Historical US Vehicle Colour Schemes in Team Yankee

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

Historical US Vehicle Colour Schemes in Team Yankee
With Aaron Mathie

The purpose of this article is to impart, however briefly, some knowledge regarding colour schemes used by the US Army during the later years of the Cold War, and therefore show historic options for use on your Team Yankee American forces.

While this article will provide a useful jumping off point for those wishing to create a unit on the tabletop that looks like it has jumped out of a period photograph, you shouldn't feel as constrained as you might if you were painting, for instance, a World War II army.

Because Team Yankee takes place in an alternative 1980s, the decisions that lead to certain colour schemes entering service could have gone in different directions, freeing you, the player, to use colour schemes that are pleasing to you. 

While this article will briefly touch on a number of schemes, the main focus will be on the MERDC (Mobility Equipment Research and Development Center) scheme, as that was the camouflage pattern chosen by the Battlefront team to create a distinctive and iconic look for our Team Yankee US vehicles.

MERDC Background

In 1972 the US Army started trials at the Mobility Equipment Research and Development Center to improve the camouflage of vehicles, soldiers and equipment. Until these trials, most vehicles deployed by the army were painted in monotone olive drab.

The goal of the trials was to produce a fairly simple vehicle camouflage that could be applied easily down to sub-unit level, would make battlefield detection of the vehicle more difficult for an enemy using the 'Mk.1 eyeball', and would also hopefully reduce the effectiveness of more technologically advanced methods of detection.

At the conclusion of the trials it was found that two of the three goals were met, but the paint available at the time wasn't particularly more effective against methods like IR than the existing colour scheme. With the naked eye, though, the scheme was found to be very difficult to detect at distances beyond 800 metres.

MERDC Application

By 1975 the trials were complete, and the familiar four-colour scheme had been selected. Technical manual 5-200 "Camouflage Pattern Painting" was released. This document contained the templates for colour placement on all of the vehicles then in service as well as codifying regulations for how the pattern was supposed to be applied.

Boiled down, the templates should be followed as closely as practically possible with a difference of no more than two inches.

The templates set the colours to cover specific proportions of each vehicle so that the first two colours would each cover 45% of a surface with the remaining colours covering 5% each.

There were 8 colour combinations set to cover a wide range of climatic conditions: 

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Winter Verdant:
Forest Green, Field Drab, Sand and Black
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Summer Verdant: Forest Green, Light Green, Sand and Black. Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Tropical:
Forest Green, Dark Green, Light Green and Black
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Snow, Temperate Open Terrain: White, Field Drab, Sand and Black. Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Snow, Temperate with Trees:
Forest Green, White, Sand and Black
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Arctic: White. Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Grey Desert:
Sand, Field Drab, Earth Yellow and Black
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Red Desert:
Earth Red, Earth Yellow, Sand and Black.
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

The colours could be applied in a number of ways:

  • Hard-edged with paintbrushes. This was considered the least effective method, but still an option if the other methods were not possible due to issues like equipment (spray gun) availability.
  • Soft-edged with a spray gun.  This was considered the best method as far creating the most effective camouflage.
  • Soft-edged 'main colours' and hard-edged 'secondary colours'.  This method obviously used a spray gun to apply the first two colours of the pattern, then switched to using brushes for the remaining colours. This method was the most effective at achieving finishes that generally closely matched the template and freed up spray guns for use on other vehicles, thus speeding up the process of applying the camouflage scheme to units of vehicles.
A common, but not official, modification applied by units to the MERDC scheme was to delete the number three colour entirely, or cover it with black (making black cover 10% of a surface).
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

View the M163 VADS/M901 ITV Spotlight here...

This paint set contains all the colours you need to paint the MERDC paint scheme in Team Yankee...


MASSTER/7th Army Scheme

Running in parallel to the trial that resulted the MERDC scheme, the US 7th Army in Germany was trialing a four colour camouflage scheme developed by MASSTER (a research and trials organisation much like MERDC).

This scheme consisted of a beige coloured base colour, with large irregular shapes of a rust brown and Forest Green brush painted over the top, finished with small irregular shapes of black.

Information regarding this colour scheme can be difficult to find. Like MERDC, there were colour/pattern placement templates for vehicle types. However, these don’t appear to have been as slavishly followed as other schemes discussed in this article.

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
The MASSTER scheme was quite light in colour, and was not deemed as effective as MERDC, so was phased out in favour of the latter. However, just as MERDC continuted to appear after it was officially phased out, it is not uncommon to find pictures of US vehicles painted in MASSTER camouflage well into the 1980s.
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
View the M113/M106 Platoon Spotlight here...

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

All-over Forest Green 
You will note that the colour Forest Green appears in a number of the MERDC variations above. This was also the colour that all new equipment was to be issued in. It was up to the local unit to then apply the other three colours to their new piece of kit, should they choose to.

Chronologically, this scheme bridges the gap between MERDC and NATO three-colour. 

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

NATO Camouflage
In 1984 the US Army adopted the three-colour camouflage pattern that had been in discussion and development amongst a number of NATO member nations since the early 1980s.

While MERDC was considered an effective camouflage scheme, it was clear that that during war it would be quite easy for a foe to determine which NATO member nation they were fighting by simply looking at the camouflage pattern being used.

Unlike previous schemes, the paint used in the NATO scheme has properties that allow it to assist in defeating the types of chemicals found in chemical weapons. Because of this, the paint can be hazardous to anyone applying it that isn’t properly protected, so it is generally applied by the factory or other specially equipped facilites. 

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

The NATO scheme, like MERDC before it, conforms to pre-planned templates that specify colour placement on a given piece of equipment/vehicle. The method of applying the medium green, red brown and lightened black colours is via a spray gun, so always appears soft-edged.

More on this scheme at a later date...

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

Why are the Battlefront studio models how they are?

Team Yankee is set in the mid 1980s, which was historically an era of transition and transformation for the US Army in organisation, doctrine and equipment.

In 1984 the new NATO three-colour camouflage scheme was selected to replace MERDC as the standard finish for all vehicles. But it was a number of years before the majority of vehicles were repainted. It was not uncommon to see units with their entire vehicle fleets still painted MERDC or plain Forest Green at least as late as REFROGER '88, and there are cases of individual vehicles still painted in MERDC in Iraq as recently as 2006.

With the recent adoption of NATO camouflage in 1984, we at the Battlefront studio were left with a choice for the look of our US Army vehicles. After some discussion we settled on using MERDC rather than the NATO scheme, as it was felt to have a more iconic look for the US Army during the early to mid 1980s.

For most of the vehicles it was a fairly easy call, since most of the equipment are older types (M113 plus derivatives and the M109, for instance). However, when it came to the mighty M1 Abrams MBT, the choice was less clear-cut. As mentioned above, Forest Green was the colour for new equipment entering service, and the M1 certainly qualified, with a service entry date of 1980.

Historically, it would have been accurate to simply paint our M1s in Forest Green, and paint the rest of the vehicles MERDC camouflage – this is certainly the most common sight in pictures from the era when there is a mix of old and new equipment (and one good justification for having a mix of colour schemes in your force, if you choose to do so). Pictures of early model M1 MBTs painted MERDC do exist, but they tend to be either single vehicles, or small units. 

However, we decided that because the M1 entered service during this transitional era, and it was up to the local unit to apply camouflage colours over the Forest Green, that the hypothetical commander had issued such an order long prior to the conflict depicted, so as to ensure uniformity amongst equipment under his command. As an added bonus (for us), it tied all the US vehicles together with a single look, and made distingushing US and Soviet vehicles in photography dead simple.
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee
Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

View the M1 Abrams Tank Platoon Spotlight here...

This paint set contains all the colours you need to paint the MERDC paint scheme in Team Yankee... 


Mixing and matching

As mentioned earlier, the mid 1980s was a transitional era for the US Army. Therefore it is not uncommon to see a mix of different colour schemes in a single unit. The most common iteration of this would be Forest Green MBTs with the other vehicles in MERDC.

However, any other combination wouldn’t be too far out of the box. Then if you imagine adding in replacement equipment coming out of POMCUS (Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets) site storage to cover combat losses, you have good scope for mixing in a few different looking vehicles into your force.

Historical US Vehicle colour schemes in Team Yankee

So, as always, they are your models, so it's ultimately up to you how you choose to paint them.

Happy modelling!

~ Aaron. 


Last Updated On Tuesday, February 16, 2016 by George at Battlefront