NZSAS: A premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defence Force

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

New Zealand Special Air Service NZSAS is often seen as the toughest unit in the New Zealand Army. They were formed on July 7, 1955, and are often referred to as the 1 NZSAS Regt. As their name suggests, they were closely modeled on the British Special Air Service (SAS) and the Australian SASR. Their history traces its origins to World War II and the famous Long Range Desert Group that many New Zealanders served with.

Introduction

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.

The two NZSAS operators from the Sabre Squadrons in Afghanistan
The two NZSAS operators from the Sabre Squadrons in Afghanistan (Photo: XY)

As a result of their efforts, individual members of the NZSAS have received a variety of honors 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.

So far, for the extraordinary contribution to world peace, individual members of the NZSAS have received a variety of honors 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 has 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.

Headquarters

Throughout history, the NZSAS has 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 the years, the NZSAS headquarters were dislocated a 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)

Operations

For years, the New Zealand Special Air Service took part in many wars and battles from Malaya to Afghanistan brandishing courage and capabilities which led to their recognition as part of the 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
  • Mali 2020-

Besides 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 emergencies 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).

Inside the NZSAS - New Zealand Elite Soldiers
Inside the NZSAS – New Zealand Elite Soldiers (Photo: XY)

Organization

As of 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

A and B Squadrons – Special Air Service

The two New Zealand Special Air Service NZSAS Sabre Squadrons are combat units capable of conducting a wide range of Special Operations tasks. Each squadron is divided into four troops. The four troops specialize in four different areas: Amphibious, Air, Mobility, and Mountain operations.

D Squadron – Commando

The Commando Squadron (formerly Counter-Terrorist Tactical Assault Group until 5 December 2009) was formed in 2005 in a bid to provide a dedicated counter-terrorist capability within 1 NZSAS and the New Zealand Defence Force. The squadron consists of an undisclosed number of Counter-Terrorist operators.

E Squadron – Explosive Ordnance Disposal

The 1st New Zealand Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Squadron is a specialist task unit within the NZSAS Regiment. It was established in August 2005 as an independent Force Troops Squadron, before coming under the Operational Command of 1 NZSAS Regiment in July 2009. It provides support to the New Zealand police to “render safe” chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and improvised explosive devices, commercial explosives, and military munitions, domestically as well as overseas where New Zealand troops are operating.

NZAS Support Squadron

The Support Squadron is responsible for meeting the support needs of the NZSAS Regiment and includes logistics, intelligence, medical, administration, and communications personnel. Personnel is given specific trade training upon joining the Regiment as well as having the opportunity to complete other specialist courses such as parachuting. Qualified Support Squadron personnel wear the sand beret with their corps badge.

NZSAS operator with K9
NZSAS operator with K9 (Photo: XY)

Training and selection

To join the New Zealand Special Air Service 1 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.

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.

Washout rate

Each year, dozens apply. Few are chosen. In four years from 2013 to 2017, there were 243 candidates to undergo New Zealand Special Air Service NZSAS selection. Just 31 succeeded.

Motto and insignia

The motto of the New Zealand Special Air Service NZSAS is the same as the unit according to which they are organized.

Who dares wins!

NZSAS insignia
New Zealand Special Air Service (NZAS) insignia (Photo: XY)

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

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