Ki-43-II Unit: HQ chutai, 204th sentai Serial: unknown Circa 1944. Note: RTAF [Royal Thai Air Force] insignia painted over the Hinomaru underwing. The spots over Japanese markings are still above the wings. Camouflage is dark green-dark brown patches with light grey streaks.
During World War II, Thailand was ostensibly ruled by a council of regency, governing in place of King Ananta Mahidol, who waited out the war in Switzerland; in practical terms, however, the country was governed by a military dictator, Field Marshal Pibul Songgram, who favored the Japanese, in whom he saw the possibility of resisting Western colonial influence.
Pibul commanded an army of 50,000 men, an air force of 150 combat aircraft (many obsolete or obsolescent), and a navy consisting of a British-built World War I destroyer, nine Italian-built torpedo boats, and various small craft. Before the war, Pibul had ordered two light cruisers from an Italian shipyard, but the Italian navy preemptively commandeered these before they were launched.
Shortly after the outbreak of the war, in 1940, Britain and France concluded nonaggression pacts with Thailand, which declared itself neutral. Despite the pacts and the declaration of neutrality, Pibul attacked two neighboring French protectorates, Laos and Cambodia, in an effort to regain disputed border territory. Pibul prevailed on land, but lost at sea, and both the French and the Thais turned to Japan to mediate the dispute. In accordance with the Japanese decision, the Vichy government of France ceded the disputed territory to Thailand in May 1941.
On December 8, 1941, the day after war began in the Pacific, Japan used French Indochina and Thailand as staging areas from which to launch operations against Malaya. The Thais resisted both the Japanese military activity on their territory and a British advance from Malaya through Thai land; however, on December 9, Pibul ordered an end to all resistance. On January 25, Pibul declared war on Britain and the United States (but not China). Britain reciprocated, but the United States, preferring to consider Thailand an enemy-occupied country rather than an enemy country, did not. Nevertheless, Thailand officially collaborated with the Japanese and thereby gained considerable surrounding territory by way of reward. Unofficially, a nationalist movement developed that was anti-Japanese and pro-Allies. Nai Pridi Bhanomyong’s Free Thai Movement (together with at least one other resistance movement) cooperated both with the Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services—respectively the British and American guerrilla and partisan coordinating agencies—to become XO Group, which fomented and organized resistance in Thailand. Thanks to Allied successes and the Free Thai Movement, Pibul fell from power in July 1944, and guerrillas wrested control of northern Thailand from the Japanese well before Japan’s general surrender in September 1945.
Further reading: Baker, Chris, and Pasuk Phongpaichit. A History of Thailand. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005; Terwiel, B. J. A History of Modern Thailand, 1767–1942. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1984; Wright, Joseph J. The Balancing Act: A History of Modern Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand: Asia Books, 1991.