Eight of the Best – Modelling Exploded & Burnt Out Armour
(Thanks Graham Cobb, MAFVA Essex)

First published in the October 2010 AMMS Brisbane newsletter

Austin armoured cars were built in England in three batches during World War One. The first two were supplied to the Tsarist Russian armies to help them fight the Austro-Hungarians and the Kaiser’s Germans. The third batch was already built when the Russian army collapsed in 1917. Many of the cars sent to help the Tsar ended up fighting for rather than against the Germans or their Austro-Hungarian allies, or for the Bolsheviks against the Tsar’s forces.

Not liking any of these options, the British transferred future deliveries to their own Tank Corps, who used them on the Western Front, in Ireland and in post war colonial policing duties. In the later campaigns of World War One, Austin armoured cars led raids behind German lines. They became targets for artillery, which brings us to the subject of this article :- How to model a vehicle that has exploded.

1. Armour plate is very rigid, even by metallic standards. (We are talking here about early twentieth century plate, not modern high tech armour). The plates do not bend easily, even when exploded. Instead, they either stay in place or snap, usually breaking free along weak points such as rivet lines and weld seams. To model scattered parts of an exploded vehicle, you can therefore use some kit parts as compete plates. Be aware that most armour should have a scale thickness much less than that represented in commercial kits. Chamfer the edges so that they appear very thin, hide the edges beneath debris or try scratch-building. If you have a suitable kit then you can use the parts as templates. Because you will be representing individual plates rather than a 3D vehicle, scratch-building will often easier than modifying kits. The Austin featured in this article had all its plates modelled in thin plastic card or in paper (yes they really should be paper-thin). This was coated with thin superglue to give it rigidity. Once the glue goes hard, use a metal point to emboss individual rivets onto the paper, a scalpel to open out hatches and a ponce-wheel to emboss lines of rivets. (A ponce wheel is a metal wheel with spikes on, that rotates on the end of a handle. You can get one for a couple of pounds from a craft shop or specialist haberdashery shop). To make rivet holes instead of rivets, just press harder.

2. Soft metals are usually used on unarmoured vehicles and on the less vulnerable or less important parts of armoured vehicles, such as mudguards and internal features like steering wheels. In an explosion, they can easily be bent and torn so model them from very thin soft metal (such as brass) or from paper and superglue. The difference between modelling this and modelling armour plate is that you are trying to create a relatively pliable surface. Twist a scalpel point in to make a few holes and to create ripples in the surface. It’s easy and the effect can be very dramatic.

3. Canvas behaves in the same way but much more so. Represent it in the same way but use kitchen foil which will fold and tear very easily ?in scale?. Once its in position on the model, use the superglue to stiffen it.

4. Combustible materials can be burnt away when an explosion causes a fire, but metal frameworks that supported them could survive. On the model Austin, the metal springs and frame are represented by fine mesh, just visible in the photos showing the driver’s position. Similarly, the metal spoked wheels are represented by model wagon wheels which have no tires.

5. To model charred wooden planks, take a sheet of plastic card and coat a section with liquid poly, so that the plastic softens. While it is soft, draw an old tooth brush across so that it creates a grain. When the plastic card has hardened again, cut it into individual planks, which should look just like new. Scrape the edges and ends with a scalpel to reduce their volume in the areas that have "burnt" away. Fix them on the model, paint them natural wood colours, then give the burnt parts a wash in dark brown or black oil paint. Hopefully, the examples in the photos look something like burnt planks with soot collected in the grain. Dry brushing with pale grey and white highlights their edges and creates the ashen look.

6. Even non combustible materials like steel will change appearance in a fire, usually oxidising to shades of pale grey, brown, red and orange. Resist the temptation to represent most of a burnt out vehicle just by painting it black. Black is a common colour for many burnt items but is rarely accurate for burnt metal. An overall or partial covering of rusty orange will be more realistic, again with dry brushing in white.

7. Burnt metal which has not completely oxidised will often have blistered paint. This can be represented by softening plastic card with liquid poly and stabbing rather than stroking with a toothbrush. Alternatively, try applying a skin of suitably textured metal foil.


Burnt materials (including the paint on non combustible metals) will leave a deposit of charred debris and ash. This can be represented by dropping grains of model railway ballast into glue, then using more of the wash and dry brush technique.