Topic: NZ SAS Jungle Warfare School for Americans in the late 1960s

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The British Army establishment known as the Jungle Warfare School was situated 17 km north of the Johore Bahru Causeway, in the area of Kota Tingi, Malaya. Originally published in the Hauraki News (2007 February Issue No 46).

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6th Hauraki Insignia The name of the camp describes its role perfectly, in that it is used solely to train troops in the art of fighting in the jungle. A new facet of training was added to the curriculum and was started immediately after Xmas 1967, and this was Combat Visual Tracking. How this came about stems from the problems the American troops were having with the guerilla tactics of the VC in Vietnam in that the Americans were completely frustrated by the fact the VC attacked where and when they chose, then melted back into the jungle and vanished.

General Westmoreland decided something had to be done so he initiated bilateral discussions between the British Army High Command, our New Zealand Government, and Army, and it was duly arranged that a training team of New Zealand SAS were to set up, within the Jungle Warfare School, specifically to train American troops in the art of Combat Visual Tracking.

4 Detachment, 1 Ranger Squadron NZSAS had just come out of operations in Borneo, and were heading back to New Zealand as confrontation with Indonesia had come to an end, and it was from this group seven men were requested to stay behind, at JWS and train American troops in the art of tracking etc. We trained American troops for six months, starting January 1967 returning home to New Zealand mid June 1967.

The NZSAS training team in Jungle Warfare School consisted of the following men:

  • Lt Albie Kiwi OC
  • LCpl Frank Wydur acting Sergeant, number one team instructor, and overall Sergeant of the group, through whom Albie Kiwi passed any instructions.
  • LCpl Jim (Kelly) lllolahia, in charge of his Ghurka section; track laying for the number one team; drawing all pyrotechnics for all three teams. Setting up booby traps, and ambushes, and generally making the Yanks life hell.
  • Cpl Riki Keno acting Sergeant number two team.
  • LCpl Snooks Ririnui in charge of his Ghurka section, track laying for number two team.
  • Cpl Ben Morunga acting Sergeant Number three team
  • LCpl Dave Te Paa - in charge of his Ghurka section, track laying for number three team.

The arrangement was that the SAS team would use the camp facilities, the camp would provide all logistical support and manpower this group may need, but was otherwise not involved in the training or activities of the training team. 

The area the teams used was a wildlife reserve some distance north of the JWS camp and this was perfect for the training requirements, it was thick virgin jungle, uninhabited and had a wide range of terrain. The American troops that came from Vietnam were all volunteers for the course, and came from all units and backgrounds and it was our job to train them into efficient Tracker teams.

These men came down to Malaysia dressed in civilian clothes, and bearing a passport showing them to be Government workers, and they were strictly not allowed to wear their US Army uniforms as technically, they weren't supposed to be training within Malaya. Captain Huia Woods was put in overall command of the Tracker training section and he acted as a liaison officer between Albie Kiwi and JWS but was not himself active in the training in any way. His role was the organization of our equipment and day to day needs and he worked very efficiently in the background.

The first thing we did was to produce a training pamphlet fully explaining how a tracker works, and what he is looking for. This booklet fully described all the various types of sign left by people moving over the ground, be that ground sign or other types of sign left in the foliage, often called top sign. 

These were run off on the only means the camp had this, being an ancient Gestetner copy machine, but it did the job OK and we were able to hand out a copy to each student who came to us.

We started each new course with a week of lectures and training, tactics and movement, and how the teams would operate on the ground, and how each segment of the Combat Tracker Team would be covering and protecting each others movements, while in the field. 

Initially, we thought we could basically start straight off with the jungle training itself, but what no one foresaw was that a lot of these men had not a clue as to living in the jungle at all, let alone tactically. So we started with a basic course first on how to live in the jungle before we even started with the combat tracker training.

Some of the men who came to us had never been outside cities, so were totally out of their depth in the jungle. They all soon became accustomed to it and quickly learnt the jungle was their friend, it concealed them and shielded them all rapidly became very efficient in their work.

They threw themselves into it heart and soul and impressed us no end with their willingness to learn. It is true to say that initially some of these men were the clumsiest men 1 have ever seen. Never before having been in jungle before they would tripped over just about every twig but by the time the course was over, every last man moved like ghosts. This transformation was pretty awesome to watch. 

Our three training teams consisted of one Sergeant and one Corporal. The Corporal had a squad of Ghurka's and it was his role to lay the track for the
Tracker Team to follow; set booby traps, and ambush sites along that track so that the Americans got as close to the real thing as we dared go. 

We found two pounds of PE worked wonders when initiated by the lead scout tripping over a trip wire while following a track! It really caught their attention and once that first booby trap was initiated they never again got caught by a booby trap. The Sergeant instructor's role was to travel with the tracker team and observe everything that they did, and pass on advice where and when needed, but otherwise kept in the background, and gave the team a run down on the days activities at the end of the days work after they had basha'd up.

Live rounds were used whenever circumstances allowed it, and here again worked wonders in getting the team fully focused on their work. We trained them hard, and I am confident in saying those men went back to Vietnam the best trained troops the Americans had; and this is borne out by the fact that the Bounty on Americans, put up by the North Vietnamese, had American pilots top of the list from day one of the Vietnam war, but it was not long after the Tracker Teams got back into Vietnam and set to work, their success was so good that in no time at all, Combat Tracker Team members became top of the bounty list. 

Whenever the VC hit, Combat Tracker teams were dispatched into the area straight away, they followed the VC trails back to where ever the enemy had fled to and took the war to him, be it in the form of ground troops backing up the trackers, or artillery fire, or air strikes, but the enemy rapidly found life was no longer the easy hit and run affair of the past, and casualties began to mount up fast on the VC and NVA side.

We also trained two American Instructors from each team so that when we had trained the required number of teams there were plenty of American Instructors to continue the training after we deployed back to New Zealand. We trained eight American Instructors in all.

Like the Americans, we too had been issued with passports showing us as Government workers and we sent two separate lots of three from the JWS training wing up into Vietnam, to go out into the field, with the American Tracker Teams on the ground under actual combat situations, to see how our teams were working under real conditions, and lastly, to find out from the operational teams if there was anything they had learnt since their deployments that we needed to know, to add to, or improve our training methods.

We went out in the field with the teams serving in Vietnam at the time and regardless of which team we were with, or in which part of Vietnam we were, we got the same result. Everything was working perfectly, and they had nothing to add, so after our fact finding missions we returned to the training wing and resumed our work; very well pleased with the outcome.

Some time after the above training team returned to New Zealand other personnel went to the JWS after us, of these only two names are known to me, they being Lt Hugh Oakley-Brown NZSAS and a Sgt Henry (Hank?)Rau. I am unaware of what they did in JWS and who was in the team. I look forward to the second story from Hugh OB?

Permission from Jack Hayes, Vice President, Welfare and Editor, Free Glance. NZSAS Association Inc.

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This page archived at Perma CC in September of 2016: https://perma.cc/BS83-D82Q

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NZ SAS Jungle Warfare School for Americans in the late 1960s


Year:c.1968
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NZ SAS Jungle Warfare School for Americans in the late 1960s by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License