SAS – 65 years of our elite

Who Dares Wins

The Challenge Begins…

‘Special’ or ‘Elite’ Forces always conjure up an air of intrigue and mystery combined with an effective ruthlessness that usually results in ‘getting the job done’.

The ‘elite’ element of the New Zealand Armed Forces, the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) were officially formed on 1 May 1955 but their beginnings could be traced back to one of the first ‘elite’ forces operating in New Zealand – The Forest Rangers.

At Papakura, on 10 August 1863, Lieutenant William Jackson formed the Forest Rangers as a specialist ‘bush fighting’ corps. The force was made up of a collection of nationalities and occupations. Bushmen, settlers, gold diggers, sailors and professional soldiers, all young and self reliant, were ready for adventure. The men enlisted for three months at a time and their pay, at eight shillings a day, was a lot better than any other British or Colonial unit. However many said, the reason for that was that their ‘job’ was a lot riskier.

They were employed to scour the land and to challenge the Maori in their own environment. They were armed with Callisher and Terry breech-loading carbines and revolvers, and many later carried long bladed bowie knives.

In November 1863, the Forest Rangers were reformed into two companies, under Captains Jackson and Gustavus Von Tempsky whereby about 100 men were enlisted at five shillings a day for three years service. Both companies distinguished themselves in a number of critical actions with both Jackson and Von Tempsky attaining the rank of Major. Amongst the Maori, von Tempsky was known as Manu-rau, meaning “many birds” because of the rapidity with which he and his Forest Rangers moved through the bush, always surprising the Maori. But despite their success, on 30 October 1867, a cost-conscious government disbanded the unit, with many of the men enlisting in the Armed Constabulary, particularly No. 5 Division. Von Tempsky was later killed during the attack on the Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in September 1868.

Over 365 men served in the Forest Rangers during the four-year period and their ability to operate in difficult conditions with wary silence, laid the foundations for the need of a specialist free-ranging fighting unit.

In the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902), the Bushveldt Carbineers were made up of Australians, New Zealanders, Britons and South Africans. They were one of the irregular units raised by Kitchener to counter the guerrilla tactics adopted by the Boers after their conventional tactics had failed against the well-drilled and larger Imperial army.

SAS Tracking Team

In World War One, that need for stealth and specialist skills were highlighted with the establishment of New Zealand Sniper Units and this ‘need’ was further developed in World War Two with the formation of the Long Range Patrol (LRP) and later the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

The LRP was another link in the ‘history’ of the NZSAS with the unit comprising New Zealand volunteers from the Divisional Cavalry, the 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion and the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment. It was formed by Major R A Bagnold in June 1940 and operated long-range patrols in the deserts of North Africa. Due to successful operations the LRP expanded and on 31 December 1940 it changed to become the LRDG.

Nov 04, Army, Low level Basic Parachute Course.

Former Egyptian Army 30-cwt trucks, modified and armed with an assortment of scrounged and captured weapons, were used for patrols. Throughout late 1940, the LRDG undertook reconnaissance missions and from 1941 it began raiding enemy supply convoys and airfields. The NZ Squadron of the LRDG became involved with the newly formed British Special Air Service commanded by David Stirling. The LRDG also saw service in the Aegean (Dodecanese Islands).

In December 1943, the New Zealanders were withdrawn from the LRDG and posted to the Divisional Cavalry having distinguished themselves throughout the various campaigns.