Anyone who is building out their WWII German Army will remember when they came across the Kleines Kettenkraftrad (Sd. Kfz. 2). And how could they forget? This diminutive vehicle looks like the product of an 9-year old with Legos and a fever dream! Is it a motorcycle? A halftrack? Kinda-sorta-both?
Regardless of what it is, many of us 1/35 scale armor modelers have one. The Tamiya kit tooled in the 1970s is a good example. This is mine from 20 years ago:
And now I am going to re-paint it!
Why would I do such a daring thing? Skills need to be practiced, techniques honed, and new products like my growing collection of Vallejo paint need to be experimented with. I have also seen some amazing brush painted models of late. Can I achieve similar results? I can't wait to find out!
Editor's note: Choose your own content! Click here to be taken to the kit and build, or continue reading to learn about the vehicle's background.
My loyal readers will already be familiar with "Sd. Kfz", so let's skip to breaking down the "Kleines Kettenkraftrad".
Kleines: Little one
Kettenkraftrad: "Ketten" (Chains or tracks) + "kraftrad" (motorcycle)
So loosely, Kleines Kettenkraftrad is a "small chains motorcycle", or "kettenkrad" for short. And you know what, this kinda makes a lot of sense!
The Kettenkrad was conceived by the NSU Werke AG company for use in industries such as forestry and logging where a small vehicle with excellent off-road capability was needed. It was designed by Heinrich E. Kniepkamp, an influential engineer in the development of halftracks, during 1938-1939 under the project HK-101.
The Kettenkrad featured interleaved road wheels to help distribute weight on the track. At slow speeds, light steering could be accomplished by turning the front motorcycle wheel with the handlebars. For sharper turns, the handlebars would engage brake mechanisms on the left or right track as needed. Fun fact, the front road wheel was not needed to operate the Kettenkrad and indeed in certain scenarios it was preferable to disconnect it.
The Germany Army adopted the Kettenkrad in 1941, and originally envisioned it to be a tug for small artillery pieces in mountain warfare. But more famously, the Kettenkrad was used by airborne forces and its small size meant it could fit inside a JU 52 air transport. Due to poor road conditions, the Kettenkrad also found a home on the eastern front. Here its role was expanded to laying communications wire.
Towards the end of World War II, the Kettenkrad was embraced by the German Air Force. Rather than have aircraft taxi under their own power, planners realized that critical fuel could be saved if aircraft could be towed into take off position by Kettenkrads instead.
By war's end, nearly 8,500 Kettenkrads were produced and a further 500 were produced thereafter. Today, they top the collection lists of many military vehicle enthusiasts.
It's not me, it's the paint!?!?
For years I have solely relied on Tamiya acrylic paints, and it turns out that they are formulated for airbrushing. To be sure, Tamiya acrylics produce wonderful airbrush results, and I always manage to buy another color or two when I am at the local hobby shop. But my experiences with brush painting them can be summed up as follows:
They are fast drying which means they do not self-level as well as slower drying paints.
They are alcohol-based which means subsequent coats of paint will reactivate and remove the prior coat. This is not exactly compatible with the "multiple thin layers" golden rule for brush painting.
Great brush painting can be achieved from using Tamiya acrylics, and indeed I have seen some wonderful finishes. But they just don't work well for me.
Editor's note: In what I presume is an acknowledgement that their acrylic line is not optimized for brush painting, Tamiya has come out with a Paint Retarder product.
I've been using Vallejo paints for roughly a year now, mostly on figures, and I like the results I am achieving. Figures are one thing, but a vehicle is different. There are many flat surfaces that can be marred by uneven paint layers and worst of all, brush strokes! Therefore, painting a small vehicle like my Kettenkrad should make a nice test project.
Vallejo Model Color paints are water-based acrylics and are formulated for brush painting. Compared to Tamiya acrylics (remember, those are geared towards an airbrush) they dry slowly which yields better self-leveling properties and they will not strip previous layers of paint.
Model Color paints say that they can be used directly from the bottle, but I find that some thinning never hurts. To that end, Vallejo's Model Color paint is packaged in a convenient eyedropper bottle that allows precise amounts of paint to be doled out. Once I have my paint on a pallet, I use a pipette to add several drops of water. There is no specific ratio of paint to water because each color paints slightly different (a story for another time), but I usually start at around 3 drops paint to 1 drop water and add drop of paint or water as needed.
There is one other thing that I tend to add to my thinned paint and that is Vallejo's Retarder Medium (70.597). As mentioned, Vallejo dries slowly, but the drying process can be slowed even more by adding a tiny drop of the retarder. The slower paint dries, the less chance there will be brush strokes. And this is the key: thin paint that dries slowly and can be built up in layers.
So out with the old and in with the new! A quick shot of Vallejo's Black Surface Primer (73.602) and we are ready to go!
Multiple thin layers! This is the mantra of a brush painter! Let's put it to work with Vallejo's German Yellow (70.806) and see what happens.
Editors note: I chose German Yellow because I want to start getting a sense of what the various pre-bottled "dunkelgelb" related colors are. Dunkelgelb is the color that German vehicles were painted from the factory beginning in 1943. There is much debate amongst modelers as to what this color looked like.
Here is the first coat. At this point you might be wondering if I was too daring! Should I turn back? No! Multiple thin layers!
And now the second layer. This looks better, but it's still uneven. Importantly, I have not accumulated any noticeable brush strokes. Multiple thin layers!
The third layer starts to really bring things together, and the color saturation is more evident. Multiple thin layers!
By the fourth coat I have the results I am looking for. A uniform, well-saturated coat of brush-stroke-free paint. Bingo.
Some of you may be wondering how much paint was used. There are a lot of layers, right? The answer is refreshingly "not that much". Each layer only required approximately 5 drops of paint, so roughly 20 drops of paint were used in total.
Remember, multiple thin layers!
A common technique in modeling is to add depth to the subject by highlighting the elevated portions of a model and shading the recesses. Here is a go at adding highlights. I took the base color and made three "steps" by first adding one drop of White - German Tank Crew (70.344) ) from Vallejo's Panzer Aces line for every 3 drops of German Yellow, then 2:3, and lastly 3:3. For each step, you paint a progressively smaller area with the progressively lighter paint.
Editor's note: The Panzer Aces line is the same formulation as the Model Color line. It is a group of colors that were formulated after extensive research, and in partnership with Euromodelismo, with the intent of making WW2 tank crews easier to paint.
It might look a little stark now, and maybe I do need to work on my brush feathering technique (another post?), but after adding details and weathering everything should get pulled together nicely.
Details and results
What can I say, a number of paints were used for the details. Here is a picture, and wow, that's a lot of colors for a little project! Some might call these "colors of convenience", and you know what, they wouldn't be wrong. Maybe one day I will try to paint something using only the primary colors and black and white (another post?).
This was a fun little project. I set out to repaint my old Kettenkrad by brush and I like the results I was able to achieve. The base coat was free of brush strokes, and I was able to paint up a nice looking vehicle. Compared to my effort 20 years ago the painting results are night and day. To be clear, I wasn't concerned with rectifying the construction or cleaning up parts for this project.
I don't think we have seen the last of the Kettenkrad though because I still want to experiment. Washes and pigments anyone? And wasn't there a driver in the very first picture?
Anyways, it's time to let the paint dry...for now!
Thanks for reading,
I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution from the igluemodels GF. She heroinely painted the driver's mirror on the kettenkrad. Impeccable work! Join me in applause!
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org or on IG @igluemodels