Note: A number of people have asked me to write a new submission. Due to circumstances beyond my control I have had very little time to write during the past few months. I rushed this submission so please excuse the writing and perhaps not all the facts
are accurate because I have not had an adequate amount of time to confirm them all.
I don’t even remember what his name was now but he flew a LOH. A LOH was a light observation helicopter. He spoke accented English and was a Warrant Officer with 13 tours in Vietnam when I met him. Before the American army he was in the 5th Regiment Etranger d'Infanterie of the French Foreign Legion.
I had to fly 18 hours a week or not get flight pay but since I was in a headquarters company I could pretty much choose my flights. I had two thousand aircraft to pick from. I always chose the old Pole.
I worked for Chrysler as a kid in Detroit and learned a little Polish. There were whole automobile factories in Detroit that spoke Polish as a first language.
The old man liked to tell stories about the French Foreign Legion in Indochina before the American Vietnam war.
He rarely flew below 2000 feet. He never took any fire. He never took any chances. He was the perfect pilot for me.
He also gave me my first history lessons about Thailand.
The French were not very nice people in Indochina. The officers used to send postcards home of piles of dead Asian bodies that they had slaughtered. They were in it to make money from rubber and created enemies almost every where they went.
Thailand had been the bully of the area until the English and French showed up.
England forced Thailand to give up Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu in 1909.
The French took Sibsong Chuthai and Huapan Tanghok in 1886-87.
All the Laotian territories on the left bank of the Mekong and all the islands in the river in 1893.
Paklai opposite Luang Prabang and Champasak (Bassac) in 1904.
Battambang, Srisophon and Siamrap in 1907.
King Rama VI (1910-25) had been educated in England (at Eton, Christ Church [Oxford] and Sandhurst), presumably because the Thai educational system was not much better then than it is now. Since he had spent so much time in England he sent an ambulance and some air ground crews to World War One. They got there late and never saw any action but heck, it’s the thought that counts.
He did however intern enemy aliens during the war. For this service he got to keep all German property in Thailand after the war including the predecessor of the Biergarten on Soi 7 (Kaiser Willie‘s Undt Sausage Verstickenplatz Mit Frau Izzrn).
After a series of coups and other political shenanigans Prince Ananda Mahidol was named the new King. But the Prince was only 10 years old and in School in Switzerland (see Thai school system above). Colonel Luang Pibul Songgram took over as the new Prime Minister. He renamed the country Thailand because no one could pronounce Siam correctly. Pibul started to stir up anti French sentiment in Thailand which wasn’t very hard because the French were pretty much not making any friends at the time and they showered even less back then than they do now.
To confuse the enemy Pibul went by a variety of names. Some people called him Major-General Plaek Pibulsonggram, some people called him Phibun, some people just called him, The Man. Pibul was no dummy. When he heard about the fall of France from the bar girls at “Ze Pussey Gat” lounge and Karaoke he dashed next door to the Japanese only club and massage parlor in Bangkok. The girls at the massage parlor told him that the Japs were all in a good mood because they were setting up new bases in French territory in Indochina. Since the French didn’t much care for the Japanese Mr. P figured it was a big loss of face for the frogs and he might as well jump on the anti Farang bandwagon. (Historical note. At this point he should have figured out that the bases were to attack Thailand and Burma but sometimes Thais are a wee bit short sighted).
The Thais didn’t ask for much. They wanted Laos and Cambodia and they would call it a day.
In 1940 the French forces in Indochina consisted of an army of approximately fifty thousand men, of whom twelve thousand were French, organized into forty-one infantry battalions, two artillery regiments, and a battalion of engineers. The most obvious deficiency of the French army lay in its shortage of tanks: it could only field twenty antiquated Renault FT-17s against the Thai Army's 134 tanks primarily built by a British tractor and lawn mower company, Carden Loyd.
The Arm’e de l'Air had in its inventory approximately a hundred aircraft. If awards went out for strange looking aircraft the French would have won hands down. But only sixty of their unusual looking planes could be considered first line. Their air force consisted of thirty Potez 25 TOEs, four Farman 221s, six Potez 542s, nine Morane-Saulnier M.S.406, and eight Loire 130 flying boats.
The Thai Army was a relatively well-equipped force. Consisting of some sixty thousand men, it was made up of four armies, the largest of which was the Burapha Army with its five divisions. Independent formations under the direct control of the army high command included two motorized cavalry battalions, one artillery battalion, one signals battalion, one engineer battalion, 10,000 short time girls, 1000 monks, 300 souvenir sales people, 3 Indian tailors and one armored regiment. The artillery had available a mixture of aged Krupp and modern Bofors howitzers and field guns, while sixty Carden Loyd tankettes, 42 motorized food carts and thirty Vickers six-ton medium tanks made up the bulk of the army's tank arm.
The uniform of colonial troops (the French colonial soldiers were called "Marsouins", meaning "Dolphins") was light-weight and sand-colored, with a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. With this were worn regulation khaki puttees and boots, either a sand-colored sun-hat (topee) or the Adrian helmet (both with the gilt anchor insignia of the Colonial troops on the front). Equipment was in natural leather very much like the Eden or Hell club. Officers wore the sun-hat with a light-weight version of the European uniform in sand color. Kepis may also have been worn by officers. It is what the French wore in the movie Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart wore a white dinner jacket. It is unlikely many
Americans in Thailand were wearing white dinner jackets.
The Thais, developed an army using mixed French and British equipment. The soldiers wore Adrian helmets and their tank crews wore French-style tank uniforms and helmets. The Thai uniforms confused the French. Who never really knew who they were fighting against.
The Carden Loyd tankette was not so much a light tank as a tracked machine gun carrier. It was powered by a Ford Model T, 40 horsepower engine. The Vickers machine gun is a water-cooled .303 inch machine gun. The gun had a reputation for reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in Weapons & War Machines, describes an action that took place in August, 1916, during which the 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. They fired a million rounds between them, using one hundred new barrels, without a single breakdown. The gun was 3 feet 8 inches (1.1 m) long and its cyclic rate of fire was between 450 and 600 rounds per minute. In practice, it was expected that 10,000 rounds would be fired per hour, and that the barrel would be changed every hour – a two-minute job for a trained team. The old hot barrels could also be used to BBQ gutted rats very quickly for a combat pick me up.
Firing the Mark 8 cartridge, which had a streamlined bullet, it could be used against targets at a range of approximately 4,500 yards (4.1 kilometers). The weight of the gun itself varied based on the gear attached, but was generally between 25 and 30 pounds (11 and 13 kg). The ammunition boxes for the 250 round ammunition belts weighed 22 pounds (10 kg) each. In addition, it required about 7.5 imperial pints (4.3 liters) of water in its evaporative cooling system to prevent overheating. The heat of the barrel boiled the water in the jacket surrounding it. The resulting steam was taken off by flexible tube to a condenser container – the Thai version had a rice cooker attached to the container and was capable of cooking 122 portions of rice per hour.
The Vickers gun was based on the Maxim gun. It was Britons main machine gun of WW I. It used a .303 shell because that was the primary shell used in the British Lee Enfield rifle. Hiram Maxim the inventor of the Maxim gun was an American. Maxim, an avid inventor had been told as a young man, “if you want to get rich invent something that will help Europeans kill each other” and that’s what he did. Maxim eventually partnered up with Basil (Merchant of Death) Zaharoff and they gained control of a substantial portion of Vickers. They sold Maxim guns to the Boers who mowed down Englishmen armed with Vickers rifles. Vickers would sell to just about anybody. This led to the scandal that showed Vickers, along with the Mitsui Bussan Kaisha, had paid out $565,000 in bribes to Japanese officials to clinch the contract for the building of the battleship Kongo. It was that kind of business. America supplied the plans to Austria for the submarine which sank the Lusitania which brought America into WW I. Heck, America was competing with Japan to sell planes to Thailand which would eventually be used against American bombers bombing Bangkok.
The Vickers 6-Ton Tank or Vickers Mark E was a British light tank designed as a private project at Vickers. It was not purchased by the British Army, but was picked up by a large number of foreign armed forces. The Thais modified the tank by adding 27 interior hooks to hold Buddha amulets without interfering with its steering capabilities. By the start of World War II it was the second most common tank design in the world after the Renault FT-17.
The tank was built in two versions: Type A with two turrets, each mounting a Vickers machine gun.
Type B with a single two-man turret mounting a single machine gun and a short-barreled 47 mm cannon .
The Type B proved to be a real innovation, it was found that the two-man turret dramatically increased the rate of fire of either weapon, while still allowing both to be fired at the same time and allowed twice as many flowers to be draped over the barrels for good luck in combat.
The Royal Thai Navy – consisting of several vessels, including two coastal defense ships, twelve torpedo boats and four submarines (originally purchased as a tourist attraction) – was inferior to the French naval forces, but the Royal Thai Air Force held both a quantitative and qualitative edge over L'Armee de l'Air.
Among the 140 aircraft that composed the air force's first-line strength were twenty-four Mitsubishi Ki-30 light bombers, nine Mitsubishi Ki-21 medium bombers specially constructed for the Thai Air Force with stewardess jump seats, twenty-five Hawk 75Ns pursuit planes, six Martin B-10 medium bombers with hot water noodle makers, and seventy O2U Corsair light bombers.
In early January 1941 the Thais invaded Laos and Cambodia. The Burapha and Issan Armies led the charge. Laos was not much of a problem because of the number of brothers and sisters of the Issan Army who lived in Laos. That and the fact that the Thai troops
ate everything in sight. They ate the grass and trees and all of the small animals, bugs and anything else that moved. Cambodia proved more difficult as the Khmer began stealing the Thai communication equipment. Plus the Thais didn’t speak
Khmer or have any relatives there. The Khmer’s downright did not like the Thais. They preferred the French as strange as that might seem.
On January 16, 1941 the French launched a counterattack initiating the fiercest battle of the war. The counterattack was launched against the Thai-held villages of Yang Dang Khum and Phum Preav. The French transmitted their battle orders in Morse code thinking the Thais would not understand it. They would have been better off transmitting in French. The Thais cut the attack to ribbons and the French did what the French Army is good at doing, they retreated.
Seeing the Army was getting nowhere the French ordered the Navy to attack the Thai forces at Ko Chang island. When the French attacked the Thai ships tried radio the nearby airbase for support. However no one was awake since it was only 6 AM. The French bombed and shelled with impunity until 8 AM when a Thai Naval officer managed to get through to the airbase using a local telephone. Shortly thereafter appeared Corsair bombers who bombed their own flagship. Finally a Thai pilot who could recognize his own ships dropped a few bombs as close as 15 feet to the French Cruiser Lamotte Piquet but the French anti aircraft held off most of the planes. The battle ended at 9:40 AM. Two torpedo boats and a costal defense ship were sunk and it was considered a victory for the French.
The war had lasted a couple of weeks. That is a long time for Thais or Frenchman to fight. Everyone was tired of war. Both sides decided the Second World War was not all it was cracked up to be.
The French army suffered a total of 321 casualties, of whom 15 were officers. The total number of men missing after January 28 was 178 (6 officers opened clubs in Bangkok, 14 non-commissioned officers became hotel chefs, and 158 enlisted men married ladies from Issan). The Thais had captured 222 men (17 North Africans who later became drug dealers, 80 Frenchmen who tried to teach English at an international school, and 125 Indochinese who became construction workers).
The Thai army suffered a total of 54 men killed in action and 307 wounded. Many of the wounded resulted in burns from modified exposed tank exhaust pipes and tank accidents because drivers were not wearing tank helmets. 41 sailors and marines of the Thai navy were killed, and 67 wounded. At the Battle of Ko Chang, 36 men were killed, of whom 20 belonged to HTMS Thonburi, 14 to HTMS Songkhla, and 2 to HTMS Chonburi. The Thai air force lost 13 men. The number of Thai military personnel captured by the French amounted to just 21.
The Japanese mediated the conflict, and a general armistice was arranged to go into effect on January 28. On May 9 a peace treaty was signed, with the French relinquishing their hold on the disputed territories in Laos and Cambodia. That was the two Lao provinces to the west of the Mekong and a third of Cambodia's territory (in short, what Siam had had to cede to Indochina at the beginning of the century).
The Japanese won from Phibun a promise to support them in an attack on Malaya and Burma in a few months. This was a de facto alliance of the Thai government and the Japanese almost a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Victory Monument, located in the district of Ratchathewi on a traffic island at one of Bangkok's busiest intersections, was built in 1941 to commemorate the conflict. There is no mention on the Victory Monument of the Alliance with the Japanese.
The lightning swift attack by the Thai tank forces into Laos and Cambodia was termed a ““Blitz Noodle” attack.
The French strategy of surrender and appeasement that worked so well in Europe in 1939 also worked in Asia in 1941.
The idea of putting stewardesses or hot water noodle makers in bombers never really caught on.
Preview: If you thought the new Thai visa laws were restrictive stay tuned for my next installment about the day that Thailand declared war on the United States and Britain.
Within hours after the Japanese landed in force in Thailand there were Japanese planes flying out of bases North of Chiang Mai.
There wasn’t much in their way to Burma. What was in their way was a group of American mercenaries that no one much cared for. They drank too much. Partied too much. They got paid too much. They shot down too many Jap aircraft while flying planes that were ill equipped, short on gas and jury rigged from spare parts found in Chinese junk yards. The Brits didn’t like them. The American Army/Air Force didn’t like them. The Thais didn’t like them. The Japanese for sure didn’t like them.
They roared into the Thai skies over Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in their single seat aircraft with pee tubes under the pilots seat powered by a V 12, 1200 HP Allison engine. Who were these 50 caliber spitting American Samurai? Dollar per kill the best investment ever made in modern warfare. They had a 70 to 1 kill ratio. No other unit in any army or air force even comes close. Stay tuned. See you next time.
An interesting history lesson.