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New Zealand in the Vietnam War

Date: June 1964 – December 1972

Location: Republic of Vietnam

Objective: The main objective for New Zealand’s involvement was the need to be seen to cooperate with their major ally, the US.

Casualties: 37 killed • 187 injured

In the 1960's New Zealanders were faced with a difficult decision when it came to supporting in the Vietnam war. This was due to divided public attitudes towards their traditional ally, the United States of America. In 1964 there were massive anti-American protests held in Auckland and Wellington in which demonstrators burned an effigy of President Lyndon Johnson.

New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War triggered a questioning of New Zealanders’ traditional role as territorials of the British Empire. This massive protest on 30 April 1971 reportedly attracted 30,000 people onto New Zealand streets.


  • The Vietnam War had a large impact on New Zealand society and politics
  • The Vietnam War caused inflationary pressures and budgeting problems in New Zealand
  • Opposition to conscription increased during the Vietnam war period
  • Although American involvement in the Vietnam War began as early as 1954, New Zealand did not send troops to Vietnam until May 1965. In total, about 4,500 New Zealanders served in South Vietnam from 1965-1972.

    The Vietnam War had a large impact on New Zealand society and politics during this time period because of the division that emerged within the New Zealander population regarding whether or not to support the war.

    Furthermore, many people protested against sending troops to fight alongside American soldiers by burning an effigy of President Lyndon Johnson and recruiting others outside of movie theaters.

    The Vietnam War had a negative impact on the economy due to the money spent on weapons which raised inflationary pressures and budgeting problems during this time period. Moreover, opposition to conscription increased during this time.

    New Zealanders protested against the Vietnam War due to their anti-American opinions. They were afraid American Imperialism would affect New Zealand's independence and sovereignty, which it did because of America's involvement in the war.

    A group called "The Resistance" was responsible for many of the protests in Auckland and Wellington in 1964 where they burned an effigy of President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968 a protest was held in Auckland where over 10,000 people attended to show disapproval at New Zealand sending soldiers to fight alongside US troops in South Vietnam.

    Furthermore, Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations occurred spontaneously throughout smaller towns across New Zealand during this time period.

    New Zealand first sent 100 soldiers to Vietnam in 1964 who were involved in medical treatment of sick and wounded allied troops.

    In May 1965 the size of New Zealand's force increased to a platoon, which was mainly situated at Bien Hoa airbase near Saigon for eight months before being redeployed. However, they did not have any direct contact with enemy forces despite being placed within 70km of North Vietnamese units.

    Later on, in 1967 New Zealand's combat commitment grew again with engineers, artillerymen, and more medics joining the conflict. Over the following two years their force grew to include three rifle companies, which were stationed within 30km of enemy bases.

    By 1969 New Zealand was involved in offensive operations against the Viet Cong before finally withdrawing all combat troops by 1971.

    New Zealand sent ground troops to fight in South East Asia for the first time since World War II when 100 medical personnel were deployed to take care of American wounded from 1965-1966.

    In May 1967, combat soldiers joined them as well as engineers, artillery, and medics bringing the total number of troops present in Vietnam up to over 2,500 which made up a third of all defense spending at that time.

    Ultimately 1/3rd of those who enlisted were conscripted by the National Service Act, however, this proved to be insufficient in filling troop numbers. Morale was low among soldiers and there were eventually several protests against the war by New Zealander citizens.

    Despite many people's opposition to involvement in Vietnam; 300 combat troops remained in Vietnam until 1971 when Prime Minister Norman Kirk pulled them out two days before his death from a heart attack.

    The Australian Government's official war history reports more than 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam of whom 521 were killed and more than 3,000 wounded. New Zealand had five deaths with 23 men losing their lives on active service. These men died flying helicopters which was quite an ordinary occurrence at the time.

    Helicopter crews suffered a casualty rate twice that of ground troops due to exposure to enemy fire while above the battlefield. About one-third of helicopter losses resulted from hostile action but only about 10 percent of those engaged by enemy fire were fatally hit.

    Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

    Mcleod, S. "New Zealand in the Vietnam War." World History Blog, Oct 25, 2021.