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[Magnifying glass icon] MERDC camouflage

In the 1970s, the US Mobility Equipment Research & Design Command (MERDC) developed a system of camouflage patterns for US Army vehicles. These consisted of a set of standardized patterns for each vehicle, to be used with a set of twelve colours. The local terrain conditions and colours decided which of the paints were to be used, and on which parts of a vehicle. Then, if conditions altered, for example by a change in the weather, or by the unit moving into a new area of operations, the scheme could be quickly adjusted to suit them by replacing only one or two colours by different ones.

For example, if a vehicle was painted in the US & European winter scheme, which had a dark green and a medium brown as its predominant colours, and it started to snow, by overpainting either the green or the brown with white, one of the two snow schemes could be created. This gave a high degree of flexibility, though in practice it was hardly ever actually made use of—most vehicles were painted in one scheme and kept that.

Any of the MERDC schemes could be found with either hard edges (hand-painted) or soft edges (spray-painted) to the colour patches. Soft-edged patterns seem to be more common, however, probably because it takes less time to spray a tank than it does to spray the tank and then touch up the edges.

MERDC colours

The table below lists the various MERDC colour names and their corresponding Federal Standard 595a numbers (if two numbers are shown, it is because some sources give different numbers for the same colour names). The numbers can be used to match model paint numbers to them, as the table also shows; these have been taken from the excellent Swedish IPMS colour reference charts, although it should be noted that the person who compiled those charts apparently uses Humbrol paints more than anything else, as the mixes for those are the most detailed. However, as with all military modelling, keep in mind that hardly any military vehicle actually is exactly the colour it is supposed to be. Within reason, you can vary quite a bit from the base colours quoted.

All the colours are flat, as indicated by the first digit of the FS595a-code (1 = gloss, 2 = satin, 3 = flat).

Colour1 FS-595a Number Gunze Sangyo Humbrol Tamiya Testors (Model Master)
[colour sample]Black 37038 H12/343 33 XF-1 1749
[colour sample]Dark Green 34102 (or 34082) H303 117 2 parts XF-61 + 1 part XF-65 1713
[colour sample]Desert Sand 30279 ? 4 parts 121 + 2 parts 118 + 1 part 110 ? ?
[colour sample]Earth Brown 30099 8 parts 110 + 2 parts 113 + 1 part 33 ? ? ?
[colour sample]Earth Red 30117 ? 186 ? 1701
[colour sample]Earth Yellow 30257 (or 33245) ? 1 part 94 + 1 part 63 XF-59 1735 (or 2110)
[colour sample]Field Drab 30118 (or 33105) ? 1422 XF-523 1702
[colour sample]Forest Green 34079 H309 116 XF-61 1710
[colour sample]Light Green 34151 H58 1512 ? 1715
[colour sample]Olive Drab 34087 (or 34088) H304 4 parts 108 + 3 parts 163 + 1 part 33 XF-624 1711
[colour sample]Sand 30277 (or 33303) ? 6 parts 168 + 2 parts 118 + 1 part 110 XF-49 1704
[colour sample]White 37875 H11 34 XF2 1768

1 Perhaps unnecessarily, it should be noted that the colours of these samples are approximations. Match paint to the FS595a and/or model paint colour numbers quoted in the table, not to the colours you see on your screen.

2 This is an older Humbrol colour (pre-Super Enamel) and so may be difficult to find nowadays.

3 Tamiya XF-52 is much browner than the red/orange hue of FS30118.

4 Tamiya XF-62 is a very dark colour, and is best lightened with a sand colour to approach FS34087 more closely.

MERDC colour combinations

The following table has the different colour combinations allowed. Colours 1 and 2 each cover about 45% of the vehicle, colours 3 and 4 cover 5% each. Remember that these are in fixed patterns, so you can't just paint your vehicle in any way you like. However, there are two things that make this a bit easier. The first is that the troops painting the vehicles had a bit of leeway in how rigidly they stuck to the patterns—within 10% was close enough—and the second, that new types of vehicle were often in service before the official pattern had been determined, so they received improvised patterns based on the existing ones; the M1 Abrams is a good example of this, as photos of it in the early 1980s show.

By comparing this table to the one above, it will be obvious that not all twelve colours are actually used. This is because colour no. 3 should be adjusted to match the local bare soil, using any of the other colours as necessary.

Scheme Colours
1 2 3 4
Desert, gray Sand Field Drab Earth Yellow Black
Desert, red Earth Red Earth Yellow Sand Black
Snow, temperate climate with open terrain White Field Drab Sand Black
Snow, temperate climate with trees Forest Green White Sand Black
Summer, US & Europe, verdant Forest Green Light Green Sand Black
Tropics, verdant Forest Green Dark Green Light Green Black
Winter, arctic White White White White
Winter, US & Europe, verdant Forest Green Field Drab Sand Black

Modelling considerations

One of the best references for modelling American vehicles painted in MERDC camouflage is US Army Technical Bulletin TB 43-0147: Color, Marking and Camouflage Patterns Used on Military Equipment, the December 1975 edition of which can be downloaded from the US Army's Electronic Technical Manuals site (see the links page). This manual has drawings of the official patterns for many vehicles and other equipment (though unfortunately not everything in use by the US Army at the time), and outlines the placement of markings on the vehicles as well.

Painting instructions are contained in Technical Circular 5-200. Although it does not contain any patterns (aside from a sample, for the M113 APC), it does provide information that is very useful to modellers.

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