Since the foundation of the Republic of South Vietnam in 1955 there had been various territorial forces that were distinct from the Army (ARVN) and controlled by the Interior Ministry. One was the part-time Self-Defence Corps, charged with village self-defence, and the other major one was the Civil Guard, for wider internal security and public order duties. In 1964 the Civil Guard was renamed the Regional Force, and the Self-Defence Corps became the Popular Force. Together they were often referred to by the acronym RF/PF, which led to being known as ‘Ruff-Puffs’ by the Americans. They were under the control of provincial and district chiefs, and while they might sometimes operate in conjunction with the ARVN, this was limited to their local area. However, increasingly organised by the ARVN, in 1970 they formally became part of the regular infantry, though still only within a specific area. By 1975 they amounted to over 530,000 troops.
In their early days, the Self-Defence Corps had worn ordinary peasant dress, but later on, both organisations wore a variety of fatigue uniforms little different from the Army. Some of the figures in this set could be painted as peasant dress, and the rest have fatigues that look reasonable. The men did wear helmets, although none of the figures here have them, perhaps to help distinguish them from the Army on the game table. However the range of hats here, including peaked caps, boonie hats and even the old jungle hat, are all reasonable choices. One man even seems to have acquired a police cap! Many of these men wear only sandals on the feet, but some have boots much like the infantry, so in appearance this set does pretty well in depicting the full history of these men. Kit often consists of just a belt with some ammo pouches and a water bottle attached, frequently old American stocks, but some have bandoliers or more modern American webbing, or locally-produced alternatives. Again, all perfectly valid for these troops.
As with clothing and equipment, the Ruff/Puffs were well down the pecking order when it came to the issue of weapons. Originally using anything that came to hand, including old French weapons and even simple blades, by 1964 their weapons were much improved, but continued to be dominated by out-of-date American cast-offs. Four poses here carry what we initially thought was the M1 carbine (a reasonable choice), but the weapon here is much too long at 19mm, which scales up to 137cm when the M1 was only 90cm long. Our best guess then is these are the American M14 rifle, which does have a similar profile, but was only 113cm long, so still a lot shorter than these models. Orion have sculpted all these men at above average height, yet even then they seem to struggle with a weapon that is as long as a 19th century musket!
The problem with size gets worse with the other weapons. Three poses seem to carry the M1 Garand, not a popular weapon as the length of 110cm made it difficult to handle by the slight Vietnamese soldier, yet here the weapon is 20.5mm long, which is a mammoth 147cm to scale. The sculpting is poor on all the weapons, but even if our identification is wrong, whatever they are they are far too long to be manageable by these troops. From 1969 some units were issued with the modern American M16A4 assault rifle, and one figure here holds this. Again it is too long, at 16mm (115cm) when it should be 14mm (100cm), although the man lucky enough to have it is at least better off than his comrades! One man (third row) has the elderly M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, which is a valid choice and, happily, only a little longer than it should be. However it is also the worst of the sculpts, being without any detail beyond the basic shape. His neighbour is using a slightly less ancient M3 ‘Grease’ gun, which again was still used despite its age by this time, but again is sculpted considerably too long here. Finally we have two even larger weapons. The first looks to be the M1919A6, and the second is an M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR. Both are good enough to be identifiable, but guess what, both are a good deal too long. The .30 calibre machine gun is 21mm long (151cm) when the correct length is 135cm, and the BAR is 23mm long (166cm) when the real thing was 122cm. Most of these weapons were only given to the largest men in the unit, as they could better cope with the weight and size – had they been of the size depicted in this set it is doubtful the Ruff/Puffs would have been able to move them at all!
The sculpting of the Orion Vietnam range is not the most appealing ever to be immortalised in plastic, and these are much the same. Detail is good but the overall effect is a bit scrappy, although unlike other sets at least here every man has his hands and all weapons are sculpted on both sides. The poses are a fair selection and quite well animated, and while they do not feel at all flat, there is no hidden excess plastic with which to contend. The human proportions are good too, but there is a fair amount of flash on our sample, more or less on all the seams, so those customers that are so inclined will have a lot of cleaning up to do before painting.
We do not know what went wrong with the sizes of all the weapons, but it does make these figures look more ungainly, even considering they average rather taller than the real thing. If you can turn a blind eye to that however these are reasonable models in realistic clothing and poses. While their military value was on a par with other militias throughout history, their sheer numbers in the fight for survival make them an essential component in any range of South Vietnamese forces, and on the whole this is a valuable set despite its faults.