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White Washed StuG III G

Painting Winter Camouflage

By James Brown

Almost all of the tried and tested principles of vehicle camouflage go out the window when it snows. Mechanised armies fighting in winter quickly adapted their camouflage tactics to deal with the demands of the conditions.

The most vital step when trying to make a fighting vehicle blend into a uniformly white background is the obvious one: to paint it white.

Ideally, vehicles would receive at least one coat of oil-based titanium oxide or zinc oxide paint. Sometimes a very small amount of blue might be added, to enhance the brilliance of the white finish.

High-quality paint was not always available in large enough quantities, so another very common solution was whitewash, an inexpensive paint or stain made from lime and chalk dissolved in water. While readily available, whitewash is not very durable and would wash or wear off fairly quickly. This also meant it could be removed quite easily in spring.

Paint or whitewash were applied in almost every way conceivable, from cleanly brushing or spraying it on in field workshops, to slopping it on with brooms and mops. In many cases, crews appear to have splashed paint on directly from a bucket.

Panzer II tanks with travel worn white wash

An overall covering of white was usually intended to aid concealment, to help avoid detection. If the intention was to avoid identification, or if the vehicle would be operating in terrain only sparsely covered with snow, disruptive camouflage patterns which mixed white with a dark colour – generally just the vehicle’s factory paint colour – were often employed.

The dirty, patchy look of worn, faded whitewash is the image which springs immediately to most people’s minds when they think of winter tank camouflage. It is also one of the effects that miniature painters seem to have the most trouble replicating effectively. With enough time and effort, it is not too difficult to recreate the appearance of a whitewashed tank. All too often, however, the result of all your hard work looks, to the casual observer, like a sloppy, rushed paint job.

Here are a few simple but effective techniques for painting winter camouflage quickly and easily, using some common household items. All of the examples pictured are 1:100 scale tanks, but these techniques will work just as well on any common wargaming scale.

White Washed StuG III G

Sponge Chipping

The obvious method is to simply paint the winter camouflage over the vehicle’s existing colour scheme, leaving some of the original colour showing.

While this can look effective, it is often very laborious, as numerous careful coats are usually needed to build up to a pleasing finish. Even if you have the painting skills to make this look great, it may take too long to be practical for painting a whole army.

A much faster approach is to paint the model white initially, then add scratches and chips in the darker colour. 

This T-34  (right) was undercoated white, followed by a grey wash and a white drybrush to provide some depth.

Paint the tank white
Add chipping Sponging is a quick and effective way of simulating paint chips. Dip the sponge in a little paint, wipe off the excess, then dab on the chips carefully. A torn piece of blister sponge works well for fairly heavy chipping, while make-up sponge will give a finer effect, suitable for tiny chips on small-scale miniatures.

Use a brush to pick out areas of especially heavy wear.

The finished T-34, after painting the tracks and weathering.

Chipping completed with a brush

Real chipping

A more advanced approach developed by scale modellers is to spray white paint over the vehicle’s base colour and then create genuine chips, either by scratching or rubbing away some of the winter coat, or by using selective masking.

The former of these methods requires some form of abrasive to remove paint. Most modellers choose to use enamel paints for the base coat in this case, because they are hardier and less likely than acrylics to be removed along with the white.

Alternatively, a generous coat of gloss varnish will help protect your base coat if you use acrylics. Acrylic floor polish such as Future or Klear – popular with modellers for all sorts of diverse purposes – will work well, too. 


If you like the look of scratched, abraded paint, but are worried about damaging your base coat, one useful trick is to spray the model with hairspray before applying the white coat. The hairspray prevents the paint bonding firmly, and lets you scrub away some of the paint with a stiff brush or soft toothbrush, and a little water.


A gentler, more controlled approach than abrasion uses either a removable mask, such as masking fluid, or a water-soluble ‘resist’ substance which will prevent the camouflage coat from adhering in some places. The method is very simple.

First paint the vehicle in its normal base colour. Because much of the surface is going to be covered in white, you don’t need to worry too much about being perfectly neat.

Green T-34 ready for masking/chipping
Add toothpaste mask for chips

Dark colours tend to look very stark in contrast to white, so you may want to make your base colour a little brighter than normal – it’s up to you. 

Next, dab your resist on with a sponge or stipple it on with an old brush, (for this example I used toothpaste as a resist) paying particular attention to high-wear areas.

There is no special trick to this; just put it anywhere you don’t want the whitewash to stick. Toothpaste dries out if you leave it on for a long time. This doesn’t really matter, but it may make it a bit harder to scrub off, so try not to wait too long. Add toothpaste mask completed
White paint applied Once you are happy with the toothpaste covering, spray the vehicle white. An airbrush is extremely useful for this, as it allows complete control of the opacity of the camouflage coat. If you don’t have access to one, don’t despair; a light application of white spray paint also works well.
Once the white paint has dried fully, wash off the toothpaste to expose the ‘chipped’ areas. Be aware that toothpaste is slightly abrasive – that’s how it gets your teeth clean – so be quite gentle when scrubbing it off. Some people actually use toothpaste to scrub away paint in an abrasive technique like those described above, but I prefer the control of using it as a mask.
Toothpaste mask has been scrubbed off
Finished and weathered Soviet T-34 after toothpaste chipping. One substance which has gained unlikely popularity with modellers employing this technique is the food spread Marmite. In some unfortunate parts of the globe, Marmite, Vegemite, Promite and similar yeast extracts may be difficult to find. Americans, for example, seem to universally dislike the sharp, acidic taste, and generally refuse to go near the stuff. If you don’t have access to Marmite, many other common household substances will also work.
Anything with a texture and consistency suitable for application with a brush or sponge, and which will dissolve completely in water, is worth trying.


Salt is an effective, if slightly fiddly, masking material which can also have useful abrasive qualities.

There are several ways to apply it, but I have found the easiest is to brush water on to the parts you wish to mask, then carefully brush or sprinkle the grains of salt into place.

Add water add the salt
Salt masking complete Take a little time to carefully adjust the grains with a slightly wet brush, until you are happy with their position.
After spraying, the simplest way to remove the salt is to wash it off with water, or brush it off with a soft brush. This will leave a slightly feathered edge to the masked areas, in comparison to the sharply defined edges toothpaste or Marmite chipping gives.
After being sprayed white
Remove the salt Alternatively, you can brush the salt off dry with a soft cloth. You can collect some of the grains in the cloth and use them to gently scour away a little extra paint. As usual, don’t be too rough, or you might find you have rubbed away some of your Finished and weathered base colour as well.
Soviet T-34 weathered using salt masking.

Whitewash over camouflage

One particularly eye-catching but challenging effect is whitewash over a camouflage pattern. Although practically impossible to achieve with a paintbrush, this look can be created quite easily using selective masking.

Before masking, everything which will be whitewashed – including fixtures like tools and spare track – has been painted, and decals have been applied.

Painted and camouflaged StuG ready for masking
Masking added.
The StuG III receives the works – a combination of liquid mask, masking tape and a liberal application of Vegemite. Note that the effect is no different from Marmite – I just prefer the taste.
After airbrushing, a ghost of the camouflage remains visible. Winter Camouflage.
White spray over
Masked removed After removing the mask and carefully washing off the Vegemite, the camouflage pattern is subtly revealed through the chips.

So, which technique should I use?

Scale modellers use the weathering techniques described here, among others, to simulate worn, damaged paint surfaces in ways which painting alone cannot achieve. A genuine paint chip will have a barely perceptible raised edge which a painted-on chip does not.

StuG III G with whitewash over camouflage
White Washed StuG III G

With practice, salt and Marmite masking can even make paint bubble and peel slightly, in a way which can look very realistic but which is totally unsuitable for wargaming miniatures, which must withstand frequent handling.

If all you want is to quickly knock out a winter army, the simplest way to get a decent result is the first method described above: a white paint job, followed by sponge chipping. But if you feel like trying something a little different, go ahead and experiment with some of the other techniques –
they really are a lot of fun.


Last Updated On Friday, August 31, 2012 by Blake at Battlefront