Sourcing decals for your army is one of the inevitable activities when you start collecting vehicles for a wargames forces. It's generally driven by the need for a variety of unique numbers on vehicles within a unit and a consistency of formation identification markings for the force both of which can be difficult to achieve using the decal sheets supplied with kits. Equally you will probably find yourself purchasing a number of resin and white metal models to fill the gaps in the orbat not covered by kit manufactures and these models tend to be supplied without decals.
Markings on Soviet vehicles tend to be limited and there is a dearth of documentation and imagery on the subject. Equally the policy for their use seems to have been inconsistently applied, not surprising given the size of the organisation. I have yet to find a reference book, the best resource I have found to date is this Russian language site that formed the basis for this work. It quotes the source as - Soviet Army Land Forces regulations (part 2 - battalion, company). A rough translation of this has also been posted on the Guild Wargames Forum and I have largely paraphrased the translation so that it is easier to digest, essentially the main elements of the Soviet marking system are:
Vehicle number, 3 or 4 figure number generally in white on turret or hull side and rear, the precise schema was largely determined by the regimental commander and could be meaningful or meaningless. It is described in the regulations broadly as follows:
The repetition of the same numbers on different types of vehicles was allowed. For example, the tank of the battalion commander and the his staff car can have the same number. The numbers issued to tanks in the tank companies of the Motor Rifle Regiment could also be the same as the numbers of the BMP's or BTR's in the Motor Rifle companies.
Numbers were generally painted on vehicles, space permitting, as follows:
- On tanks - Turret sides and rear
- BMP's - Centrally on sides of hull and onthe upper part of the right rear door
- Self-Propelled Artillery mountings (I assume like 2S5, 2S7) - in the middle of both sides and rear of the crew compartment armor plates
- On self-propelled artillery cannons - on both sides of the turret and on the rear hatch
- BTR-60PB / BTR-70 on both sides of the hull towards the front lower than the level of the sights and boarding hand rails; in the areas free of the equipment-mounting clamps
- On other vehicles - in the centrally or towards the front of the hull sides
Various methods were used to assign numbers to vehicles a selection are outlined below:
- 1-st numeral - the number of the battalion, 2-nd numeral - the number of the company, 3-rd numeral - the number of the vehicle in the company; Example: 239 - the 9-th vehicle of the 3-rd company of the 2-nd battalion.
- 1-st numeral - the number of the company in the regiment, 2-nd and 3-rd numerals - the number of the vehicle in the battalion; Example: 623 - the 6-th company (hence the 2-nd battalion), 23-rd vehicle in the battalion
- 1-st numeral - the number of the battalion, 2-nd and 3-rd numerals - the number of the vehicle in the regiment; Example 382 - the 3-rd batallion, 82-nd vehicle in the regiment
- There were several other methods including factory construction number,everything was dependent on the whim of the regiment's deputy commander for the armament management.
With the expansion of the helicopter force from 1970 the Identifying markings were applied on the turret tops of command vehicles in order to be clearly seen from above and behind. This was more common in central europe than elsewhere.
Operational experience in Afganistan lead some units to remove all markings, though from images of both that theatre and the European theatre this practice was not consistently applied across all units.
A Growing Range of decal manufacturers have useful products that cover off elements or all of these components at sizes that work on 20mm 1/72 scale vehicles. One of the key points being that decals designed for scales from 15mm - 20mm are useful so 1/144 through to 1/72 primarily because the marking size relates to the vehicle size rather than the scale.
Decal Availability. The Products I have discovered to date are as follows:
- TL Modelblau - 1/87, TL Modelblau has an extensive range of decals, of which two sets cover the Soviet Cold War Period the first focuses on Airborn and Naval Infantry markers, the other on GSFG. TL Modelblaus products are quite expensive, and of the two I think the Airborne Naval infantry set is the more useful. The bulk of the decals on the GSFG set having fairly limited use.
- Mig Productions - 1/72 Mig productions have recently released two post war Soviet and Russian decal sets for this scale. I have yet to purchase a set so my observations are based on the images displayed rather than actual use of the product. Effectivly the first of these will suite vehicles requiring smaller markings the second vehicles requiring larger markings. Plenty of numbers and a reasonable range of formation markings. The First of the sheets looks the better value.
- Scotia - 6mm, The Scotia sheet number is RU 106, looking at their web site these would appear to be currently unavailable. Deacals are designed to be large WW2 Rusian vehicle numbers in white for 1/285 but they work equally well as smaller modern numbers on post war Soviet vehicles such as the sides of BMPs and on the T-72 stowage boxes.
- QRF - 15mm, White Stenciled Numbers, This is an immensely useful set of decals, for Cold War Soviets, the numbers are single figures from 1-10 in a variety of sizes all of which are useable on 20mm vehicles. Except for the smallest of numbers this sheet has a set of numbers you could put on most vehicles. The flexibility afforded by the individual figure format is offset by the level of pain in putting them on. They are useful and relatively cheap and can be found on the QRF web site, occasionally this sheet goes OOP so worth having a few in stock.
- Models Collect - 1/72 I have these but have yet to attempt to use them in anger. You would need a good few sheets to consistently mark a regiment even at a 1:3 or 1:5 vehicle scale. In addition things like the regimental markings and honorific look a little large for 1/72 against the imagery I have found to date although a variety of sizes for each decal on the sheet is provided and they seem consistent with the rules outlined above. I have yet to make my mind up on the value of these, more of use to modellers than war gamers I suspect, great range of formation symbols but limited numbers per sheet. The Larger sheet has a good collection of numbers.
- Pendinghause. This decal set is primarily marketed at WW2 but like a number of WW2 sets for both 1/72, 1/87 and 1/100 has use out of period and across the scales although red stars and the more cyrillic scripts are less prevalent on modern equipments.
If you know of any other references for Soviet markings or decal sets let me know and I'll update the post.