The title of this set might seem strange, but in fact the Communist Forces in southern Vietnam were categorised in several ways, the most obvious being the split between the regular North Vietnamese Army and the supposedly local Viet Minh or Viet Cong. The Viet Cong was further divided into two main forces. The full-time, armed and often uniformed soldiers who covered a wide area of operations (and might be on campaign for months) were known as the Main Force, while the Guerrilla Popular Army (GPA), locals who operated from their own village, were known as the Local Force. This latter group then is the subject of this set, and despite being a very important element of the Vietnam War, this is the first time that these people have been modelled in our hobby.
The primary role of the GPA was to defend their village and locale from enemy incursions, and to provide support for Main Force units in the form of intelligence, guides, provision of food and so on. They tended their crops during the day and operated at night, and while they might be active in local assassinations or disruption of Government operations, they were not intended to be capable of withstanding a fight against strong Government forces or their allies such as the US. However some in their ranks could move on to a Main Force unit, and the GPA were the main element in the attempt to control South Vietnam at a local level by the government of the North.
Naturally the emphasis in this set is on the fighting aspect of the GPA, and eight of the 13 poses are dedicated to actual battle. Most of them are either advancing or standing firing their weapons, which are perfectly legitimate choices, but don’t offer much variety. We liked the man half crawling in the top row, and the last figure in that row looks like he is keeping his head down as he reaches for another cartridge, but we were not impressed by the hatless figure in the second row, who is running forwards rapidly while holding a grenade in each hand and with many others festooned round his belt. In the first place Local Forces tended to have the worst of the weapons, and in general would probably not have access to so many grenades (unless recently captured). Also, this looks very like a sort of suicide run, since if this man is within throwing distance of the enemy then he will be very vulnerable to their own fire. It looks like a desperate act which might have happened in the Main Force but would be much too rare in the Local Forces to warrant such a pose in our view. Also, we must assume both grenades have been armed, since he would not be able to arm them with his hands full like this, so the pose is more reminiscent of the ‘Human Wave’ tactics of the war against the French than the GPA.
The fighting poses are all very well armed. Several have a rifle, but we can also see one figure with a PPSh 41 assault rifle and another with a Soviet DPM light machine gun. Of course any or all of these could actually be copies made in North Vietnam or China, but even so we thought it would be unusual for Local Force units to have access to a machine gun. As essentially armed peasants, what we might call a militia, their access to weapons would be limited, although it is unclear how broad their arsenal of weapons was. Certainly the weapons used by the whole of the Communist Forces were enormously diverse and came from many sources, so none of the above are inconceivable. The rifle of the crawling figure is interesting because it has a strange dropped butt, which is like no production weapon, so may be a homemade repair, although to us it still looks strange.
To us the fighters here present two problems – poses and weapons. While none of the poses are wrong, we would have liked to see more looking like they are in ambush, so crouching behind cover as they watch or fire on their target. Knowing they were inferior in weaponry and training, the GPA would normally avoid contact if they could, so a pose of a fighter just on patrol, or on guard, would have been very useful too. Weaponry too would often include home-made grenades, mines and all manner of other improvisation, so again this is an aspect of these people that we would have liked to have seen, but is absent here.
Happily one of the major elements of the role of the GPA is well represented here, and that is the moving of supplies. We have someone carrying two baskets, a pair carrying a box on a pole between them and a very heavily laden bicycle. These were all common methods of moving supplies, so good to see here.
Finally we have what looks like someone doing some public speaking. He wears a military uniform including a peaked cap, and is well-armed with a submachine gun, so must be a political officer. These were a vital part of the Communist organisation, as much of the training of both Local and Main forces was actually political indoctrination, so there were many such officers. He is holding aloft what we take to be a book, which has a star engraved on it. Perhaps this is some instruction manual, Mao's Little Red Book, or perhaps just the biography of Ho Chi Minh, which was widely circulated.
Apart from the political officer, everyone here should be dressed in typical peasant clothing, as you would expect of peasants. On the whole they are, but most have a collar on their shirt, which was not to be found on peasant clothing, so seems to be an odd hybrid of peasant dress and uniform. The trousers and shorts look fine, and where visible, they seem to wear sandals, which is good. On their head the majority wear the peasant’s conical rice straw hat ('non la'), which was very widely worn by the peasants, but apparently not when in action, which is where many of these figures clearly are. Two are bare-headed, and the other two seem to wear the sun helmet of the North Vietnamese Army. This would be okay except that if caught then such a headgear would be an immediate giveaway as to their allegiance, so would be an unlikely choice. When on a mission, such people would throw away or hide weapons if they came across security forces so as to appear to be ordinary peasants, but most here have really nailed their colours to the mast as they also have belts with ammunition pouches, another giveaway. Even the bearers are well-armed, so no attempt at concealment here.
The sculpting seems to be good, but only half done. Generally the detail is good, and the sculptor has even managed to get an oriental look in the faces. However if the finer points are good, some of the bigger points are atrocious. Most obviously, when we said some wore sandals, that is because some have no feet at all! Two of the poses have no right foot of any kind and are simply walking on a stump, while the person carrying the twin baskets has lost both his left and right foot. The middle figure in the top row has a massive rod along his leg – clearly work in progress there – and some of the hands are pretty basic too. The pair carrying the box has to be assembled, and this is possible but quite tricky, particularly in getting both figures to have a base flat on the ground afterward. Many of the weapons are particularly poor, missing large parts of their structure or with no detail of any sort. Then there is the flash. In places it is low level, but elsewhere it is extensive. Much of it does not show up on our pictures because it is where the moulds meet on complicated shapes, but it is very intrusive and seriously mars these figures.
We must devote particular comment to the bicycle in the bottom row, and to the figure behind it. The bike itself has solid, rather crude wheels, which is not our favourite approach to the problem of thin spokes which cannot be modelled properly at this scale. The approach of Airfix and others whereby the spokes are ignored looks much better to us. Bikes used for carrying supplies like this were routinely adapted by having long poles attached to the handlebars in various ways so they could be controlled, despite not having anyone actually riding them. Here one handlebar has been extended, which is one of several likely methods, but the bars have been tilted a good deal in order to allow the mould to reach everything. This is an understandable compromise, but it looks odd. Also we have assumed that the figure we have photographed behind the bike is actually controlling it. If we are wrong then the bike has no controller, which would be odd, but if we are right then this figure is useless for the role has his outstretched hands are well below the level of even the lower handle bar, and in fact cannot be positioned anywhere such that he even touches the bike. To make sense the bike should have someone pushing it, but effectively this set has no such person.
To be representative, some of these poses, particularly some carrying supplies, should be unarmed, but everyone here is quite well-armed, some even carrying carriers full of grenades. Also we would have liked to have seen a pose not in action but simply on patrol or observing the enemy, which was a large part of their role. So this set is not a representative reflection of the Local Forces, although we were pleased to see a woman included, and as a fighter too (second row, second figure). The collar on the shirt is the only dress problem, although the straw hats would suggest a surprise attack if they were not actually worn in combat, so are not a wise choice here. The sculpting clearly has many problems, and suggests an unfinished job or a botched effort when creating the mould, both of which present serious problems to anyone wanting to make those damaged figures look decent. Also the bike, which is a good idea, seems to have been too ambitious to do properly. So a set with many failings and few positives. Better production quality would have improved matters, but as it stands there is much work to be done to rescue these figures.