British Uniform Painting Guide


A Guide To Painting British Uniforms

Khaki drab Battledress and “Battle Bowlers”, the iconic British helmet, are the trademarks of the WW2 British soldier, the “Tommy”.

This article, hopefully, will help you with the basics of painting your British troops to be ready for battle on the tabletop. The colours I’ve chosen to use are my personal preferences so please don’t treat them as “gospel” I’ve used Vallejo paints exclusively for the figures shown below so if you want colour matches from other paint ranges you’ll need to visit the FoW paint chart.

The British Battledress uniform was officially introduced just before WW2 in 1937. It had taken the British Army from 1932 till then to design, test and approve the new uniform. Not all units had received them prior to the BEF heading to war in France in 1939 and some units of the BEF were still wearing a uniform seen in the previous war.

Also in 1937 the webbing equipment issued to the British soldier was redesigned (called the “pattern ’37” funnily enough) and this along with the Mk II helmet, a variation of the WW I design, was what your average Tommy wore into battle.
Fig. A BEF Uniform Fig. A BEF Uniform

This Tommy is shown just as you would see him in France 1940 and the main features to note are the chest mounted gasmask bag and the lack of an entrenching tool. It was quickly found that wearing the gasmask bag on the chest wasn’t too comfy when you dove for cover so after this campaign it was shifted to a side bag. He carries the trusty Lee–Enfield SMLE Mk III rifle which was also the same as used in the previous war in France and to go with it, that fearsome long bayonet!

(These older BEF Miniatures are no longer available) 

The colour of British webbing and equipment gives rise to many moments of angst as to what’s the “correct” colour and it shouldn’t really! You have a wide latitude to choose from. The webbing, as originally issued to the soldier, was a pale khaki colour and was meant to be coated with “Blanco” a green boot polish type substance used to protect it from the elements and help camouflage the soldier. In practice this meant that it varied from a medium green to light green and pale khaki for those troops who didn’t have time before being sent into combat to, put any Blanco on, didn’t have time to put much of it on or had even just faded over time.

The colours I’ve chosen are: 

Battledress Brown (FWP325)
Webbing & Anklets
Tommy Green (FWP345)
Firefly Green (FWP348)
Water bottle & Rifle
Oxide Red (FWP382)
Bayonet scabbard & Boots

* Officers boots would be brown except for Rifle brigade battalions who would be black also.

Variations for webbing I’d suggest: 

Khaki Military Khaki (FWP327)
Green Grey Tommy Green (FWP345)
Russian uniform

Firefly Green (FWP348)

Fig. B Uniform 1944
Fig. B Uniform 1944
Fig. C Uniform 1944 Fig. C Uniform 1944

Fig. B (Above) has webbing painted with Firefly Green (FWP348) and Fig C (Left) has webbing painted with Military Khaki (FWP327). These two Tommy’s are typical of the late war British soldier, their uniforms haven’t changed (the Battledress was redesigned in 1940 but was mainly to ease manufacture) but the weapons are now the Lee-Enfield rifle no.4. With this version of the famous .303 Lee-Enfield a spike bayonet was adopted in place of the fearsome long bayonet of its predecessor.

(These older Late War Miniatures are no longer available but the colour equally apply to the new miniatures who are wearing the Mk III turtle helmet)

The helmet is still the Mk II but is covered with netting with Hessian strips knotted onto it for camouflage, the same suggestions for colours to use for webbing are the same for these Hessian strips. On his back he now carries an entrenching tool mounted between the water bottle and gasmask bag, also a pioneer type shovel(sometimes a Pick Axe or Mattock) as well stowed under his “Battlepack” for even quicker digging in!

Fig B  has red shoulder flashes that show he is from a line infantry regiment and fig C has dark green shoulder flashes, which show he’s from a Rifle Brigade battalion.

Fig. D Uniform 1944 NCO Fig. D Uniform 1944 NCO
Fig D (Above) is a section commander and is a Corporal. This figure better shows the new entrenching tool on his back that was introduced in 1942 and the ubiquitous STEN gun that was first produced in 1941. He also has the red shoulder flashes of an Infantry Regiment of the Line otherwise he has been painted in the same colours as the previous figures.
Fig. E Denim Shirt Fig. E Denim Shirt

This Tommy (Left) is wearing a Denim shirt cut in the same style as the Battledress uniform. It can be paired with Trousers made from the same Denim material and, also cut to the same style as Battledress trousers. This uniform was originally intended as a “fatigues” or working dress but was also used as a lightweight summer uniform in combat. He is painted the same as previous figures but with the exception of:

Shirt Military Khaki (FWP327)

You could also add matching trousers in the same colour.

Fig F (Right) is my interpretation of the Canadian Uniform colour. The Canadians used a Battledress uniform that was identical to the British version but was manufactured in Canada from a greener and better quality cloth. All the same colours as previously suggested for webbing and equipment apply here but for the uniform I had to mix two colours to get what I considered the best match.

My choice for Canadian Battledress uniform:

50/50 mix of Battledress Brown (FWP325) - Sherman Drab (FWP321)
Fig. F Canadian "Green" Uniform Fig. F Canadian "Green" Uniform
Fig. G tank crew Fig. G tank crew

British and Commonwealth tank crews wore pretty much the same uniforms and the Battledress was the basis for them all. Even while wearing overalls the tank crews would have worn their Battledress underneath unless the weather was very hot.

Fig G (Left) is a tank crewman from any time during the war, France ’40 to Normandy and beyond. The Battledress is the same as his Infantryman compatriot is wearing and the only thing that makes him stand out is the revolver issued to tank crews in their special holster and the black Armoured Corps Beret. The webbing and boots are standard issue and therefore the same colours apply here as for your Infantry.


Fig H (Right) is wearing overalls in khaki that were introduced in 1944 and replaced the previous black coloured versions that could’ve been found on France. This Denim one-piece suit was very similar in appearance to the Battledress and was usually worn over the top anyway. The same black beret and boots were worn.

Denim Tankers suit & “Pixie” suit Military Khaki (FWP327)


Another one-piece suit made especially for tank crews was the cold weather version called the “Pixie” suit. 

Fig. H tank crew Fig. H tank crew
Fig. I tank crew

It was made from canvas and had a flannel lining with also extra lining around the large collar. It was extremely popular with the tank crews during the record breaking winter of '44/'45.

Figures J (Right) is an example of a tank crewman found in any British AFV and the only difference is that he is wearing the special helmet issued to tank crews. It was an adaptation of the helmet designed for the British Airborne forces and only differed in the internal harness assembly. The RAC helmet was issued from 1943 onwards and was the same colour as the infantryman’s helmet.    Fig. J tank crew
I hope my suggestions have given you inspiration to choose a British or Commonwealth army and feel that you’re getting a reasonable approximation of what the troops should look like. The British army was quite colourful, not from the uniforms but from all the unit badges etc. Although probably a bit fiddly to attempt in 15mm the divisional signs went on directly underneath the unit shoulder flash. In October 1943 the Scottish regiments chose to trade in their unit shoulder flash in exchange for a patch of the Tartan that was peculiar to their regiment instead if you’re feeling really adventurous!

Good gaming,