Friday 21 December 2018

A Personal Guide to Painting British Paratroopers

The IX Painting Challenge is now live. On this first day I woke early to attempt having my first submission ready before lunch time, which you can see in the Challenge website.
As commented in a previous post, my core project for this year’s Challenge edition will be a British Airborne platoon + supports for Chain of Command.
The most challenging aspect of the project is how to paint the camo scheme used by the British paratroopers in using the Denison smock. I know some wargamers whom painting camo takes them easily aback; but as I already experienced when I did my German Fallschirmjager army a couple of years ago, it is just a matter of experimenting and practicing.
I’ll try in this post is to show how I do it, and hopefully will help some people out there breaking the mental barrier of painting camo schemes. Incidentally, I had a similar mental blocking with the airbrush until this year; but thanks to the help of one my wargame club’s friends now I’m totally hooked to airbrush painting and what I regret is not having tried it before.
Before we start with this step-by-step guide, a couple of disclaimers: first, my painting style is oriented towards the wargaming table, not to win a Golden Demon; this means that I do not go into a lot of detail, just enough to look good on the table at a distance.
Second, I like to paint faded camos. Personally, I find painting pristine uniforms with bright colours utterly unrealistic when on the table, so I like a faded uniform finish in my models, reflecting the wear and tear over time. This is not to criticise anyone (as the Spanish say goes “on tastes, nothing is written in stone”), it is just how I like to paint my models.
So let’s star.

Colour palette
The Dennison Smock is the critical part in the British paratrooper gear. Looking at contemporary colour photos, collectors platforms and reenactors websites, you’ll notice that unlike the German schemes, the British feature relatively large splash of brownish red and green on a light beige (sometimes dark yellow) base. 
Monty, the one and only
My colour palette for the Dennison Smock is as follows:
  • Vallejo 821 German Camo Beige; 
  • Vallejo 985 Hull Red; 
  • Vallejo 894 Russian Green
Webbing and pouches colours varied during the war and also suffered from the weather and use. They normally came in either a very light sand colour or green. But as I said they seemed o have faded quickly. My base colour for the webbing is Vallejo 819 Iraqui Sand; the pouches are painted in this same colour or alternatively in Russian Green.
Trousers come in the colour of the British uniform, so no major issues here. I use (surprise!) Vallejo 921 English Uniform.
The paratrooper’s combat helmet has a net to attach foliage. I use a mix of Russian Green+black as base colour, dry-brushing with a mix of Russian Green+German Camo Beige. For the famous Red Beret I use the Hull Red too.
Finally, anklets are painted with Iraqui Sand and the boots in black.

Step by step model
This is the model I’ll be using to illustrate for the step-by-step process. I have primed it in a light grey colour using an airbrush with Vallejo grey priming range. However, you must know that in the following models I´ll prime trousers and boots in black, as I realised that English Uniform is easier to paint on a dark base and achieves a better finish.

Face and hands are painted in Vallejo 955 flat flesh. If you find that the grey base colour is not properly covered, give a second coat but not before letting the first coat dry fully.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I paint for a wargame table. I don’t care about eyes of a lot of detail in the face. I discovered that Citadel’s shades are great to speed up the process. One the flesh colour totally dries, washed with Reikland Fleshshade. Leave to dry and highlight the nose, chin and cheeks and the hands knuckles and nails again with Vallejo Flat Flesh.

While the flesh is drying, I put the first coat of the trousers, mixing English Uniform + Black (75/25 approx). As the priming colour used was too light, I had to apply and additional paint coats to achieve the finish I like (as said, I’ll prime in black the next time). 

A first highlight coat is applied with English Uniform as it comes from the bottle; and a second coat focused on the trousers creases and the most exposed parts using a mix of English Uniform+Flat Flesh (75/25 approx)

Time know to move to the Dennison. First paint the whole smock with German Camo Beige. If you want to provide more detail, you can darken the base colour with a small amount of black (90/10 approx) and that will give you greenish beige. Once you finish with the rest of colours, you can work on highlighting the beige parts with the beige as it comes form the bottle or even adding a little of white for creases, etc (this I only do with some special models, like the officers or supports like a sniper or a flamethrower team).

Next step is to apply large splashes of Hull Red. Here you must consider a few aspects of the fabric:

First, sleeves, pockets and pouches were sewn to the main piece. This means that the camo colours did not seamlessly flow across the uniform. You have to work each individually to get the right effect.
Second, do not saturate with just one colour. Apply the red brown splashes leaving enough room to see the beige base AND to add the green later.

After concluding the Hull Red, now is time to apply green. Note that in this camo scheme, green patches cover mostly the space between two red patches and rarely they stand alone in the smock.

Now is time to work on “fading” the uniform. This can be achieved easily with a generous wash of diluted brown (I use Vallejo 872 Chocolate Brown). The wash also helps integrating the different colours (red brown, green and beige). The important aspect is diluting the brown enough as to cover the whole model with a thin veil.

Let it dry completely and after this step, you have 80% of the painting work done. What follows now is highlighting the Dennison; mix the beige, green and hull red respectively with white and apply to the centre of the large splashes of each colour and to the creases of the smock.
Now it is time to paint the straps (Iraqui Sand) and webbing (Iraqui Sand or green), water bottle (green), weapons, and helmet.  

 The model finished after basing

It takes around 1 hour to finish a model, inlcuding time invested in drying the shade and washes. Working with several models ate the same time is quite effciient, as you can progress with one while the other is drying.
I hope this guide is useful and helps some people to attempt painting cammos. 
If interested, you can follow the progress of my project for the Challenge in Curt's website (link) and also signing up to my hobby Twitter account (@AnibalInvic). I'll also post here from time to time on my progress.


  1. Excellent work. I did British Airborne in 15mm. That was enough to give me a headache. You can see the results here -

    1. 15mm Dennison Smock painting?? What an odyssey!!! My eyesight is not prepared for that at all. Having said that, very nice bunch of models

  2. Very nice indeed! It's always good to see a step by step guide to see how others paint theirs. Excellent paint job!

  3. Nice work Benito and a useful guide :)