Thailand Declares War
It was only a days after the Japanese invaded Thailand that the first reports of the tipping habits of average Japanese male became known to the bar owners in Bangkok; most of whom were connected to the Thai military.
On the eve of the anticipated offensive, Phibun the Prime Minister disappeared, leaving the Japanese to deal with a cabinet that refused to make a decision in his absence. Thus their forces encountered piecemeal opposition from the Thai army and police when their troops began landing in peninsular Thailand a few hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After dawn on 8 December, Phibun returned to Bangkok and granted the Japanese free passage. These manoeuvres put Phibun in a position to claim that he had kept his pledge to defend Thai neutrality, but had bowed to overwhelming force. According to Thai government figures, 170 Thai soldiers and policemen died in the brief fighting, along with fifty-four civilians.
On 25 January 1942, Thailand declared war on Britain, and the United States and a as a Thai police officer pointed out to an interned British civilian, if the Japanese won the war they would be in a position to dominate Thailand totally. On the other hand, if the Japanese lost: “Then we must pray to Buddha to give us a golden tongue to explain how it all happened.”
The Thai ambassador to the US (A great-grandson of King Rama II) in Washington was offered the money that America had frozen in Thai bank accounts if he didn’t deliver the declaration of war. I don’t really have to tell you what happened.
The Japanese landed at Don Muang airport among other places on December 8, 1941 and headed straight for the local red light districts. One officer got so excited by the prospect of Thai girls and the lack of armed resistance that he took off by himself in a jeep. He got killed, one of the few causalities of the invasion of Thailand. He was killed by a mob who beat him to death.
It wasn’t really the Prime minister’s fault. Put yourself in his place. Britain and France had been cutting into Thai revenues for the past 60 years by annexing states from its border areas. Pearl Harbor had pretty much destroyed the myth of American invincibility. Two British capital ships, Repulse and Prince of Wales, had just been sunk. The Thai Army had been trounced soundly in about two hours by the invading Japanese (if in fact there was much official resistance). Hitler had made conquering France seem as easy as marching into Poland. To be honest, so had Thailand beaten the best of the French Foreign Legion. So I guess at that point almost anybody could have beaten the French Army at home or abroad.
Plus one can assume that the PM owned a few bars in Bangkok.
Throw into the pot that the Japanese had offered Thailand large chunks of Burma to stop fighting their Asian brothers and you have the decision.
On December 14 the PM signed a secret agreement with the Japanese committing Thai troops to participate in the invasion of Burma. One week later, on December 21, 1941, Phibun signed a formal treaty of alliance with Japan in front of the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaeo.
On January 3rd 1942 the “Flying Tigers” strafed Raheng airfield near Chiang Mai and managed to shoot down 2 Japanese fighters. Not only did they strafe it but from their convenient pee tubes directly under their seats they pissed on it. There by giving rise to the slogan, “if you can’t eat it or hump it, piss on it.”
Charlie Mott was the first Tiger captured by the Japanese. His capture occurred on January 8, 1942 in Thailand. His plane got shot up and his parachute caught in a tree. The Japs caught him and sent him to a prison camp on the river Kwai. He was only minutes away from being shot for stepping out of line when a Japanese officer who was a UCLA alumnus recognized and saved him. Next time you’re in Chiang Mai at the foreign cemetery on November eleventh at eleven minutes past the eleventh hour take a look around you never know who’ll you’ll run into.
Curtiss had been the primary supplier of fighter aircraft to the U.S. Army Air Corps. since its inception, and the company was dismayed when the Army procured the Boeing P-26. Curtiss responded by hiring Mr. Donovan Berlin, a bright young engineer who was working for Northrop. Donovan developed the Hawk 75, a streamlined, low-wing, monoplane coastal defence fighter purchased by Thailand among other countries.
With an enhanced Twin Wasp engine the Hawk 75 evolved into the P-36, which had a brief and fairly undistinguished career with the Air Corps. In 1938 a P-36 was retrofitted with the Allison in-line 12-cylinder, 1150 HP engine, and the P-40 was born. This was the beginning of what would eventually be a production run of more than 13,000 aircraft. Depending on its theatre of operation and the particular model, the P-40 was alternatively known as the "Tomahawk," the "Kittyhawk," or the "Warhawk." By mid-1942 P-40's were serving in every major conflict.
There were still prop fighters flying in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos in the Vietnam war so there are still pilots that can reminisce about the experience. But if you were not one of them and want to try your hand at it you could visit the North American Top Gun school. They fly the “Texan” which saw action flying out of Korat during the Vietnam war.
Thailand had its Eastern Front like Germany did except it was up North. The Thai troops that went to the North to subdue the newly granted Burma territory were badly treated, poorly equipped and with little medical supplies and logistical support. Deaths from malaria and dengue fever far exceeded those in battle.
The Chinese guys (units of the 93rd Division of the KMT army based in Yunnan) had got there a few months earlier and were happy as pigs in shit when they realized the beauty of the local women, the availability of opium and absence of any of those tough commie soldiers from back home. They were not going to leave easily. And they still haven’t left. You can visit them today just go North of Chiang Rai a bit.
Colonel Luang Phibun Songgram who was in control of Thailand was not the brightest star in the sky. He had spent his youth on the Left Bank in Paris doing his best to fit into the lost generation of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and the rest. In addition to picking the wrong side in WW II he also instituted a series of reforms which riled up the local population. Phibun had been caught up in the spirit of Europe after WW I. He wanted to change things. But he faced a population where the poorest woman in all Siam could give a hungry traveler enough rice to fill his belly to bursting. Fat mangoes, melons, coconuts and bananas grew ripe in every backyard in Bangkok and were left on the ground to spoil. No one in Thailand had ever starved. Opium was legal. Women were topless. There was a brothel on every corner. Everyone had a mia noi and some Kings had 30 wives. There were no gender problems. You want to be a girl but were born a boy? No problem, be a girl. Christianity or Islam never really caught on big time in Thailand because the Thai’s are hardwired not to feel guilt. Give Buddha some more fruit, flowers and strawberry soda and everything is cool. Besides who wants 7 Arab virgins when you can have 14 ladies from Isaan for the price of pizza and a quart of whiskey.
Phibun was insisting that women wear bras and blouses every day. I don’t know about you but it really upsets me. When I think of what I missed.
Did you ever wonder why Thai guys wear those funky plastic hats with the little brims that make them look like munchkins from the Wizard of OZ? It was good old Colonel Phibun. He ordered men to wear hats. He also told people to eat with knives, spoons and forks instead of chopsticks. That almost worked but even a dictator can’t give the average drunken Thai a knife. There aren’t enough hospitals in Thailand. But if you wondered why Thais eat with a spoon and fork, blame it on Phibun.
He also told the men to kiss their wives goodbye in the morning on the lips. Not the good old fashioned sniff kiss that we are all used to. Now that is going too far even for me. Sure you can kiss your mia noi on the lips. She brushes her teeth. You can kiss a whore on the lips because after all you are drunk and don’t care what has been in her mouth just before you got there. That quart of whiskey has probably disinfected it anyway. But heaven forbid one has to kiss his wife on the lips in the morning after her breakfast of som tom and last nights leftover pig entrails with water beetle feet sticking out of her teeth.
Phibun also required men to wear pants. Anyone who lives in Thailand knows this is just plain silly. Even straight guys here like to wear skirts. Then there were his rules about eating only four meals a day. By 1941 it was also unlawful to make unnecessary noise and use improper language, while disorderly behavior such as pushing on buses or sitting on the street was punishable by way of fines. Even people who ridiculed the new mandates were liable to be fined.
In a couple of years Phibun was obviously in trouble. American B-24’s began bombing Thailand in December 1942. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, built by Consolidated Aircraft. It was produced in greater numbers than any other American combat aircraft of World War II and still holds the record as the most produced U.S. military aircraft. It was used by many Allied air forces and every U.S. branch of service during the war.
Many B-24 Liberators were produced by the Ford Motor Company at a purpose-built factory in Willow Run, Michigan, USA. The largest assembly line in the world (330,000 m or 3,500,000 ft) at the time of completion, mass production began in August 1943. At its peak the factory was completing 428 B-24s per month. They carried 8000 pounds of bombs and 10 .50 cal Browning machine guns at a speed of 290 mph.
America had also developed a new and powerful bomber, the B-29 Super fortress. Before it was used against the Japanese home islands it was decided to try it against Thailand. Colonel Sinawat Pingpanaporn head of the Bangkok Traffic Police and Karaoke club owner had been told by the powers that be that the Japanese Secret Police and the malingering Nippon troops in the military hospital were not paying their bar bills on time. Accordingly, on 5 June 1944 a total of 77 B-29 bombers attacked the Thai capital. The raid began at around 11 a.m. with the bombers purportedly aiming to destroy the Memorial Bridge and a major power plant. Instead they knocked down streetcar lines and destroyed the Japanese military hospital as well as the headquarters of the Japanese secret police. No civilian buildings were damaged, a fact that aroused admiration among the Thai authorities and earned Colonel Pingpanaporn a promotion and the OSS operatives in Bangkok were moved into the Maliwan Palace.
The Brits were still upset that the Japs had used Thailand to attack them in Burma and repulsed their invasion of Siam from Malaysia on December 8, 1941. Once the British moved to the offensive in Burma, Thailand was in for some more problems. The Brits started bombing Bangkok quite frequently. That was the final straw. The bombing cut into the bar girls revenue and put them in a bad mood. Bar girls have to sleep in the daytime and although they can handle loud music and dogs barking the bomb, boom boom with shrapnel flying all over the place was too much to handle. It was worse than ghosts. When the bar girls are unhappy the owners of the bars are unhappy and the politicians who were forced to kiss their wives in the morning, wear pants, funky little hats and eat with forks and spoons and put up with bitchy sleep deprived bargirls were really unhappy.
Phibun was out. The new Thai authorities contacted the Allies and told them they were prepared to turn against their former Japanese partners whenever the Allies gave the word. They also made it clear to the British that they renounced all claim to Shan State (Burma) and Northern Malaya, and that they would return these territories to Britain immediately on the cessation of hostilities.
Churchill who did not know he was a handsome man and that Thai women really like fat old bald guys who drink too much and smoke cigars because they don’t butterfly was still upset and kept on bombing. It was only pressure on the Brits by America (the OSS really liked the rooms at the Maliwan Palace) that saved Thailand from the same kind of bombing treatment that Germany got.
Thailand was never a possession of a colonial power. Do you know why? Do you know how close it came to being a colonial state? Fess up? Do you know who was going to take over Thailand in 1945? Not a damn thing Thailand could have done about it. It was a done deal. The troops were ready to walk in. Who pulled Thailand’s nuts out of the fire in 1945? Heck, no Thai’s even know what the Victory monument is for? Why would I expect anyone to know who prevented Britain from taking over Thailand.
There should be a flipping statue in the center of Bangkok to the person who saved Thailand’s independence in 1945. And damn it, no one even knows her name. Her name should be on every school child’s notebook. She should have at least one holiday and 20 army bases and 300 schools named after her.
The Chinese and the British and Australia and New Zealand had been conspiring to occupy and partition Thailand upon the war's conclusion.
The French were demanding the delivery to France of the Emerald Buddha. No, I haven’t figured that one out either.
It was the atomic bomb that threw the monkey wrench into the Brits plans. They had flown into Burma to re-establish part of their colonial empire when the two A bombs went off. Quicker than you can say, “catch a Tojo by the toe”, the Japs surrendered. So the Thai’s not wanting to look foolish and stand alone in their war against the allied powers had to surrender ASAP. The only ones they could find to surrender to were the American OSS.
The OSS occupied palatial second-floor quarters overlooking a large first-floor ballroom at the residence of the late regent Chao Phraya Pichayenyothin who had died in 1942. The palace also offered a pleasant veranda facing the river. No air conditioning but they had a nice breeze off the water. Five Thai officers had moved in to operate the communications gear (you know how they like to operate communications gear). Under the pretext that a high-ranking official was occupying the palace, two police guards were stationed at the gate, while six additional civilian security men patrolled the compound. The absence of kitchen staff, however, meant that food had to be catered: Chinese food for breakfast and lunch, and Thai curries for dinner.
The Americans were there looking out over the river and waving to the boat girls and bemoaning the fact that they had to have Chinese food for both lunch and dinner (war is hell) when the official Thai delegation reached them
After the Thai’s met the American’s demand of transporting a French cook they had heard could speak English and was currently working in Chiang Mai to Bangkok they accepted the Thai surrender. That the surrender was finalized at the Bamboo bar at the Oriental Hotel I was not able to confirm.
In the politics of war who you surrender to gets to keep you as it were and the Americans had the Thais.
The US reminded Winston of his promises but the urge to be colonial was strong. He might have gotten away with it except for a letter writing campaign to everyone who was anyone in Washington carried out by a lower level State Department employee named Betty McKenzie. On January 28, 1946, Mrs. McKenzie received a letter from John Carter Vincent, the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs of the State Department. The text of the letter is as follows:
Dear Mrs. McKenzie:
I have received by reference from the Secretary of State and the President your letters of December 5 and 6, 1945 regarding the situation in Siam. I regret that this reply has been so long delayed.
As you are now doubtless aware, Great Britain and Siam signed an Agreement on January 1, 1946 terminating the state of war which existed between the two countries. On January 5 diplomatic relations between Siam and Great Britain and between Siam and the United States were resumed.
Concerning the terms of the British-Siamese Agreement, this Government had been in close contact with the British Government for a number of months with the result that certain of the original British terms were considerably modified to prevent any possible interpretation which might seem to place Great Britain in a position inimical to Siam's freedom and independence. It is believed that the final Agreement in no way infringes upon the complete sovereignty and independence of Siam.
The Brits had settled for a couple of million tons of rice instead of Thailand. The moral of the story is don’t mess with an American housewife who is friends with a guy who has an Atomic bomb when you don’t have one.
What country came through the Second World War almost unscathed? You guessed it. Thailand.
One can only guess what would have happened without Betty McKenzie. Would Pattaya have become more of an British and Australian colony than it is now?
Phibun was arrested for war crimes but returned to power shortly thereafter.
Key figures in the Anti Japanese, Free Thai movement Thawin Udom, Thawi Thawethikul, Chan Bunnak, and Tiang Sirikhanth – were subsequently eliminated in extra-legal fashion by the Thai police, run by Phibun’s associate Phao Sriyanond.
Since the Brits were already close they flew 30,000 troops in to expedite the Japanese return to their homeland. The British troops stayed for less than a year and reluctantly withdrew. Problems in India, don’t you know.
1945 to 1955. What was Thailand like back then?
Japanese businesses that had grown substantially during the war (with loans from Thai banks) continued to grow.
Opium dens were legal. Domestic opium was at an all time high.
Thailand had a rice surplus and booming rubber and tin industries.
The Mosquito bar and the Venus room were the roughest, toughest bars in Asia.
Both in Bangkok and in the provinces brothels, tea houses and cabarets with girls to go abounded.
Some facts to ponder until we next meet.
1. The British Empire & the East India Company had addicted China to opium to finance their colonies in India who grew poppies and produced opium. WW II had interrupted the supply of raw opium from India. The communists eventually eradicated opium use in China.
2. In May 1942, the Thai Northern Army marched into the Shan market town at Kengtung where Major General Phin Choonhawan, governor of what Bangkok now called the United Thai State, established a military administration. A few months later, the Thai legal Opium Monopoly imported 36 tons from the Shan States, raising opium revenues to a record level.
3. In Burma, opium production increased from 8 tons in 1936 to an approximate 36 tons in 1942 under Thai rule.
4. During the Japanese occupation of Laos and Vietnam opium production increased from 7.4 tons in 1940 to 60.6 tons in 1944.
5. During the First Indochina War (1947-54), French intelligence officers integrated their covert warfare with the Golden Triangle opium trade. Denied funds by National Assembly, French intelligence merged the opium supply of Laos with the drug demand of Saigon to fund covert operations against Vietnam's communists. (Ronald Regan was watching this.)
6. In Bangkok, the boys were back in town, Jim Thompson of the Thai Silk Company, Alexander MacDonald, co-founder of the Bangkok Post, Darrell Berrigan, editor of the Bangkok World. OSS/CIA.
7. A business named “Sea Supply Company” had opened up. An American company tasked with supplying arms to the Thai border police. Who eventually became better armed than the Thai army.
WW II Statistics.
Deaths as a percent of total population. UK 0.94%, Australia 0.57%, New Zealand 0.67%, Canada 0.40%, United States 0.32%, China 3.86%, Burma 1.16%, Japan 3.75%, Singapore, 6.87%, Indonesia 5.76%, Germany 10.47%, Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia 4.07%, Soviet Union 13.71%, Thailand 0.04%. Of those Thai deaths 300 were civilian. Which is more than Switzerland (100), Mexico (100), Cuba (100) and Ireland (200).
Which of the Allies lost the most soldiers? Soviet Union 10,700,000. China 3.800,000. United States 416,800. UK 382,600. India 87,000. Australia 39,400. Canada 45,300. New Zealand 11,900. Axis soldiers in Asia. Japan 2,100,000 Thailand 5,600.
In writing about WW II it is difficult to write about the Japanese actions in Asia as conducted by human beings. War is never pretty but some of the stories I have heard and some of the things I have read strained my ability to put a human face on a people who could do such things. I researched Japanese, “Comfort women” in as much as I could and there was one such station in Thailand during the war. 90% of the Comfort women were from Korea and smaller percentages from other countries even Japan. I have not been able to determine the Thai participation in this, although it has been reported that there were Thai women involved. For pay or kidnapped or under what circumstances and who actually facilitated the involvement I do not know with any certainty. The same is true of the Thai workers on the roads and two railroads built by the Japanese in Thailand during the war. Most reports I read referred to them as being hired employees either supplied voluntarily or by force by the Thai wartime government. The deaths from these ventures are surly not reported in the 300 civilian war deaths in Thailand.
Interesting history lesson.