During the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese Popular Force (nghĩa quân) (sometimes abbreviated PFPF or PF) consisted of local militias that protected their home villages from attacks by first Viet Cong forces and later by People’s Army of Vietnam units.
Originally called the Civil Guard and the Self-Defense Corps, they were integrated into the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in 1964 and placed under the command of the Joint General Staff. The Popular Force was one of two broad groups of militia, the other being the Regional Forces (địa phương quân).
The American forces referred to both groups as “Ruff-Puffs” referring to the abbreviation RFPF.
From 1965-1969, the ARVN took over most security operations as the Americans and other allies fought the main force war against the PAVN and NLF. When U.S. forces began to withdraw in 1969, the ARVN took on the task of fighting the communists, the Regional Forces and Popular Forces took on new importance. For the first time, they were deployed outside their home areas and were sometimes attached to ARVN units.
(Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)
By 1973 the Popular forces consisted of 8,186 platoons. Charged primarily with local defense, they were too lightly armed and equipped to withstand attacks by PAVN units supported by tanks and artillery. They were overwhelmed during the 1975 Spring Offensive and dissolved.
The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regular soldier was reasonably well trained, better equipped than the Viet Cong guerrillas and more likely to be in large numbers. The NVA relied heavily on China and Russia for arms, equipment and money but they fought their own war.
Known as ‘hard hats’ since they wore the ubiquitous pith helmet, these forces operated and were organized along traditional military lines. Organized into battalions consisting of 3 Rifle Company’s and a Combat Support Company these troops were, on the whole, well trained, aggressive and well led.
On larger operations they could be organized and deployed as regiments of 2-3 battalions.
It was the NVA that continued the battle after the Viet Cong were destroyed as a fighting force in the Tet Offensive where they lost 30,000 troops but changed the mind of Walter Cronkite, premier American TV news reader, as to who was winning the war. President Johnson said “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite I’ve lost Mr. Average Citizen”.
ORGANIZATION of NVA & VC UNITS
The organization detailed below is, in effect, a VC Main Force Company, although you could take elements of this organization for Regional forces. Local forces were not organized to this level, being an assortment of combatants and arms.
Similarly, other than Main Force units, the weapons carried by Regional and Local forces would be an incredible assortment of old and relatively new. A lot of SKS carbines, old WWII vintage rifles, SMG’s etc. Very few AK-47’s would be evident, even in Main Force units until later in the war.
One very important point to remember when researching these units (and regular NVA) is the critically short amount of ammunition available. Every bit had to come down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Also remember that, following the Tet offensive of February 1968, the VC virtually ceased to exist as a coherent fighting force, having been almost destroyed in depth by the allies. Engagements with VC units after this date involved confronting substantial numbers of regular NVA cadre troops within the ranks of the VC and a commensurate increase in the quality of weaponry and support fire!