Guide to Painting
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

Like tanks, uniform colors faded in the sun, got dirty, never got washed enough, and fabric dyes would vary slightly from one manufacturer to another. Even if you go by the colors in period photos from the era, you must take into account lighting (washing out the colors to significantly lighter tones) and possible changes since then of the colors dyes of the photographs (colors originally too saturated, or fading in intensity over the years).

What this means is you have some bit of freedom in the shades and tones of the colors you use. But you can't depart too much from the actual color.

Robert Price-Swartz, a uniform collector and creator of RHPS tracks, sent me some information and a nice succinct statement about uniform colors:

"Technically there is no such color as khaki when referring to U.S. WWII uniforms and equipments. The U.S. Army standard color was Olive Drab, shade #7 and #9. Khaki is a more modern collectors term and the confusion over color comes in because the standard changed in 1943 to the darker shade of OD. The earlier lighter shade of OD varied greatly from a pea green to a dirty tan, and even a medium green color with the most common being the color collectors now refer to as khaki. There is also variation in the latter darker OD from an even green color to a dirty greenish brown."

Using product box art as a guide can be misleading at times. Some painters get too heavy-handed with shadows and contrasts, like old Italeri/Testors sets. Some manufacturers get things completely wrong; Verlinden's artists in particular have a habit of painting M1943 field jackets khaki instead of olive drab (OD). The more reliable renderings come from Warriors, Jaguar, and Nemrod. And artist Ron Volstad, who researches and designs the figure poses selected by DML, is extremely faithful.

I paint my figures with a range colors from Model Master (MM), Tamiya (TAM), and PolyScale (PS). I don't intermix TAM paints with other paint brands, and actually I don't like painting much at all with TAM colors since the dry so fast. They're good for base coats or washes. Because web gear is similar in color I like to give some contrasts, especially when worn over khaki jackets. So I mix and match tones: gear might be PolyScale Mud, and the jacket will be Tamiya Buff or PolyScale Aged Concrete, or vice versa.

With uniforms and personal gear I first paint the base coat, and then do shadows with the same colors mixed with a bit of black, and highlight with the same colors mixed with some MM Camouflage Grey or light MM flesh color or the PS equivalent. For painting flesh, I'd suggest checking out Mark Bannerman's articles on Track-Link or Missing Links. He's got a simple process for producing very good results.

I consider myself adequate when it comes to painting figures. I don't put as much time into them as other modelers do, particularly figure miniaturists. Everyone has their own style and preferences (or they develop over time), so take my suggestions and the Uniforms and Equipment section as a starting point. For further references I highly recommend Government Issue Collector's Guide: Army Service Forces Catalog, U.S. Army European Theater of Operations, by Henri-Paul Enjames, and
books by Richard Windrow and Jonathan Gawne.


M1941 field jacket and winter combat jacket (most commonly seen on tankers and some infantry) - The color of both the 1941 and Tankers winter jacket varied. Some examples produced in 1943 exhibit wide variation from a light to medium green to a pale tan. I use PS Mud or Aged Concrete or TAM Dark Yellow or Buff -- or a mixture of the PS colors or the TAM colors. TAM Khaki is good sometimes for new uniforms, it's a bit darker and greener. Buttons are Field Drab. Buttons vary from a creamy tan to darker brown, some are even various shades of green.

M1943 field jacket - Though this jacket was originally issued in 1943 (some 3rd Infantry Division personnel received the full uniform for the Anzio invasion 1943), it really didn't appear in significant quantities in Europe until the fall of 1944 due to production delays. So they are premature for D-Day, but there are photos of either U.S. or Free French personnel wearing 1943 field jackets and boots during the Normandy campaign, most likely during the month of July. The first general issue in NWE was in August and many replacements were already issued components of the 1943 combat uniform. Airborne troops were outfitted with them for the Market Garden jumps in mid-September.

M1943 camouflage jacket and trousers - This short-lived uniform is camouflage versoin of
the herring-bone tweed (HBT) trousers and jacket. There was also a rare one piece HBT coveralls, aka Tankers coveralls, camo version. I have not yet produced any figures in this rare uniform, briefly seen on 2nd Armored Division soldiers during the weeks after D-Day before being pulled from use because of its similarities to German camo uniforms. D-Day: Operation Overlord has an excellent color photo of this uniform that corresponds with Ron Volstad's artwork for the DML figure set. Warriors has also made a couple figures with this uniform as well.

M1942 paratroop jump jacket and trousers - These items sometimes appear as a light or dark green color in product box art, which is wrong. Use an Armor Sand or SAC Bomber Tan. The large reinforcement patches on elbows and knees were sewn onto many, but not all, airborne uniforms; the color varies from a dull light green to gray-green. Some of the cargo pockets on the trousers were also trimmed out with reinforcement strips in these shades as well. You can also paint the tie strips, which helped secure the supplies in the large pockets, this contrasting color.

Trousers - Unless they have large cargo pockets on the thighs, you can paint trousers either OD, or a 2:1 mix of MM Leather and MM Field Drab for the brownish woolen trousers. I've also begun using MM Military Brown alone for wool trousers. All trousers with cargo pockets are OD.

Winter combat trousers - These look like bib overalls, commonly seen on tankers but also on regular infantry; same as M1941 field jacket.

Wool melton overcoat - This is the long brown winter coat seen on the new DML Bastogne figures; I paint this the same brownish wool color as trousers. Button are either Brass or OD.

Mackinaw coat - Worn by the Tamiya figures with their more recent Sherman tanks; TAM Buff or PS Aged Concrete.

Rain poncho - This rubberized canvas poncho can be painted with Testors Rubber or a brown-gray color mix. There's only one figure on the market, from Verlinden, wearing a poncho (there are some out-of-production YANKS figures).

OD wool shirt - Slightly lightened 2:1 mix of MM Leather and Field Drab, or lightened MM Military Brown.

Boots - A dark brown 1:1 mixture of Leather and Flat Black, drybrushed with an increasingly lightened mix of the two colors. Standard combat ankle boots and M1943 boots were made flesh out or with the rough side of the leather out. Because of this new boots were a light tan flesh color leather. On the M1943 boots the attached leather gaiters are smooth side out and are typically a light tan to russet color.

Woolen sweaters, scarves, gloves, and field caps - MM Field Drab.


M1 helmet - MM Dark Green, with OD for older faded helmets. The helmet liner chin strap stretched over the front rim (holding the liner in place) is leather. The canvas steel pot chin strap stretched over the back rim is a khaki or tan color. Add some scratches to the helmet, particularly around the rim, with pencil graphite or carefully drybrush with steel color.

Helmet netting - Any kind of tan color. Earlier nets (i.e., during D-Day) were an "open mesh" with approximately 1" squares. Later issue nets were more tightly woven. Burlap strips woven through the netting can be painted shades of brown and green.

Canvas leggings, web gear, ammo pouches, canteen & entrenching tool covers, first aid pouch, bandolier, M1928 haversack, M1936 musette bag - I use the same variety of colors as for the M1941 field jacket for earlier issued gear. These items started to be produced in 1943 in a darker shade of OD, and equipment is observed in this shade from that year on, though moreso beginning in the late fall of 1944. Although some items have been observed in the darker shade with 1942 dates, though they are not common. Also, equipment is observed in what collectors refer to as "transitional" or "two tone," ie., exhibiting material of both early and later colors. This two tone equipment is observed with dates ranging from 1943 through 1945. You can use your choice of OD shades for the later gear. As a rule of thumb, I like to have a little more contrast between the gear and the uniform for visual interest.

M1944 combat and cargo packs - These late war two-piece packs, included with most Verlinden figure and accessory sets, are OD. The upper bag is similar to the M1936 musette bag and could be painted a khaki color.

Pistol holster - Leather, with a drybrushing of Leather mixed with a bit of white.

Buckles - Brass or PS Scale Black (as the brass has worn off).

Snaps (pouches, covers, etc.) - PS Scale Black, highlighted with a 1:1 mix of gray and silver.

Entrenching tool handles - These were originally issued with handles painted OD. I paint mine either tan or OD, or OD with a drybrush of tan to represent the wood where the paint's worn off. The metal fittings on the older M1919 "t-handle" tool would be a dull metal color beneath the OD paint.

Hand torch TL-122-C - This flashlight appears with some airborne figures and vehicle accessory sets. The body is OD, and the lens is either silver or red.

Assault vest - These were worn by the Rangers during the D-Day landings, and I use TAM Khaki with tan on the edging of the vest and pocket flaps.

Assault gas mask case - The rubberized canvas pouch used for the D-Day invasion is painted with Testors Rubber or a brown-gray color mix.


Wooden stocks - MM Leather or TAM Dark Brown. Some modelers like to recreate wood grain, but personally I think the final effect is overscale. Very late WWII and Korean War BARs had a bakelite (plastic) butt stock which is flat black.

Weapons barrels, magazines, and fittings - In the past I've used PS NATO Black, drybrushed with silver/black mix or highlighted with pencil graphite. But I've also heard that if you want to get a color closer to the parkerized finished, use a grey-green for the barrel, reciever, trigger group and muzzle band. The magazine is more of a blue-black color.

M3 Grease Gun - This is all metal in a parkerized dark grey-green color. Again, use graphite or a light drybrushing of silver-black to add highlights and depth.

M3 fighting knife and M7 scabbard - The handle of the knife is dark brown, and the scabbard is dark OD with a metallic grey neck.

M1 Bayonet and Scabbard - This bayonet (as well as the earlier, longer M-1942) had black plastic grips and a grey-green parkerized finish. The plastic scabbard dark OD with a mettalic grey neck.

M1 grenades - Black, drybrushed with MM Dark Green, highlighted with pencil graphite. Don't forget the yellow band at the neck of the "pineapple."

M1911A1 pistol - PS NATO Black, drybrushed with silver/black mix or highlighted with pencil graphite.

M1 rocket launcher - The bazooka's barrel is OD, with brown wooden stock and hand-holds; the ammo round is OD.

M9 rocket launcher - This version was all-metal, so paint this OD.

M1919 .30 Browning light machine gun - PS NATO Black, drybrushed with silver/black mix or highlighted with pencil graphite. Bipod or tripod can be OD or dull metal.

M2 .50 Browning heavy machine gun - PS NATO Black, drybrushed with silver/black mix or highlighted with pencil graphite. Wooden handles and cocking level. Tripod can be OD or dull metal.

Mortars - Both the 60mm M2 and 81mm M1 mortar barrels are OD; the bipods are OD except the silvery insert arm as it extends up to the adjustment knob.

Flamethrowers - OD, with brass knobs and rubber hoses.



Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2007 Timothy S. Streeter