'Ambush' camouflage schemes and the Archer sets

By: Ron Owen Hayes

© 2010 Archer Fine Transfers


I am not a primary researcher. I live far way from the sources of all documentation and so rely heavily on others better located and more talented in this department for this invaluable work. Moreover, in this instance, looking at documents would have been little help in arriving at these patterns. My method has been purely to gather as many photographs as possible as source material. I have drawn up these patterns from these photos, though I have heavily referenced the books and periodicals and for them I am extremely grateful. I have also had help on many forums and from individuals, most standout are Michael Bressanges (who has repeatedly obtained thumbnail test sheets, etc., from the Bundesarchiv), Manus Gallagher, Darren Gawle, Roddy MacDougall, Jose Reyes, Jon Bailey and Timm Haasler for directly or indirectly supplying new primary data for the units, zimmerit patterns and factory color schemes in 1944. And of course to Woody Vondracek, who's actually going to attempt to sell the stuff. Any expressed opinions, errors or omissions due to incorrect data, research or laziness are mine alone.


There was no German word exactly equivalent to 'ambush' used, hence the variety of terms used to describe the system. Collins German-English Dictionary under 'ambush' provides 'hinterhalt' (literally 'countryside stop'), hence its use by ambush scheme aficionados, and 'überfall' (lit. 'assault from cover'). Others are 'licht und schatten tarnung' (lit. 'light and shadow camouflaging') or just the plain English 'ambush', which we will use here.

Why do it with rubdowns?

Many modelers will ask the question: How can I justify the expense of buying up to 6 sheets of 3" x 4" patterning in order to achieve the disc-camouflage?

1. Modelers will often spend an additional $30-40 on a PE fret - this is an 'accuracy' tool in the same way as PE.

2. The painter otherwise has to do the whole thing by hand and/or masking, which takes an unbelievable amount of time in preparation. There are currently no 'ambush' frets on the market, and they would be difficult to use on anything other than perfectly flat surfaces.

3. No matter how precise the painter/masker, they would struggle to simulate the very regulated pattern repeat of the real thing, recreated from a Photoshop-generated master done at 2400 dpi.

4. The pattern repeats every square inch or so, which is a bit like drawing 20 eyes on a figure and getting every one identical. Even though there were overlaps, gaps and mistakes on the real vehicles it is still a daunting task to do by hand, which is probably why you hardly ever see the disc-camouflage attempted on models.

5. Though certainly a time-consuming process still these sheets will, to a large extent, simplify the task to less-than-grandmaster levels so anyone can produce a reasonable facsimile of the patterning.

Some history

August 1944 was the start month for factory-applied camouflage schemes on Panzers generally, whilst still applying zimmerit if applicable. The factories involved in this short period were supposed to apply zimmerit and 'ambush' to some or all of of their production run.

Tank factories involved with the 'ambush' schemes included MAN, MNH, Daimler-Benz, Demag, Niebelungenwerk, Skoda, Henschel, Krupp and possibly others. There was no set single scheme, many factories applying the directives differently. As some patterns appear to have been used by more than one factory it is likely that at least some of the design masters originated at higher command level, then were sent to the individual factories for their drawing-offices to translate into stencils.

The schemes were probably introduced around 19th - 20th August at the Panther factories MAN and MNH, which accounts for the early examples also being zimmeritted. Krupp had zimmerit and Disc-camouflage on their late August '44 StuG.IVs, and few early Vomag IV/70s may also have had both. After mid-September, zimmerit was ordered to be discontinued. In contrast to MAN and MNH, Daimler-Benz and the remaining tank manufacturers may have initiated their schemes after this date, as their patterns only appeared so far on non-zimmeritted vehicles. However, by early October the 'ambush' patterns generally stopped being applied. This was possibly because the system ran contrary to the mid-September 44 'sparing use' painting instructions, but just as likely because it took extra and ill-afforded skill time on the production line.

Surprisingly few photographs of 'ambushed' vehicles have survived, given the number of factories involved. A good proportion of August and September's Panther production may very well have been painted in the 'ambush' schemes. However, as much of August's production was channeled into the newly-formed Panzer Brigades and squandered away during the September battles, relatively few of these vehicles were ever photographed.

There were two official 'ambush' schemes applied to Panthers (all Sfax as this is NEW production, to the best of my knowledge there was no 'returned damaged for repaint in ambush scheme' policy). They were applied by the factories, not in the field, though some retouching (to repair damage or change tac numbers) possibly took place. [Notably one MAN Befehlspanther G ('R01' of Hermann Goering PD) had Disc-camouflage applied to its schürzen only, but as this is a slightly different version showing the edges of the discs similar to the Skoda/Krupp patterns. This may have been applied by HG troops, so is possibly an isolated example.]

The first pattern was utilized by Daimler-Benz and was formed by spraying small delicate spots of contrasting color onto all three base colors.

The second is the is the disc-camouflage series of patterns, the subject of these sets. This was practiced by MAN and MNH on the Panther G. Vomag also used at least one of these patterns on the Panzer IV/70 and even a few final model Panzerjäger 39's (Jagdpanzer IV's).

The subject of these sets -
the Panther Ausf.G by M.A.N. and M.N.H. and the Panzer IV/70 BY Vomag.

Uniquely their Disc-camouflage was formed by dunkelgelb and was sprayed through a stencil made from overlapping discs on top of the olivgrun and rotbraun areas only of their standard factory patterns. This differed from the disc-camouflage system used by the other manufacturers as it used purely this application, i.e. the outside edges of the disc areas were not defined, but merely blended into the dunkelgelb. This is in sharp contrast to Krupp's or Skoda's disc-camouflage, for instance, where the outsides of the disc areas are clearly seen.

The system used stencils that matched left/right and top/bottom so a seamless pattern could be made over the whole vehicle.

MAN produced some of their 19th August - 7th September production run with Disc-camouflage patterns, sprayed onto their vertically-lined rollered zimmerit, then continued until at least end of September without zimmerit.

MNH also produced G's with Disc-camouflage patterns but on their own horizontally troweled zimmerit. A few zimmeritted MNH G's also had the crew heater fan tower (which shouldn't have been fitted till October). Again, MNH continued until at least end of September without zimmerit. Around this time they commenced using their trademark diagonal stripe camo patterns, and the final 'ambush' examples may have even had both (there is a MNH Panther in PanzerWrecks 7 that may be an example of this, plus another from 9th PD).

Why do it with rubdowns?

I was drawn to the concept of producing these patterns as dryprint / rubdown decals as they could be produced in a single color (unlike the Daimler-Benz or Skoda three-color patterns, for instance) thus keeping application costs to a minimum whist still giving maximum effect. Whilst the skill-level required to apply the patterning to an entire model would certainly not be basic, anyone who could airbrush a convincing 3-color factory camouflage scheme would be capable of applying the patterning IMO. Woody Vondracek at Archer was immediately taken with the idea, and suggested I draw up a pattern to test out the theory.

Initial research

I started by looking for the pattern using all the photo references I had, plus referenced every photo in Allied-Axis, PanzerWrecks, Panzer Tracts, Hold the Westwall etc looking for clues. As there are relatively few surviving photos of the 'ambush' schemes in use, I scoured every internet forum on the subject and I looked at every illustration of the schemes in such book series as Concord, Osprey, TankPower, Wydawnictwo Militaria and also Duel in the Mist 1. Many of the illustrations are inaccurate as either the illustrator hadn't understood the dynamics of the disc-patterning, assumed that the patterns were 'universal' or confused them with those on SturmTigers or Jg.Pz.38's, which are rather different. As research into the 'ambush' patterns has been carried out by very few, only recently has a real understanding of the patterns started to emerge.

My own research included an actual fragment of card stencil that a German-Belgian friend gave me several years ago, claiming it to be from the MNH factory circa 1944. His father worked there, and I had had several conversations with him before his death. As he was an old man at the time, some of his thoughts have been proven correct, some haven't. However. If this piece of unused card is to be believed, the stencils were just simple medium-grade boxboard, 350 gsm or so, not corrugated. These were, according to the source, traced from a master supplied by the drawing office using charcoal paper, and then cut out by hand, literally laid onto the tank and sprayed through. Apparently the cut-down fragment I was given had lived out the previous 40+ years as a drawer-liner! Looking at this was how I discovered that the MAN/MNH disc-stencil was a 'sprayed-in-negative' type, as the stencil is a 'positive', looking like an overlapping series of Mickey Mouse ears.

I also looked at the pattern repeat drawn up on page 126 of Duel In The Mist 1 (AFV Publications). This is excellent as it shows some of the shapes shown on the stencil fragment and in the photographs very well. However, playing around with the small inset version I couldn't get it to 'repeat' probably I was doing something wrong. There is also the 1/35 pattern shown on a Panther on the same page. The actual photographs I referenced show it used flipped left-right, which is of course possible as the stencils could be used either way round, but as this isn't possible for dry transfers I wanted to be sure they reflected the most typical use. So I went back to the photos to draw up my own version, thinking at the time that there was just the one version to draw up

The first pattern

Whilst co-owning a graphic design consultants I designed a lot of repeat patterns for my cosmetics/confectionery pack designs, but never thought I'd use it on a tank. Initially I drew up the discs in Adobe illustrator CS3 on an Intel iMac. As I got started I almost immediately transferred them to Adobe Photoshop CS3, the reason being that in this kind of research-related job it allows me to import the most usable source photos into multiple layers. In PS you can juggle or on-off the layers instantly without having to constantly swop from vector to raster and back.

I therefore opened a new document at actual 1/35 scale, but at 2400dpi (or 8 x output resolution) in order not to lose any detail. The tools in PS allow me to accurately resize the source photos to 1/35 scale, then 'distort', 'skew' and 'flatten' them to remove any perspective. I could then start to place individual discs over each photo until I had the bare bones of a pattern, overtrace from that and compare the results as I went along. In this way I arrived at an agglomeration based on the fragments of each photograph that are generally all that's visible.

Mickey Mouse Ear, German style

I drew up the pattern disc-for-disc (the 'real' master designs look to have generally used 3 different disc sizes for each stencil). From these I created the master disc sizes as a dedicated layer, then made a single pattern master (about 1" x 1 1/2" in size) equating to the actual stencil used by the real painter. Even this size needed up to 70 disc layers. I then made a dummy flattened copy to test-fit the 'repeat' all round. This is what took most time, as it took a lot of test-fitting, going back to the master and repositioning. With a lot of adjustment the pattern eventually repeated. After that it's relatively easy, as it step-and-repeats indefinitely all round. It needs careful overlaying, but once the master's right you can coat a house with it.

As I continued to research though, I realized that in fact there were more than one, in fact at least three or four, different patterns in use by even these factories, and found by crosschecking the donor vehicles' provenances that the pattern I had already drawn-up was a version used by MNH. Coincidentally it looks to be the same one used by Vomag for its disc-camouflaged Jagdpanzer Is and IV/70's (as mentioned previously, Vomag also only sprayed dunkelgelb 'in reverse' over the other two colors, despite erroneous drawings in many publications). So I have called my first effort, Pattern #2.

However, this 'Pattern #2' apparently will not work for MAN, who I discovered had at least 2 stencils of their 'own' design. So I contacted Woody with the good news, and he agreed to market all of them. However, we agreed on a smaller sheet size of 3" x 4", which is good in any case as it will be easier to apply.

Additional patterns

For the other two patterns I again selected on average three to four vehicles as actual drawing material for each and distorted the detail to 1/35 scale. From overtracing I could gauge what were actual pattern marks and what weren't - not easy when you have to disregard foliage, scratches, battle damage, tank riders etc. The IV/70's already used for Pattern #2 for instance had very marked dunkelgelb, possibly due to thin or shoddy paint application. Once you 'see' each pattern though, it tends to shout at you. I also measured that all the patterns' designs used slightly different disc sizes, which make it likely that the originals were drawn up by different designers.


Ambush Disc-Camouflage Pattern #1 (Archer part number: AR35336)

Ambush Disc-Camouflage Pattern #2 (Archer part numbers AR35337A and AR35337B)

Ambush Disc-Camouflage Pattern #3 (Archer part number AR35338)

Ambush Disc-Camouflage Pattern #4 (Archer part number AR35339)

Camouflage matching

The normal 'top' edge of the pattern in each case is the left-hand edge, but they could be used in any orientation. All 3 patterns will repeat in every direction, with some slight overlap on certain edges. I would suggest Tamiya XF-60 Dark Yellow for the color-match as it will be easiest for model makers.

Test shot

Woody produced some Pattern #1 for me to use in a test shot. I applied some to a small area of a recently painted-but-unfinished Tamiya Panther G as seen in the photo at the top of this page. The G is a Daimler-Benz version so the zimmerit style is technically incorrect for the disc-camo, but it gives a good idea of the coverage and appearance against the Tamiya 3-color scheme.

The colors are a bit lurid as the vehicle isn't washed 'n' weathered yet, but at least this is accurate as, it is at this stage that the disc-camo would be applied. I post-edited one or two minor edges into the yellow, to simulate doing that afterwards with the airbrush - the wonders of virtual. I'm looking forward to the result on a real project, as you can even use it over the grilles to a certain extent, then poke the holes though afterwards as here. I think you'll agree the effect does look spectacular.