The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) came into existence in 1944 as a force dedicated to fighting for Vietnam’s independence. After victory against the French and the partition of the country in 1954, the PAVN numbered around 380,000 men and went through a period of reorganisation and modernisation. As it became apparent that the country was not to be reunified under the terms of the Geneva Accords, the government in North Vietnam began using force to try and overthrow the new state in the south, organising the communist guerrillas and providing support of all kinds. Regular PAVN formations were sent into the south from 1965, but the PAVN had provided men, material and training from the beginning. This was massively increased after the huge losses suffered by the Viet Cong in the Tet Offensive of 1968, and the fight in the south became increasingly about regular armies facing each other with armour. In March 1975 the PAVN launched another offensive into the south, at which point the government of South Vietnam crumbled and the country was unified.
After independence, the PAVN received massive support from China and the Soviet Union, and this included most of their weapons. The main infantry weapon was the Soviet 7.62mm SKS Carbine, a good weapon that was particularly liked by the Vietnamese because its length (just over a metre) made it easier to handle than longer standard rifles. The first and third figures in our top row are carrying this, although the second of these is missing the muzzle and front sight, which should have been there as the pictures on the box (presumably of the master sculpts) clearly show. However both weapons are massively too long. Each is about 19mm long, which equates to 137cm, so completely negating one of the major attractions of using this weapon. Both have the bayonet folded underneath the barrel, which is fine (it could not be detached), but the first figure in the bottom row also carries this weapon, and he has the bayonet extended. The result is a weapon of 22mm length, which is about the height of the man, so looks even worse.
Later in the war the infantry were issued the AK47 assault rifle, another excellent Soviet weapon. This is carried by the second figure in our top row, and the first three in the middle row. Here again the weapon has been modelled too large, although not by a great deal. The actual length was 88cm, but the weapons here equate to about 105cm. The last figure in the top row holds a rifle that is impossible to identify, but may be an old bolt-action rifle such as the Moisin Nagant. If so then this too would be appropriate for earlier in the war. The last figure in the second row also has a rifle, but this is simply a strip of smooth plastic so could be almost anything!
Two poses carry the RPG, a very popular weapon with so many armies over many decades. They are of different lengths, but we believe they were intended to be the same weapon. The two main models of RPG used at the time were the RPG-2 and RPG-7, and both were 95cm long without projectile, which is 13.2mm in our scale. The man carrying his over his shoulder has a weapon of about this length, but the one being carried by the man with the flag is 14.5mm, so only a bit too long, but still wrong. Both have the rear cone-shaped blast deflector, so must be the RPG-7. Neither have an optical sight attached, nor any iron sights raised, but as neither are in use this is perfectly reasonable (although both do have a round in the barrel). The second RPG lacks the second handgrip, though it seems this was not always present anyway. In our photo the trigger looks like this handgrip, but this is merely badly formed as the box picture clearly shows this is supposed to be the trigger. More importantly, the second RPG is being carried by a handle which no RPG ever had until the Chinese Type 69, which was not used in Vietnam. Perhaps this is some sort of carrying affair rigged up by the man himself, but we could find no evidence for this at all.
The second man in the bottom row is holding/firing a machine gun from the hip. We were expecting this to be the Soviet RPD, or perhaps the later RPK, but it is neither. Actually, perhaps it is, because the detail is so woeful that it is impossible to tell. What we can say with confidence is the gun is about 20mm long, which is 1,440mm in real life, and so massively too long for either weapon we have mentioned, which were both 1,037mm in length. Indeed it is about the same as the height of the man, and makes the observer wonder how someone could realistically hold and fire such a lengthy weapon from the hip. It looks absurd, and that is because it pretty much is. The bipod is a poor compromise (not uncommon), and the circular magazine does look like that for the RPD, but overall it’s a mess.
Completing the weapons line-up, the man with the radio is unarmed, and what we take to be the officer holds a pistol. This has no detail at all, but pistols were not common in the PAVN except as symbols of rank, so actually waving it about like this in anger would not have been a common sight. We assume it is here to help us identify an officer, rather than an accurate historical piece. Of course the other thing to say about all these weapons is many, perhaps most, would likely have been Chinese copies of the weapons mentioned. So for RPG-7 read ‘B41’, ‘Type 56’ for RPD and so on. There were no visible differences so these models could serve equally as both.
We have spent a lot of time discussing the weapons, but the kit has some surprises too. While kit could vary greatly, and include jungle-made improvisations if serving in the south, everything here seems reasonable. Most here have a visible water bottle of correct design, and many also have an entrenching tool, though this was commonly thrust into a pack or belt, and the neat carrier found on every figure here was in fact far less common than this set suggests. Many of the figures have the 2- or 4-grenade carriers attached. These are fine, but these items are almost always shown with a shoulder strap, yet there are none visible here. Equally, the man with the machine gun has two carriers of spare magazines, but these are also lacking the shoulder straps that seem to have been usual with this piece, so must be attached to the belt in some way. Both men with the RPG-7 have packs containing up to three rounds on their backs, but no one else does (usually several soldiers would have these, to provide a decent supply of ammunition). One man has a 10-pocket ammunition bandolier round his waist, which is good, and there are other pouches of different designs too, but we were very surprised that no one has a chest pouch of any description, as these were very common. Finally, five of the poses carry a racksack, of which three have three pockets round the outside and the rest have just two. This is a good reflection of the actual designs used, but our sources suggest these were usually carried quite low on the back, yet all of these here are very high on the back..
The uniforms of these men are perhaps the simplest part of their appearance. These figures wear the normal trousers and shirt, correctly done with two breast pockets. Scarves or armbands were often worn as a field sign, and while there are no armbands here (easy to paint however), some do wear scarves, which is good. The normal headgear was the sun helmet, and most here wear this. Four of them have added netting to it to contain camouflage materials, and all are well done. The remaining poses wear the bush hat, a floppy brimmed hat that was also popular. The man on the ground also wears a rain cape. Footwear was frequently canvas and rubber combat shoes, which were perfect for the job, and seven of the poses wear these. The rest wear sandals, but both are authentic. In the field there would have been little or nothing to distinguish officers, so our pistol-waving figure is dressed the same as the men.
We were particularly disappointed by the quality of detail on the weapons, as we have already discussed at length, but the pictures of masters on the box suggest the sculpting was good and detail was lost in making the mould. Whatever the reason, the result is poorly defined weapons which also in some cases suffer from bend or a misshapen magazine. Away from the fine detail of the weapons however the look of the sculpting is good. Clothing is nicely done and natural, and the general human proportions are good too. We have already highlighted some of the areas where the plastic has not filled small spaces, but the amount of flash varies greatly – some parts are clean, others have quite a lot. The poses too are quite pleasing, with men keeping their heads down or at least not having a straight back, so look more lively. It would have been nice to have had a man actually firing an RPG, but of course it is always easy to think of poses that could have been, and there is little to complain about with these.
Sets often fail to properly reflect the finer details on the original sculpt, and this seems to be a perfect example, because the weapons here are not nearly as good as those shown on the box. However the fact that some are much too large can only be ascribed to the sculptor, so blame needs to be shared there we think. Aside from the weapons we liked these figures and the choices of kit, though the absence of chest pouches seems like an oversight. The little flag attached to the man’s rifle is a nice touch, and the poses are energetic and appropriate. Since the problems lie in the finer details, these are figures better seen at a distance, while is not ideal, but arrayed on a table-top battlefield they would look pretty good, and they mix well with the Esci set too.