French WW1 Heavy Tank - St. Chamond

First World War tanks have a lot of the characteristics that I love in armored vehicles; lots of rivets, wild camouflage schemes, clever nicknames and artwork, plus they are big and clunky. Takom’s St. Chamond has all of this in spades.
I grabbed this kit on a whim when it was first issued while on a trip to Japan. The exchange rate at the time made the price attractive and the best part of it all was that it wasn’t available in the US yet. I expected it to be a complicated, dicey build but as it turned out this almost fell into the category of the mythical ‘weekend build’.

This kit was a siren song to my chronic, raging AMS (Advance Modeling Syndrome). Original photographs show St. Chamond tanks in the field with a bewildering variety of paint jobs, nick names, hull art and then there are lots of neat open hatches that cry out for interior detailing. Add to this the different muddy scenic bases or dioramas this tank can be easily dropped into and you will understand the smile I had on my face as I rode the train back to my apartment in Tokyo.

The French hit a home run with the plucky little FT17 but other than that nothing notable came off the drafting boards of French armor designers. The first French heavy tank was the CA1, manufactured by the company Schneider. Feeling the urgent need for more tanks at the front, the French government placed an order with a rival company, Forges et Aciéries de la Marine et d'Homécourt (FAMH) for 400 vehicles, assuming they would build CA1s.

As it turned out Schneider wouldn't provide patented blueprints without a licensing fee, and FAMH were unwilling to pay. Instead, they took the opportunity to upstage Schneider and designed their own vehicle with improved armament and thicker armor.
Sadly for both companies, and even more so for the French Army, both designs were woefully inadequate. They were cramped, underpowered and suffered from having too short a track-run, which coupled with a large overhang at the front made the tanks prone to grounding when crossing uneven ground, particularly trenches.
The Kit
This kit has a fairly light part count compared to some. Not including the individual link tracks there are only 258 parts and most of these are found in the complicated suspension. The molding is outstanding and without ejector pin marks or flash. The detail is crisp and clean. The standout parts are the Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns.

Most of the assembly work takes place in the suspension. This is sad because when the tank is done and turned right side up most of the intricate detail is lost, especially you plan to muddy it up like I did. More on that later.

The hull goes together cleanly for the most part, though I did feel the need to apply a little putty to clean up some fiddly seams.  This was more my fault than the kit’s though.  The 75mm gun barrel comes in two pieces which did require some filling and sanding.

The individual link tracks were confusing at first, but once I settled on a system for putting the tracks together they went together in no time.  Each link was made up of three parts but only one needed to be glued.  The other parts snapped in securely making the track runs fully functional.  I should note too that other than trimming off the spot where the parts came off the sprues, the track parts required no additional cleanup what so ever.

Painting and Weathering
Like I mentioned earlier, this model really spoke to my chronic AMS.  As luck would have it, certain circumstances forced me to build it stock box however.  In the end this turned out to be a relief.  It was gratifying to be able to finish a project in about a week as opposed to the months that would have passed while I got lost in the paint job and interior scratch building.

I  had plenty of good references for scratch building a nice interior, but held off in favor of doing a stock box build.
The camouflage schemes on St. Chamonds can be divided into roughly two categories; the earlier pattern, which consisted of simple two and three color schemes and the later pattern which was generally field applied and was often haphazard and extremely complicated. Steve Zaloga has described the earlier patterns as ‘cubist’ in the tradition of Pablo Picasso and the later patterns as ‘pointillist’ like the paintings of George Seurat.

The later pointillist schemes seem to have been applied over the earlier cubist schemes so this was the logical place to start.  The painting directions in the kit are very incomplete, showing only the left side of the vehicle.  Also, the camouflage pattern provided for the vehicle I wanted to portray, “Fantomas” showed an earlier disruptive scheme but period photos showed the tank with a field applied pointillist pattern.  There was no suggestion for how to paint the roof of the tank.

Two period photographs of Fantomas.  These photos seem to show that the 'pointillist' camouflage scheme was added to at different times over the life of the tank.
I used a fair bit of yellow Tamiya tape for masking.  It was fairly simple but did require some thinking ahead to keep the colors even and realistic.

Some sources indicate that St. Chamonds came from the factory painted neutral gray. I painted the suspension with Tamiya XF-24 Dark Gray and masked it off. It didn’t figure to matter in the end anyway since the running gear was going to be covered in mud.

The kit called for bright yellow to be used but I have never been convinced that the French used such a prominent color for camouflage. Instead I used Tamiya XF-60 Dark Yellow as the base color. Following this I masked the hull again and added XF-13 JA Green. Several yards of Tamiya tape later I masked the hull for the application of the third color, a mixture of XF-9 Hull Red and XF-64 Red Brown. Finally, I masked the hull yet again for the final color, XF-19 Sky Gray. At each step I post shaded the areas with the base color heavily diluted and tinted with XF-55 Deck Tan to give depth and a three dimensional feel.
With the cubist base colors in place I was ready to add the later, field applied pointillist scheme. Sadly there are no color photos of ‘Fantomas’ so we don’t know exactly what was used. I used Vallejo acrylics and chose Black, Yellow Green and Deck Tan. I used a certain amount of artistic license on this part of the tank since the period photos are not entirely clear. Some photos seem to show somewhat different patterns as well indicating that the camouflage might not have been applied all at once. In any event, I tried to get close to the spirit of what a St. Chamond would have looked like.
The decals are thin, on register and settle down very well with Micro Sol.  The bow decal had some serious rivets to nestle down into and took several applications but in the end went on very well.

My first step was to airbrush the running gear, tracks and lower surfaces of the tank with XF-52 Flat Earth.  This would serve as the base for mud to be applied later.  I followed this with a simple wash of black artist oils to give depth and definition to the rivets and panel lines.  I paid particular attention to the vertical surfaces and gave them streaks running up and down.

The next step was to add the caked on mud.  I used ground pastel powders mixed with mineral spirits.  The resulting slurry paste is very sticky and easy to manipulate into place on the tracks, wheels and suspension.  It behaves and looks exactly like mud.  I had to pay careful attention to apply it convincingly by heaping it up thickly where mud would collect and more sparingly where it wouldn’t.
Once the pastel paste was dry I used a stiff bristle brush to blend and soften lines where the mud was applied.

The dried slurry paste turned a very light shade of brown when it dried and was perfectly flat with no gloss at all.  I wanted the mud to look wet and new so it needed some gloss.  I airbrushed Future floor polish on the tracks, running gear and up the sides of the tank where the mud would be wet.  The Future did several things to the dried pastel paste.  It gave it a nice glossy sheen but it also darkened it considerably.  Another added benefit was that it sealed and fixed the caked up mud in place perfectly.  Without the coating of Future in place the pastels would eventually flake and fall off the model.
The final weathering step was a light dry brushing with light beige pastel chalk to bring out all those beautiful rivets and really make the sharp detail pop.


  1. Great work and great looking model. Please send me a photo and I will put it up in our catalog. Thanks.

    Ken Lawrence

  2. Very nice build. I do have a question, however. In the photo of the underside, it appears that the one set of tracks is installed one way, and the other side has the tracks opposite. Is that correct? And, if so, is that the way there were supposed to be installed? Just curious if you have research for that. I am installing similar tracks and want to make sure they go on in the right direction. Usually the both tracks would be facing and rotating in the same direction, I thought. Thanks.

  3. Great work and a spectacular result. Very inspirational indeed.


  4. like your model and the brilliant paint job , i am green with envy lol .