November 20 is annually observed as Royal Thai Navy Day (วันกองทัพเรือ), commemorating the date in 1906 that King Chulalongkorn officially opened the Royal Thai Naval Academy (โรงเรียนนายเรือ). Established in 1898 and originally located on the royal yacht Maha Chakri and some other boats donated by the king, the academy later moved to Wang Derm Palace in Thonburi (in the compound of the present headquarters of the Royal Thai Navy), then to Sattahip, and finally to its current location in Samut Prakan in 1952. The Royal Thai Navy had become active on April 8, 1887, established by Admiral Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, Prince of Chumphon, who is considered “the father of the Royal Thai Navy”. His birthday is observed by ceremonies on December 19th of each year. Royal Thai Navy Day is not to be confused with Thai Navy Memorial Day on January 17 which commemorates a decisive battle with the French off Koh Chang in 1941.
The first major engagement by the fledgling Siamese navy occurred on July 13, 1893, in what has come to be called the “Paknam Incident,” during the Franco-Siamese War. While sailing off Paknam through Siam’s Chao Phraya River, three French ships were fired on by Fort Chulachomklao and a force of five gunboats, when attempting to cross the bar on the way to the capital city of Bangkok. The Siamese also sunk several junks and a cargo ship in the river, creating only one narrow passage which the French had to traverse. Ultimately, the French forced their way through the Siamese line, ramming and sinking one gunboat in the process. Another was hit by shell fire. Ten men were killed and twelve others wounded. One French warship was grounded on Laem Lamphu Rai while two ships proceeded onto Bangkok. Three Frenchmen were killed and two others were wounded. The Siamese fort was not damaged.
On July 22, 1917, Siam declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Twelve German vessels docked in Siamese ports were immediately seized. The crews and other Central Power nationals were detained and sent to India to join their fellow citizens in British India’s existing civilian internment camps. Siam sent a volunteer expeditionary force of 1,284 men to France, consisting of medical, motor transport and aviation detachments. Some 370 pilots and groundcrew were sent to air schools for retraining, as the pilots were deemed incapable of withstanding high altitude air combat. The navy doesn’t seem to have been involved in World War I at all.
The Royal Siamese Navy had shown interest in submarines in various procurement proposals dating as early as 1910. However, its expansion plans were limited by financial constraints throughout the early twentieth century. In 1934, Sindhu Kamalanavin, then Chief of Staff of the Navy, led a warship-procurement project which was approved by parliament in 1935. The proposal included a 6.9 million-baht budget for three submarines. Bidding was held in October 1935, and was won by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan, which offered a price of 820,000 baht each for four boats. Siamese navy officers and sailors were sent to Japan to be trained to operate the submarines by Imperial Japanese Navy personnel.
The submarines were built in Kobe, with the first two being laid down on May 6, 1936. Construction of the others began on October 1. The first group was launched on December 24, 1936, with the second following on May 14, 1937. The first two submarines were completed and delivered to the Royal Siamese Navy on September 4, 1937, the date the Thai Navy still observes as Submarine Day. The others were delivered on April 30, 1938.
All four submarines departed Kobe for Thailand on June 5, 1938. They stopped for supplies at Keelung, Japanese-controlled Taiwan on June 9, and at Manila in the Philippines on June 15. They arrived at Sattahip Naval Base on June 25, and were officially welcomed in Bangkok on June 29. They were commissioned on July 19, as was the Japan-built coastal defense ship HTMS Sri Ayudhya.
The submarine crews underwent several training exercises in 1938 and 1939. By this time, the major units of the fleet included two Japanese-built armored coast defense vessels, which displaced 2,500 long tons and carried 8-inch (203 mm) guns, two older British-built armored gunboats with 6-inch (152 mm) guns, 12 torpedo boats, and the four submarines.
In November 1940, following several border skirmishes, the undeclared Franco-Thai War over disputed border areas began when the Royal Thai Air Force made air raids military bases in French Indochina. The navy was mobilized to protect Thailand’s territorial waters, and the submarines conducted reconnaissance in the Gulf of Thailand. However, they were unable to prevent a surprise French naval raid, which resulted in heavy Thai naval losses at the Battle of Ko Chang on January 17, 1941. The battle resulted in a victory by the French Navy over the Royal Thai Navy. In the end, two Thai ships were sunk and one was heavily damaged. Following the battle, the submarines were sent to patrol the vicinity of Ream Naval Base in present-day Cambodia, but no further naval clashes took place. Within a month of the engagement, the Vichy French and the Thais negotiated a peace which ended the war.
During World War II, the authoritarian government of Thailand was part of the Axis that assisted Japan. It had quickly formed a temporary alliance with the Japanese in 1941, as the Japanese forces were already invading the peninsula of southern Thailand. The Phayap Army sent troops to invade and occupy northeastern Burma, which was former Thai territory that had been annexed by Britain much earlier. Also involved were the Japanese puppet states of Manchukuo and Mengjiang (consisting of most of Manchuria and parts of Inner Mongolia respectively), and the collaborationist Wang Jingwei regime (which controlled the coastal regions of China).
The official policy of the U.S. Government is that Thailand was not an ally of the Axis, and that the United States was not at war with Thailand. The policy of the U.S. Government ever since 1945 has been to treat Thailand not as a former enemy, but rather as a country which had been forced into certain actions by Japanese blackmail, before being occupied by Japanese troops. Thailand has been treated by the United States in the same way as such other Axis-occupied countries as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Poland, and the Netherlands.
The submarines remained in service throughout World War II, which Thailand officially joined in January 1942, but they saw no combat. However, two of them did serve an unconventional role during the war. On April 14, 1945, five months before the Japanese surrender, Bangkok’s Samsen and Wat Liab Power Plants were bombed during Allied air raids, leaving the capital city without electricity. In response to a request from the Bangkok Electricity Authority, the Matchanu and Wirun anchored at the Bangkok Dock Company and served as power generators for one of Bangkok’s tram lines.
After the war’s end, supplies and parts for the submarines became unavailable because of the Allied occupation and disarmament of Japan. In addition, the Royal Thai Navy’s battery factory was unable to produce the powerful batteries needed for the submarines. The Thai submarine service came to an end following a coup attempt against the military government of Plaek Pibunsongkhram known as the Manhattan Rebellion. The failed coup, led by a group of naval officers on June 29, 1951, led to the Navy’s being stripped of its power and influence. At Ratchaworadit Pier in Bangkok, A group of junior naval officers had attemped a coup against the government of Major General Plaek Pibulsonggram, popularly known as “Phibun”, prime minister of Thailand. During the transfer ceremony of US Navy dredge Manhattan to the Thai Navy, Phibun was taken at gunpoint aboard Thai navy flagship HTMS Sri Ayudhya and held hostage. However, the plotters failed to secure the opening of the Memorial Bridge, so the warship couldn’t continue downriver. Fighting ensued and the rebels became heavily outnumbered by forces loyal to the government.
On June 30, off Wichaiprasit Fort in the Chao Praya River, the Sri Ayudhya joined in the fight, but its engines were soon disabled and she went dead in the water. Fired on by guns, mortars and planes, heavy fires broke out and the order was given to abandon ship. Prime Minister Phibun swam ashore but was uninjured. The Sri Ayudhya finally sank on July 1 The rebellion led to the deaths of 17 military personnel, eight police officers, and 103 civilians. More than 500 were wounded. After the failed revolt, the Royal Thai Navy lost its power and influence. The Submarine Group was dissolved on July 16, and all four boats were decommissioned on November 30, 1951.
The submarines were moored for some time in the Chao Phraya River near Siriraj Hospital Pier, but they were finally sold to the Siam Cement Company for scrap. Part of the superstructure of the Matchanu is preserved at the Naval Museum in Samut Prakan Province, almost the only reminder that Thailand once had a submarine fleet. The wreck of Sri Ayudhya was later salvaged for scrap, as it had become a navigational hazard. The ship was officially struck from the naval register on October 8, 1959, in Ministerial Order 350/21315.
In support of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, two Royal Thai Navy vessels undertook operations in South Vietnam starting in 1966.
In July 2014, following the coup which placed the current military junta into power, a new submarine squadron and training facility was established at Sattahip, despite not having had a single submarine in service since 1951. In 2011, Thailand had negotiated to buy six small used submarines from Germany for 7.7 billion baht (£139 million), but let the deal expire. It then considered buying two larger new submarines from South Korea for 40 billion baht (£721 million), but no deal was concluded. The navy has sent submarine personnel for training in both Germany and South Korea. On July 1, 2016, Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, announced that the ministry had finalized the plan to procure three submarines from China for the Royal Thai Navy, The submarines will cost $1 billion in total, with payments made over ten years. The first Chinese-mad Yuan class S26T submarines will be bought from the 2017 budget.
The navy’s current combat forces include the Royal Fleet and the Royal Thai Marine Corps. The 130 vessels of the Royal Fleet includes frigates equipped with surface-to-air missiles, fast attack craft armed with surface-to-surface missiles, large coastal patrol craft, coastal minelayers, coastal minesweepers, landing craft, and training ships. Thailand is also the only Southeast Asian country that operates an aircraft carrier, though it is used as a pure helicopter carrier with the retirement of the Harrier fighter wing.
The mission space of the Thailand navy includes the Thai Gulf and the Indian Ocean, which are separated by land, as well as rivers. Naval affairs are directed by the country’s senior admiral from his Bangkok headquarters. The naval commander in chief is supported by staff groups that planned and administered such activities as logistics, education and training, and various special services. The headquarters general staff functions like those of corresponding staffs in the army and air force command structures.
The United States Navy and Royal Thai Navy conduct the annual joint operation Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). CARAT is an annual series of bilateral maritime training exercises of the US Navy and the armed forces of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Philippines.
Royal Thai Navy Day celebrations at the naval academy are capped by the Navy Day Party which was held on November 20 until recently. Now, it is held in the third week of December because naval cadets have a lot of activities in November and less in December. The objective of this party is to train the cadets to organize their work and to be responsible for their job. Formerly, in the five-year curriculum, the fourth-year cadets were responsible for organizing the event. However, the curriculum has now changed to four years, so the third-year cadets have taken over this job. The first- and second-year cadets also assist. Naval cadets will also get a chance to know how to socialize at the party and they will also take the opportunity to relax after a long year of hard study. It is considered quite an honor to be invited by naval cadets.
With the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 13, 2016, the Royal Thai Navy has paid a special tribute to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) on the Friday preceding November 20. Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Admiral Na Areenij led a presentation of alms to 49 monks at the RTN headquarters to make merit for the force ahead of the anniversary of its founding. The ceremony was attended by high ranking navy officials who also joined in a religious ceremony to bless the force with the release of 4,000 fish.
Today’s stamp portrays HTMS Chakri Naruebet (จักรีนฤเบศร, meaning “In honor of the Chakri Dynasty”) — the flagship of the Royal Thai Navy and Thailand’s first and only aircraft carrier. It was released as part of a set of four stamps and one souvenir sheet on November 20, 2014, which has a Thailand Post set number of TH-1055. The stamps were designed by Udom Niyonthum and printed by the British Security Printing Public Company in Bangkok. All of the stamps are denominated 5 baht. Two portray frigates — HTMS Phutthayodfa Chulalok (FFG-461), which is the former USS Truett (FF-1095), HTMS Phutthaloetla Naphalai (FFG-462), the former USS Ouellet (FF-1077) — the detroyer escort HTMS Pin Klao (DE -413), which was built for the United States Navy during World War II as USS Hemminger (DE-746) and currently used as a “salute ship,” plus HTMS Chakri Naruebet.
When Typhoon Gay hit Thailand in 1989, the Royal Thai Navy, as the main unit responsible for search and rescue missions, found that its ships and aircraft were unable to withstand the rough weather at sea. Moreover, the navy needed a new, high-technology ship to modernize its fleet. The original plan was to acquire a 7,800-ton vessel from Bremer Vulcan, but the Thai government canceled this contract on July 22, 1991. A new contract for a larger warship to be constructed at Bazán’s shipyard in Ferrol, Spain was signed by the Thai and Spanish governments on March 27, 1992. The proposed vessel was based on the design of the Spanish Navy aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias, which in turn was based on the United States Navy’s Sea Control Ship concept. The design is formally referred to by the Royal Thai Navy as an “Offshore Patrol Helicopter Carrier”.
Work on the Thai carrier commenced in October 1993, although it was not until July 12, 1994, that the hull was laid down. Chakri Naruebet was launched on January 20, 1996, by Queen Sirikit. Sea trials were conducted from October 1996 to January 1997, the latter part of which was in coordination with the Spanish Navy. This was followed by aviation trials at Rota, Spain. The carrier was handed over on March 27, 1997, when she was commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy. She arrived in Phuket on August 4, 1997, following a 42-day voyage from Spain, and formally entered service on August 10.
The Chakri Naruebet cost US$336 million to build. The aircraft carrier was designed to operate an air group of V/STOL fighter aircraft and helicopters, and is fitted with a ski-jump. Initial intentions were to operate a mixed air group of Matador V/STOL aircraft and Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters. However, by 1999, only one Matador was operational, and the entire V/STOL fleet was removed from service in 2006. Although Chakri Naruebet was intended for patrols and force projection in Thai waters, a lack of funding brought on by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis meant the carrier has spent much of her career docked at the Sattahip naval base.
While still operating with Harriers, Chakri Naruebet was the smallest aircraft carrier with a fixed wing air group in operation in the world. She displaces 11,486 tons at full load. The carrier is 538 feet (164.1 meters) long between perpendiculars, and 599.2 feet (182.65 meters) overall. She is 74 feet (22.5 meters) wide at the waterline, with a maximum beam of 100 feet (30.5 meters), and a draught of 20.1 (6.12 meters). The flight deck measures 573 by 90 feet (174.6 by 27.5 meters). A 12° ski-jump assists V/STOL aircraft to take off. There are two aircraft lifts, each capable of lifting 20 tons. The warship has a ship’s company of 62 officers, 393 sailors, and 146 aircrew. Up to 675 additional personnel can be transported, usually from the Royal Thai Marine Corps.
Chakri Naruebet is propelled by a combined diesel or gas (CODOG) system. Each of the two, five-bladed propellers is connected to a Bazán-MTU 16V1163 TB83 diesel engine (providing 5,600 brake horsepower (4,200 kW), used for cruising speed), and a General Electric LM2500 gas turbine (providing 22,125 shaft horsepower (16,499 kW), used to reach top speed for short periods). The ship has a maximum speed of 25.5 knots (47.2 km/h; 29.3 mph), although she can only reach 17.2 knots (31.9 km/h; 19.8 mph) with the diesels alone. She has a maximum range of 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) with a constant speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph), and 7,150 nautical miles (13,240 km; 8,230 mi) at 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph).
The carrier is fitted with two 0.5-inch machine guns, and three Matra Sadral sextuple surface-to-air missile launchers firing Mistral missiles. The missile launchers were installed in 2001. The vessel is also fitted for but not with an 8-cell Mark 41 Vertical launch system for Sea Sparrow missiles, and four Phalanx close-in weapon systems. Chakri Naruebet was designed to operate an air group of up to six AV-8S Matador V/STOL aircraft, plus four to six S-70B Seahawk helicopters. The ship is also capable of carrying up to fourteen additional helicopters; a mix of Sikorsky Sea King, Sikorsky S-76, and CH-47 Chinook. There is only enough hangar space for ten aircraft.
The Matador is a first generation export version of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, acquired secondhand from the Spanish Navy in 1997. The nine Spanish aircraft (seven standard version plus two TAV-8S trainer aircraft) were refurbished by Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA firm before delivery. By 1999, only one aircraft was operational, and the RTN was looking for other first-generation Harriers to cannibalize for spares. In 2003, the navy attempted to acquire several second-generation,ex-Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA2 aircraft from British Aerospace, but the deal did not go ahead. The inoperative Matadors were finally eliminated from service lists in 2006. Thailand was the last remaining government using first generation Harrier airframes.
The sensor suite of Chakri Narebet consists of a Hughes SPS-52C air search radar operating on the E/F band, and two Kelvin-Hughes 1007 navigational radars. There are provisions to install an SPS-64 surface search radar and a hull-mounted sonar, but neither had been fitted as of 2008. Fire control facilities are also yet to be fitted. The carrier is equipped with four SRBOC decoy launchers, and an SLQ-25 towed decoy. In April 2012, Saab won a contract to upgrade Chakri Naruebet‘s command and control systems. This will include fitting a 9LV Mk4 command and control system to the ship as well as a Sea Giraffe AMB radar and improved datalinks.
The Chakri Naruebet is currently assigned to the Third Naval Area Command, and her intended duties include operational support of the Royal Thai Navy’s amphibious warfare forces, patrols and force projection around Thailand’s coastline and economic exclusion zone, disaster relief and humanitarian missions, and search-and-rescue (SAR) operations. However, at the time the carrier entered service, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis prevented the necessary funding to operate the ship from being available. Consequently, Chakri Naruebet is usually only operational for a single day per month for training, with the rest of the time spent alongside as a “part-time tourist attraction”. The ship rarely leaves the proximity of the Sattahip naval base, and when she does, it is usually to transport and host the Royal Family of Thailand. Naval commentators consider Chakri Naruebet to be less an aircraft carrier and more the world’s largest and most expensive royal yacht, while the Thai media have nicknamed the ship “Thai-tanic“, and consider her to be a white elephant.
Between November 4 and 7, 1997, Chakri Naruebet participated in disaster relief operations following the passage of Tropical Storm Linda across the Gulf of Thailand and the Kra Isthmus. The carrier’s main task was to search for and assist any fishing vessels affected by the storm. Flooding in the Songkhla Province resulted in the carrier’s mobilization in late November 2000. Chakri Naruebet was anchored at an island marina off Songkhla, and used as a base for helicopters and small boats transporting food, supplies, and wounded.
In January 2003, anti-Thai riots were sparked in Phnom Penh by incorrect news reports of a claim by a Thai actress that the Angkor Wat temple complex belonged to Thailand, not Cambodia. Chakri Naruebet was sent to help with any evacuation of Thai citizens from Cambodia.
Following an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean, tsunamis struck multiple regions around the Indian Ocean, including the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand. The personnel of Chakri Naruebet were part of a 760-craft-strong response by the Thai military to the disaster. This task force was involved in search-and-rescue around Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands, treatment of wounded and handling of dead, and repair work to schools and government facilities.
During the August 2005 filming of Rescue Dawn, a dramatized biographical film of US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler and his capture during the Vietnam War, the flight deck of Chakri Naruebet was used to represent the carrier USS Ranger.
In November 2010, the ship was involved in flood relief operations following the 2010 Thai floods; anchored off Songkhla Province, relief supplies and food were airlifted to people in the region, while hospital patients were evacuated by the ship’s helicopters. Chakri Naruebet was sent to Koh Tao in late March during the 2011 Southern Thailand floods, as the heavy storms causing the flooding had isolated the island, requiring the evacuation of tourists and local citizens.