New Zealand in the Vietnam War
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|New Zealand involvement in the Vietnam War|
|Part of the Vietnam War|
New Zealand artillerymen carry out a fire mission in South Vietnam
|Commanded by||Keith Holyoake|
|Objective||To support South Vietnam against Communist attacks|
|Date||June 1964 – December 1972|
|Executed by||Total: 3,890 personnel|
In country peak: 543 personnel (January 1969)
New Zealand's involvement in the Vietnam War was highly controversial, sparking widespread protest at home from anti-Vietnam War movements modelled on their American counterparts. This conflict was also the first in which New Zealand did not fight alongside the United Kingdom, instead following the loyalties of the ANZUS Pact.
New Zealand decided to send troops to Vietnam in 1964 because of Cold War concerns and alliance considerations. The potential adverse effect on the ANZUS alliance of not supporting the United States (and Australia) in Vietnam was key. It also upheld New Zealand's national interests of countering communism in South-East Asia.
The government wanted to maintain solidarity with the United States, but was unsure about the likely outcome of external military intervention in Vietnam. Prime Minister Keith Holyoake decided to keep New Zealand involvement in Vietnam at the minimum level deemed necessary to meet allied expectations.
- 1 Initial contributions
- 2 Military assistance
- 2.1 Royal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA)
- 2.2 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR)
- 2.3 New Zealand Services Medical Team (NZSMT)
- 2.4 Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN)
- 2.5 Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
- 2.6 New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS)
- 2.7 Royal New Zealand Engineer Detachment (RNZE Det)
- 2.8 New Zealand Army Training Team Vietnam (1 NZATTV & 2 NZATTV)
- 2.9 Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RNZEME)
- 2.10 Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (RNZAOC)
- 2.11 Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC)
- 2.12 Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps (RNZAMC)
- 2.13 Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps (RNZASC)
- 2.14 Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals (RNZSigs)
- 2.15 New Zealand Attachments to United States Army, Air Force and Navy
- 2.16 New Zealand Attachments to Australian Army, Air Force, and Navy
- 2.17 Distinctions and awards
- 3 Withdrawal
- 4 Protest
- 5 Agent Orange
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
New Zealand's initial response was carefully considered and characterised by Prime Minister Keith Holyoake's cautiousness towards the entire Vietnam question. While it was considered that New Zealand should support South Vietnam, as Holyoake alleged;
The government preferred minimal involvement, with other South East Asian deployments already placing a strain on New Zealand's armed forces. From 1961, New Zealand came under pressure from the United States of America to contribute military and economic assistance to South Vietnam, but refused. However, at that time, aircraft were tasked to deliver supplies to Da Nang on the way from RAF Changi to Hong Kong from time to time.
In 1962, Australia sent advisors, as the United States had, but again New Zealand refused to make a similar contribution. Instead in April 1963 New Zealand confined its assistance to sending a civilian surgical team. The surgical team was made up of seven men and would eventually grow to sixteen, and remained in the country until 1975. The team worked for civilians at the Binh Dinh Province Hospital, in Qui Nhon, an overcrowded, and dirty facility almost completely lacking equipment and bedding. It would be the last New Zealand Government agency to withdraw from Vietnam.
Under continuing American pressure, the government agreed during 1963 to provide a small non-combatant military force, but the deteriorating political situation in Saigon led to delays. Not until June 1964 did twenty-five Army engineers arrive in South Vietnam. Based at Thủ Dầu Một, the capital of Bình Dương Province, the New Zealand Army Detachment Vietnam (NEWZAD) engineers were engaged in reconstruction projects, such as road and bridge building, until July 1965.
New Zealand non-military economic assistance would continue from 1966 onwards and averaged at US$347,500 annually. This funding went to several mobile health teams to support refugee camps, the training of village vocational experts, to medical and teaching equipment for Hue University, equipment for a technical high school and a contribution toward the construction of a science building at the University of Saigon. Private civilian funding was also donated for 80 Vietnamese students to take scholarships in New Zealand.
American pressure continued for New Zealand to contribute military assistance, as the United States would be deploying combat units (as opposed to merely advisors) itself soon, as would Australia. Holyoake justified New Zealand's lack of assistance by pointing to its military contribution to the Indonesia-Malaysian Confrontation, but eventually the government decided to contribute. It was seen as in the nation's best interests to do so—failure to contribute even a token force to the effort in Vietnam would have undermined New Zealand's position in ANZUS and could have had an adverse effect on the alliance itself. New Zealand had also established its post-Second World War security agenda around countering communism in South-East Asia and of sustaining a strategy of forward defence, and so needed to be seen to be acting upon these principles.
Royal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA)
On 27 May 1965 Holyoake announced the government's decision to send 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery to South Vietnam in a combat role. The New Zealand Army Detachment (NEWZAD) engineers were replaced by the Battery in July 1965, which consisted of nine officers and 101 other ranks and four 105 mm L5 pack howitzers (later increased to six, and in 1967 replaced with 105 mm M2A2 Howitzers). 161 Battery was initially under command of the United States Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade for the first 12 months based at Bien Hoa near Saigon. Upon the formation of 1st Australian Task Force at Nui Dat, in Phuoc Tuy Province in June 1966, the New Zealand government was given the choice of allowing the battery to remain at Bien Hoa with the 173rd Airborne under U.S command or integrate with the Australian forces. It was decided the battery would join 1ATF and serve with Royal Australian Artillery field regiments. Forward Observers for the battery would patrol with all infantry companies of the Australian and New Zealand infantry while on operations to direct artillery support when called upon.
The gunners were noted for their key role in assisting the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, during the Battle of Long Tan, in which 18 Australians were killed holding off a regimental sized enemy force on 18 August 1966. The battery also played important roles during the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Coral–Balmoral in 1968. The Battery left Vietnam in May 1971 after providing virtually continuous fire support usually in support of Australian and New Zealand infantry units for six years, with over 750 men having served with the Battery during the period of its deployment.
Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR)
In 1966, when Confrontation came to an end and Australia decided to expand the 1st Australian Task Force, New Zealand came under pressure to increase its commitment and did so. In May 1967, a 182-man rifle company, (Victor One Company) was deployed to Vietnam from the 1st Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment in Malaysia. In December Victor One was joined by Whisky One Company, also from the 1st Battalion, and they were then placed under the 1st Australian Task Force's command.
Following agreement between the Australian and New Zealand Governments in late February 1968, V Company and W Company and 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) were amalgamated into 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion (2RAR/NZ) in March 1968. The new "ANZAC Battalion" 2IC was filled by RNZIR Officer, Major RIG Thorpe. 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR), relieved 2RAR in May 1968 thus forming 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion (4RAR/NZ), again with a New Zealander as 2IC, Major ATA Mataira. In due course the RNZIR component of the ANZAC Battalion would also include Mortar and Assault Pioneer Sections as well as Administrative personnel. Subsequent rotations of the ANZAC Battalion retained the command structure of having an Australian battalion commander and a New Zealand 2IC.
The New Zealand rifle companies were deployed on infantry operations in Phuoc Tuy Province and were replaced several times, as were the Australian regiments (although not at the same time), usually after a 12-month tour of duty. Whiskey Three Company was withdrawn without replacement in November 1970 and Victor Six Company was withdrawn without replacement in December 1971.
Over the five-year period, more than 1600 New Zealand soldiers of the nine NZ rifle companies engaged in a constant round of jungle patrols, ambushes, and cordon-and-search operations, in both Australian-led and independently conducted operations.
New Zealand Services Medical Team (NZSMT)
New Zealand's military presence in South Vietnam was also increased in April 1967 with the arrival of the 1st New Zealand Services Medical Team, a 19-strong detachment consisting of medical personnel from the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps. The team's role was to provide medical and surgical assistance to South Vietnamese civilians and developing local knowledge in this field. The New Zealanders relieved a United States Army medical team at Bong Son in Bình Định Province. They also treated military casualties who were brought to the Bong Son Dispensary, including Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel and Viet Cong prisoners. In June 1969 the team moved to the new 100-bed Bong Son Impact Hospital. The average bed-state was 92 and approximately 46,000 outpatients (mostly civilians) were treated annually before the team's withdrawal in December 1971. Overall there were 98 personnel involved over the four-and-a-half years of the Team’s deployment: 47 from the Army, 27 from the Air Force and 24 from the Navy.
The Royal New Zealand Navy contribution to New Zealand's military involvement in the Vietnam War began in April 1967 with RNZN medical members being part of the tri-service New Zealand Services Medical Team (NZSMT.) Subsequently, a few served with the second of the two New Zealand training teams deployed to Vietnam after combat troops withdrew in 1971.
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
From 1965 the Royal New Zealand Air Force contribution was in the form of transportation with No. 40 Squadron RNZAF providing troop transport for New Zealand, Australian and some American troops, and No. 41 Squadron RNZAF providing resupply missions from Singapore.
RNZAF personnel were numerous in the New Zealand Services Medical Team (NZSMT) and one went on to be part of the subsequent New Zealand Army Training Team (NZATTV.)
RNZAF personnel were also posted to HQ V Force and worked primarily in Saigon in a range of liaison duties. The last RNZAF flight out from Vietnam was the evacuation of the New Zealand Ambassador in April 1975, just before the Fall of Saigon.
One RNZAF member of the NZSMT, Sgt Gordon Watt, was killed by a booby trap in 1970, the RNZAF's only casualty of the war.
New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS)
In November 1968, New Zealand's contribution to the 1st Australian Task Force was increased by the deployment of 4 Troop, New Zealand Special Air Service, comprising an officer and 25 other ranks. The arrival of this Troop raised New Zealand's deployment to Vietnam to its peak – 543 men. The Troop was attached to the Australian SAS Squadron at Nui Dat and carried out long-range reconnaissance and the ambushing of enemy supply routes, mounting 155 patrols over three tours until being withdrawn in February 1971. Although under operational command of the Australian SAS Squadron Commander when deployed into the field on operations, 4 Tp NZSAS was an independent command and self-sufficient.
Royal New Zealand Engineer Detachment (RNZE Det)
Each time New Zealand military contribution to South Vietnam increased, a work party of the Corps of Royal New Zealand Engineers was sent to assist in preparing the site for the new arrivals. RNZE Det helped set up the NZ artillery battery when it moved to Nui Dat in September 1966 and again for Victor One Company RNZIR from early November to December 1967. The final detachment was sent to assist 1 NZATTV establish themselves in Chi Lang in November 1970. This detachment stayed in South Vietnam until February 1971. Additionally, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Charles Fenton RNZE, was administratively in charge of all New Zealand forces in Vietnam, at the New Zealand Headquarters in Saigon (V Force HQ) from July 25, 1968 to July 30, 1970.
New Zealand Army Training Team Vietnam (1 NZATTV & 2 NZATTV)
As American focus shifted to President Richard Nixon's 'Vietnamization' – a policy of slow disengagement from the war, by gradually building up the Army of the Republic of Vietnam so that it could fight the war on its own, New Zealand dispatched the 1st New Zealand Army Training Team Vietnam (1 NZATTV) in January 1971. Numbering 25 men from different branches of service, it assisted the United States Army Training Team in Chi Lang. The team helped train South Vietnamese platoon commanders in tactics and small-arms techniques.
In February 1972 a second training team (2 NZATTV), 18 strong (including three RNZN personnel), was deployed to Vietnam and was based at Dong Ba Thin Base Camp, near Cam Ranh Bay. It assisted with the training of Cambodian infantry battalions in weapons use, tactics and first aid, and provided technical assistance. This team also provided first aid instruction and specialist medical instruction at Dong Ba Thin's 50-bed hospital.
Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RNZEME)
When 161st Battery, RNZA arrived in Vietnam in 1965 a detachment of engineers from the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers formed the Logistic Support Element (LSE), to service the battery. When the 1st Australian Task Force was moved to Phuoc Tuy Province in 1966, the LSE was detached from the battery and established within the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1 ALSG) at Vung Tau. RNZEME personnel who had been in the LSE were taken for the most part into the Light Aid Detachment (LAD) of the Australian Artillery Field Regiment (of which 161 Bty became a part of following its first year of service with the U.S 173rd Airborne Brigade).
RNZEME tradesmen also served with the New Zealand Services Medical Team in the town of Bong Son, in the Binh Dinh Province, and re-established New Zealand's association with the 173rd Airbirne Brigade.
Some RNZEME personnel served in the RNZIR rifle companies, the ANZAC Battalions (Command & Support), as well as at the New Zealand V Force HQ in Saigon. The initial NEWZAD deployment included a few RNZEME personnel, as did the latter NZATTV.
Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (RNZAOC)
Some 50 RNZAOC personnel served in the Headquarters of the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1 ALSG) following the formation of the 1 ATF in June 1966. Along with other New Zealand branches of service RNZAOC personnel went about their business with their Australian counterparts in all aspects of the Groups support functions for Australian and New Zealand forces in Vietnam.
Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC)
The Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps was not represented as its own unit in Vietnam and members instead served within other units including 161 Bty RNZA, V Force HQ, the ANZAC Battalions (Command and Support), V and W Companies RNZIR, 1st Australian Logistic Support Group, and NZAATV. Several members served with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, and 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment (U.S Army.) Additional short-term postings included detachments to several U.S Cavalry units.
Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps (RNZAMC)
Most personnel from the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps served with the New Zealand Services Medical Team (NZSMT) or were otherwise stationed at the New Zealand V Force Headquarters in Saigon and at 1 ALSG. After combat troop withdrawals in 1971 several RNZAMC personnel were part of the NZAATV teams.
Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps (RNZASC)
Although the Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps was not represented as a unit in the New Zealand contingent to Vietnam over 140 RNZASC personnel served throughout the war as medics in 161 Bty RNZA, Victor and Whisky Companies RNZIR, and 4 Troop NZSAS, as well as in administration and advisory roles in New Zealand V Force HQ in Saigon, 1 ALSG, and as members of 1 NZATTV.
Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals (RNZSigs)
Members of the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals served in all New Zealand units in Vietnam, including RNZA, RNZIR, NZSAS, and V Force HQ. Some served as intelligence officers with 1ATF. The last commander of 1NZATTV (5 Dec 1972 – 13 Dec 1972), Major TD Macfarlane, was from RNZSigs.
37 New Zealand serviceman, mostly Commissioned Officers from the RNZAC, are recorded on the Flinkenberg List as having served with U.S detachments during the war. These were not always formal postings as such. Some of these attachments were planned as part of officers' career planning by Defence Headquarters; others were opportunity attachments through contact with Allied commanders at many levels.
Three RNZN personnel served with the US Navy on a Junior Officer Exchange program in 1971, each posted on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and destroyer USS William H. Standley off the coast of North Vietnam.
In 1967 two RNZAF pilots were seconded to the Royal Australian Air Force's No. 9 Squadron, which was flying UH-1 Iroquois helicopters as troop transports. Two more RNZAF pilots joined No. 9 Squadron in 1968 to fly helicopters, often in support of the Australian and New Zealand SAS. By 1971 16 New Zealand pilots had served in 9 Squadron.
10 members from RNZAC served with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps.
Distinctions and awards
161 Battery RNZA was awarded the United States Meritorious Unit Commendation for their service in South Vietnam while serving under the U.S 173rd Airborne Brigade. Many New Zealand individuals received military awards for activities in Vietnam, including American military service awards and citations.
In 2019 the Australian government awarded the Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry to all members of 161 Battery for their part in the Battle of Coral-Balmoral. This is the first Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry offered to a New Zealand military unit.
In line with reductions in American and Australian strength in Vietnam, New Zealand began the gradual withdrawal of its combat forces as the training teams were arriving. Prime Minister Holyoake said in 1971 that New Zealand's combat forces would be withdrawn by "about the end of this year," and they were – Whiskey Three Company went in November 1970, the SAS Troop and 161 Battery followed in February and May 1971 respectively, and Victor Six Company and the tri-service medical team left with the 1st Australian Task Force in December 1971, ending New Zealand's combat involvement in the Vietnam War. This may have been due to protests in New Zealand.
One of the first acts of Prime Minister Norman Kirk's Labour Party government (elected in December 1972) was to withdraw both training teams and the New Zealand headquarters in Saigon. By then, a total of 3,890 New Zealand military personnel, all volunteers, had served in Vietnam from June 1964 to December 1972.
New Zealand casualties during the Vietnam War were: RNZE: 2, RNZA: 5, RNZIR: 27, RNZAF: 1, NZSAS: 1, RNZAMC: 1 (for a total of 37) and 187 wounded. Two New Zealanders serving with the United States Marine Corps, one serving in the US Army and one serving with the Australian Army were also killed in action.
The last NZ Troops left Vietnam on 22 December 1972.
Although New Zealand's involvement in the war was very limited compared to the contributions of some of its allies, it still triggered a large anti-Vietnam War movement at home.
New Zealand protests were similar to those in the United States – criticising the policies of the United States government and challenging seriously for the first time New Zealand's alliance-based security, calling for a more 'independent' foreign policy which was not submissive to that of the United States and denying that communism posed any real threat to New Zealand. Campaigns were also waged on moral grounds ranging from pacifist convictions to objections to the weapons being used to fight the war. In the early 1970s, anti-Vietnam war groups organised 'mobilisations', when thousands marched in protest against the war in all the country's major centres. While Prime Minister Holyoake and his government had their own misgivings about the viability of the war, they were consistent in their public belief that they were maintaining both New Zealand's foreign policy principles and treaty-bound obligations. Despite popular sentiment apparently against the conflict, especially in its final years, Holyoake's National Party was re-elected into government twice during the course of the war.
- 1967: Two members of the left-wing Progressive Youth Movement lay a protest wreath on Anzac Day in Christchurch and are subsequently convicted of disorderly behaviour. Further incidents follow at later Anzac Days as protestors seek to bring attention to their anti-war cause.
- 1967: 21 arrests during an Auckland protest against the visit of South Vietnam's Premier, Air Vice-Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.
- 1967: On 29 October, a big fight between police and protesters occurs outside the home of the American consul at Paritai Drive in Auckland.
- 1969: Flour bombs, paint and eggs thrown in protest over a visit of a high-ranking United States politician
- 1969: Fire crackers thrown at an election meeting addressed by the Prime Minister with 30 arrests.
- 1970 January 15: US Vice President Spiro Agnew arrives in Auckland as part of a goodwill visit to US-allied South East Asian nations and is greeted by several hundred anti-war protesters. The protests turn violent after police attempt to disperse protesters. Both sides blame each other for the violence which results in many arrests.
- 1971: Protests in Dunedin reach the National Party's convention in the centre of the city, resulting in scuffles with police and two arrests. On 30 April, a nationwide anti-war demonstration attracts 30,000 people to the streets demanding New Zealand's immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.
The protest movement is backed by Norman Kirk's Labour government which supports a prompt withdrawal of New Zealand troops. New Zealand troops are quickly withdrawn without much controversy after the Labour Party's return to office in 1972. The protests mark a split in foreign policies between the two major political parties of Labour and National. While National continues to support a stronger alliance with the United States, the anti-war protests convince the Labour government that a new and more independent New Zealand foreign policy is needed. The new foreign policy which follows as a result of these protests is the reason behind New Zealand rejecting visits from ships from the United States over anti-nuclear protests during the period of time after 1985. The anti-Vietnam War protests are often regarded as the beginning of the ANZUS alliance breakdown between New Zealand and the United States. The Vietnam War protests are still remembered on ANZAC Days in New Zealand for significance in the change of direction in New Zealand's foreign policy.
Like veterans from many of the other allied nations, as well as Vietnamese civilians, New Zealand veterans of the Vietnam War claimed that they (as well as their children and grandchildren) had suffered serious harm as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. In 1984, Agent Orange manufacturers paid New Zealand, Australian and Canadian veterans in an out-of-court settlement, and in 2004 Prime Minister Helen Clark's government apologised to Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other toxic defoliants, following a health select committee's inquiry into the use of Agent Orange on New Zealand servicemen and its effects. In 2005, the New Zealand government confirmed that it supplied Agent Orange chemicals to the United States military during the conflict.
In December 2006, the New Zealand Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association (EVSA) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) agreed to, and signed, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) following the recommendations of the Joint Working Group, designated with advocacy for Veteran's concerns. The MoU provides formal acknowledgement of the toxic environment New Zealand Vietnam Veterans faced during their service abroad in Vietnam, and the after-effects of that toxin since the servicemen and women returned to New Zealand. The MoU also makes available various forms of support, to both New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and their families. New Zealand writer and historian, Deborah Challinor, includes a new chapter in her second edition release of Grey Ghosts: New Zealand Vietnam Veterans Talk About Their War that discusses the handling of the New Zealand Vietnam Veterans' claims, including the Reeves, McLeod and Health Committee reports, and the reconciliation/welcome parade on Queen's Birthday Weekend, 2008, also known as 'Tribute 08'.
From 1962 until 1987, the 2,4,5T herbicide was manufactured at an Ivon Watkins-Dow plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth which was then shipped to U.S. military bases in South East Asia. There have been continuing claims that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted.
- Military history of Australia during the Vietnam War
- South Korea in the Vietnam War
- Canada and the Vietnam War
- Military Reenactment Society of New Zealand
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- Wicksteed, Major M.R. RNZA NZ Army Public Relations pamphlet.
- Vietnam War Bibliography: Australia and New Zealand
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to New Zealand in the Vietnam War.|
- VietnamWar.govt.nz – includes resources, ideas for teachers, a veterans' roll and a place to contribute memories and images
- New Zealand and the Vietnam War (NZHistory.net.nz)