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Korean War

Page 7 – Impact of the war

About 4700 men served in Kayforce and a further 1300 on the frigates during the seven years of New Zealand’s involvement in Korea. Forty-five men lost their lives in this period, 33 of them during the war (of whom two were RNZN personnel). One member of Kayforce was taken prisoner; held in northern North Korea for 18 months, he was repatriated following the armistice, as was a New Zealander serving with the RAAF who had been shot down near the North Korean capital, P'yongyang.

The Korean War had a dramatic indirect economic impact on New Zealand. The sense of crisis precipitated by the outbreak in 1950 encouraged the United States to buy large quantities of wool - not for uniforms for use in Korea, as many supposed at the time (and since), but to bolster its strategic stockpiles. This demand led to the greatest wool boom in New Zealand’s history, with prices tripling almost overnight. However, the inflationary effect on other commodities offset the advantages of the wool boom, with imported raw materials rapidly increasing in price.

Once it became clear that the conflict would be confined to Korea, New Zealanders paid little attention to events on the peninsula, and there were occasional complaints that Kayforce was a ‘Forgotten Force’. The war intensified trends that had been apparent in New Zealand domestic politics in the late 1940s, and the National Party used anti-communist sentiments to good effect in the 1951 general election campaign.

In terms of foreign policy, the war helped New Zealand achieve a long-standing objective, a security commitment from the United States. New Zealand was able to demonstrate its value as a small ally within the UN coalition, and events worked in its favour. The Chinese intervention generated a sense of urgency in Washington which opened the way for the signing of the ANZUS Treaty on 1 September 1951.

How to cite this page

Impact of the war, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated