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Contributed by Adrien Fontanellaz   
Sep 15, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Recently, Adrien Fontanellaz visited the Royal Thai Air Force Museum near Don Muong IAP. His report describes the interesting development of the RTAF after 1945 until the seventies.

 

THE ROYAL THAI AIR FORCE MUSEUM

By Adrien Fontanellaz

Entry to the RTAF Museum (all pictures by the Author)

The Royal Thai Air Force Museum was founded in 1952 and opened to the Public in March 1959, before being moved to its actual location in the Don Muang IAP Area in 1969. The easiest way to go there is to take a taxi from the BTS Skytrain’s Mo Chit Terminus. The Museum is definitely worth a visit, as it exhibits literally dozens of airplanes reflecting the RTAF’s rich history. Most of the aircraft exposed are in a pretty good condition and some of them, such as the Breguet 14, the Hawk III or the V-93 Corsair, are truly rare nowadays. Besides, admission is free. This report focuses mainly on some of the RTAF’s combat aircraft’s between 1945 and the seventies.

RTAF Chipmunk

As the Pacific War ended, the Kingdom of Thailand was, due to its past alliance with Japan, isolated and had to give back the territories gained from French Indochina, British Malaya and Burma during the previous years. The RTAF was in a sorry state as most of its aircraft were obsolete, worn out, and deprived of spares. If it were not for the local aeronautic industry, the situation would have been much worse. At that time, the most modern fighter in the RTAF inventory was the Nakajima Ki-43, of which 24 were delivered by Japan during the war. However, the situation changed when, after a coup, a new military government far more sensitive to the armed forces needs came to power. This new conjecture, and a revival of the Air Force old connection with the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, allowed the Air Force staff to plan reorganization around a six Wing structure. Wisely, the RTAF began to order a pretty large number of airplanes, such as T-6 Texans, C-47 and Miles Magister, in order to reequip its training and transport units. Eighteen Canadian- built DHC-1 Chipmunk Trainers were ordered in 1948 at a cost of 12,960 Dollars each and were followed by a further 48, built in England between 1951 and 1954. The Chipmunks had a long career in Thailand, as they soldiered on until 1989.

 

Supermarine Spitfire

The first true combat aircraft ordered by the RTAF after 1945 was the Spitfire Mk XIV. In April 1950, a contract was signed with Vickers-Armstrong for 30 overhauled Spitfires, at a price of 16,340 Pounds per Unit. Delivered in December 1950, these airplanes replaced the Ki-43 of the 1st squadron, 1st Wing. They were transferred to the 41st squadron, 4th Wing, after the 1st squadron was reequipped with Bearcats. This first batch of Spitfires was followed in 1954 by four PR19, the British fighter’s reconnaissance version.


Fairey Firefly

The Royal Thai Navy ordered 12 Fireflies for its Air Component in 1950. However, the RTN lost its air arm after a failed coup attempt that caused 3,000 casualties during which the RTAF, siding with the government, sunk the armored coastal defense ship Sri Ayuthaya the 30th of June 1951. As a result of the coup, latter known as the “Manhattan Incident”, the RTN lost its Naval Air Wing, who became the RTAF’s 7th Wing in December 1951. The Air Force inherited thereby all the Fireflies, around thirty Tiger Moths and six S2BC Helldivers, the latter received by the Navy only a few months earlier.


Grumman Bearcat

Since July 1939, the Wing’s emblems have been monkey-warriors characters of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana, a classical Hindu saga. The monkeys Sukreep, Ongkot, Nillapat, Hanuman and Chamuwaraj represented the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Wings respectively. The squadrons of a Wing were defined by a violet circle for the 1st squadron, a light blue diamond for the 2nd squadron and a gray triangle for the 3rd squadron, all surrounding the monkey-warrior figure. This was modified in 1957, when the RTAF adopted a far more usual bestiary as Wing’s symbols, with, for example, a Tiger for the 1st Wing, a Cobra for the 4th Wing and a Shark for the 7th Wing.


As early as March 1950, the United States government gave 10 million USD of military aid to the Kingdom. This move was triggered by the strong stance against Communism adopted by the Thai Prime Minister, Phibun Songkram, who also sent a battalion-sized expeditionary force in Korea a few months later. This alliance between the US and Thailand will continued unabated during the following decades, and most of the aircrafts delivered to the RTAF were of American origin until the End of the Cold War. A Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement was signed between the two countries in October 1950, and a Military Assistance Advisory Group was dispatched to Thailand soon thereafter. As a result, a gradual process of reorganization of the RTAF along the USAF lines was implemented. In 1953, the amount of US military aid was corresponding to more than double the Thai military budget.


The Air force operational capability soon received a major boost with the arrival of a first batch of 50 Grumman F8F Bearcats in 1951. Ultimately, the Kingdom received a total of 207 Bearcats, including 38 coming from the French Air Force stocks after the end of the First Indochina War. The Bearcats equipped as many as five squadrons (12th, 13th, 22nd, 23rd and 53th squadrons depending of the 1st, 2nd and 5th Wing respectively) before being phased out in the beginning of the sixties.

 

Republic F-84 Thunderjet

The RTAF received its first jets in July 1955, when six T-33 arrived in the country. The T-Bird career in Thailand was especially long, as the last ones were delivered in 1988, and as the type was finally retired in 1995. In 1957, the RTAF received 31 F-84G, at a unit cost of USD 338,718. These were overhauled former US, French, Italian and Belgium Air Forces aircrafts. The Thunderjets reequipped the 12th and 13th squadron, and the T-33’s were operated by the 11th squadron. The 1st Wing became thus a pure jet unit, its Bearcats being transferred to other formations, which in turn triggered the Spitfire’s retirement. A more potent jet fighter appeared a few years after, when in 1961 the RTAF took over its first F-86F Sabre, soon followed in 1963 by 17 F-86L all-weather variants. As usual, the new fighters were attributed to the 1st Wing, but ironically the less sophisticated F-86F served longer than the F-86L, the first variant being withdrawn in 1973 and the second in 1967.

 

North American T-28 Trojan

 

If the 50’s and 60’s saw the RTAF’s fighter component regularly enhanced by the delivery of new planes, it also developed strong COIN capabilities. At that time, the Royal Armed Forces began to be involved in two decades of counter-insurgency campaigns. The Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) resolved, in its 1961 third Congress, to engage in an armed struggle to topple the government. The first firefight between CPT fighters and Royal Policemen irrupted a few years later, in August 1965. From that date, the CPT slowly evolved into a pretty important force, with a pick of 10,000 armed militants able to mount regular operations involving company-sized units and operating mainly in the Northern and Northeastern part of the Country. According to the Thai government estimations, 2,173 CPT fighters and 2,642 government soldiers were killed during this vicious struggle between 1965 and 1976. However, the conflict ended essentially in 1987, as since the end of the 70’s, the CPT lost ground because of a wide range of reasons including internal dissent, loss of foreign support, a generous amnesty policy, relentless pressure from the Royal Armed Forces and a myriad of rural development projects initiated under the King’s patronage.


In 1962, the US delivered 30 T-6Gs, soon followed by a first batch of around 40 T-28Ds in 1963 and 1964, which were distributed among the squadrons of the 2nd Wing who soon became a dedicated COIN unit. The Thai T-28 pilots got a lot of combat experience as they were engaged against the CPT, and also against Communist forces in Cambodia. Moreover, some of them also volunteered to fly CAS missions against the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese in Laos, with aircrafts wearing Royal Lao Air Force Markings. Altogether, it is difficult to know precisely the number of T-28 received by the RTAF, as not a few of them were given to, or received from, the Air Forces of Laos and Cambodia. It is however probable that this number is probably higher than 100, as in September 1971, the 2nd Wing included no less than four squadrons operating the T-28. The type was withdrawn from service in 1988 and a few survivors were given to the Philippines Air Force. 

 

Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter

The first Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighters arrived in Thailand in 1966. They were the first newly built jets delivered to the country, and also its first supersonic fighters. Unsurprisingly, they were assigned to the 1st Wing’s 13th squadron, who used them until 1987, when they were replaced by F-16’s. During the 70’s, the Air Force squadrons were renumbered and the 13th squadron became the 103rd. After that, they were successively operated by the 231st, 711th and 701st squadron. Altogether, the RTAF received a total of 29 F-5A, B, C and RF-5A aircraft.

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco

The first half of the seventies saw a major modernization of the RTAF COIN’s and light attack dedicated aircrafts inventory. Between 1968 and 1975, Thailand received 32 Rockwell OV-10C Broncos, 18 Cessna A-37Bs, 20 AU-23 Peacemakers and 16 AC-47 Gunships. The Bronco was first operated by the 2nd Wing’s 21st squadron and the 5th Wing’s 53rd squadron, and then by the 41st Wing’s 411th squadron and the 71st Wing’s 711th squadron. All the OV-10C were withdrawn in 2004 and eight of them were donated to the Philippine Air Force.

 

Cessna A-37 Dragonfly

The 17 Cessna A-37Bs delivered in September 1972 were allocated to the 4th Wing’s 43rd squadron, before being transferred to the 211th squadron of the 21st Wing in 1980. Used to attack CPT rear-bases in Thailand, the A-37B were very heavily involved during the clashes between Hanoi and Bangkok troops on the Cambodian-Thai border in the eighties, triggered by repeated Vietnamese offensives against the Cambodian guerilla’s sanctuaries in the border area. The fighting was occasionally very intensive, and the RTAF was heavily involved, flying dozens of combat missions in short periods of time. Furthermore, in 1987, a fierce battle occurred between Thai and Laotian troops in a contested area west of the Mekong, which also generated a response in force by the RTAF. The 211th squadron was one of the main assets deployed, and suffered accordingly. One A-37B was shot down the 8th of April 1983 by a MANPAD and a second nearly one year later by Vietnamese AAA. These losses were made good by the delivery of two aircraft in 1985. The RTAF received thus a total of 20 A-37Bs as a lone South Vietnamese Air Force A-37 flown in Thailand during the last days of the Saigon Regime was subsequently incorporated into the Air Force.

Bibliography

  • Edward M. Young, Aerial Nationalism: A History of Aviation in Thailand, Smithsonian, 1994
  • David K. Wyatt, Thailand : A Short History, Yale University Press, 2003
  • Paul Chambers, Knights of the Realm: Thailand’s Military and Police, Then and Now, White Lotus, 2013
  • Air Power under His Majesty's Bounty, Published by the Royal Thai Air Force, 2006
  • http://thai-aviation.net/
  • http://www.wings-aviation.ch/
  • Laos, 1948-1989 and Cambodia 1954-1999 in ACIG database.

 

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