Vietnam War Dictionary

Territorial Forces

When MAAG assumed responsibility for training South Vietnamese forces in 1955, it focused on ensuring that the ARVN could withstand a conventional large scale invasion by North Vietnam long enough for SEATO forces to arrive. The counterinsurgency mission was assigned to the newly created Territorial Forces, which were organized in two groups:
  • Self Defense Corps (SDC) - part time village militia typically operating in small platoons
  • Civil Guard (CG) - mobile militia responsible for district security, typically operating in company sized units
In 1964 the territorials were brought under the control of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF), with the SDC being renamed Popular Forces (PF) and the CG changed to Regional Forces (RF). Consequently, they were nicknamed Ruff-Puffs. Despite the change of name, the territorial's mission remained much the same - to provide local security from guerrillas by conducting patrols and setting ambushes etc.

Not equipped, trained or numerous enough to cope with a large scale enemy assault, the RF/PFs were supplied with radios to request ARVN backup. Unfortunately, in many instances the quick reaction ARVN units failed to respond.1

Initially the Ruff-Puffs received some assistance from MACV advisors, though with the advisory effort geographically stretched, instruction was often provided by nearby Special Forces teams. However, following the formation of CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) the territorial forces received greater attention. They were better equipped and their numbers expanded significantly, from 300,000 in 1967 to 532,000 by 1971. The assistance effort was also boasted with the introduction of Mobile Advisory Teams (MATs) to train the Ruff Puffs in small unit tactics.

With the exception of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the territorial forces bore the brunt of the Vietnam War, consistently suffering a higher casualty rate than the ARVN. Yet despite consuming only 2 -4% of the annual cost of the war, they managed to account for 12 - 30% of all enemy combat deaths every year.1

1. For example: Between October 1966 and March 1967 RF/PF units under attack in III Corps received support only 45% of the time. (Krepinevich pp221)
2. The Army and Vietnam by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. (The Johns Hopkins University Press 1988)