The seeds for a Free Thai movement were planted almost immediately as the country was occupied in DEC 1941. Unlike his British counter-part, the Thai AMB to the USA, Seni Pramoj, refused to deliver the Declaration of War that Prime Minister Phibun sent them. Pramoj immediately began to lobby the US for aid for his country. It would prove to be an uphill battle that would last through the war.
In a relatively short period of time, expat Thais began to rally to the cause of a free and democratic Thailand. But things soon became very complicated. Inside Thailand, there developed the Seri Thai movement that had ties back to the 1932 overthrow of the monarchy. This was led by one of the 1932 ‘revolutionaries’ Pridi Phano-myong. While technically an ally and friend of PM Phibun, Pridi found himself at odds with Phibun’s easy capitulation to the Japanese. Pridi was the formal leader of the Seri Thai resistance, a fact that he kept hidden from Phibun.
Pramoj toyed with idea of establishing a Thai gov’t in exile in the USA. However, there was many obstacles. Pramoj did not feel that he had the authority nor clout to head such a mission. But who could? Then there was the complication of the Royal Family. The young king Rama VIII was essentially in exile in Switzerland with Pridi acting as his Regent in Bangkok. Any attempt to enjoin any of the large Royal Family would be seen as a step towards the return to the absolute monarchy that had just recently been cast off. There were still plenty of Loyalist who would have eagerly supported such a move. So a gov’t-in-exile concept languished for want of a leader.
What did develop were 3, then 4, disparate groups that had little communication and seemed to be working in a vacuum. For some, it was planned that way! In the USA, there was the Free Thai Movement (FTM) who became affiliated with the newly created OSS. Their counterparts in England were known as the Free Siam Movement (FSM). But they were immediately subjugated to the SOE. The Seri Thai inside Thailand had plenty of enthusiasm and hate for their Japanese occupiers, but little else. To become a true resistance movement, to stage anything like a guerilla war, they needed arms and training. None were forth-coming. The fourth group sprang up in southern China. The OSS and SOE had agents there supporting The Chinese Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai Shek and the Seri Thai latched onto them.
By way of background it must be noted that Phibun and Pramoj hated and distrusted each other. Phibun dispatched one his most trusted aides to WASHDC to ‘help’ Pramoj. In reality, he was there to keep him under-wraps. It wasn’t too long before Pramoj turned the tables and dispatched COL Kunjara to oversee the movement’s interests in China. This got him out of Pramoj’s hair but created a new set of players in this complex dance.
Karb Kunjara soon allied himself to Kai Shek’s INTEL chief, a GEN Dai Li. Naturally, the Chinese had their own thoughts about what a post-war Asia should look like and Thailand was high on their list of priorities. But not in any way the Thais were likely to go along with willingly. While Kunjara and Dai Li’s interests were often not well aligned, they did often run in parallel. So they formed a tight alliance. But Dai Li always had the upper hand! In mid-1943, the Seri Thai managed to infiltrate some men to China. They were young and inexperienced students and immediately fell under the spell of Kunjara and Dai Li. Through a series of deceptions and outright lies, the latter managed to stifle any progress to getting aid into Thailand. His scheming grew to the point where he proposed a Sino-Thai Army to be formed to invade Thailand; naturally, headed by him!
Meanwhile Kunjara and Pramoj got into a full-fledged battle of words for supremacy of the Seri Thai. As Phibun’s man, there was always an outright animosity between the two that grew to the level of hatred. Over the years, they exchanged foul accusations (some not entirely untrue) and played off the OSS and SOE against one another. Of course, this did nothing to further the overall cause.
All said, the four pro-Thai groups never managed to establish any real communication amongst themselves and the OSS and SOE kept them at arm’s length and went about their business on a separate track. After an attempt to infiltrate some Thai agents from China failed miserably, the OSS managed to fly in a handful of agents via PBYs that were coordinated directly by Pridi and the head of Customs for the Thai gov’t.
Once these agents established radio contact with the OSS HQ in India and Ceylon, the Seri Thai ‘rebels’ began to feed invaluable INTEL about IJA movements and possible bombing targets. By early 1945, more and more OSS and SOE agents and their Thai subordinates were being parachuted into the Thai-controlled portions of the country. Arming and training were carried out with essentially no involvement of the China-based faction. It seems that the OSS and SOE had seen what was really going on there and simply by-passed them all.
Apparently, the preparation and training of the Seri Thai progressed well enough that larger guerilla-style operations were being planned for the late fall of 1945. This may even have included plan to attack Allied POW camps to free those men. Of course, the war in Asia drew to an end in AUG 45 so no such offensive operations were even carried out.
This entire side-story is much more complex than this short essay can convey. For the more complete picture see the 2018 publication by Nobchulee Maleenont that can be found at: https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/vocesnovae/vol2/iss1/12/