the officer figure from the Revell German Engineers/Pioneers box. I have left his tunic the same light grey as the moulded plastic. Officers very often had their own uniforms tailor made, and often preferred lightish grey. They wore grey suede gloves. Their belts and holsters were often privately bought and often attractive shades of brown leather. On his second button-hole down, he wear a diagonal ribbon of a medal. This was the standard place to wear the Iron Cross Second Class, a quite common medal for bravery. the ribbon was actually striped black-white-red-white-black, but a red stripe suffices at this scale. Other medals that are easy to paint were the numerous campaign and wound medals that were circular or oval and worn on the left breast pocket. Just put a couple of metallic-coloured blobs there if you are feeling decorative.
His trousers are the cavalry-type with wide baggy bits on the thigh. The inside of the thigh is lined with grey leather, here represented by darker grey paint. How many of these trousers ever rode on a horse I cannot tell you, but I imagine that most didn't. Very senior officers had stripes down the sides of their cavalry trousers, and branch-colour piping down the front vertical seam of their tunics and on their turned-back cuffs. Such finery was rarely seen at the front.
His hat has a black peak, dark-green facing cloth band, branch-colour piping round the rim (and should be around the dark-green band, but I didn't even try), and an eagle against a dark cloth background. They also typically had a national cockade with aluminium oak wreath around it beneath the eagle, and an aluminium braid chin strap. Personally, I thought I had done well to paint the eagle on the backing cloth. The figure doesn't really have a band to paint, and I cannot paint what isn't there. On the right you see another of my basic but I hope clear drawings showing you where the paint goes on a German officer's "saddle hat". The branch colour piping here is red (artillery, perhaps).
Artillery officers with scissors scope. This device was a range-finder and superior binocular. The officer on the left has privately-bought riding boots and belt, and a tailored light grey uniform. His hat clearly shows the green band, but still lacks the cockade and chinstrap. My excuse is that it was very difficult to paint the front of his head next to the scissors scope. This also accounts for his lack of collar Litzen.
You can clearly see his Wehrmacht eagle, and the scarlet piping on his shoulder-boards.
His assistant wears a cloth cap, with a chevron of branch colour piping over his cockade. His blonde hair is not painted with yellow paint, but rather with sand-coloured paint, which looks an awful lot more realistic.
Figures by SHQ.
To the right, an excellent NCO figure from the Revell Afrika Korps box, painted up as late war soldier. I have painted his long desert boots as jack-boots.
In the later half of the war, the Germans changed their camouflage uniforms up to four times a year. They had white winter uniforms, and different patterns of browns and greens for the rest of the year. Commonest was "splinter pattern" - beige, green and brown. At this scale you cannot represent more detail than the three main colours. Paint the garment one of the three and then blotch on the other two, making sure that these overlap each other. Some patterns were captured cloth, such as Italian pattern which had straw yellow, strong green and chestnut brown blotches on it. Other patterns were favoured by the SS so perhaps should be avoided ("pea-spot" was one).
Very often, as here, a man would have some but not all of his cloth helmet cover, tunic, and trousers, in camouflage pattern. The colour of this man's tunic I have seen in many period photographs. It is a fairly dark bluish grey. He wears a red scarf, which will be his own, not military issue. Goggles were used on all fronts, not just in the desert.
His shoulder straps are green. These might be captured or perhaps issued by a late-war factory making uniforms any way it can. Leather is expensive, and sometimes green webbing was issued instead.
Three late war German soldiers, all from the Revell Afrika Korps box. Revell also does a late war German infantry set, which it just calls "German Infantry" to distinguish it from the "Panzergrenadiers" who are really just early war infantry.
The correct look for late war Germans is rag-tag and all different. The middle man has helmet cover, tunic, and trousers all of one cloth. The man on the left has an Afrika Korps cap (veterans of that campaign were proud to be such and often kept their caps), and the man on the right wearing spectacles also has a cloth cap of non-regulation sort (perhaps a mountain trooper's hat with the badges changed), but with Wehrmacht eagle above cockade and piping chevron.
All three men wear ankle boots. The army stopped ordering jackboots as standard half-way through the war, and the cheaper ankle boot became common. It could be brown or black.
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