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Thailand's Secret War
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  • Page extent: 484 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.88 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 940.53/593
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: D802.T5 R49 2005
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Khabåuan Såeråi Thai
    • World War, 1939-1945--Underground movements--Thailand
    • Thailand--History--20th century
    • Thailand--Foreign relations--United States
    • United States--Foreign relations--Thailand

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521836012 | ISBN-10: 0521836018)

DOI: 10.2277/0521836018

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

 (Stock level updated: 02:45 GMT, 25 November 2015)


Thailand’s Secret War

This book is an absorbing account of secret operations and political intrigue in wartime Thailand. During World War II, Free Thai organizations cooperated with Allied intelligence agencies in an effort to rescue their nation from the consequences of its 1941 alliance with Japan. They largely succeeded despite internal differences and the conflicting interests and policies of their would-be allies, China, Great Britain, and the United States. London’s determination to punish Thailand placed the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) at a serious disadvantage in its rivalry with the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The US State Department, in contrast, strongly supported OSS operations in Thailand, viewing them as a vehicle for promoting American political and economic influence in mainland Southeast Asia. Declassification of the records of the OSS and the SOE now permits full revelation of this complex story of heroic action and political intrigue.

E. BRUCE REYNOLDS is Professor of History at San José State University. His previous publications include Thailand and Japan’s Southern Advance, 1940–1945 (1994) and Japan in the Fascist Era (2004).

Cambridge Military Histories

Edited by
Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford and Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford

Professor of Strategic Studies, US Naval War College

The aim of this new series is to publish outstanding works of research on warfare throughout the ages and throughout the world. Books in the series will take a broad approach to military history, examining war in all its military, strategic, political, and economic aspects. The series is intended to complement Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare by focusing on the history of armies, tactics, strategy, and warfare. Books in the series will consist mainly of single author works – academically vigorous and groundbreaking – which will be accessible to both academics and the interested general reader.

Thailand’s Secret War

The Free Thai, OSS, and SOE during World War II

E. Bruce Reynolds

The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge, CB2 2RU, UK
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011–4211, USA
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

© E. Bruce Reynolds 2004

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2004

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

Typeface Plantin 10/12 pt. System LATEX 2e [T B ]

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 521 83601 8 hardback

In loving memory of my parents:
Virgil E. Reynolds (1908–1986)
Sibyl Lane Reynolds (1913–1977)


  List of illustrations page x
  List of maps xiv
  Preface xv
  Acknowledgments xvii
  Notes on names and transliteration xix
  Prologue 1
1   The origins of the Free Thai movement 9
2   The China tangle 47
3   Chamkat and the Allies 82
4   Showdown in Friendship Valley 117
5   Frustrated hopes 158
6   Contact at last 196
7   The OSS commits to Pridi 253
8   Pridi’s bid for national redemption 287
9   Arming and training the underground 332
10   The end game 369
  Epilogue 430
  Bibliography 441
  Index 455


1.   M. R. Seni Pramot (Pramoj) (1905–1997), Thai minister to the United States 1940–1945, who founded and led the Free Thai movement abroad and became prime minister of Thailand in September 1945. (Source: US National Archives) page 10
2.   Members of the first group of Thai volunteers pose with friends on the grounds of the Thai Legation after receiving their commissions as Free Thai officers in December 1942. Left to right: Chup Chintakanon, wife of the Legation’s third secretary; Somphong Salyaphong (Somphonse Salyabongse); Ian Khampanon (Khambanonda); Chamrat Follett (in rear); Chok na Ranong; Sawat Chieosakun (Savasti Cheo-sakul)(in front); Chintamai Amatayakun (Chintamaye Amatayakul); M. L. Khap Kunchon (Kharb Kunjara), military attaché; M. L. Inthira Intharathut (Minister Seni’s niece); Nitthiphat Chalichan (Nithipatna Jalichandra); Pao Khamurai (Pow Khamourai); Phisut Suthat (Pisoot Sudasna); Karawek Siwichan (Srivicharn); Phon Intharathat (Indradat); Anan Chintakanon, Legation third secretary; Thiap Kunchon (Kunjara), wife of the military attaché. (Source: courtesy of Pisoot Sudasna) 38
3.   Pridi Phanomyong (Banomyong) (1900–1983), former cabinet minister, regent, and future prime minister, who headed the Free Thai underground inside Thailand. (Source: US National Archives) 83
4.   A group of Thai officers of British Force 136, the Asian branch of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Front row (left to right): Thep (Deb) Semthiti; Praphrit na Nakhon (Praprit na Nagara); Arun Sorathet (Aroon Sorathesn); Pat Pathamasathan (Padama Patmastana); Samran Wannaphrik (Varnabriksha); Bunsong Phungsunthon (Boonsong Phungsoondara). Back row (left to right): Prince Chridanai Kitiyakon (Kitiyakara), Krit Tosayanon (Kris Tosayanonda), Chunkeng Rinthakun (Chungkeng Rinthakul), Thana Posayanon (Poshyananda), and Prince Phisadet Rachani (Bhisadej Rajni). (Source: courtesy of Pisoot Sudasna) 97
5.   Free Thai officers on the trail in Yunnan province in China in 1944. Left to right: Bunyen Sasirat (Sasiratna), Wichian Waiwanon (Vichien Vaivananda); Sawat Chieosakun (Savasti Cheo-sakul) (front), Phisut Suthat (Pisoot Sudasna), M. L. Khap Khunchon (Kharb Kunjara), two unidentified Chinese, and Pao Khamurai (Pow Khamourai). (Source: courtesy of Pisoot Sudasna) 180
6.   Disguised as itinerant traders, the four-man team led by Pao Khamurai (Pow Khamourai) prepare to leave southern China on an overland journey to Thailand on 23 May 1944. Left to right: Chinese groom, Lieutenant Leo Karwaski, Pao, Phisut Suthat (Pisoot Sudasna) behind Pao, Major Nicol Smith, Sawat Chieosakun (Savasti Cheosakul), and Bunyen Sasirat (Sasiratna). (Source: courtesy of Pisoot Sudasna) 182
7.   Members of the Free Thai training for the OSS DURIAN operation pose at Trincomalee, Ceylon with their trainers and advisors. Left to right: Anond Siwattana (Srivardhana), Bunmak Thesabut (Bunmag Desaputra), Sanguan Tularak, Herman Scholtz, John Wester, Wimon Wiriyawit, and Al Boehl. (Source: US National Archives) 222
8.   Colonel Richard P. Heppner who commanded OSS Detachment 404 in Kandy Ceylon before transferring to head Detachment 202 in China in late 1944. (Source: courtesy of Elizabeth McIntosh) 236
9.   Operating his radio from the second floor of this Bangkok house, Pao Khamurai (Pow Khamourai) made the first successful contact with the OSS base at Ssumao, China on 5 October 1944. (Source: photo by author) 251
10.   This Thai Customs Service launch, captained by Sin Uthasi and pictured here on the Chao Phraya River, did yeoman’s service in shuttling Free Thai infiltrators back and forth from the Gulf of Thailand to Bangkok. (Source: US National Archives) 276
11.   This house, owned by Chan Bunnak (Charn Bunnag) and located across from Vajirvudh College, served as a secret radio station and sheltered OSS officers John Wester and Richard Greenlee when they arrived in Bangkok in January 1945. (Source: US National Archives) 295
12.   Smoke billows from the Allied bombing of Bangkok’s Samsen power plant on 14 April 1945. OSS officers took the photo from the riverside balcony of SIREN headquarters, Maliwan Palace. (Source: US National Archives) 306
13.   A journalist in civilian life, Edmond Taylor served as the chief American representative on P Division before becoming Detachment 404 Intelligence Officer in 1945. (Source: US National Archives) 312
14.   Colonel John Coughlin, commander of OSS Detachment 404 (left) and General Raymond B. Wheeler commander of the American India-Burma Theater (center) confer with Detachment 404 Operations Office Carleton B. Scofield at Kandy, Ceylon. (Source: US National Archives) 317
15.   Members of the Royal Thai Air Force help push a C-47 onto solid ground at Phu Khieo airfield on 14 June 1945. (Source: US National Archives) 346
16.   The view of Bangkok from the open hatch of a B-24 above the Chao Phraya River on 18 June 1945 during the Office of War Information (OWI)-sponsored drop of medical supplies. (Source: US National Archives) 347
17.   The Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asian Theater, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, chats with Cora DuBois, head of the OSS Detachment 404 Research and Analysis Branch at Kandy, Ceylon. Colonel John Coughlin, the Detachment 404 commander, looks on. (Source: US National Archives) 351
18.   General William J. Donovan, commander of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) (right) decorates Major John J. Gildee at Kandy, Ceylon in early August 1945. The Free Thai underground rescued Gildee and others after the Japanese shot down the B-24 carrying his YIELD operational party on 29 May 1945. (Source: US National Archives) 365
19.   Tiang Sirikhan (front, right) organized the largest Free Thai guerrilla training operation near his hometown of Sakon Nakhon in northeastern Thailand with support from British Force 136. Major David Smiley sits next to Tiang. In the back row, left to right, are Sergeant “Gunner” Collins, Captain Krit Tosayanon (Kris Tosayanonda); Major Rowland Winn, and Sergeant “Spider” Lawson. (Source: courtesy of Pisoot Sudasna) 377
20.   The two key figures in the Thai underground, Regent Pridi Phanomyong and Police General Luang Adun Adundetcharat toast with an American officer in the sala behind Pridi’s official residence in September 1945. (Source: US National Archives) 401
21.   Thai troops march past Bangkok’s Democracy Monument during the Free Thai “Victory Parade” of 25 September 1945. (Source: US National Archives) 409


1.   Thailand: target of two Allied Theaters page 44
2.   Southern China to Northern Thailand 164
3.   Underground-related locations in Thailand 210


When the Japanese attacked Great Britain and the USA in December 1941, they planned to use independent Thailand as the main launching pad for their invasions of British Malaya and Burma. They expected cooperation from the ambitious and increasingly dictatorial Thai Premier, Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram, whom they had helped gain territory from French Indochina after a brief border war earlier in the year. After brief initial Thai resistance, Phibun agreed to free passage for the Japanese forces, then within days agreed to an alliance that made Thailand Japan’s first true Asian ally. British and American residents were interned and their properties confiscated. In January 1942, Phibun declared war on Great Britain and the USA, in May he sent his troops into the British Shan States, and in 1943 he accepted territory in the Shan territories and four states in northern Malaya proffered by the Japanese to ensure his continued support. Thailand had become a critical supply base for Japanese operations in Burma.

   When the tide of war turned against the Axis Powers, Thailand found itself in difficult straits. Unless a way could be found to escape the embrace of Japan, Thailand would go down in flames, too; perhaps even lose its treasured independence. Phibun’s chief civilian political rival, Pridi Phanomyong, sought to salvage the nation’s position and gain the political upper hand by secretly seeking Allied support for a government-in-exile and an anti-Japanese underground. By this time, the Thai minister in Washington, Seni Pramot (Pramoj), had initiated Free Thai movements there and in London, and each of the Allied states had recruited Thai volunteers it hoped to infiltrate into the country.

   My previous book, Thailand and Japan’s Southern Advance, focused on the relationship between Thailand and Japan before and during World War II; this volume examines Thailand’s secret war, this surreptitious campaign to win the favor of the Allies. Factional and personal differences among the Thai, the divergent interests of the nations opposing Japan, and often bitter rivalries between ambitious Allied intelligence agencies complicated this effort, creating what British Special Operations Executive (SOE) Asian Chief Colin Mackenzie aptly described as a “very tangled skein.”

   American and British policies toward Thailand remained out of sync throughout the war, sparking a particularly intense rivalry between the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British SOE. With strong backing from the State Department, the OSS sought by hook or by crook to thwart perceived British schemes to “colonize” Thailand.

   In the end, Thailand’s secret war proved to be a nearly bloodless affair and Pridi, with American support, succeeded in saving Thailand from the worst consequences of Phibun’s alliance with Japan. Problems left over from the war and long-simmering political jealousies, however, would ultimately destroy his effort to establish a stable and more democratic postwar political order.

   The declassification of reams of OSS and SOE documents have made it possible for the first time to explore fully the complexities of Thailand’s wartime relations with Allied intelligence agencies.


My study of Thailand’s role in World War II began over two decades ago, so it is impossible adequately to acknowledge all my debts to the many who have helped along the way. First and foremost, however, I must thank my wife, Pilaiwan, who has patiently assisted with Thai language translations and graciously tolerated her husband’s historical and other obsessions.

   I am indebted to all the participants who shared reminiscences of their wartime experiences with me, several of whom did not live to see this book in print. The latter category includes Sir Andrew Gilchrist – whom I never met, but with whom I corresponded from 1987 until his death in 1993 – William Pye, Alexander MacDonald, Carl Eifler, Wimon Wiriyawit, and Chok na Ranong.

   Among the participants still with us, Anond Srivardhana has offered assistance and encouragement over a decade of friendship. Pisoot Sudasna has generously sent me numerous photographs and books. Thanks also to Sala Dasananda, Kraisi Tularak, Rachan Kanchana-Vanit, Nirat Samathapand, Frank Devlin, Joe Lazarsky, and Elizabeth McIntosh for special assistance.

   I am grateful to Dilworth Brinton Jr. for copies of his late father’s letters, to Jeannette Mumma for use of her late husband’s diary, to Jack Carroll for lending a helpful book, to Herb Auberbach for a useful article I would never have found on my own, and to Sharon Karr who provided access to the late Nicol Smith’s papers. Pongsuwan Bilmes has provided numerous leads and books.

   I am indebted to many librarians and archivists, but from the beginning, my research has benefited most from the kind, unstinting assistance of Larry McDonald and John Taylor of the National Archives Modern Military Branch. With consumate professionalism they provided invaluable guidance as I wended my way through the extensive OSS records on Thailand.

   Thanks to Lersak and Pisamai Tejayan for their hospitality and support in Thailand, and to Steve and Kazue Zon, Danny Unger, Joe Sottile, Joel Wiskin, Dan and Lynne Dayton, and Hal and Jane Henderson for making my numerous trips to Washington, DC, so enjoyable.

   During my research I have benefited from the assistance and friendship of many fellow researchers, including Richard Aldrich, Yu Maochun, Paul Kratoska, Bill Warren, Ron Renard, Bill Swan, Carolle Carter, Michael Warner, George Chalou, Chaiwat Khamchoo, Takahashi Hisashi, Ichikawa Kenjirō, Gotō Ken’ichi, Murashima Eiji, Akashi Yōji, and the late Henry Frei.

   Special thanks also to my mentor John Stephan for inspiration and encouragement over the past twenty-two years.


San Jose, CA, January 2004

Notes on names and transliteration

At the end of World War II, in part to please the British, the government of Thailand changed the country’s international designation back to its pre-1939 name, Siam. In 1949, the government restored the name Thailand. In order to minimize confusion, the terms “Thailand” and “Thai” are used in the text for the immediate postwar period, although the terms “Siam” and “Siamese” do appear in quotations.

   People in Thailand, including government officials, are commonly referred to by their personal name rather than their family name. I have followed this custom in the text. In the bibliographical listings, Thai names are alphabetized according to personal name.

   Different systems are used in the transliteration of Thai words and names. All are inherently problematic because Thai is a tonal language and contains many sounds that have no English equivalent. Also confusing is the fact that Thai consonants often take on different sounds depending on whether they appear at the beginning or end of a syllable. Further, many names are written with unpronounced syllables at the end.

   For the sake of consistency, I have used the transliteration system of the Royal Institute of Thailand throughout. Its merits include the representation of syllable-ending consonants by sound and the dropping of unpronounced syllables at the end of words. Its shortcomings include a lack of distinction between long and short vowels and the common representation of quite different vowel sounds by the letters “o” and “u.”

   With a few exceptions, such as the familiar names of Kings, I have sought to render names according to the Royal Institute system, even when another English spelling is commonly used by the person in question. In such cases, I have placed the common spelling in parentheses after the first reference to the person in the text.

   A few other hints may help the general reader with the pronunciation of Thai consonants. An “h” following the letters “t” or “p” signifies an aspirated or plosive sound. Thus the “th” in Thai is pronounced as the “t” in “tie” rather than the “th” in “thigh” and the “ph” as the “p” in pie, not the “ph” in “phone.” Without the following “h” the consonants “t” and “p” are pronounced in an unaspirated form for which there is no direct equivalent in English. The Thai “kh” is similar to the “k” in “kick,” while the Thai “k” is similar to the “g” in “gone.”

   With transliterated Thai vowels, the “a” is similar to the “a” in “barn”; the “e” is similar to the “e” in “Ben”; the “i” is similar to the double “e” in “bee”; the “o” most commonly is similar to the “o” in “go”; and the “u” most commonly is similar to the “u” in “tune.”

   With the exception of Chiang Kai-shek, Chinese names are rendered in the Wade-Giles system in use during World War II. Japanese names are transliterated according to the modified Hepburn system.

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