Report on Medallic Recognition of New Zealand Military Service in South-East Asia 1950-1975

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Report on Medallic Recognition

of New Zealand Military Service in

South-East Asia 1950-1975


Peter Cooke

Independent Historian

1 July 2011

Note from JWG: This report should be read in conjunction with the Medallic Recognition Joint Working Group’s Public Consultation document of 12 July 2011



Executive Summary 4

Summary of Research Findings 6
Medallic Recognition of New Zealand Military Service in South-East Asia 1950-1975
1. Introduction 20

2. Definitions 20

3. Brief 22

4. Service which already qualifies for medallic recognition 23

Malayan Emergency 1948-1960

Malay-Thai border operations 1960-1964

Thailand 1962-1971

Indonesian Confrontation 1962-1966

Vietnam 1962-1975

5. Principles for medallic recognition of operational service 26

6. Guidelines for assessing service against Principle One 29

7. Army service in South-East Asia 1950-1975 30

Local threats

Deaths overseas

SEATO ground exercises

Exercise Dhanarajata

Other Thailand service

RAAF Butterworth

Live ammunition

Singapore 1966-1975

Jalan Ulu Exercises

8. Naval service in South-East Asia 1950-1975 48

RNZN service off the Malay Peninsula from 1 August 1960

to 16 August 1964

RNZN service off Borneo from 1950 to 7 December 1962

RNZN service off Borneo from 8 December 1962 to

11 August 1966

RNZN service in South-East Asia from 12 August 1966

to 1975

SEATO naval exercises

Transit of the Straits of Taiwan (or Formosa)

Transits of the Indonesian Straits

Soviet warships

Other naval hazards

9. Air Force service in South-East Asia 1950-1975 64

SEATO air exercises

Live or simulated air strikes


Servicing embassies

Medevacs and the delivery of medical supplies

Other activities by Air Force personnel
10. Conclusion 74
11. Disclaimer 75
Annex A: Terms of Reference 76

Executive Summary
Some aspects of the service by New Zealand military personnel in South-East Asia between 1950 and 1975 are currently not eligible for medallic recognition. In 2005, the Minister of Defence instructed that this situation be researched and reported upon. An independent historian, Mr Peter Cooke, was employed in 2006 and 2007 to research the subject, and then prepare a report. This report was reviewed by Peter Cooke again in December 2008 and March 2011 following further consultation with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).
Peter Cooke is an independent historian specialising in military history and industrial heritage. In 2000 he wrote and published the three-volume work Defending New Zealand – Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s. He edits the journal of the Defence of NZ Study Group. He has documented mine-proof vehicle technologies, Shell Oil NZ Ltd, Wellington Returned & Services Assn and the Capital’s waterworks engineering. Peter wrote the official corps history of the Royal New Zealand Electrical & Mechanical Engineers 1942-96 (in production) and much of Auckland Infantry, the story of 3rd Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) & Northland Battalion RNZIR (2011). He co-authored the centennial history of the NZ Territorial Force (to be published later in 2011) and helped on John Crawford’s (editor) No Better Death - The Great War Diaries of William G Malone in 2005. His current project is a history of compulsory military training and national service (1950-72).

The instructions to the independent historian were to research examples of service that do not currently qualify for medallic recognition, and report on this service.

Service which already qualifies for medallic recognition

Most operational service up to 1966 already qualifies for some medallic recognition by New Zealand. This relates to the conflicts in the region in Malaya/Malaysia, Thailand, the Indonesian confrontation, and Vietnam.

Principles for medallic recognition

The assessment of service for medallic recognition takes into account the Government's principles for recognising “operational service”. These principles were approved by Cabinet in 2000.

Current Policy

At the current time, no service in South-East Asia after 1966 (excluding in Vietnam and north-eastern Thailand) has been assessed by the Government as “operational service” and therefore eligible for medallic recognition.

Peacetime service overseas may be demanding and of strategic value but is generally similar to that completed in New Zealand. Under Principle 1 of the New Zealand Government’s Principles for the Medallic Recognition of Operational Service: “Medals are awarded to recognise service that is beyond the normal requirements of peacetime service in NZ”.
Current guidelines from the Government clearly state that “No service is recognised by the award of a medal for operational service unless there has been operational activity involving a risk of casualties and the possible use of force may be required”.
So while the New Zealand military presence in South-East Asia from 1950 to 1975 was part of our contribution to strategic forward defence, only the operational service in relation to the conflicts in Malaya/Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand and Vietnam currently qualifies for medallic recognition.
The independent historian’s research findings on the service outside of these operational zones and timeframes is presented in this report.

I have reviewed the service outside of these operational zones and timeframes and, taking into account the medallic principles cited above, find that no aspect of this service meets the requirements for medallic recognition as operational service.

Summary of Research Findings

(Summary of Section 7 of the report)
Service by the New Zealand Army in South-East Asia (after the initial deployment of the NZSAS Squadron in 1955-1957) revolved around the infantry battalion based in Malaysia (until 1969) and Singapore (until 1989), with a range of attachments of supporting services. From 1969 to 1989 the battalion regularly traveled to Malaysia for training.
The battalion received regular drafts of reinforcements with the typical tour of duty being two years. Married personnel had families accompany them with accommodation provided. The battalion (1 RNZIR) after its transfer from Terendak in Malaysia 1969 remained in Singapore until 1989 and the unit then returned to New Zealand.

Service in Malaysia and Singapore, aside from the service which has already received medallic recognition, does not constitute operational service and therefore does not warrant medallic recognition.

Deaths Overseas

Deaths overseas in peacetime or outside the ‘operational areas’ cannot be taken as an indication of a level of abnormal danger or threat. In fact, almost all came from illness or accidents, mostly vehicular. Though tragic, such accidents were a feature of normal peacetime training in both New Zealand and South-East Asia. Forty-two deaths among the infantry alone are attributed to accident or illness in South-East Asia from 1958-1975.

In the same period a significantly larger number of New Zealand military personnel have died in similar normal peacetime training or off-duty accidents in New Zealand.

Deaths overseas are not in themselves an indication of operational activity or danger for which medallic recognition should be awarded.

SEATO Ground Exercises

After the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) was formed, the Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve was designated as one of its forces available for contingency planning. New Zealand units in the Reserve therefore became involved in SEATO exercises from the early 1960s.

The first involvement by New Zealand ground forces seems to have been in Exercise Rajata, an air transportation and ground Command Post Exercise (CPX) on 8-16 March 1961 in Thailand. This exercise predates the period in which medallic entitlement for service in Thailand begins (1962), and while it may have been staged to intimidate Communist Terrorist (CT) groups, it was not an operational tour of duty.
In subsequent exercises New Zealand contributed small numbers of observers to the exercises mainly in the Exercise HQ. This pattern characterised New Zealand involvement in SEATO exercises until they ended in the mid 1970s.

Service in Exercise Rajata and the following SEATO exercises was not operational and therefore should not qualify for medallic recognition.

Exercise Dhanarajata

Exercise Dhanarajata (sometimes rendered Dhana Rajata) was a SEATO exercise held in the eastern border region (Ubon province) of Thailand in mid-1963, and was the first with major participation by New Zealand ground troops in Thailand. It came after the NZSAS deployment in Thailand in June-September 1962, which begins the period when operational service in Thailand qualifies for New Zealand medallic entitlement.

Exercise Dhanarajata does not currently qualify for medallic recognition because it is not considered by HQ NZDF to have involved any operational service. The exercise took place from 11-19 June, with all 1 RNZIR personnel arriving back in Terendak between 7 and 14 July 1963. It was described by a SEATO committee as “largely a political exercise”.1

Service in Exercise Dhanarajata was not operational and therefore should not currently qualify for medallic recognition.

Other Thailand Service

Some service in Thailand 1962-1971 qualifies for a non-warlike clasp to the New Zealand General Service Medal (NZGSM). 1 Ranger Squadron, NZSAS, was deployed to Thailand between June and September 1962. The NZSAS were supported in theatre by three RNZAF Bristol freighters with ground crew personnel. Engineers were sent to Operation Crown, the Mukdahan airfield project in Thailand, 1964-65, and to the Thailand Feeder Road project between 1966 and 1971.


Other than the above service already recognised, there is no evidence of operational service in Thailand and therefore no additional medallic recognition is required.

RAAF Butterworth

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had based air combat units at RAAF Base Butterworth as part of its contribution to the Far East Strategic Reserve since 1958, but handed the base to Malaysia in a bilateral arrangement in March 1971. In support of its Malaysian ally, New Zealand offered to contribute infantry companies to perform airfield defence duties there from March 1971 to July 1973.

Army HQ in Wellington at the time looked upon the tours to Butterworth as “providing valuable training opportunities… including ranges” for shooting practice. While there might have been slightly increased tension at the time, Communist Terrorist (CT) activity was of very slight significance to the New Zealand deployments to Butterworth, and did not characterise the tours there in any way.

Tours of duty to RAAF Butterworth were not operational and therefore should not qualify for medallic recognition.

Live Ammunition

The question of live ammunition being issued has also been cited by some ex-service personnel as a reason why service in South-East Asia, notably exercises, should qualify for medallic entitlement.

Live ammunition was issued in a range of exercises in the area, but this was to be “carried for life-saving purposes in accordance with 28 Inf Bde Training Instruction No 8”. The Administration Instructions were more specific as to its use: the live ammunition was “only to be used if confronted by tigers and elephants”.
When it was issued, live ammunition was usually in a single magazine, taped up to indicate that the contents were live. For most exercises unless there was a particular need for live ammunition, blank ammunition was issued.

The use of live ammunition in training in South-East Asia is no different to its use in New Zealand peacetime training activities, and so should not qualify for medallic entitlement.

Singapore 1966-1975
New Zealand Army personnel stationed in Singapore after the end of hostilities in the immediate region were garrison forces meeting New Zealand’s strategic obligation to alliance partners. No evidence has been located of any operational activity or threat in Singapore between 1966 and 1975.

No evidence has been located of any operational activity or threat in Singapore between 1966 and 1975, and so this service should not qualify for medallic entitlement.

Jalan Ulu Exercises

As well as personnel based in Singapore, the Army at times sent troops from New Zealand to participate in exercises in the Singapore / Malaysia region. A series of exercise deployments were the ‘Jalan Ulu’ exercises.

They were primarily to test 1 RNZIR in jungle conditions, alongside units of the Malaysian Army. They also involved relatively large contingents (up to company size) from units in New Zealand (usually 2/1 RNZIR, but with some Territorial Force soldiers).
The series started in September 1972, with a deployment of engineer troops to a Singapore exercise. The first deployment from New Zealand was Jalan Ulu II, 26 March–30 April 1973, when troops went to participate in Ex King Cobra, a 28 ANZUK Brigade exercise. The Jalan Ulu series continued until at least Jalan Ulu 28, 1-7 March 1986.

At no time were these deployments or the exercises anything other than normal peacetime training activity. Involvement in these deployments should not qualify for medallic recognition.


(Summary of Section 8 of the report)
In 1955 New Zealand agreed to base a warship in Singapore as part of this country’s contribution to the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve. Up to 1960 New Zealand’s warships took part in operations during the Malayan Emergency. The crews on these deployments, and on many of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) deployments to South-East Asia during the Confrontation with Indonesia (8 December 1962 to 11 August 1966), have received British Commonwealth / New Zealand medallic recognition for their operational service in the Malaya/Singapore and/or Borneo operational areas.
RNZN service off the Malay Peninsula from 1 August 1960 to 16 August 1964

RNZN service off the Malay Peninsula between 1 August 1960 and 16 August 1964 currently does not qualify for New Zealand medallic recognition.

New Zealand’s focus changed from 1961 to participating more in the SEATO air, land and sea exercises held around the region, and flag-waving ship visits to ports in various friendly nations.
This left little time to undertake service in support of army border operations, and there are no known instances of support by naval vessels to operations in the northern border area off the Malay peninsula: whether by gunfire support, the use of landing parties, or by intercepting seagoing vessels carrying suspected Communist Terrorists. Given the long distance inland to where the CTs were operating, it seems doubtful whether the RNZN ships would have been able to provide any assistance, even if required. There is also no evidence of any threat to RNZN ships from CTs in this period.
The most eventful and dangerous activities undertaken by RNZN ships off the northern Malay peninsula, or any other area of the Malay peninsula, between August 1960 and August 1964 were exercises with other navies and activities such as when HMNZS PUKAKI “rescued 2 people from [a] capsized dinghy“.

No operational service was undertaken off the coast of the Malay peninsula in this period, so members of ship’s complements should not qualify for a New Zealand General Service Medal or the New Zealand Operational Service Medal for service in this period.

RNZN service off Borneo from 1950 to 7 December 1962
Numerous RNZN ships transited through the waters off Borneo or visited Borneo between 1950 and 7 December 1962. Some naval vessels also exercised in these waters. However, such transits and exercises were not operational service.

No evidence has been located of any operational activity or threat in the waters off Borneo, on the rivers or inland waters of Borneo, or on land, between 1950 and 7 December 1962, and so this service should not qualify for medallic entitlement.

RNZN service off Borneo from 8 December 1962 to 11 August 1966

Most RNZN service off the coast of North Borneo between 24 December 1962 and 11 August 1966 does not meet the strict criteria for the General Service Medal 1962 with clasp ‘Borneo’ which is 30 days service in theatre. Qualifying days for this medal must involve “operating off the coast in support of the forces ashore and upriver”. The distance off the coast was defined as “within sight of shore” or around 20 nautical miles, to exclude high-seas sailing activities.


Unless the criteria for the General Service Medal with clasp ‘Borneo’ changes, such service will not entitle participants to the award of this medal. To reduce the qualifying period of time for the medal would debase the award for those who already hold it. Involvement in these deployments should not qualify for medallic recognition.

RNZN service in South-East Asia from 12 August 1966 to 1975

In the period 1966 to 1975 the Type-12, Whitby and Leander class frigates, HMNZS TARANAKI, OTAGO, BLACKPOOL and WAIKATO were deployed to Singapore to meet New Zealand’s obligations to the CSR (and its successors), SEATO and the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA).

A routine deployment for one of these frigates in the period 1966 to 1975 in South-East Asia usually included:

  • periods of overhaul and maintenance in Singapore.

  • sporting matches, visits, ceremonial events, and day-to-day maintenance tasks in Singapore.

  • exercising and training in the Singapore Exercise Areas, the waters off Singapore and both coasts of Johore.

  • deployments to exercises with other Commonwealth Strategic Reserve (CSR), SEATO and ANZUK forces in the Gulf of Thailand, South China Sea or around the Philippines, or occasionally starting in one locale and ending in another. These often involved working in close proximity to Allied warships.

  • gunnery exercises – both live and blank.

  • helicopter flying exercises – ship to ship and ship to/from shore.

  • routine efficiency/training exercises conducted on most voyages, such as man-overboard, casualty exercises, full-power trials or defence stations for all or part of the crew.

  • visits to friendly ports on flag-waving activities (this included ports in Malaysia, Philippines, Japan and, less often, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia).

  • occasional search-and-rescue activities, usually while en route.

  • voyages in and out of theatre, and end of deployment, usually returning to Auckland via the Indonesian archipelago, Darwin, Townsville or other Australian ports.


The naval deployments and training in South-East Asia from 1966 to 1975, not already recognised as operational service, were no different to peacetime training activities in New Zealand, Australia or Hawaii, and should not qualify for medallic recognition.

SEATO Naval Exercises

SEATO was an anti-communist Cold War alliance that New Zealand joined in 1954. Among other activities New Zealand’s membership involved participation in maritime exercises which carried a small measure of risk.


Activities during SEATO naval exercises were part of normal peacetime naval activities and therefore should not qualify for medallic recognition.
Transits of the Straits of Taiwan (or Formosa)

These Straits were transited by ships of the RNZN at least 17 times between 1960 and 1975.

One of the reasons for transiting the Straits of Taiwan other than to get from A-to-B was to assert New Zealand's position on the Straits of Taiwan as an international waterway in accordance with the law of the sea (exercising a right to sail through international waters).

From available evidence, transits of the Straits of Taiwan and onboard exercises during such transits were part of normal peacetime naval activities and therefore should not qualify for medallic recognition. Further research may be appropriate on this matter.

Transits of the Indonesian Straits
From the late 1950s Indonesia claimed sovereign rights over waters in its archipelago that other nations (including New Zealand) regarded as international waters. During Confrontation New Zealand military aircraft avoided Indonesian airspace but our naval vessels continued to transit waters within the Indonesian archipelago.
Indonesia had first claimed waters out to the 12-mile limit in 1958, a claim which would have affected passage by other nations’ ships through a number of its straits. If accepted this would have turned the Java, Banda, Flores and Malacca seas and the Straits of Macassar into internal waterways. New Zealand responded in accordance with its Commonwealth Strategic Reserve partners, and took guidance from the Commander Far East Fleet over the passage of warships.
Passage by RNZN warships was still made, but with heightened levels of precaution and without any visible measure that could be seen as provocative. Occasionally an Indonesian warship was seen. In times of tension RNZN ships transited these waters while at defence stations or action stations, but “no actual incidents occurred”.
The issue came to a head in August 1964 when Indonesia attempted to close the Sunda Strait during a naval exercise. Britain challenged this attempted closure of an international waterway. Indonesia relented and thereafter Commonwealth warships were able to transit through the various Indonesian straits, provided due notice was given. New Zealand vessels continued to do so and the issue faded.
The Confrontation with Indonesia ceased in August 1966 when Indonesia signed a treaty with Malaysia, which New Zealand had supported. From this time, New Zealand’s naval vessels were generally on cordial terms with those of this former enemy, though New Zealand ships are likely to have been shadowed by Indonesian vessels or monitored electronically while transiting these waters. Some persons have argued that tension continued to varying degrees up until 1976 and that this was particularly evident in the period leading up to the major International Law of the Sea conference in 1976. More documentary evidence needs to be located to better determine the perceived level of threat from 1967 to 1976.

From available evidence, transits of the Indonesian Straits and onboard exercises during such transits were part of normal peacetime naval activities and therefore should not qualify for medallic recognition. Further research may be appropriate on this matter.

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