Report by the Former Second Secretary of Legation in Thailand (Chapman)17


1. Political and Military Events.

Information concerning the trend of events in Thailand up to and including December 8, 1941, was contained in telegrams from the Legation which were presumably received by the Department.18

According to an official Thai broadcast (Enclosure 1) and a communiqué issued on December 8, 1941, (Enclosure 2),19 Thailand was attacked by Japanese armed forces at 2:00 A.M. (Bangkok Time) on December 8, 1941 (2:00 P.M.—E. S. T. December 7, 1941) by sea in the provinces of Singora (Songkhla), Pattani, Prachuab Khirikhan, Nakorn Sridharmarat, and Surat Dhani (Ban Don) in the southern peninsula, at Bang Pu near the mouth of the Menam (river) Chao Phya running up to Bangkok, and by land in the eastern provinces of Battambang and Pibulasonggram (in Cambodia) from French Indochina. The radio broadcast contained the statement that Thai troops and members of the police force put up a very strong resistance “worthy of their honor” at Songkhla, Pattani, Prachuab Khirikhan and in the Changwat (Province) of Pibulasonggram. The communiqué enumerated all of the localities above mentioned and alleged that “almost everywhere the Thai military and police forces put up a sturdy struggle.” The radio bulletin stated that resistance had continued until 7:30 A.M. at which time the Thai Government had ordered firing to cease temporarily pending further instructions.

No credible evidence was obtained by the Legation prior to its departure from Bangkok on June 29, 1942, to show that Thai armed forces resisted the Japanese at any of the points named except Singora (Songkhla), and possibly also at Prachuab. Beports from a number of sources agreed that the police (gendarmerie) at Singora had put up a stiff resistance and that bloody fighting had taken place. The Military Attaché to the Legation, Major C. E. Jackson, was informed by the Second Bureau (Intelligence) of the Thai Ministry of Defense on December 8 that some fighting had occurred at Aranya Pradesa on the former Thai-French Indochina border, but this information could [Page 918] not be confirmed from any other source. The Military Attaché was also told by the Second Bureau that a line five miles long was being held by the Thai Army at Bang Pu, but it is practically certain that no fighting took place at that point.…

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Japanese troops arrived in Bangkok on the afternoon of December 8, 1941, apparently by road from French Indochina, and by the following day the occupation of Bangkok by Japanese troops was complete.

According to the report of an American citizen who was captured by Japanese troops between Paknampo and Kambangbejra while attempting to escape from Thailand, and who was later brought to Bangkok for internment, Japanese troops were already in full possession of the main northern railway line as far north as Chiengmai by December 13. These troops apparently had entered Thailand unopposed from French Indochina and had not been to Bangkok. The same source reported that the headquarters of the Japanese troops in Paknampo was located in an earthenware shop run by a Korean fifth columnist who had been conducting his business there for about a year before the outbreak of war as a blind. Japanese troops were in full occupation of the most important buildings in Lopburi which before the war was the principal headquarters of the Thai Army. Considering the great distances and difficulties of transportation in north-central and eastern Thailand, and the short time that it took for considerable numbers of Japanese troops to occupy Lopburi, Paknampo, and other points along the railway, the conclusion is inescapable that they met with little or no opposition from the Thais and that some of them may already have been in the country before the outbreak of war.

In Bangkok the Japanese army of occupation quickly took over and converted to its uses many large buildings, including the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the principal international club including the race course and golf course, the principal Thai club together with its race course and golf course, the Thai National Stadium, a portion of the Chulalongkorn University for use as barracks, the Wattana Wittaya Academy—an American girls’ school, the business premises and wharfs of a number of large British companies, the new municipal port area with its mile long wharf and large warehouses, a large number of the finest private residences which had formerly been occupied by prominent British, American and Dutch residents, as well as various other buildings belonging to foreigners as well as Thais.

Throughout the duration of the Malayan and Burma campaigns large numbers of Japanese troops and quantities of military supplies passed through Bangkok from French Indochina to points south and north by rail, but it is impossible to estimate the numbers or quantities [Page 919] involved. To what extent the Thais cooperated with the Japanese in these movements is unknown. . .

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An interesting sidelight on the relations between Japan and Thailand is the statement in the Government communiqué of December 8 that “the Japanese Ambassador came to the official residence of the Prime Minister on December 7, 1941, at 10:30 o’clock P.M. (10:30 A.M.—E. S. T.—December 7, 1941) and explained to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Nai Direck Jaiyanama) that war had been declared on Great Britain and U. S. A.20 but that Japan did not consider Thailand as an enemy but she was obliged by necessity to ask for passage through Thai territory.” It was not until 3:00 P.M. on the following day, December 8, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs summoned the American Minister to the Foreign Office and informed him that at 12:00 o’clock that day Thailand had signed an agreement; with Japan permitting the Japanese Army to pass through Thailand to attack Great Britain.

An offensive and defensive alliance between Thailand and Japan was concluded on December 21, 1941.

Thailand declared war against the United States and Great Britain as of noon, January 25, 1942.

A subsequent phase of Thai collaboration with Japan was the sending of two Thai missions to Japan in April. The first was an economic mission headed by Nai Vanich Panananda, Minister of State without portfolio and Acting Minister for Finance. This mission negotiated and signed a Yen–Baht21 parity agreement on April 22, and pledged Thailand’s formal adherence to the Yen bloc on May 2, 1942. The second was a goodwill mission headed by Phya Bahol Bolabuyahua Sena, Elder Statesman and former Prime Minister. The latter mission arrived in Japan on April 22 and returned to Thailand on May 21, 1942. It was strongly played up in the Bangkok press and also, presumably, in Japan, as demonstrating the close bonds of friendship existing between Japan and Thailand, co-partners in the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Greater East Asia. It was announced before the staff of the Legation left Bangkok that a Japanese “Felicitation Mission”, headed by former Japanese Prime Minister Hirota would shortly visit Thailand.

The extent to which Thai forces cooperated with the Japanese Army in their Malayan and Burma campaigns is unknown. No reports were heard that the Thai Army did any actual fighting either in Malaya or Burma but important assistance in transport and lines of communication probably were rendered. The Thai “conquest” of portions of [Page 920] the Shan States22 in May and June, where there could not have been opposing forces of any consequence, because Japan had already overcome British and Chinese resistance in Burma, appears to have been a Japanese inspired move to provide a quick Thai victory to bolster the morale of the Thai people and divert their thoughts from increasing economic difficulties at home.

At the time of my departure from Bangkok on June 29, 1942, the Thai Government appeared to be under the control of and subservient to the Japanese military although still nominally independent. The pre-war Council of Ministers remained in office with a few exceptions. As previously noted Luang Pradist Manudharm, pre-war Minister of Finance, who had so stoutly resisted Japanese attempts at financial penetration and who has staunch pro-Allied sentiments, had been “promoted” to the Council of Regency to eliminate him from political activities inimical to Japan.… Luang Vichitr had recently become Foreign Minister. Nai Direck, the pre-war Foreign Minister, was safely under observation as Thai Ambassador in Tokyo. As indicated in a preceding paragraph the only notable absentee was Nai Vilas Osathananda, former Director General of the Publicity Department.

Indications of the development of a “Free Thai” movement organized by university students were reported. Evidently the objective of such a movement would be to create an underground revolutionary group which at a propitious moment would seize the power and free the country from the Japanese yoke and the control of its present … leaders. Whether the small group of liberal and pro-Allied leaders who are still in the Government … are connected with this movement is not known.

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  1. Prepared aboard the M. S. Gripsholm in response to Department’s telegram No. 64, July 2, 11 p.m., to the Consul at Lourenço Marques (Preston); approved by Willys R. Peck, formerly Minister in Thailand, and transmitted to the Department as an enclosure to an unnumbered despatch of August 22 (despatch not found in Department files). The Gripsholm was used in exchange of persons between the United States and Japan. For correspondence on the exchange agreement with Japan, see pp. 377 ff.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. v, p. 378 and previous.
  3. Enclosures not printed.
  4. The Japanese Imperial decree declaring war on the United States and the United Kingdom was issued at 11:45 a.m., December 8, Japan time; see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iv, p. 771.
  5. Basic currency units of Japan and Thailand, respectively.
  6. Of Burma.