Jesús Dapenas paints a Spanish FT-17 for service in the Rif

Jesús Dapena has continued his interest in Renault FT-17 Tanks in the Rif War by building a 1/16th model of a FT-17. He has painted it to represent Lieutenant Cipriano Briz (“Uncle Cipri”) tank, in the Rif War. Jesús shared his ideas and photos, and gave me permission to post them here. All words are Jesús’s.

The plan

I am currently constructing two greatly detailed Renault FT-17 model tanks (Chinese manufacturer Takom, scale 1/16). One will be Cipri’s tank (with the turtle mascot on the turret) and the other one will be the tank shown in the first tank picture in your web page (after the binoculars). This is tank 4 and has an elephant as a mascot.

briz01 FT-17 Number 4 Command Tank - Cipriano Briz
briz01 FT-17 Number 4 Command Tank – Cipriano Briz

In the course of researching these tanks for my model project, I have looked in detail at a lot of photos, and I have gradually figured out some things about their markings in Spanish Army service.

The Spanish Army’s Renault FT tanks arrived in Morocco in March, 1922. Spain had in northern Morocco a total of 11 Renaults until 1925: 10 armed with a Hotchkiss machine gun, divided into two “secciones” of 5 tanks each, plus one unarmed “TSF” tank (called “TSH” in Spain) that carried wireless communications equipment. If you look carefully at photo “briz08” from your web page, you will notice that four of the tanks sport a white triangle on the rear of the main body, while the other three have a white circle. I have seen other photos of Spanish Renaults in northern Morocco with triangles and with circles, but no other geometric figure. This strongly suggests that these white geometric markings served to distinguish the two secciones; we could call then the “Triangle Sección” and the “Circle Sección”. (Notice in photo briz10 that the TSH tank had a dark triangle within a white circle. I think this was a way of expressing the fact that this TSH tank belonged to –controlled communications with headquarters for– both secciones. This dark triangle within a white circle does not show up in all photos of the TSH tank. Maybe it was left out during some time period.) Other photos of the char mitralleuse (the armed tank model) always show a black number painted inside the white triangle or circle (not visible in the briz08 picture because of the sunlight’s reflection). This number indicated the number of each tank within its sección. Look now in your web page at the tank shown in the first photo after the binoculars, the one with the elephant mascot (photo briz01). I originally thought that the rear circle with the “X” and the vertical line were all painted on this tank after it got damaged (“almost burnt up by the Moors” according to Cipri), but now I realize that this was tank #1 of the Circle Sección (the vertical line was actually a “1”!), to which an “X” was added to “cross it out” after it got damaged.

Every tank also had a second number assigned to it. This was a white number stencilled on the side of the wheel assembly (both left and right sides). For example, it was a “4” in the tank with the elephant mascot (briz01 photo), and an “8” in Cipri’s tank (briz04 photo). This second number was different from the black number painted on the white geometric figure, and I believe that it was permanently assigned to each tank, regardless of which sección it was ultimately assigned to. This second number was also shown on the left side of the main body of the tank in a sign that said “INFANTERIA No.”, for instance, “INFANTERIA No. 1” in the TSH tank.

briz04 FT-17 Number 8 in the Rif - Cipriano Briz
briz04 FT-17 Number 8 in the Rif – Cipriano Briz

Cipri’s tank was the one that had a turtle mascot painted on the right side of the turret. We know this because on the back of photo briz05 he wrote, “My little tank is the one marked by an arrow”. (I unfortunately edited –airbrushed– the arrow out of the photo before I uploaded it into the web page, which was a stupid mistake on my part because it is confusing given Cipri’s comment, and also it makes it impossible for the reader to figure out which is Cipri’s tank; I attach a re-scan of the photo that shows the arrow as drawn by Cipri.) Then there is another picture in your web page (briz06) that shows a short arrow (almost only an arrowhead!) pointing to the leftmost tank, in which I made the comment, “I assume that the arrow in the picture above again indicates Cipri’s tank”. HOWEVER, I was wrong. A re-scan of this photo (see attached detail photo) shows that the second tank from the left has Cipri’s turtle painted on the left side of the turret. This tells us two things: (1) that this second tank is Cipri’s tank, and (2) that Cipri’s tank had the turtle painted on both sides of the turret (a good thing to know for my model). I suspect that what happened was that Cipri wanted to mark his own tank again on this photo, but then he started to draw the arrow on the wrong tank, realized his mistake, never completed the arrow, and finally decided not to mention anything about the arrow in the back of the photo. I’m sure that he would have liked to use a good photo-editing program, haha!

briz06 FT-17s and FT-17 TSH tank — Cipriano
briz06 FT-17s and FT-17 TSH tank — Cipriano

Cipri’s Turtle Tank – Part 1

Here is a photo of my tank model in its current state of construction. The wheel assemblies and treads are pretty much complete. They are not yet fully attached to the main body of the tank. (If you look closely, you will notice that there is a small black paint bottle propping up the front end of the main body of the tank!) The tank and turret still need to be painted. They will have a camouflage scheme similar to the one used for the wheel assemblies. I will also need to add several tools that the tank carried strapped to its outside (pickaxe, shovel, sledgehammer), a headlight, the tail section, and several other items, as well as decals showing Cipri’s turtle mascot and other markings. Then I will have to inflict some “weathering” on it, because right now the tank looks too “squeaky clean” to be realistic. (I think that an important goal of any model is to make a photo of the model difficult to distinguish from a photo of the real thing!) We’ll see how close I am able to get to that —surely not as close as I would like!

FT-17 Tank Number 8 - Cipris Turtle Mascot - 01
FT-17 Tank Number 8 – Cipris Turtle Mascot – 01

Cipri’s Turtle Tank – Part 2

I just finished the first Renault FT tank model. It’s Cipri’s tank (turtle mascot).

FT-17 Tank Number 8 - Cipris Turtle Mascot - 24
FT-17 Tank Number 8 – Cipris Turtle Mascot – 24

From what I have read, it seems that this camo scheme came straight from the French, who used it (among other schemes) in WW1, and then sold the tanks to Spain without re-painting them in any way, and the Spanish did not bother re-painting them either, other than (1) putting a white triangle (or a white circle) indicating the sección, with a number representing the number of the tank within the sección; (2) the small white number on the side of the tread, repeated after “INFANTERIA No.” on the left side of the main body of the tank, which indicated the number of the tank within the whole Spanish Army; and (3) sometimes a mascot. So the camo scheme was not specific to the Moroccan environment; it came straight out of the northern France/Belgium environment.

FT-17 Tank Number 8 - Cipris Turtle Mascot - 26
FT-17 Tank Number 8 – Cipris Turtle Mascot – 26

An important factor for Spain’s not making a change was probably that the French camo schemes were not meant to hide the tank, but to disguise the tank’s shape. (In a way, it was supposed to play a similar role to the “dazzle” schemes used by warships, all the way to WW2, typically white and black diagonal stripes, and sometimes even a fake white bow wave in the “wrong” place.) My understanding is that the idea was to make it more difficult for enemy troops to figure out in the heat of battle where exactly in the tank they needed to aim. Some of the Renaults also had small fake horizontal viewing slits painted on the main body of the tank in addition to the real viewing slits, so that rifle-armed snipers (and machine gunners) would not know which slits to aim for!

FT-17 Tank Number 8 - Cipris Turtle Mascot - 31
FT-17 Tank Number 8 – Cipris Turtle Mascot – 31

I have read that the French hired an art academic to design the camo scheme for the Renault FTs. Later on in the war (WW1) so many tanks were being constructed that they got painted in the factories by largely unskilled workers, or even in the field, which led to many different camo schemes, outside the control of the art academic.

FT-17 Tank Number 8 - Cipris Turtle Mascot - 34
FT-17 Tank Number 8 – Cipris Turtle Mascot – 34

My guess is that the Spanish assumed that breaking-up of shape was not specific to any specific environment, and that this was why they did not bother to change the European paint schemes on the French tanks into anything new for their tanks in Morocco.

It is not completely clear what camo schemes were used by the Spanish Renault FTs in Morocco. I have seen conflicting versions of what they were. I tried to contact the authors of Spanish graphics books on the use of colors for this tank in Spanish service (through their publishers) for clarifications, without getting any response. I even wrote to Renault, but I also never heard back from them. What I used for Cipri’s tank was my best guess based on what I have read and on the black-and-white photos of Cipri’s tank. I don’t have too many doubts about the beige/green/maroon colors of the patches In Cipri’s tank. My main doubt is whether there were black bands between ALL the colored patches. Color photos of a couple of (non-Spanish) museum examples show black bands between the beige and the green+maroon patches, but not between the green and the maroon. But the B&W pictures of Cipri’s tank clearly show separation bands WITHIN the dark areas, which I interpreted to mean black separation bands between green and maroon patches (indistinguishable from each other in the B&W photos). What I can’t be sure of is whether there were black bands between ALL color patches, or only between some of them. The photos that we have don’t show black bands between all color patches, especially in the lower (wheels) area, but this could be due to obscuring due to mud and dirt.

Elephant tank

The second tank, which I am starting now, will be the tank with the elephant mascot. Tthat second tank will have all possible trapdoors open so that you can see the inside of the crew compartment and of the engine.

My question to you is, what do you think the elephant is holding in his hands? (I attach an enhanced and greatly magnified version of this elephant mascot.)

FT-17 Tank - Elephant - Original
FT-17 Tank – Elephant – Original

Here is my interpretation of the fuzzy elephant mascot. It will be tiny on the tank, of course.

FT-17 Tank - Elephant - Mock up
FT-17 Tank – Elephant – Mock up

The elephant mascot tank does not seem to have the black bands —or at least it seems to have fewer of them. Cipri said that this tank had almost been burned up by the moors. I wonder if heat decomposed part of its color scheme! I still have not figured out how I am going to paint it … but I have months to make a decision!

I’ll get back to you in a few months … 😀

5 thoughts on “Jesús Dapenas paints a Spanish FT-17 for service in the Rif”

  1. Beautifully, brilliantly done! Such a clean and crisp paint job. A wonderful model of one of those history-changing machines (precursor of the modern tank an’ all).
    Regards, James

    • I agree James. I think Jesus has done an astounding job on this model

      I particularly like the turtle.

  2. Looking at the photos, I get the impression that the turret roof and commander’s hatch were painted a different lighter colour. I thought it might just be the light but consistency of the effect across all the tanks in the group photo makes pretty sure it is painted on.
    Thanks for a fascinating article.

  3. Hello! As Rob has indicated above, looking at different photographs, I have the same opinion.
    The reflection of the roof of the turret and the commander’s dome is too uniform and does not match the tone of other surfaces, although it is true that B&W photographs are somewhat deceptive, but that reflection is seen in almost all photographs of North Africa and it is not seen in the same tanks in the Peninsula (Infantry n° 3 repaired in Maeztranza de Artillería); or other nationalities FT tanks.
    For practical purposes it is possible that it was painted in light tones (or white) to reflect the heat of the sun. Could this have been overlooked?

  4. Rob and Leandro:

    It is certainly possible that the dome was painted in a lighter color; I really don’t know!

    On a separate issue, here is a YouTube presentation that shows the two finished models.


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