After a rigged referendum, on 26 October 1955 the Republic of Vietnam, generally referred to then and now as just ‘South Vietnam’, was proclaimed, and on 30th December of that year the new country formally established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Of course this was largely a continuation of the previous colonial force, but it faced enormous issues from its earliest days, including a developing guerrilla war with some of its own people (supported by the new North Vietnam), internal private warlord armies and invasion from the North, not to mention several coup attempts over the 19 years of its existence. It also had many handicaps to cope with, and it would be fair to say that its performance was very patchy. Its story is often overshadowed by the presence of increasing numbers of US troops, but at its peak it was the world’s fourth largest army, and suffered far more casualties than the US forces during the years before South Vietnam, and the ARVN, disappeared in April 1975.
The box tells us that this set is for the early war, and since Orion have also made another set which is more precisely dated to 1969 and after, we will assume they mean the period 1956 to 1968 for these figures. By this date in history of course combat uniforms were much more about functionality than appearance, and the usual ARVN uniform was fatigues closely modelled on the US model, but often tailored to be close-fitting, perhaps with extra pockets or other modifications. Although the clothing on these figures is not easy to make out, everything seems to match this quite general description, including the tightness of the fit and the variety in smaller details of design. Most have trousers tucked into boots, which is fine, but the main differences lie in the headgear. Among the 15 poses here we find men wearing the standard helmet, berets, peaked fatigue caps, ‘Boonie’ hats and one man wears a bush hat. All of these were quite common and like the clothing have been well done here. Most of the poses are also wearing a silk scarf round the neck, which again was common (the colour sometimes distinguished companies in a unit). The two berets are pulled down on the left, in the French style – a hangover from the colonial period.
The weaponry on display is also quite varied. While the detail is not always as good as it could be, our identification of the weapons here shows that five of these poses carry the M1 Carbine, a popular and widely used weapon as its smaller size made it easier to handle by the Vietnamese. The larger M1 Garand rifle was less popular as a result, but still widely issued, and two poses here seem to hold this. The crouching figure (fourth in the top row) carries an M16A1 rifle, which would only have been seen in ARVN hands quite late in the period of this set, but valid nonetheless. That covers the first eight figures pictured above, and we think the crawling figure nine holds a Thompson submachine gun, though not a great model if so. The last man in that row is even harder to pin down, and our best guess is he holds the Carl Gustaf M/45, or the Madsen M-50, or maybe even the old German MP40, all submachine guns that were used by the ARVN!
The last row begins with a really poor machine gun model. As it stands the pose is absurd, so the gun must be being supported on something. The total length is about 19mm, which is 137cm, making it longer than any weapon we know of for the ARVN. By rights it should be either the Browning or the M60, although it is too long for either and the detail is very bad, including the tiny magazine and the bipod, which is just a terrible sculpt and perfectly flat. The second man is handling an old M3 submachine gun (‘Grease Gun’), which by contrast to the machine gun is a beautifully detailed little model and again appropriate here. The next weapon is obviously a Bazooka, but which one? It should be either the 2.36 inch M9 or the later 3.5 inch M20A1B1, and with a tube length of 21mm (151cm) it easily passes for either. It has a sight and the trigger, but is missing the stock and most of the rest of the detail, including unforgivably the obvious join between the two halves of the tube, so once more is a really quite poor model. Somewhat better is the M9A1-7 flamethrower carried by the next man, although this too lacks the framework on which the tanks were mounted. Finally the last man carries a pistol – far too small to identify here.
The straps and kit these men have is also varied, mostly based on American designs, including several large rucksacks with the three external pockets. Everything here looks to be authentic for these men.
Our initial thought on seeing these figures was that they were rather thin, almost reminiscent of the old Atlantic output. Of course the average Vietnamese was not as well built as most westerners at the time, and the average male height was about 1.6 metres, while the close-fitting clothing enhanced the men’s apparent lack of bulk. Presumably this is what the sculptor was trying to portray, and on reflection we think they largely succeeded, although in truth the average height here, while within the acceptable range as our indicator shows, is very high as an average for a random group. Other than that the sculpting is reasonably good, with clothing and faces being quite nice. As we have said, the weapons are much more variable, sometimes being quite bad, and there is a good deal of flash here. We pictured the best examples we could find, but other sprues were much worse, so you may find your copy is worse than ours. The four brown poses, which are on a separate sprue obviously, were almost free of flash however.
The poses are largely dictated by the weapons being used, and most are reasonable. The Bazooka seems to be held oddly, but in fact this is about right. The running man in the top row holds his Garand by the bottom of the stock, which is very odd, and a couple of the poses are a bit flat. A notable AWOL is anyone to feed the Bazooka, but that is not unusual in this hobby! The guy holding his M1 carbine high looks a bit awkward, but perhaps he is wading through water. Generally a fair bunch of poses however.
We were pleased to see a pistol as sidearm for the flamethrower, and generally there are no issues with accuracy here. The weapons are all American, so make more sense the later in the period you go (especially the M16A1 of course), and the uniform covers the whole period well, as does the kit. The poses are mostly OK, but the weapons, while good choices, often fall short when it comes to detail or elegance. The sculpting is OK too, but some sprues have a lot of flash, particularly between the legs, so some work needed there. So long as you don’t worry too much about the detail, you will find this an accurate set with useable poses and a good selection of weapons. It could have been better, but as the first set depicting the ARVN it is a worthwhile collection of figures for a war many can still remember, and one that would have an enormous impact on the wider world.