"FT17 in Dieppe"
Basic kit: Matchbox PK176 1/76 (together with Char B.1bis), without extra parts.
Figures: AB Figures Pz05 (one with modified head)
On May 10th 1940 France still had 534 Renault FT17 tanks on strength, of which about 500 fell in German hands. I suppose I do not need to comment on the limited value of this tiny AFV. The “17” in its name truly refers to the year it first entered service: 1917 ! The “FT” means “Faible Tonnage” (literally “Weak Tonnage”). The crew only consisted of two: one to drive the thing, the other to fire the armament. Access to the vehicle was via a large hatch on the glacis plate, while on the backside of the turret one would find an emergency exit.
Nevertheless, in its younger years, the FT17 was ahead of its time and was a real export success. It sold to the United States, Canada, Belgium, Brazil, China, Spain, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, Nederland, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and with minor modifications also Italy and Russia.
The FT17 was built in different versions, determined by the armament in the turret:
- 8mm Hotchkiss or 7.5mm Reibel machine-gun (about 1000 ex.). Round or octagonal turret.
- 37mm gun (about 1800 ex.). Round or octagonal turret.
- 75mm gun (about 600 ex.).
A small number was also built in special versions, of which we only mention the bulldozer, because it was also used by the German forces.
The modifications that the Germans made to the tanks they captured were rather limited. In case of the FT17 it consisted more often than not of a new coat of grey paint and a Balkenkreuz. The official name became Panzerkampfwagen 17/18 R 730 (f). The designation “18” was introduced by the Germans to distinguish the vehicles with the later model of the round turret (Berliet turret).
As the top speed of this tank was a swift 8 km/h (5 mph), German tacticians concluded, after a thorough evaluation, that it was not really suited for their Blitzkrieg and many were relegated to training units or were used statically. In 1941, a large number was dug in around the French Channel coast. Sometimes the whole vehicle was used, sometimes only the turret. As such, these archaeological niceties served until 1945.
In Ref 1 I found a picture that inspired me for this vignette (picture 4). It shows how an FT 17 with 37mm gun in an octagonal turret is used as a bunker in the streets of Dieppe in 1943, i.e. after the landings of August 19, 1942.
For the diorama I’ve turned back the clock a little bit to show how two workers of Organisation Todt take a break after digging in the little tank. I’ve got no clue when this happened, so it could have been before those dramatic events. I took a wild guess, and set the scene in the spring of 1943.
The Matchbox kit:
The Matchbox kit allows the modeller to choose between an FT17 with the 37mm gun or the 8mm Hotchkiss MG in an octagonal turret. As the picture clearly shows the 37mm gun, this is what I put on the model. Matchbox also provides the “tail-skid”, that was often fitted to the FT17 to improve its trench crossing abilities. His was not always fitted and I did not spot it on the picture (although it is difficult to see). Consequently, I dumped the kit part in my spares box.
I haven’t measured the kit, but if you glue the plastic together, the result looks an awful lot like an FT17, and that’s keeping me happy. For its age and scale, the detail is not bad. The kit decals let you choose between two French machines in 1940. I haven’t put them on, but most Matchbox decals are quite good for their age. Anyway, they look good on the sheet. The tracks are soft vinyl, but with reasonable detail. Summing it all up, and looking at the price I paid for it, you can hardly be disappointed (1). As Revell is recycling these old Matchbox kits, I can only hope they will do the combo kits as well (they have already included some in their figure-cum-armor releases.
I’ve starting building this kit more than a decade ago (!), and I can’t recall taking pictures of the construction. Neither did it cross my mind to document the more recent proceedings. To be honest, it is more or less an out-of-the-box job, something any modeller with at least some experience could easily handle.
The most important adaptation is the removal of the lower part of the running gear, allowing the vehicle to be “dug in” without needing a deep baseplate.
For those of you looking for any photo-etched parts: nope, not on this baby !
Base color: Testors Panzergrau. Even though the Germans started painting some vehicles in Dunkelgelb from February ’43 onwards (and all of them after April ’43), I suppose that this AFV was not top priority for repainting (that is, if we assume the picture was taken after that date). Apart from that, one can see a very dark vehicle on the photograph, and bereft of any markings. That may not come as a surprise giving it’s status as a bunker. And a small one at that !
It can be my clumsiness, but I have trouble with some of Testors’ enamels. Worse, I’m having most trouble with the colors I would like to use most. This is one of them. The problem ? The paint keeps reacting with thinners even after a month (and I’m not thinning with nitric acid).
Yes, I know, I should protect the paint with a clear acrylic overcoat, if it wasn’t out of self respect. But I don’t have the same problem with Revell or Humbrol or other paints from Testors. Is there a chemist in the audience ?
Where were we ? Yes, Panzergrau basecoat (any dark grey would do, like Revell 78 or Humbrol 67), and then some “special effects”.
The idea: the FT17 was not that young anymore in early 1943, and I supposed that would be more or less visible. So I started with a wash in “Raw Umber” (Talens 408 oils) and afterwards some “accents” on specific locations (round the seams and rivets) in the same color. I simulated some rusty patches with “Burnt Sienna” (N° 411). Always work in the direction of gravity (in case of doubt: from top to bottom).
The tracks are left unpainted (the soft rubber tracks are in an appropriate metallic color), but lavishly covered with the oils mentioned above.
To remain faithful to the picture, I scratchbuilt the wall in the background from recovered wood (sigar box) and Polyfilla (DIY filler). Engrave where necessary and paint in brick red (for the bricks) and slate grey (for the slates). Stone grey will do perfectly for the corner stones. For those of you looking for RAL numbers: take a look outside when it stops raining. ;-)
It is important to give every brick a slightly different color, and to let yourself go with the washes. Small vertical streaks starting from the corners are always very nice. Take into account that most washes tend to darken the base colors.
The trees came from a bag I bought in the Garden Shop around the corner. I don’t know what the original purpose of it might be, but it is perfect for the job. It was chromatically enriched with dark brown washes and highlighted with different greens.
The groundworks are made of fine sand sprinkled on a coat of diluted white glue and blended with a wide swath of brown pastels. The latter are held in place with a mix of turpentine, matt coat and Humbrol 72.
The frame is an old and extremely cheap photo frame.
The camo nets are made from medical tissue. One is rolled up and kept in shape with diluted white glue, the other slightly torn. The latter was painted with a non-uniform dark brown wash, the former with a locally invented disruptive scheme. The shovel is scratchbuilt from plasticard and sprue.
The figures come from set PZ05 (AB Figures – white metal). The sitting figure got its head from another figure in the same set. Because I guessed there was a high probability that workers from Organisation Todt did the digging (as they were responsible for most of the Channel fortifications), I painted them as such. Figures and info on OT is scarce, so I took some liberty when painting them. The shoes are black, the paints mid-brown (Humbrol 118 or 119), as shown in reference 3. One figure is wearing a pale brown shirt, the other a pullover and suspenders. As the latter might have been of civilian origine, I suppose any (subdued) color would do. I chose a pale drab (Humbrol 72). I gave both figures a wash with a dark brown color and did some drybrshing with lighter colors. Neither figure wears any insignias (as they are not wearing their vest). The faces were first painted glowwy white, over which a redbrown wash (Taelens 411) was applied. Darker areas were accentuated in a mix of Taelens 408 and 411, while I used a 411-white mix for the lighter areas. The whole process goes extremely fast and is more than good enough in this scale.
Proving that you don’t need expensive aftermarket parts to built a decent model, I entered it at the 2005 Belgian Nationals, and (somewhat to my surprise) took first place in the “Diorama, all scales” category.
(1) I’m talking about the original purchase. At Flanders Modelling Festival 2005 I found it for sale for a hefty 40€ (31$ at April 2005 exchange rates). If only I had known…
Haelterman Rob (IPMS/ Belgium N019)
For “Smallscale AFV”