HISTORICAL MINIATURES BY GEORGE GRASSE
WORLD WAR 1 ARMY VEHICLES

FRENCH WW1 SCHNEIDER CA.1 TANK (Early), 1917

by George Grasse

HOBBY BOSS 1:35 SCALE INJECTION KIT OF THE FRENCH SCHNEIDER CA TANK 1917

HOBBY BOSS SCHNEIDER CA BOX ART

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #1
RUNNING GEAR BEGINNINGS: The left and right running gear sub-assemblies shown represent the first two pages (nine assembly panels) of the instruction manual.  The top rollers are self-explanatory but their long side plates were difficult to figure out.  As it turns out, the the smaller round bars on the inside of the front and rear top rollers fit into the long side panels with their pin holes on the lower side.  This is evident in the upper photo, where the left front round bar fits in the hole on the lower part of the side plate; so it is critical that the plates be arranged with these holes on the lower side of the plate with the rivets facing outward.   

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #2


UNDER SIDE VIEW RUNNING GEAR ATTACHED:  The completed running sub-assemblies are attached to the hull with the large idler wheels to the front. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #3
LEFT SIDE VIEW RUNNING GEAR ATTACHED: Note that the rear drive wheel supports have been added to the rear. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #4
BODY & CHASSIS : The body has the early stages of the instruction manual incorporated with details added to the top.  The running gear has finally been completed.  The assembly of 64 individual track links each of which is composed of three parts was not only tedious but a waste of time since the the tracks could have been reduced to a simpler casting method or regressed to the early one piece system of a looped track assembly.  I'm not one at all for this kind of silly detail.  Again, what a waste of time putting the tracks together.

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #5
PREVIEW: The body or 'fighting compartment' has been superimposed (not glued yet) to the completed chassis just to see how this fit. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #6
NEARLY ASSEMBLED: This view shows some of the details added to the body.  I was surprised to note that quite a bit of 'spaced' armor plate was added to the front and sides.  

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTOS #7a, 7b, and 7c
ASSEMBLED: The upper view shows the chassis with the 75mm short-barreled cannon glued in place.  The middle view shows the body complete sans the Hotchkiss machine guns, a couple of small armor plates for the 75mm gun, the exhaust, a couple of shovels, and the headlight.  The bottom view shows the tow halves together.  I kept them separate for painting purposes but only after a lot of trial fitting with the bow armor plates and the 75mm cannon in place. 

 

COMMENTS ON FRENCH CAMOUFLAGE SCHEMES AND COLORS

Using the sources listed below, especially Jarski and Zaloga, it appears to me that French tank camouflage evolved from the early 1917 "flame" pattern to the Renault FT-17 "disruptive" pattern.  In every case, I feel that the colors used mimicked the same colors, or at least similar shades, as used on the French 1917-18 five-color aviation camouflage; that is, dark green, light green, chestnut brown, beige (actually light brown), and matt black. 

The is one caveat and that is the fact that all French tanks, artillery, and probably motor vehicles, exited their respective factories in a light gray primer scheme.  On tanks, at least, this light gray shade was incorporated into the camouflage scheme regardless of the evolving schemes available at one specific point in time.

I would say that the primary colors used in tank camouflage schemes were dark green, light green, beige, brown, and black all of which were over-painted on the factory gray in most places.  Of course, this left some of the gray showing and assuming a role in the overall camouflage scheme.

So, the question is:  were the aviation shades the same or different?  I believe they were formulated for application on hard metal surfaces (armor and sheet metal) and probably were slightly different than their aviation counterparts but the system of the five colors remains the same with one exception (for which I do not have an answer) and that is how did the retention of the factory light gray effect the five-color scheme?  Was one of the greens left out so that the five colors were green, brown, beige, gray, and black?

If you look at all of the artwork done to represent the different armor schemes at different periods, it seems conclusive to me that the basic colors remain the same, the schemes are all "one-off", and the interpretation of the historical artist whose works show up in current publications have to be interpreted for what they are: interpretations.

So, the next question is: can one use available period photographs for assistance.  Several problems occur which lead to frustrating considerations. 

 1)  the tanks are dirty and the camouflage scheme is largely obscured making it incomplete and quite hard to determine.

 2) markings are obscured or missing entirely, especially the serial number and the battery and AS designation.  Usually, just one of these markings available.

 3) available photos are black and white which makes it impossible to discern colors even though some have attempted to do so by equating various shades of gray and the fall of light in the photos with specific colors.  This cannot be done.

 4) the net result of this discussion is that I have accepted the five colors used on French tanks as dark green, light green, beige (or light brown), chestnut brown (a darker brown), and the factory-applied overall gray.

 

PHOTO COMPARED TO ART
 
The photo and color image were taken from Schneider CA and St. Chamond, Gun Power No. 29 (see bibliography below).  The artist, Jacek Jackiewcz, has reproduced this Schneider from the photo above it.  My interpretation is the dark gray should be dark green, the light gray is the original factory-applied finish, the olive should be light green, the beige is correct, and the brown is correct.  Of course, the color image shown here was copied from the book and the shades were probably altered in the process.  Likely also is the possibility that the original colors from the artwork to the printed page were altered.  The point of all this is to show how an artist's interpretation can be easily altered from the brush of the artist to the finished work as it appears in printed or electronic form.  Unfortunately, the tank's serial is not known nor is the battery and AS unit, the crew notwithstanding.

Color Name Paints I Used
Dark Green  I am primarily a WW1 aircraft modeler and have developed my own set of pre-mixed French 1917-1918 5-Color camouflage paints.   I am convinced that the aviation set  of camouflage colors was taken and modified for French army vehicles, in this case tank,  application.  In the link below, ignore the color chips as they do not translate via a scanner and back to my pages.  What's important, if you are interested, are the formulas which include Vallejo's 'Natural Steel' which intended to mimic the aluminum powder used in aviation dopes (see Note 1 below) but looks good on armor.   Note that all references to paint used are Vallejo.

"French World War 1 5-Color Camouflage Scheme 1917-1918"
Light Green
Beige
Chestnut Brown
Haze Gray Tamiya 85032 (spray - see Note 2)


NOTES TO THE PAINT TABLE ABOVE
Note 1:  The four principle colors of dark green, light green, beige, and chestnut brown appeared in two finishes - one finish for fabric-covered surfaces (Acellos) and another finish for wood and metal (Ripolin).  These are brand names that acquired general status that defined these paints although there were several paint manufacturers involved in producing for the French government.  The main difference between the two is one of shade, the Acellos on fabric being somewhat lighter with a semi-matt finish because it contained a large amount of reflective aluminum powder.  Ripolin was a lacquer-based product and appeared only slightly darker but with a somewhat shinier surface.  In 1:72 the differences between the two types of color is not really perceptible.  In 1:48 scale, it's 50-50 and depends on the modeller.  In 1:32 scale the two types are noticeable and the modeller will have to consider two sets of colors to be accurate. 

Note 2:  I chose the Tamiya spray color as the base coat to represent the factory-applied overall gray.  I think it is a bit too dark but not much of it will show after all of the other colors and simulated mud are applied.  You may want to choose a lighter shade.  I have found that Vallejo's 0900 "Mirage  Blue" is a close substitute but it is a little 'darker' and little 'bluer' than Tamiya's Haze Gray.

CONSTRUCTION CONTINUES
 
UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTOS #8a, 8b, and 8c
 
 
 
PAINTING BEGINS: These three images show the progression of the painting of the left side of the Schneider only.  Using the Hobby Boss color painting guide, I drew light pencil lines on the gray finish and used my pre-mixed French WW1 1917-1918 5-Color paints, substituting dark green for the dark gray in the Hobby Boss guide.  These are only first coat applications without touchup.  I do not want an exact duplicate because I now intend to create a 'hypothetical' Schneider CA as representative of the Spring and Summer 1917 versions with this scheme. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #9
CONTINUED 'FLAME' CAMOUFLAGE PAINTING: My painting started on the left side then worked over the top and down the right side but it is not finished on this side yet.  I've done a little painting on the front and rear but not enough to show.  The 75mm gun is a bit loose but I have not glued the chassis to the main body. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #10
TOP VIEW - FIRST PAINTING: At this point, the first coat of all the different colors is nearly done.  I'm impressed the way the scheme flows from sides to top.  I'll be concentrating on a second and final coat now. 

 

BASIS (IN PART) FOR MY MODEL OF THE SCHNEIDER CA
This photo was taken from GunPower 29 page 59 (see bibliography under Jarski, below).  The narrative in the following photos of the model discuss the decals I had to make or use other maker's decal sheets.  The finished model is fictitious insofar as serial number and insignia go.  I could not find photos that had all of the information for a single tank. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #11
FINISHED - LEFT SIDE:  My model represents a tank from the 1st Battery of Artillerie Speciale AS.2.  All of the Schneider and St. Chamond tanks were organized as "artillery batteries" of four tanks as though they were a four-gun battery of artillery.  Individual tanks were marked with  playing card symbols in white to denote each battery, the "heart" symbol  represented the 1st Battery (see the reference 'Zaloga' in the bibliography section for more information about battery symbols).  Note that Renault FT-17 tanks adopted a different organization.


I had to make decals for all of the "heart" insignia and paint them white.  I searched the internet for 'heart' symbols and captured only those that were black and white with well-defined black outlines.  I selected the one closest to photo, found the correct reproduction size in a Word document, and printed on clear decal paper.  Once applied, I painted them white being careful not to overlap the black outline. 

The "Fleur de Lys" symbol was a white decal taken from an old, old medieval decal sheet that I've had in my decal binder for some 20 years or so.  It was presented on the decal sheet in different sizes so all I had to do was select the size and apply.

The numeral "2" was taken from an Archer transfer sheet for British military vehicles.  The shape and size was the best I could find in my decal binder.  The "2" stands for AS.2. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #12
FINISHED - LEFT FRONT:  The only comments here in this photo are the Hotchkiss machine gun and weathering.  The Hotchkiss weapons appeared on both side of the tank slightly offset from each other to accommodate the gunners.  The kit provides for a complete armored "ball mount" interior but I did not complete it as such.  Instead, I left the Hotchkiss machine guns off the vehicle and went ahead and sealed the chassis to the body.  I didn't want the machine guns dangling while I was still painting and weathering.  Later, after completion, I broke off the forward part and simply glued them in place from the outside.

The other comment to make is about the "weathering".  I prefer a light touch on weathering.  I did three things.  First, I prepared a Durham Wheat Putty batch in a "mud" state; that is, not too stiff.  To that I added sand (small and larger), static grass, small twigs, and acrylic earth color.    Using an old large acrylic brush, I simply painted the mixture onto the track and running gear.  By the way, the body of the tank was detached during this process.  I let the mixture dry overnight and, the next day, I applied a thorough coating of Vallejo's European Dust wash.  After all of this was dry, I glued the chassis to the main body.

The next weathering step was to add graphite markings along the seemingly hundreds of edges all over the tank including the tracks.  I use a stick of graphite, rub it on in several places at one time and them use my finger to rub it in. 

The last weathering step was a simple dusting using a makeup brush dipped along an earth colored piece of chalk but no rubbing.

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #13
FINISHED - RIGHT FRONT:  In this photo, the track and running gear show my weathering to advantage.  Not also the placement of the decals and the protrusion of Hotchkiss machine gun.  The short-barreled 75mm gun needs to be discussed just a bit.  The kit's gun is complete and nicely detailed including its internal mount but not much of it can be seen from the outside.  However, I built it up and only glued it in place when it was time to permanently attach the upper half of the Schneider. 

Just above and below the gun, are two kit parts that were added after gluing.  If you look carefully around the sides and front you will notice that there are additional armor plates added - a form of space armor adopted in 1916!   

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #14
FINISHED - RIGHT SIDE:  Most of the features visible in this photo have already been covered except the rear "essence" can which I will discuss in the next photo. 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #15
FINISHED - RIGHT REAR:  Some additional comments for the rear of the tank.  First, the 'essence' can.  If you look carefully at the photo appearing just before photo #11, you will see two of these cans lying along the rear skids.  Under magnification you can make out ". . . ESSENCE MINERAL . . . " in French.  I have not been able to determine what this means except I'm guessing it is either petrol, engine oil, or hydraulic oil.  The top of the can should have a white band with that description probably in red or black.  I haven't done this yet.

Second, the white serial number is fictitious and comes from an Archer dry transfer sheet.  I was a little disappointed that there are no French-style numerals available.

 Third, note the addition of the shovels, lantern (including the one on the front shown in photo #13), the exhaust, and the AS.2 decals as previously described in photo #11.  Of course, there is plenty of room to add tarps, baggage, personal items, ropes, chains, etc.  Maybe I'll add them later.

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION PHOTO #16
FINISHED - LEFT REAR:  Not much left to say except to mention that the convoluted exhaust was added after the top and bottom were glued.  This was a difficult thing to do since I pre-painted the exhaust and did not want to mar it during installation which was quite tricky.   

 

--------------------------------------------   FINIS   --------------------------------------------
 

REFERENCES:

Cooper, Bryan.  Tank Battles of World War I.  Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword Military, 2014.

Gale, Tim.  The French Army's Tank Force and Armoured Warfare in the Great War - The Artillerie Speciale.  Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge, 2016.

Gale, Tim.  French Tanks of the Great War - Development, Tactics, and Operations.  Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword, 2016.

Jarski, A. (Editor-in-Chief) and K. B. Kwiatkowski, Schneider CA and St. Chamond, Gun Power No. 29, Gdansk, Poland: AJ Press, 2008.

Zaloga, Steven J.  French Tanks of World War I (New Vanguard 173).  Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2010.

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