by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
Originally published on:
Canadian armoured forces made up a significant part of Britain’s fighting strength in WWII, but their markings have been under-represented in model kits. Several after-market makers have offered vehicle sets or specific marking components, but this new sheet from Decalcomaniacs offers a one-stop shop of basic markings for a wide range of Canadian vehicles in various units.
As a dominion within the British Empire at the time the Canadian forces used the British system of markings. This meant a War Department census number on each side of the vehicle (and sometimes other locations too), a Formation sign and Arm-of-Service flash at front and rear, and geometric Squadron signs on turret sides. In addition vehicles might have nicknames, bridge-classification plates on the front, air-recognition symbols on top, and the red-white-red RAC recognition flash often seen on tank hulls.
Sealed within a zip-lock bag is a single 8”x5” decal sheet crammed with markings, and two pages of notes on units and vehicle types. Suffice it to say that many WWII Canadian units can be modelled from the combinations of Formation signs and AoS flashes. And in many cases you could cover several vehicles of each combo, and a couple-dozen different vehicles of differing units. However, the sheet does not contain all the necessary markings for typical vehicles and should be used in conjunction with other decals (air-recognition symbols, bridging plates, etc) to complete a model based on reference photos.
The sheet has four marking elements: AoS flashes, Formation signs, War Dept census numbers, and squadron symbols. All come as pairs, and in the case of Formation signs you get two, three, or even six pairs. I was pleased to see the Formation signs use the correct WWII-era maple leaf rather than the later one incorrectly seen in some AM markings.
Formation signs include:
• 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade (later Armoured Brigade) (6 vehicles)
• 2nd Canadian Army Tank Brigade (later Armoured Brigade) (6 vehicles)
• 3rd Canadian Army Tank Brigade (3 vehicles)
• 4th Canadian Armoured Division (6 vehicles)
• 5th Canadian Armoured Division (6 vehicles)
• 1st Canadian Corps (2 vehicles)
• 2nd Canadian Corps (2 vehicles)
• 1st Canadian Army (2 vehicles)
• 1st Canadian Infantry Division (2 vehicles)
• 2nd Canadian Infantry Division (2 vehicles)
• 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (2 vehicles)
• 79th Armoured Division (3 vehicles)
Arm-of-Service flashes include:
• two vehicles’-worth of red Armoured Brigade regiments (50 – HQ, 51 - senior regimentt, 52 – second-senior regiment, 53 – junior regiment)
• one vehicle’s-worth of red 50, 51, 52, 53 with white bar
• two vehicles’-worth of green infantry regiment (60, 61, 62, 63)
• an assortment of green-over-blue recce regiments
• one vehicle’s-worth of blue-over-brown tank regiment flashes for Dieppe and Italy
Interesting oddities include one set of green-over-blue 157, the AoS for 79th AD Kangaroos in Northwest Europe.
Census numbers are given as pairs, with a mix of CT- and T-numbers for tanks and F- for other armoured vehicles. The data sheets don’t say what vehicles they go with, and my own references did not match any of them. Purists may want to check out the two reference books listed on the sheets.
Finally there are three sets of geometric squadron markings – in red, yellow, and blue. These correspond to senior, second-senior, and junior regiments. Each set has diamonds (HQ Squadron), triangles (A Squadron), squares (B Squadron), and circles (C Squadron) sized for use on turret sides. Oddly there are no white ones (Recce & “special” regiments), and since many photos show only a half-sized marking on the hull rear later in the war it is unfortunate that no small ones are provided.
On the Decalcomaniacs website Georg states that he uses an ALPS “dry ink” printer to create his decals – a technique that appeared in the model railroad hobby in the late 1990s. Some of the markings are a little grainy owing to the way they are printed. Normally a kit-supplied decal is silk-screen printed from thick inks of solid colours. With an ALPS printer the colours are made up from dots of cyan, yellow, magenta, and black just as with an ink-jet document printed on a home printer, so each decal needs to sit on a solid patch of white ink to get the right effect. (Try printing something on coloured paper at home and see how the lack of white background affects the colours!) This is ok, but it means if the white is out of register even a tiny fraction, you’ll see it peek out around the edges of the coloured parts of the decal. On my review set the white was low and left a fraction of a millimetre, as will be seen in the Formation sign I tested. I left it that way to show the issue, but trimmed the left side of the red AoS decal to remove this white edging. (I thought I’d also trimmed the bottom of the AoS flash, but didn’t do it tightly enough…) The white WD number of course wasn’t affected. The other effect of the mixed-dot colour method is that most colours come out rather grainy if inspected close-up (like the “gold” maple leaves), and complex detail can appear blurred. Again, white markings are not affected by this blurring.
The “proof” of a decal is in the using, so to speak. To test them I needed a model – enter a surplus Sherman transmission with its cast texture and raised casting numbers. I prepped this tranny with a coat of Tamiya Olive Drab followed by a coat of Micro Gloss, all run through my airbrush. Once it was dry I applied three test decals. First up was a Formation sign as normally placed on the left side (from the crew’s perspective), then an AoS flash in the form of red square with white “53”, and finally a random War Dept census number to test out the clear carrier film under the white numbers. In each case I applied some Micro Sol, then the decal, patted it dry with a tissue, and then added Micro Set.
These decals are printed on a solid 8x5” sheet of film, effectively creating one giant decal. I normally cut each marking close on three sides to eliminate excess clear film, and leave the fourth with some extra space for my locking tweezers. Before I dip them in water I carefully cut along this fourth side very lightly – enough to slice the film, but not enough to go all the way through the paper backing.
A word of warning – the ALPS printing process makes the decals inherently fragile. The ink is susceptible to scratches, and you need to be careful that you don’t accidentally damage adjacent decals when cutting one out to use. I find it best to carefully cut out the ones I need with a sharp knife free-hand, leaving a wide margin of film around them. Then, once off the sheet I can use a ruler and knife to trim the edges of each decal without having to lean across the whole sheet with the ruler. (I still managed to scratch one Formation sign on this sample despite these precautions.) Once sealed onto the model with gloss coat etc they are fine.
Others have reported that these decals release from the paper very quickly – I found that by the time I had brushed a drop of Micro-Sol on the model the decal was loose and ready to apply.
I was impressed with the thinness of the decal carrier film, which snuggled down into the textured surface and draped itself over the raised numbers beautifully after a single application of Micro-Set. What wasn’t so welcome was the way the dark base (OD paint) seemed to dim the white and other colours. Of course, I could add a second decal on top to get better colour, but in fact the dimming might work in my favour! Normally I finish my decals with a very thin over-spray of the base colour to tone down that “new car showroom” gleam most decals have, but the dimming has done that job for me.
Note that the decals have a matte finish. After they were dry I added a sealing coat of gloss, and then a coat of Micro-Flat, before adding a simple “mud” wash and a little dry-brushing of Earth to give some generic weathering. The result seemed to brighten up the colours a bit, and I am happy with the way they look. Better still, they look painted-on (except for a single trapped air-bubble I missed at the top of the Formation sign in my haste), so the clear film needn’t be trimmed too fanatically. I just wish the white was in register.
Despite being fragile and a bit grainy, these decals offer a big variety of unit markings on a single sheet. They settle down nicely, and once weathered this reviewer thinks they’re pretty good.