New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS)

NZSAS who dares wins
New Zealand Special Air Service (NZAS) (Photo: XY)

New Zealand Special Air Service are often seen as the toughest unit in the New Zealand Army. They were formed on July 7, 1955, and it is also abbreviated as the NZSAS. As their name suggests, they were closely modelled on the British Special Air Service (SAS). Their history traces its origins to the Second World War and the famous Long Range Desert Group that a number of New Zealanders served with.

For the New Zealand Government, the NZSAS is the “premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defence Force”. Their area of operations it’s not related only to the domestic level. They have been operationally deployed to a variety of locations, including the jungles of South-East Asia, the Pacific region and Afghanistan. As a result of their efforts, individual members of the NZSAS have received a variety of honours and awards, including the Victoria Cross for New Zealand awarded to Corporal Willie Apiata. In 2004, the unit was awarded the United States Presidential Citation as a result of their contributions in Afghanistan.

NZSAS members in Afghanistan (Victoria Cross)

So far, for the extraordinary contribution to the world peace, individual members of the NZSAS have received a variety of honours and awards, including the Victoria Cross for New Zealand awarded to Corporal Willie Apiata. The Afghanistan campaign earns them the United States Presidential Citation for their contributions in 2004.

The New Zealand Special Air Service have been promoted to Regimental status in 2013 and presently has the responsibility of conducting domestic Counter-Terrorism operations, overseas Special Operations missions and performing the disposal of chemical, biological, radioactive and improvised explosive devices for both the military and civilian authorities.

NZSAS headquarters

Through history, the NZSAS have moved a lot. Their current headquarter is located at the place of old Papakura Military Camp. The new facility was named ‘Rennie Lines’, after the founding NZSAS Commanding Officer Major Frank Rennie and officially opened on 14 December 2002. Through years, the NZSAS headquarters were dislocated few times:

  • Waiouru Military Camp (1955-1959)
  • Papakura Military Camp (1959-1995)
  • Hobsonville Air Force Base (1995-2002)
  • Papakura Military Camp ‘Rennie Lines’ (2002-today)

Operational deployments

During years, the NZSAS took part in many wars and battles from Malaya to Afghanistan brandishing courage and capabilities which led to their recognition as the part of world’s elite special operations units.

  • Malaya 1955–57
  • Thailand 1962
  • Borneo 1965-66
  • Vietnam 1969–71
  • Bougainville 1997–98
  • Kuwait 1998
  • East Timor 1999–2001
  • Afghanistan 2001-2012

Beside these missions, they took part in a less lethal mission such as the training missions (Training Malaysian Police Field Force personnel 1977–1980) or the emergency situations as the tsunami in Papua New Guinea. Their most significant project so far is their support to New Zealand police. They were tasked with field training and weapon handling. Their overall success is seen through the establishment of the Police Anti-Terrorist Squad (now known as the Special Tactics Group).

NZAS organisations and selection

As at February 2013, the main elements of the 1st New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment were:

  • Headquarters
  • A Squadron – New Zealand Special Air Service Squadron
  • B Squadron – New Zealand Special Air Service Squadron
  • D Squadron – Commando Squadron
  • E Squadron – Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron
  • Support Squadron

To join the NZSAS Regiment, New Zealand Army, Navy, or Air Force personnel must pass a regular selection course, which content depends on the unit they want to join. with the course varying depending on the role, they seek within the Regiment.

NZSAS insignia

The regular SAS selection standard remains the same, with the full course aiming to identify “self-disciplined individuals who are capable of working effectively as part of a small group under stressful conditions for long periods of time”. However, the earlier phases of the selection course have been opened up to candidates who wish to join the Regiment as a Commando. This is described as advancing through a series of ‘gates’.

  • Gate 1: After four days the first gate is reached which allows a candidate to be considered for a role as a Commando. This phase involves completing “1 NZSAS Regt fitness testing and mixed terrain navigation”.
  • Gate 2: Gate 2 is reached after nine days and is the conclusion of the selection course. This phase involves completing “close country navigation and other activities” and those who get to this point are considered for SAS training. Those who are selected go on to complete an intensive period of training to build core special forces skills. On average 10–15% of candidates pass both selection and cycle training.

Commando and SAS commissioned Officer candidates also undergo an additional two days of selection to test their suitability to solve problems when tired and under pressure in various environments.

Today, the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) is a respectable part of the world’s special forces community and a one of the most capable units of such type in the world.


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