The Tet Offensive in early 1968 had enormous consequences for all involved, but for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) it showed that many units could perform well, and gave them more of a belief in their own abilities as well as showing what might happen if the South succumbed to the Communists. However it also caused the gradual withdrawal of US forces from South Vietnam, leaving the ARVN to take over more and more responsibility. Eventually all foreign ground forces left the country, and for a while the ARVN successfully protected the country from both external aggression and internal insurrection. However a limited offensive by the North at the end of 1974 quickly routed much of the ARVN and panicked the South’s politicians, giving the North a golden opportunity to continue the rapid advance until, in April 1975, the city of Saigon was captured. With its fall came the end of South Vietnam, and therefore the end of the ARVN, although it had largely crumbled by that time already.
Although the US was retreating from Vietnam, they continued to supply enormous quantities of material to the ARVN, which as a result had a more modern and American look to it than in the earlier years. Six of the poses in this collection are carrying the M16A1 rifle, which became much more widely available by this later stage of the war, but the older M1 carbine, because it was smaller and lighter, remained a popular weapon, and three here carry this. Two men carry the old M3 ‘Grease’ gun, another popular weapon even at this period, but there are also more of the later weapons too. One man has an M79 grenade launcher, and two others hold or carry what are basically simple tubes, but we must presume they are supposed to be the M72 LAW (‘Light Anti-Tank Weapon’). Finally the third figure in the top row is carrying what we assume to be an M60 machine gun. All of these weapons are appropriate for the ARVN at this time, but all are, to a greater or lesser degree, appalling sculpts. Many simply have no reverse side at all – they just have a smooth flat surface with no attempt whatsoever at detail. Suspiciously, all the good sides are visible in our photos, but turn these figures round and the weapons look terrible. There’s more. Why does the man with the M60 have a full belt trailing from the weapon as he moves? This would be awkward, a trip hazard and just asking to introduce dirt into the weapon, potentially stopping it entirely. The belt could not be so attached anyway, and the gun also has a badly done front sight. The officer holding an M3 has no magazine in it, which is fine, but this is because the weapon lacks the magazine well into which it would fit, so is useless. The M79 grenade launcher has been given a weird third sight, between the front and rear ones, which is just a figment of the sculptor’s imagination. The LAWs are almost entirely undetailed, and we are only guessing as to their identification because of the shape. In total then, this is one of the poorest sets we have ever seen in terms of detail on weaponry.
The men wear the usual fatigues, which could vary in many details, but everything here looks good. Generally they are cut quite snuggly, which was the fashion at the time, so good to see. Every man wears the standard US helmet, and it would appear that some of the figures also wear body armour, though this is often hard to make out. The ARVN certainly did wear some body armour, although it was not particularly popular as it has bulky and heavy on the smaller Vietnamese frame. Webbing is very varied, which is good, but we can see items of US kit as well as the CIDG or ‘indig’ rucksack. Pouches are correct for the weapon being carried, including the cardboard box for the M60, so no problems there either.
The overall impression of the poses is reasonably positive, although there are some points to note. The man lying down in the third row holds his carbine in his right hand and an ammunition box with his left. He isn’t actually guiding the ammunition at all, yet the box is open and the belt falls outside, so all he is doing is steadying the box. It’s an odd pose, made the more so by the complete absence of a belt-fed machine gun in action here. Also the man firing the M3 is steadying it by holding the bottom of the magazine, when he would have been taught to hold it at the top.
As we have said, the weapons are only half finished here, and some lack detail or even the correct basic shape. The men and kit are better, and we put their rather thin and weedy appearance down to portraying the slight Vietnamese frame and close-cut clothing (although all these figures are above average height). Generally the detail is OK, although the radio man has a very strange feature in that his face hangs well in front of his head. We can only imagine this is an air bubble in the mould, but it looks quite creepy. The faces are often a bit basic, but a bigger problem is hands, which are missing in many cases. The arm merely merges into the weapon, so there appears to be (and indeed there is) nothing holding it. Again, perhaps the sculptor did not get round to doing the hands? It would certainly seem so. Flash is pretty variable, ranging from almost invisible in some places to large amounts of it in others.
The research and poses on show here are pretty good, but the sculpting and/or problems with filling the mould certainly scar this set. The unfinished bits like weapons and hands are very hard to understand, but it means the figures look less good in the flesh than they seem in our photos. Also they all have quite small bases, which means a couple of them do not stand by themselves, which is annoying. So this is a disappointing set that could have greatly benefited from more time being spent to make sure the sculpts were ready before the mould was made.