New Zealander Special Operations

Special Air Service of New Zealand

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The Special Air Service of New Zealand (NZ SAS) was formed in June 1955 as an elite New Zealand Army unit capable of undertaking special missions. It was modeled on the British Special Air Service (SAS).


1 New Zealand SAS Group

  • Headquarters Support Wing
  • Training Wing
  • A SAS Squadron (Air, Boat, and Mountain Troops)
  • B SAS Squadron (Air, Boat, and Mountain Troops)
  • Commando Squadron (formerly the Counter Terrorist Tactical Assault Group or CTTAG)
  • EOT (Engineer Operations Troop)

Note – Teams of about 4 to 6 soldiers, led by a captain or sergeant, are the basic operational elements of the NZSAS.

The Counter-Terrorist Tactical Assault Group consists of 18 soldiers. Though officially part of the SAS these soldiers do not pass through the SAS selection course and are not permitted to wear the SAS’s ‘winged dagger’ badge. The CTTAG has the role of responding to terrorist incidents in New Zealand.


To join the SAS, Army, Navy or Air Force personnel must undergo a nine-day selection course described to the Weekend Herald by a participant as “mental and physical torture”.

Among other exercises, its notorious fifth day involves 20 hours of non-stop marching in either a swamp or sand dunes while carrying rifles, a 20-litre jerrycan and a backpack.

Even if they make it through, they still might not be chosen for the nine-month SAS training course. More in-depth SAS selection information may be read here.


In June 1955 it was decided that the New Zealand Army required an elite unit capable of specialist missions. Modeled on the British Special Air Service, NZSAS was quickly seen to be both effective and professional. The very arduous selection process, as then, only has a success rate of approximately 2%. Even after being “badged”, the probationary period can see further applicants returned to their original units.

World War Two

Prior to the formation of the NZ SAS, many New Zealanders served with the famous Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which had a close relationship with the SAS. It was nicknamed “the Mosquito Army” by Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell. Special Air Service soldiers would refer to it as the “Libyan Desert Taxi Service.”

Malaya and Borneo

From 1955 to 1957 a NZ SAS Squadron was attached to the British SAS in Malaysia for operations during the Malayan Emergency.


Based in Nui Dat, Vietnam, the NZ SAS 4th Platoon served under Australian command in November 1968, attached to the Australian SAS. During the Vietnam War, the combined SAS services of Australia and New Zealand had a phenomenal kill rate of around 500:1, much higher than US Special Forces.


Starting in late 2001, the NZ SAS began operations assisting in the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan. On June 17, 2004, two NZ SAS soldiers were wounded in a predawn gun-battle in central Afghanistan. In 2005 New Zealand sent the whole unit to Afghanistan to work along side American special forces, generally attached operationally (and interchangeably) with the Australian SAS forces. Secrecy still surrounds much of their operational work there.

The unit was awarded an American Presidential Unit Citation by President George W. Bush for its operations in Afghanistan.

NZ SAS has also served in Thailand and Desert Shield attached to 22 SAS and East Timor.

Presidential Unit Citation

In December 2004, the United States Navy Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to those units that comprised the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-SOUTH/Task Force K-BAR between 17 October 2001 and 30 March 2002 for “extraordinary heroism” in action. One of these units was the Special Air Service of New Zealand.

The citation said SAS units helped “neutralize” Taliban and al Qaeda in “extremely high risk missions, including search and rescue, special reconnaissance, sensitive site exploitation, direct action missions, destruction of multiple cave and tunnel complexes, identification and destruction of several known al Qaeda training camps, explosions of thousands of pounds of enemy ordnance.”

“They established benchmark standards of professionalism, tenacity, courage, tactical brilliance and operational excellence while demonstrating superb esprit de corps and maintaining the highest measures of combat readiness.”

Victoria Cross

It was announced on 2 July 2007 that Corporal Bill (Willy) Apiata of the NZ SAS, aged 35, had been awarded the Victoria Cross for New Zealand for carrying a severely injured comrade 70 meters “under heavy fire” from machine-guns and grenades after their vehicle was destroyed in an ambush.

Three other SAS soldiers won awards for actions during the same mission.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, said: “Corporal Apiata carried a severely wounded fellow soldier across … broken, rocky and fire-swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy opposing fire, and into the face of returning fire from the main New Zealand troop position.”

The citation said: “The troop could now concentrate entirely on prevailing in the battle itself. After an engagement lasting approximately twenty minutes, the assault was broken up and the numerically superior attackers were routed with significant casualties, with the Troop in pursuit.”

The announcement was unusual, because the NZ SAS is a very secretive organization that almost never reveals the names of its members. Miss Clark said Apiata’s name was revealed because it was only the 14th time since World War 2 that the Victoria Cross had been awarded among the 53 nations of the Commonwealth, and it would be almost impossible to keep secret.

Although not confirmed, it seems that this action was the one on June 17, 2004, in which two New Zealanders were reported wounded.


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One Comment

  1. you left out NZSAS active service in Thailand, Borneo and the Gulf War plus their return to Afghanistan 2009 till current

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