I must admit I was a little surprised when I was driving near Kanchanaburi in Thailand and saw a Vietnam War Veterans Museum. Even though I was in the age group where many of my friends were conscripted to fight in The Vietnam War, I had no idea that Thailand was involved.
A few days later, just before ANZAC Day 2015, I was walking across The Bridge on The River Kwai, when I met a member of the Australian Defense Force. He was in Thailand for the upcoming ANZAC Day services. I asked him about Thailand’s involvement in the Vietnam War and he said up until a couple of days ago he was also unaware. We then had a discussion with a young Thai lady, who was with the Thai military, and she said that she was aware that Thailand was indeed involved in the Vietnam war, but did not know how, or to what extent.
So to satisfy my curiosity, I started to do some research. I must admit I was a little surprised with what i found out and just how ignorant we Australians are in general about what happens at our own back door. We, (and I include myself in the we), are often (too often) critical of countries like America for not knowing much about world history especially where it does not involve the US.
Here I was, living in total ignorance that Thailand was involved in the Vietnam War at all, let alone the extent to which they were involved.
I will give you links for more reading but first I will outline some of the key points that my research revealed. As I conducted my research, I began to understand why we did not know. When it came to the Vietnam War there was much “non information” from many parties.
- The United States Air Force (USAF) deployed combat aircraft to Thailand from 1961 to 1975.
- During the Vietnam War, about 80% of all USAF air strikes over North Vietnam originated from air bases in Thailand.
- These are the major bases the USAF operated from in Thailand:
Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base, 1961–1970
Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, 1962–1975
Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base, 1962–1976
Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, 1961–1971; 1972–1974
U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, 1965–1976
Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, 1965–1974
Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, 1964–1976
- The fighting in Laos was of great concern to the Thai government. The government feared that should Laos fall to the communists, the “Domino Theory” would place the entire region, including Thailand, in jeopardy.
- The Royal Thai Government began flying reconnaissance missions over Laos on 19 December 1960 with some RT-33 photo jets. United States Pacific Command (CINCPAC) ordered American technicians to assist the Royal Thai Air Force in processing and analyzing the film.
- The official American military presence in Thailand started in April 1961 when an advance party of the USAF 6010th Tactical (TAC) Group arrived at Don Muang at the request of the Royal Thai government to establish an aircraft warning system.
- Thailand was a member of SEATO. While supposedly maintaining an air of neutrality, it was deeply concerned about the fighting in neighboring Indochina. Over the centuries, Thai governments had managed to avoid foreign domination with a policy of accommodation with the predominant power in Asia at the time. By 1965, the increasing amount of American aircraft deployments to Thailand was jeopardizing policy.The Royal Thai government’s desire to avoid publicity led to the formation of a policy to downplay the United States’ presence and not draw attention to its tactical air units in Thailand. This is why so little information about the USAF in Thailand was made public during the Vietnam War
- Although the existence of the so-called “Secret War” was sometimes reported in the U.S., details were largely unavailable due to official government denials that the war even existed. The denials were seen as necessary considering that the US had signed agreements specifying the neutrality of Laos. US involvement in Laos was considered necessary because North Vietnam had effectively conquered a large part of the country and was equally lying in public about its role in Laos. Despite these denials, however, the Secret War was actually the largest U.S. covert operation prior to the Afghan-Soviet War, with areas of Laos controlled by North Vietnam subjected to three million tons of bombing, representing the heaviest U.S.-led bombing campaign since World War II.
- The United States ended its involvement in Southeast Asia by treaty and disengagement rather than by military victory. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, relations between Washington and Bangkok turned sour. In May 1975, the Royal Thai Government asked the United States to remove all of its combat forces (27,000 troops, 300 aircraft)
Source of above information and further reading about the Vietnam War see this Wikipedia article.
Further Research on Thailand and The Vietnam War
- In 1969, Thai government deployed more than 12,000 combat troops, which included Queen’s Cobras and Black Panther Division of Royal Army Volunteer Force, to counter the guerrilla forces in the South Vietnam. Additionally, it had also dispatched around 26,000 volunteer recruits. The number gradually peaked to 15% of the total Thai regular Army by 1971.
- Thai troops comprising regular and volunteer men proved more effective and deadly against the guerrillas due to awareness of local geography and culture of the region as compared to the U.S. troops who were alien to the region. However, Thailand’s involvement in the direct conflict was not without cost.
- In total, 351 Thai troops were killed in action while some 1,358 men wounded.
Source of the above information and further reading about the Vietnam War see thevietnamwar.info
In addition to their involvement in the Vietnam Way, Thailand was being distracted by its own communist-insurgency and the Thammasat University massacre. If you take any of our tours that include the picturesque Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park you will see first hand some of the locations where the fiercest fighting with the communist-insurgency took place.