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New Zealand involvement in the Vietnam War
Part of the Vietnam War
RNZA carry out a fire mission, Vietnam.jpg
New Zealand artillerymen carry out a fire mission
DateJune 1964 – December 1972
LocationRepublic of Vietnam
Result All New Zealand military personnel withdrawn by 1973.
Commanders and leaders
New Zealand Keith Holyoake
New Zealand: 3,890 In-country peak: 543
January 1969
Casualties and losses
187 wounded 37 dead

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 1965 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. New Zealand could not do much more – its meagre military resources were already stretched in Malaya and conscription was out of the question.

Initial contributions

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 recognised that New Zealand should support Vietnam, as Holyoake simply put it;

"Whose will is to prevail in South Vietnam? The imposed will of the North Vietnamese communists and their agents, or the freely expressed will of the people of South Vietnam?"[4]

The government preferred minimal involvement, with other South East Asian deployments already having a strain on the New Zealand armed forces. From 1961, New Zealand came under pressure from the United States of America to contribute military and economic assistance to South Vietnam[citation needed], but refused. However, at that time, aircraft were tasked to deliver supplies to Tourane 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[citation needed]. Instead, a detachment of Royal New Zealand Engineers and a surgical team was sent to Vietnam, the former consisting of two officers and 20 other ranks. The Engineers were sent to the Southern Republic in a non-combatant capacity to undertake reconstruction tasks in and around the town of Thủ Dầu Một. At the same time a small administrative headquarters was established in Saigon. These engineers would be withdrawn in 1965. 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. This contingent was dispatched in June 1964.

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.

Military assistance

American pressure[citation needed] 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[1] 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. 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 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 based at Bien Hoa near Saigon, but would later serve with Royal Australian Artillery field regiments when it was reassigned to the 1st Australian Task Force at Nui Dat, in Phuoc Tuy Province east of Saigon in June 1966. 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 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 750 men having served with the Battery since its deployment.

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 placed under the 1st Australian Task Force's command, as part of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. In March 1968 they were integrated – forming the 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion, with New Zealand personnel assuming various positions in the battalion, including that of second in command. The rifle companies were deployed on infantry operations in Phuoc Tuy Province and were replaced several times, 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.

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 tri-service detachment with the role of providing 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 Binh Dinh 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. In 1967 also, a Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot was 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 and from December 1968 two Forward air controllers served with the Seventh Air Force, United States Air Force.

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 until being withdrawn in February 1971, having mounted 155 patrols during its deployment. 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 2nd New Zealand Army Training Team Vietnam in January 1971. Numbering 25 men, it assisted the United States Army Training Team in Chi Lang. In February 1972 a second training team, 18 strong (including two Royal New Zealand Navy personnel), was deployed to Vietnam and was based at Dong Ba Thin, near Cam Ranh Bay. It assisted with the training of Cambodian infantry battalions. This team also provided first aid instruction and specialist medical instruction at Dong Ba Thin's 50-bed hospital.

Several New Zealand units were awarded U.S. unit citations for their service in South Vietnam.[2][3]


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 (volunteers) had served in Vietnam, between June 1964 and December 1972. Thirty-seven of them (36 Army and 1 RNZAF) were killed and 187 wounded. 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.

Protest chronology:

  • 1967: two members of the left-wing Progressive Youth Movement laid a protest wreath on Anzac Day in Christchurch and were subsequently convicted of disorderly behaviour. Further incidents followed at later Anzac Days as protestors sought 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 Ky.
  • 1967: On 29 October, a big fight between police and protesters occurred 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 SE Asian nations and is greeted by several hundred anti war protesters. The protests turned violent after police attempted to disperse protesters, both sides blamed each other for the violence which resulted in many arrests and the first violent modern protest in New Zealand history before the 1981 Springbok Tour.
  • 1971: Protests in Dunedin reached the National Party's convention in the centre of the city, resulting in scuffles with police and two arrests and on 30 April, Nationwide anti-war demonstration attracts 30000 people to the streets demanding New Zealand's immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.

There were also numerous protests at Anzac Day, especially in Christchurch, in which anti-war activists attempted to lay wreaths commemorating the dead of both sides, or 'victims of fascism in Vietnam'.

The protest movement was backed by Norman Kirk's Labour government which supported a prompt withdrawal of New Zealand troops. New Zealand troops were quickly withdrawn without much controversy after the Labour Party's return to office in 1972. The protests marked a split in foreign policies between the two major political parties of Labour and National. While National continued to support a stronger alliance with the United States, the anti-War protests convinced the Labour government that a new and more independent New Zealand foreign policy was needed. The new foreign policy which followed as a result of these protests were the reason behind New Zealand rejecting visits from ships from the United States over anti-nuclear protest 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.

Agent Orange

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 – the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military in its Herbicidal Warfare program during the conflict. In 1984, Agent Orange manufacturers paid New Zealand, Australian and Canadian veterans in an out-of-court settlement,[4] and in 2004 Prime Minister Helen Clark's government apologised to Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other toxic defoliants,[5] following a health select committee's inquiry into the use of Agent Orange on New Zealand servicemen and its effects.[6] 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.[7] 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 service men and women returned to New Zealand. The MoU also makes available various forms of support, to both New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and their families.[8] 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'.[9]

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.[10][11][12] There have been continuing claims that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted.[13][14]


  • Breen, Bob: First to Fight: Australian Diggers, N.Z. Kiwis and U.S. Paratroopers in Vietnam, 1965–66 (1988, Allen & Unwin, Australia) ISBN 0-04-320218-7
  • Eder, Rod: Deep Jay: Kiwis at War in Vietnam (1995, Tandem Press) ISBN 0-908884-55-9
  • McGibbon, Ian: New Zealand’s Vietnam War: A history of combat, commitment and controversy (2010, Exisle, Auckland NZ & Ministry of Culture and Heritage) ISBN 978-0-908988-96-9
  • Newman, Lieut Stephen D. Vietnam Gunners: 161 Battery RNZA, South Vietnam 1965–71 (1988, Moana Press, Tauranga) ISBN 0-908705-35-2
  • Subritzky, Mike: The Vietnam Scrapbook The Second ANZAC Adventure (1995, Three Feathers, Blenheim) ISBN 0-9583484-0-5
  • Wicksteed, Major M.R. RNZA NZ Army Public Relations pamphlet.
  • Vietnam War Bibliography: Australia and New Zealand

See also


  1. "We cannot afford to be left too far behind Australia": New Zealand's entry into the Vietnam War in May 1965", Robert Rabel, Issue 32 – March 1999 Australian War Memorial
  2. List of Australian winners of the Victoria Cross,
  3. Keith Payne was the last Australian to be awarded the imperial Victoria Cross. In 1991 the Victoria Cross for Australia replaced the original Victoria Cross as the highest award for bravery for Australians, whilst in 1999 the Victoria Cross for New Zealand replaced the award for New Zealanders. Both have since been awarded for acts of bravery during the conflict in Afghanistan.
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. [3]
  7. Department of Internal Affairs, NZ. "Joint Working Group: On Concerns of Viet Nam Veterans". Department of Internal Affairs, NZ. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  8. "Viet Nam Veterans:Government's Response to the Joint Working Group on the Concerns of Viet Nam Veterans". Veterans' Affairs New Zealand (VANZ). Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  9. Challinor, Deborah (2009). Grey Ghosts: New Zealand Vietnam Veterans Talk About Their War. New Zealand: Harper Collins. pp. 300. ISBN 978-1-86950-771-8. 
  10. Taylor, Kevin (11 January 2005). "Government probes claims NZ exported Agent Orange". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  13. "Concern prompts new review of dioxin study". The New Zealand Herald. 25 November 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  14. "Health support for Taranaki residents exposed to dioxin". The New Zealand Herald. 27 March 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 

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