Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Art of Camouflage

The uniform of the 5th Arcadian Regiment, from an old White Dwarf magazine 1. Note, they are not my 5th Arcadians--this is clearly a regiment from some other Arcadia in the Imperium.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is one of contradictions. It is a universe of terrifying, obscenely lethal ranged weapons, but it is also a universe where most races wear bright battle dress and seem to prefer fighting in hand-to-hand combat rather than at range.

"The best gun in the galaxy won't help if your opponent is bashing your brains out with a rock!" 2 3 4

The 40k Universe is a universe where you can be carrying an assault rifle (sorry, I mean lasgun), eyeing an enemy on foot, on open ground, way off in the distance, outside the range of your weapon, and yet somehow you just know that you will only be able to get off one, or if you're lucky, two shots before those tiny dots on the horizon will be in your face, slashing at you with a choppa, and there's absolutely nothing that you can do about it...

But I digress. The reasons the 40k Universe are like this are to appeal to the gamer and hobbyist. The wargame is fun to play, with wide variety in the way each army is played. The models are dynamic and colorful, designed to be visually appealing.

Despite the polychromatic flair of most armies, camouflage still has its place in the 40k Universe. That place is with the Imperial Guard. (and with the Tau and a few others, but never mind...)

Most Imperial Guard players are drawn to the army for their "real world" appeal. If a player really wants "sci-fi" soldiers, they'll play Space Marines. If a player wants Space Elves, Space Orks, or Aliens, he'll play Eldar, Orks, or Tyranids. But if a player wants an army of human soldiers with armor and artillery support, i.e., like a real world modern army, they'll choose the Imperial Guard.

Thinking about Camouflage
Every Imperial Guard Commander has to put some thought into camouflage. Other Army Commanders do too, notably Tau, but most armies seem to like being in bright colors, probably due to pride and confidence in their armor (Space Marines), numbers and bravado (Orks), fashion sense (Eldar), etc. But to the Imperial Guard, camouflage is as necessary as their flak armor.

The Imperial Guard player has to take many things into account when considering a camouflage pattern, for example, the "culture" of the regiment he wishes to field. Many Imperial Guard regiments, like the Cadians, are well equipped and wear camouflage battle dress. Some, like the Mordians and Pretorians, fight in their dress uniforms, and therefore do not make use of camouflage at all. Others, like some Valhallan or Tallarn regiments, dress more for their harsh environments, and camouflage is a secondary concern to protection from the weather--but regiments still make use of it when they can.

Valhallan Imperial Guardsman 5
Not every commander has the means to equip his soldiers with camouflage uniforms at all. Sometimes the unit may be raised rapidly, from a poor world with limited resources, and the units end up being clothed in whatever is available at the time. Other units, with vast resources, may be equipped with some of the best equipment that the Imperium has to offer. This means that with the Imperial Guard you can find units wearing anything from cameoline to undyed wool.

As I mentioned in the last article, boldly painted armies look better on the table. If you paint your Imperial Guard camouflage too well, they will blend in with the terrain and look dull. If this is what you want, then fine. But can you paint a bold, striking army, and yet still paint them in "realistic" camouflage?
An Anacostian guardsman and a Brazen Claws Marine. Clearly, the marine is more striking on the table. The guardsman's camouflage is very similar to the color of the table itself--in fact, the camouflage is almost too good.

In order to be realistic, your camouflage MUST match the terrain
No it doesn't. The camouflage of your troops does not have to match the terrain. In the real world, inappropriate camouflage is often a fact of life.

US Marines in Iraq, 2003. 6
In this photo, soldiers are wearing desert camouflage on their helmets, but the rest of the uniform is woodland camouflage--far from ideal in the terrain of Iraq. Why? Because they are wearing MOPP gear over their desert camos. MOPP gear is battle dress to protect soldiers from toxic (nuclear, biological, and chemical, or "NBC") environments. When MOPP gear was originally issued, the US was expecting to use them in Europe, where a toxic battlefield was likely should World War III occur. Woodland camouflage in the European environment made sense. Desert camouflage MOPP gear was simply not available for Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, so the soldiers were just issued the gear that was available, inappropriately colored though it was.

There are also plenty of stories where troops, due to supply snafus, lack of funding, lack of time, or plain stupidity result in the troops on the frontline not getting what they need. For example, in the fall of 1941, when the Germans were driving to Moscow, the soldiers were not issued cold weather gear because their commanders wanted to encourage them to capture the city before the arrival of winter. Issuing cold weather gear, thus implying that it would be a long campaign, was deemed to be bad for morale. As it turned out, this was a big mistake--but it happened nonetheless.

Imperial Guard units are frequently on long campaigns, fighting on planets with markedly different environments. Due to the requirements of war, including rapid redeployment and supply problems, units may not receive the proper camouflage for a given planet, or indeed, any resupply at all. The result is that camouflage a given regiment is equipped with may be wildly inappropriate for the environment in which they are fighting. So, your Imperial Guard Regiment may be painted in a color scheme that seems out of place for the terrain on the table, but rather than being "wrong", it can be argued that this is in fact realistic.
Anacostian guardsman and a Fafnir Ice Wolf. Here, both are wearing camouflage, but the Ice Wolf's camouflage is slightly more vivid. More importantly, he's wearing winter "overwhites", which make him stand out more. If you're fighting on a woodland tabletop or a city, the argument goes that perhaps the snow melted the day before. (This outfit might seem a bit impractical on a desert battlefield however, but then, so do Valhallan overcoats...)

In the real world, troops are constantly being resupplied, and the army is notorious for delivering units inadequate or inappropriate gear. Soldiers in the field frequently have to make do with what they have. Hence their gloves, boots, packs, and web gear, etc., may be improvised with whatever they can get their hands on. Frequently this means that their equipment doesn't match their camouflage pattern. For the hobbyist, this is as important to remember as the camouflage. In other cases, the camouflage uniforms may have been issued to troops, but none of their other gear is yet available in the new pattern yet, so they have to mix and match multiple patterns.
In this picture from the movie Black Hawk Down (2001), it shows a US Army Ranger unit wearing a mish-mash of camouflage patterns--and the Rangers are an elite unit, so you might expect them to get priority when it comes to supply. At the time this event took place the army was switching between desert camouflage schemes, phasing one out while phasing in another. Here the rangers are wearing 3-color desert BDUs, 6-color desert "chocolate chip" helmet covers, and woodland camouflage body armor. If you want to see better pictures, watch the movie! 7

Paint Schemes
Here is a selection of camouflage schemes I have tried out and their real-world inspirations. In some cases I intentionally deviated from the strict color pattern in an attempt to make the color scheme stand out more, and thus be more attractive on the tabletop. In other cases, I just experimented in order to see what color patterns might look like.

16th Arcadian
Snot Green, Bestial Brown, Camo Green, and Chaos Black.

Woodland Camouflage

Anacostian Light Infantry
Knarloc Green, Goblin Green, Dark Angels Green, Khemri Brown


2nd Deukalion
Shadow Grey, Fenris Grey, Regal Blue, Space Wolves Grey

Navy Working Uniform

Fafnir Ice Wolves
Snakebite Leather, Dark Angels Green, Chaos Black, Khemri Brown


11th Arcadian (old)
Bleached Bone, Rotting Flesh, Bestial Brown

3-color Desert

11th Arcadian
Kommando Khaki, Graveyard Earth, Bleached Bone


2nd Cydonian
Codex Grey, Adeptus Battlegrey, Chaos Black


5th Arcadian
Codex Grey, Dheneb Stone, Fortress Grey

Universal Camouflage Pattern (Army Combat Uniform)

Useful Links is a site with tons of samples of real-world camouflage patterns that can be used for inspiration.
Camouflage Schemes: An Essential Guide by Tammy Haye - An article on the GW Australia website. - A large archive of military photos that show all sorts of camouflage.
1. White Dwarf, Issue 109, January 1989, The Imperial Guard.
2. Warhammer 40,000 3rd edition Rulebook, p62, 1998.
3. Warhammer 40,000 4th edition Rulebook, p38, 2004.
4. Warhammer 40,000 5th edition Rulebook, p34, 2008.
5. Photo taken from Games Workshop Website.
6. AP Photo.
7. Screenshot from Black Hawk Down, 2001.


sovietspace said...

A very interesting article mate, good job. I've not got much to add, but I just love the fact that you footnote your blog posts! It looks very professional.

Keep up the good work...

Admiral Drax said...


And like sovietspace, I applaud your use of footnotes.

My lot are loodely based on the British army back when their everyday battledress was still flat olive drab. Only my elite troops tend to have access to the camouflaged equipment, and it's temperate DPM - entirely inappropriate for the urban terrain and bases they get to fight on!

For anyone after painting British temperate DPM, I explained my painting process in this post:

I love your camouflaged trial models, mate - there's a permanent link to your original post on my blog!

The Inner Geek said...

Nice article indeed! And I'll third the admiration of your footnotes!

My guard are (in my mind and fluff) the personal army of an Inquisitor. They therefore have taken his colors of red and black. Note the most suited to camo, but I guess when you have been chosen by the Inquisition, it goes to your head and you don't worry so much about camo. Also, there is no bonus in 40k for realism, otherwise my guard might not be so brave about their color schemes!

jabberjabber said...

What a brilliant article - thank you very much for sharing it with us.

I like the Arcadian trooper at the bottom - very nice camo scheme.

And seeing those old WD articles takes me back years. :) I recall all those old Imperial Guard regiments, like the "lucky 7's" that had a pair of die as their emblem...

Ben said...

Two real life cammo patterns that can be easily and accurately applied to 40k models are DPCU (also known as auscam) and DPDU (desert version)