‘Beware of the Leopard!’ (15mm Plastic Leopard 1 Tanks)

Some reinforcements have arrived for my 15mm NATO armies this week, in the form of some plastic NATO Leopard 1 tanks by Team Yankee/Flames of War/Battlefront Miniatures.  I’ve already got some metal Leopard 1A3/1A4 models by QRF but Team Yankee recently brought out some plastic kits and I’ve been very impressed with the quality of their recent vehicle models, so decided to give them a go.

I have to say that once again, I’m very impressed!  The quality of detail and moulding is superb and the kits fit together extremely well.  According to the blurb on the box, the NATO Leopard 1 set allows you to build five Leopard 1 tanks, with options for the Leopard C1 for Canada, the Leopard 1-V for the Netherlands and the Leopard AS1 for Australia (?!).  Decals are included for these three versions, along with unit data cards for the Team Yankee game if you play that game (I don’t).

In fact, the set allows you to build a lot more than that, as the parts will also allow you to build a West German Leopard 1A1A1, 1A3 and 1A4, a Danish Leopard 1A3 DK a Greek Leopard GR1 or a Turkish Leopard 1A3 straight out of the box.  With minor fettling you can also build all the other Leopard 1 variants used by NATO (and beyond), such as the West German Leopard 1A1, 1A2, 1A2A1, Italian Leopard 1A1, Netherlands Leopard 1A1, Norwegian Leopard 1A1 NO, Belgian Leopard 1BE and the widely-used Leopard 1A5.

I should add that the West German plastic Leopard 1 box contains EXACTLY the same sprues, just with German decals and Team Yankee unit cards.  The box instructions only show the Leopard 1A3/1A4, but all the parts are included to also make the Leopard 1A1A1 (which was the most common version and was identical to the Netherlands Leopard 1-V).

Note that Team Yankee also produced a pack of three resin/metal West German Leopard 1A3/1A4 that can also be used for Canadian, Danish, Australian, Greek or Turkish Leopards with little or no modification (the Canadians used FN MAG pintle MGs, while the rest used MG3s).  These resin/metal kits are no longer produced, but are still widely available while stocks last.

As an added bonus, the box includes enough parts to make TWO complete turrets.  I was only expecting enough parts to make one or the other.  What this means is that where nations used the same paint scheme (e.g. the ‘Yellow-Olive’ (RAL 6014) paint used jointly by West Germany, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands), you can have different turrets sharing the same hull, which at a stroke halves your expenditure on model tanks! 🙂

L to R: Canadian Leopard C1 turret, Dutch Leopard 1-V turret and German Leopard 1A5 turret on common hull.

The only real snag is that the kit only includes five MG3 machine guns and five FN MAG machine guns, so if you’re building ten turrets it pays to think carefully about which countries used the FN MAG (e.g. the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium) as opposed to the MG3 (i.e. most other Leopard users).  The MG3 is essentially identical to the MG42, so I’m able to deploy my vast stock of spare model MG42s that has been built up over years of modelling WW2 Germans.

L to R: West German Leopard 1A5 with common hull, Dutch Leopard 1-V and Canadian Leopard C1.

Of course, this does mean that national-specific hull-markings need to be left off, though photos of the actual tanks in the field rarely show visible markings in any case – either covered in crud, too small/subtle to see or not applied in the first place.

Netherlands Leopard 1-V

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Leopard 1A1s of the Royal Netherlands Army underwent an upgrade programme, which included a modernised fire control system and an applique armour pack that had been developed by Blöhm & Voss for the German Leopard 1A1A1 upgrade programme.  The upgraded Leopard was designated Leopard 1-V.  The ‘V’ stood for Verbetterd or ‘Improved’, though some uncharitable Dutch crews insisted that it stood for Verworsend as the new fire control system was very power-hungry and quickly depleted the battery.

Some books and websites refer to the Leopard 1-V as being equivalent to the Leopard 1A5, but that’s not correct.  It was actually the equivalent of the Leopard 1A1A1 and was visually identical to that version.  The Leopard 1-V and 1A1A1 lacked the further advancement in fire control and night vision capability of the Leopard 1A5 upgrade.  Note that Dutch Leopards are armed with a FN MAG pintle MG.

Note that the 1980s was a complicated decade for the Royal Dutch Army’s armoured units, what with Leopard 1s being upgraded to 1-V standard, some units persisting with Centurion Mk 5/2 and others being upgraded wholesale to Leopard 2A4.  Have a look at my Dutch TO&Es and Orders of Battle here for information on who had what and when.

Netherlands Leopard 1-V.

All Dutch AFVs were painted in the standard NATO camouflage colour RAL 6014 Yellow-Olive, exactly the same as West Germany, Belgium and France (as well as Canadian Leopards).  Neither the Dutch or the Belgians switched to the NATO three-colour scheme during the 1980s.  Yellow-Olive is a tricky colour to get right, being a very ‘brownish’ shade of green that closely resembles the colour of cow-pats…  It also seems to change from green to brown at will, depending on the light conditions and method of photography and is consequently the cause of much ‘animated discussion’ on modelling discussion groups!

Canadian Leopard C1

For Yellow-Olive I use a base coat of Humbrol 75 Bronze Green and then a coat of Humbrol 155 US Olive Drab and a final highlight with just a touch of white mixed into the US Olive Drab.  The final weathering for all my vehicles is Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.  I find that the Bronze Green basecoat (over a black undercoat) deepens the green hue.  Without it, the Olive Drab straight onto a black undercoat looks rather too grey-brown

Canadian Leopard C1

The Canadian Leopard C1 was basically a Leopard 1A3 upgraded with a laser rangefinder.  It was largely identical to the Leopard 1A3 and 1A4 (recognisable by their rectangular, welded turrets), except for the fact that it was fitted with a FN MAG pintle MG.  All Leopard C1s were factory-painted by the Germans with the standard RAL 6014 Yellow-Olive anti-infrared paint and units were absolutely banned from modifying or touching up this paint-job.  All other Canadian vehicles were painted in their unique three-colour (green, khaki and black) camouflage scheme.  Leopard C1s also had a white outline to their black Maple Leaf badge, whereas all other Canadian AFVs had a black Maple Leaf without outline.  During the late 1980s/early 1990s, Leopard C1s switched to the standard NATO three-colour camouflage scheme in common with West Germany.

A brace of Danish Leopard 1A3 DK.

In the case of the Danish Leopard 1A3 DK, their bespoke banded camouflage scheme makes it impossible to share hulls with other nationalities!  This scheme was very similar to that of the British Army, though with a brighter shade of green.  The Danes always painted the four corners of the vehicle in black, usually with another central band of black going up and over the middle of the vehicle.  The ratio of black to green was roughly 1:1, compared to the British, who stipulated 1:2 black to green.  The Danes use the MG3 as their pintle MG.

Danish Leopard 1A3 DK

I use Humbrol 150 Forest Green for the Danish bright green shade (this is the same shade as the top-coat of my Russian tanks), with a strong highlight (mixed with white).

Danish Leopard 1A3 DK

However, upon reflection this shade of green probably isn’t bright enough.  Humbrol 80 Grass Green would possibly be more accurate.  For the black areas I use Humbrol 67 Tank Grey as a highlight/fading.

Note that while the armoured regiments of LANDJUT Command were equipped with Leopards during the 1980s, the mechanised battalions of LANDJUT Command and all armoured units in LANDZEALAND Command were still equipped with various marks of Centurion.  See my Danish TO&Es and Orders of Battle here for a bit of clarity.

West German Leopard 1A5

The Leopard 1A5 entered service in 1987 and was the last version of Leopard 1 to see service with the Bundeswehr.  In West German service, all Leopard 1A5s were upgraded Leopard 1A1A1s, with the main upgrades being a thermal-imaging night-vision system, a laser-rangefinder, improved ammunition storage and an advanced fire control system.

From the 1990s onward, these were widely exported around the world and the Canadians even took surplus German Leopard 1A5 turrets and fitted them to their existing C1 hulls to produce the Leopard C2.  Some nations such as Belgium and Denmark also upgraded their existing Leopards to ‘1A5 standard’, though the changes were largely internal, leaving the tanks largely unchanged externally (the giveaway being the large thermal-imaging sight-box in front of the commander’s cupola).

West German Leopard 1A5

The Leopard 1A5 only requires a very slight conversion from the basic Leopard 1-V/1A1A1 as supplied in the box: A large thermal sight box needs to be added to the turret-top in front of the commander’s cupola and the protrusions on each side of the turret that housed the lenses for the coincidence rangefinder need to be cut off and filed flat.  Don’t add the night-vision/laser-rangefinder box above the gun mantlet.

Note that only the first batch of Leopard 1A5s was ever painted in the Yellow-Olive scheme as shown here, as the Bundeswehr was by this time transitioning to the new three-colour camouflage scheme.  Note that the Iron Cross badge was larger during the ‘Yellow-Olive Period’ than it became during the later ‘Three-Colour Period’.  Team Yankee kindly supplies both sizes of Iron Cross on their West German decal sheets.

If you want to know exactly which West German units were using which type of tank in any given year, have a look at Max Wünderlich’s superb reference chart here.

More Cold War kit to follow soon: namely Dutch YPR-765 Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles.

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Cold War, NATO Armies, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘Beware of the Leopard!’ (15mm Plastic Leopard 1 Tanks)

  1. Pete S says:

    Great post- full of info.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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