Since 1945 New Zealand soldiers have been deployed in peace keeping and monitoring roles around the world, but they have also been involved in some of the toughest fighting since the Second World War.
Following the invasion of South Korea by North Korea in 1950 the United Nations deployed an international force that included ships, aircraft and troops from NZ. An initial deployment of 1,044 men were selected from among volunteers in NZ with the force (Kayforce) arriving in Pusan on New Year's Eve and joining the British 27th Infantry Brigade, with an artillery regiment and other support elements arriving later. They immediately saw combat and then spent the next two and a half years taking part in the United Nations forces operations with NZ naval vessels being especially active in the inner Han River estuary, later recapturing Seoul in the process. A total of 3,794 New Zealand soldiers served in Kayforce and 1,300 in the RNZN deployment.
In the three years of fighting 1,263 men of the Commonwealth forces were killed and a further 4,817 were wounded, while the US lost 33,000 men. 33 New Zealand men were killed in action, 79 wounded and one soldier and one airman taken prisoner who were repatriated after the armistices. Almost half a million South Koreans died as a result of the war, and an unknown number of North Koreans and Chinese.
Malayan Emergency 1948(50)-1960
The Malayan Emergency came about by an attempt by the Malayan Communist Party to overthrow the British colonial administration of Malaya. It was given the neutral name of "Emergency" to ensure that losses and damage would be covered by insurance which would not have been the case if the uprising had been given a name like "war" or "insurrection".
Over the twelve years that the conflict took place, New Zealand soldiers, sailors and airmen made a significant contribution to the Commonwealth forces in defeating the communist insurgency. Fifteen New Zealand servicemen were killed in Malaya during the Emergency - three from enemy action, and the remainder in accidents. This action saw the New Zealand Army hone its skills to become an effective jungle warfare force, and marked the transition of New Zealand military forces from a non-regular volunteer force to a regular basis, giving the forces the training for a highly effective involvement in the Vietnam War.
Indonesia and Malaysia Confrontation 1963-1966
Between 1962 and 1966 a small, undeclared war was fought between Indonesia and Malaya which involved troops mainly from Australia and Britain. The conflict came about from Indonesia's then President Sukarno's grandious expansionist ambitions to create a wider South east Asian block headed by Indonesia. He vowed to "Smash Malaysia" especially on its shared borders in Borneo. NZ expressly stayed out of the conflict initially fearing trade repercussions however later on in 1964/5 it deployed a Special Air Service detachment and the 1st Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, along with the Royal NZ Navy HMNZS Hickleton and Santon and the frigate HMNZS Taranaki. The SAS detachment, and its later replacement, took part in Operation Claret alongside British and Australian SAS soldiers.
Vietnam 1962 -1975
NZ entered the Vietnam War after intense pressure from America in May 1967 when a 182-man rifle company from the 1st Battalion (Whiskey 3) was deployed to Vietnam. In December it was joined by Whisky 1 Company also from the 1st Battalion. The 2 units were placed under the 1st Australian Task Force's (1ATF) command as part of the Royal Australian Regiment's (RAR) 2nd Battalion. In March 1968 they were fully integrated into the 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion with a New Zealander assuming second in command. The companies were deployed on infantry operations in Phuoc Tuy Province and rotated after a 12-month tour of duty. Whiskey Three Company was withdrawn without replacement in November 1970 and Victor Six Company was also withdrawn without replacement in December 1971.
In November 1968 4 Troop, New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) comprising an officer and 25 other ranks also was added to 1ATF. This raised the NZ Vietnam deployment to its peak - 543 men. New Zealand also dispatched the 2nd New Zealand Army Training Team (Vietnam) numbering 25 men in January 1971 and in February 1972 a second training team of 18 men (including two Royal New Zealand Navy personnel), was deployed to Vietnam. Several New Zealand units were awarded U.S. unit citations for their service in South Vietnam.
In December 1972 one of the first acts of new Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk's government was to withdraw both training teams and the New Zealand headquarters in Saigon. By then, a total of 3,890 New Zealand military personnel (volunteers) had served in Vietnam, between June 1964 and December 1972. Thirty-seven men (36 Army and 1 RNZAF) were killed in action (KIA) and 187 wounded. The last NZ Troops left Vietnam on 22 December 1972.
Especially of mention for NZ forces in Vietnam is the deadly accurate artillery fire from New Zealand's 161 Field Battery in the famous battle of Long Tan where an Australian infantry company (D Company - 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment) of around 120 men faced up to an estimated 2,500 Viet Cong. The Australians counted 245 enemy dead the next morning against 18 Australians KIA.
After Vietnam: Iraq & Afghanistan
New Zealand did not participate in the Gulf wars in Iraq but did provide Navy support. However NZ has been an active participant in the Afghanistan war with the deployment of its SAS rapid deployment units. Operating under intense secrecy these highly trained NZ SAS units have achieved amazing success rates, with one of their men (Corporal Willie Apiata) being awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007 with another 3 of his fellow soldiers also receiving bravery awards.