The platforms : an examination of New Zealand Special Air Service campaigns from Borneo 'confrontation' to the Vietnam War, 1965-1971 : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Defence and Strategic Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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In 1955, the New Zealand Government authorised the creation of a Special Forces unit to operate with British counterparts in Malaya to defeat a communist-inspired guerrilla insurgency. Between 1956 and 1971 elements of the New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) were deployed on active service four times. These operational deployments included periods of time in Malaya, Thailand, Borneo and South Vietnam. The research illustrates the chronological progression of the New Zealand SAS through two of its most influential active service campaigns by examining how commitments to the Borneo ‘Confrontation’ in 1965 and 1966 directly and indirectly influenced the deployment to South Vietnam between December 1968 and February 1971. The mission of the New Zealand SAS in South Vietnam was to ‘assist in providing long range reconnaissance patrols’ that would support the larger infantry elements in defeating the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army enemy. New Zealand SAS soldiers participated in 169 Australian SAS patrols in South Vietnam. Of those, 137 were commanded by the New Zealanders themselves. The research describes what the New Zealand SAS encountered during nearly two and a half years in South Vietnam; from the tactical intensity associated with small five-man patrols often observing or contacting much larger enemy formations, to the uncompromising professional standards that were expected of all members regardless of situation or circumstances and the influences of experienced Patrol Commanders, and the frustrations and inflexibility which characterised the relationship with their Australian counterparts. The research also further examines the underlying issue of overall strategic success and value of a small nationally-identifiable and strongly independent military unit that was compelled to operate under the command of larger Special Forces coalition counterparts and the impact different political, doctrinal, tactical cultural and cognitive characteristics had on these joint-operational deployments. The size of the New Zealand SAS contribution to the Australian SAS Squadron combined with the command arrangements placed upon it, also dictated that the deployments were never likely to be able to exert influence in any ‘independent’ or nationally-identifiable sense, and the relationships, the types of patrol operations conducted, and the value of these operations, would ultimately see many New Zealand SAS veterans largely dissatisfied with the overall performance of the deployment. Nevertheless, the strength of New Zealand SAS operations in South Vietnam came from its practical application of unique New Zealand Special Forces methodology and field-craft which had been fundamentally shaped and developed in Borneo. The New Zealand SAS operations in South Vietnam and Borneo - the demonstration of the highest standards of patrol techniques, tracking, reconnaissance, ambushing and fire discipline, and above all, operational professionalism that has been the hallmark of New Zealand's military history – provided the evolutionary ‘platforms’ from which today’s highly skilled and enviable New Zealand Special Forces have emerged.
New Zealand Special Air Service, New Zealand SAS, Malaya, Thailand, Borneo, South Vietnam, Military history