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New Zealand Special Air Service

NZ Special Air Service Bullion Blazer Badge NZ Special Air Service Officers Hat Badge
New Zealand Special Air Service bullion embroidered blazer badge. This stunning badge measures 100mm high and is embroidered in bullion gold and silver wire. New Zealand Special Air Service bullion embroidered officers cap/beret badge on shield shaped backing.

NZ Special Air Service Pair Collar Badges

New Zealand Special Air Service gold and silver coloured metal pair of collar badges. These are fitted with clutch pins on the back.

Plate  commemorating the 50th Anniversary of NZSAS

Training in the Special Air Service (SAS) units is considered to be some of the hardest in the world.   This can been seen in the fact that, unlike many Special Forces whom are designed for specific operational areas, the Special Air Service are trained in a multitude of areas.  As a result they are deployed in a great diversity of roles.   Counter-revolutionary Warfare (CRW), Airborne insertions, Maritime roles, Reconnaissance, Indigenous recruitment and training, Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) and Hostage rescue.

The New Zealand Special Air Service, and indeed other members of its Army, have a superb reputation for producing some of the best combat Trackers in the world.  As a result Kiwi troops often teach these skills to the various US Special Forces units and others around the world, including the British SAS.  Secondments to Australian and British SAS units, and other Special Forces units around the globe ensure that New Zealand personnel are well up with the play.  It allows these forces and their counterparts to gain invaluable experience and exchange ideas and methods.  World wide training gives realistic lessons in all types of terrain conditions which is essential for operational competence.

The SAS is open to any serving member of the New Zealand military; Navy, Air force or Army, of which most understandably hail from the Army.   Typically service of between two and four years is required before an applicant is considered for selection.

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 10%. Even after being "badged", the probationary period can see further applicants returned to their original units. 

In April 1978 the 1st Ranger Squadron became known as 1st SAS Squadron when the training centre became self-contained unit.  Previously based in Papakura the unit looks to be returning there once again after being in Hobsonville Airbase.

One third of the NZSAS are on rotation with the Boat Troop who train in maritime skills activities such as counter-terrorism, amphibious landings and beachhead recce (reconnaissance).  An integral part of SAS training is that of airborne insertion and all methods thereof.  Black Group is in the role of Counter Terrorist Warfare (CTW).  Alpine work on mountainous terrain and use of explosives is taught to a high degree. Linguist skills for specific operational requirements are taught as required. 

As New Zealand Defence Forces have no Marine component the NZSAS are called on to be very capable in maritime skills.  This includes being able to make landings on some of the roughest coastline in the world.

Security and need for inconspicuous behaviour mean that while being aggressive is a small part of some tasks a humble demeanor is required of SAS personnel.  Intelligence and initiative is a prerequisite in the SAS line of work.   As is patience, very long periods in a single spot gathering intelligence is a good example of the need for this trait.

Organisation consists of Two Squadrons of three troops each; Boat, Mountain and Air, and a Headquarters element.  It costs $39 Million a year to train these elite Special Forces soldiers.  Anyone who questions the need for their capabilities and the budget would seriously need to ask themselves that only until after they are dire need of their unique talents, making a reassessment then.  To this end about half the NZSAS total personnel of the Special Warfare Group spend some six months a year overseas.  In recent years there has been talk about the New Zealand Police taking over the role of Anti-terrorism.  

This proposition is considered extremely questionable by critics who use the Canadian example as a case in point.  Failure of the Police to effectively perform Anti-terrorist roles brought about the formation of the current Special Forces unit there, Joint Task Force Two (JTF2).  Much of the problem comes with the public perception were Police are in place to enforce the law.  The extreme circumstances which invoke counter terrorist operations make this a difficult and complex condition indeed.

Many troubles, acts of terrorism, attempted assassinations and military actions have been avoided altogether simply through the knowledge of a small elite by those that might have perpetrated such crimes.  Even in the most dire examples units like the NZSAS are one of the best deterrents on hand.

The dagger has been claimed to represent the sword of King Arthur, Excalibur, but some others suggest that it represents the Sword of Damocles, while the wings (SAS exclusive design) represent the airborne nature of the unit.  The universal Motto of the SAS units is "Who Dares Wins".

Colonial Times

Taranaki Bush Rangers

The first Special Forces of New Zealand were raised during the Maori wars to counter the Maori in the rugged bush country that was unique to the country.   The first of these forces was the Taranaki Bush Rangers raised in 1863.  They were charged with searching out Maori war parties, acting as scouts and protecting the communications networks of the English forces.  

Forest Rangers

Though the Taranaki Bush Rangers were a smaller unit of some 50 men, the Forest Rangers was the first company sized unit, commanded by Major W. Jackson in the same year.  Later in 1863, Major G. F. Von Tempsky raised a second company.   The guerilla warfare tactics employed were highly effective.  These methods are still used today suitably modified to work on the modern battlefield. The passing of the Armed Constabulary Act of 1867 put an end to the Colonial Defence Force once the fighting was essentially at a conclusion.  The Special Forces were disbanded on 22 October 1867.

World War Two

The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was the direct parent of the SAS concept and was charged with long range recce and raiding missions against the Germans and Italians in North Africa during the Second World War.  

Started by David Sterling, the unit was originally called Detachment L, to be renamed 1st Special Air Service Regiment in 1942.  The founder was recovering from a parachuting accident at the time. 

New Zealanders played a major role in the LRDG and this was recognised by their being referred to as the Kiwi Scorpions', with the Scorpion being the symbol of the LRDG.  

The unit grew until there were several other Allied components, including French and Belgian.  From the outset the founding unit was given the motto "Who Dares Wins" which has stood to this day.   

Raids were typically performed with Jeeps carrying extra water and fuel for long range missions and armed to the teeth with Vickers K machineguns, Lewis guns.

  By the end of the North African campaign the SAS had destroyed over 400 enemy aircraft.  The SAS Brigade as a whole inflicted more than twenty times as many casualties as they suffered in the operations of 1944/45.  

They took about 5000 German prisoners.

Click to enlarge

Malaya and Borneo

In 1956 the NZSAS Squadron was attached to the British SAS in Malaya.  It fought against Malaysian Communists with great success.  Asides fighting these guerrilla forces they were also charged with collecting up and training villagers to fight as well, in a similar fashion as US Green Berets did during Vietnam.  In over a dozen major engagements only one NZSAS trooper was killed.   Soon after the unit was disbanded, having been operationally replaced by an Infantry Battalion.  Still, it did not take long for the SAS unit to be reformed.

The NZSAS also had the job of countering Indonesian Communist insurgents in Borneo.  Here in the harsh jungle environments the Kiwis' tracking skills were called upon.   British and Australian forces were also involved in this conflict. "Hearts and Minds" operations were very effective here and a major element of Special Forces operations.


Based in Nui Dat in Vietnam the New Zealand Special Air Service 4th Platoon served under Australian command in November 1968, attached to the Australian SAS Regiment.   Each tour was of a year's duration and included several platoons' involvement.  Here NZSAS was named 1st Ranger Squadron.  Most tasks involved ambush of enemy forces and doing recce missions observing the enemy.  NZSAS also worked in conjunction with US Army Special Forces.  Previous experiences in Malaya and Borneo stood the unit in good stead for the jungle environment.

Recent Times

 Currently troopers of the NZSAS are deployed in Afghanistan where their skills in tracking are being used to good effect in hunting down members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. The US has always been keen for New Zealand support in the past and the current War on Terrorism is no exception. New Zealand SAS soldiers have had extensive experience in the Middle East including fighting Islamic fundamentalist groups at the invitation of the Sheik of Oman. Missions in various capacities have existed in a on going fashion since the 70's, through to the Gulf War and to the present day.

More recently, A 'clash' with Abu Sayaff in the Philippines ended in another successful contact for the NZSAS. Currently NZSAS personnel are working alongside Australian SASR soldiers in the Anzac tradition. It can be deduced they are also working alongside their US counterparts, though, like in Vietnam most operations will be independent, and in smaller units. The 30 men of NZSAS are being provided logistical support from two RNZAF C130 Hercules'. 

Undoubtedly as history has shown tasks will include training of local Anti-Taliban Afghan forces, deep reconnaissance and, where required, offensive operations. Operating in traditionally small units of no more than five men the NZSAS has been operating covertly at very high altitudes, above Al Qaeda positions. They have been guiding in the 1500 Allied troops involved in 'Operation Anaconda'.


As is common with world Special Forces in general, the NZSAS is no exception to the rule of having access to most tools of the trade.  Getting to play with the fancy gear is an advantage of such service but when it comes down to it New Zealand prides itself in the concept that the man makes the gear not the other way around.   Scopes and other added features are often included in weapons load-outs for increased effectiveness.  Unlike regular units, the NZSAS member is permitted a certain amount of personal choice and flexibility in their kit.  

M16A2 M16A2 The US manufactured M16 Rifle is popular with the NZSAS as it is with other SAS units around the world.  The Steyr AUG is the New Zealand Army standard issue rifle and this is also seen in service depending on requirements.  The older M16A1 with its fully automatic sear is also used.  
Due to history this rifle, regardless of generation is referred to as the Armalite. The severely cut down version, the Colt Commando has also seen use, as has the more recent M4 Carbine.  One weapon appreciated for its power is the SLR Battle Rifle, on issue to the New Zealand Army before the Steyr, alongside the M16.
L34A1 Silenced Sterling SMG (L34A1) This is the silenced version of the very famous British Sterling SMG.  It is very quiet and very robust.  Though a bulky weapon compared to modern designs it is very reliable and still has a place in the NZSAS armoury for its very specialised role.   
Primarily the L34 is intended for eliminating personnel targets when stealth is of the utmost importance. This helps a covert force avoid detection and also avoids unwanted hostile encounters. The L34 was used by the British Royal Marines own Special Forces, the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) during the Falklands.
MP5A3 HK MP5 The very popular MP5 sub-machinegun design from Germany is used in many operational capacities and is liked by many of the world's Special Forces for its extreme accuracy.  The NZSAS is no exception.  
Different configurations allow for different needs, including the MP5K, which is particularly compact and able to be carried concealed for the VIP Bodyguard role. A suppressed version is present also. The 9mm pistol ammunition the MP5 uses makes it ideal for counter terrorism work where a will aimed burst is still lethal while not presenting a danger by penetrating walls and other structures, thereby having the potential to injure non-combatants.
C9 Minimi C9 Minimi Known in other services as the Minimi or C9 this Light Machinegun, designed in Belgium is used by many forces around the world. Using the same small round as the M16 makes for good logistic sense and also other than the standard belt (held in a plastic box) of 200 rounds the weapon also accepts M16 magazines.
A gunner may carry a few such magazines for an emergency. With a range of 600 metres and capable of sustained fire rates the weapon is a good accurate one for the modern battlefield.
M203 M203 40mm Grenade Launcher The M203 is attached to the bottom of the M16 rifle.   This 40mm grenade launcher gives the SAS unit, considering its typically small size, very formidable firepower.  
Various ammunition types allow for tactical flexibility, including; high explosive (HE), smoke and buckshot (which works like a shotgun on steroids). Less than lethal ammunition such as Tear Gas (CS) can also be fired from these weapons for riot control or seizure of criminals.  A major task for the NZSAS is recce work and this weapon gives the unit the capability to counter-attack very effectively if they are compromised.   But all efforts are made to insure the need is not required with first rate field-craft. The M203 below is mounted on the M4 Carbine, a cut down version of the M16A2.
M72 M72 LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon) The M72 is a single shot, disposable anti-armour weapon.   

With the advent of more effective armoured vehicles the 66mm HEAT round is much less effective than it once was for its original intended role.  

But still, the M72 is very effective in the bunker buster and anti-personal role and against lighter armoured vehicles.  Once fired the left over tube is discarded, or carried out if operationally required.  Either way each launcher including its integral rocket is very light.


The NZSAS are trained in the use of many other weapons for complete battlefield adaptability including mortars and Anti-tank weapons such as the 84mm Carl Gustav.  Sniper rifles and other firearms are used for various tactical roles.   Experts in Close Quarter Battle (CQB), the SAS are trained to a very high degree in the use of pistols, the Browning High Power and Sig Sauer P226 are typical examples.   Claymore mines for Anti-personnel work and constructing hasty ambushes are used, as are shotguns in close jungle and bush country.  Foreign weapons are taught to ensure competency in an operational situation should the need arise to utilize them.


The selection process is 14 days long.  Pre-selection ensures that those wanting to take on the challenge have the necessary navigation skills required to even attempt SAS selection.  Even on passing one of the world's hardest tests to enter one of the world's most elite of the Special Forces there is still a further 9 months of training, learning, taking in so much more information.  Failure at any stage means being returned to their original unit.

Inside of two weeks two thirds of candidates are typically eliminated from the selection process.  It is evident that the training is as much about mental toughness as it is physical, the need to carry on well beyond what you would physically be able to manage.  This ensures that, operationally the SAS trooper can manage beyond the limits of conventional forces on tasks which call on very special people in the most arduous of conditions working in very small teams.  Often there is no support. 

Navigating over hard Waikato farmland at night is a key feature of the selection process, having to make it to key map references.  This must be done at an average of 3 kilometers an hour.  To be too slow means you're out.   All this on limited food intake.  All part of testing endurance and determination while partaking in these solo efforts.

The Jerry Can test finds the candidates carrying a 25kg Jerry Can filled to the brim over the Kaipara sand dunes.  There is always an extra can which has each candidate taking turns to carry two at once.

Despite making good times and performing well some simply give it away, deciding that the SAS is not what they want.  A great deal of the difficulty comes from not knowing when a given exercise is going to end.  You must carry on regardless, if you want to make it.

Surviving candidates are thrown head first into a Escape and Evasion test where SAS staff hunt them down relentlessly.  This tests the resolve of the men to their limits and beyond.  "Hare and Hound" is relegated within a specific area and if the candidate is caught outside that area, they are put back 10 kilometres.  Because this test must be competed within a given time, including navigating through very dense forest, no one wants to go outside the set boundary.   Pure exhaustion might inadvertently lead to that anyway.

To finish there is a 60km trek through Woodhall Forest, reputed to be the hardest part of the whole ordeal.  Even after completion some who have made it to the end are not selected.  They are deemed to immature or do not fit the psychological profile required. Once badged the NZSAS trooper wears the coveted sand beret, like that of the as that of the British SAS or Australian SASR.  This has only been instituted since around 1986, where previously, rather than the sand coloured beret, the red beret with SAS badge was worn. This is significant in New Zealand where there is no Airborne unit, which, traditionally world wide airborne personnel wear the red beret. 

Text from Click to go this site. by Leon T. Harrison


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces