January 18 in Thailand is Royal Thai Armed Forces Day (Wan Kong Thap Thai — วันกองทัพไทย), commemorating King Naresuan of Siam’s victorious elephant duel against the Burmese Uparaja in which he killed Crown Prince Mingyi Swa. calculated to have occurred in 1593. Prior to 2007, the observation was held on January 25. The Royal Thai Armed Forces defend the independence and territorial integrity of Thailand. It is also charged in the protection of the monarchy of Thailand against all domestic and foreign threats. The Armed Forces consist of Royal Thai Army, Royal Thai Navy and Royal Air Force. Serving in the Armed Forces is a duty of all citizens of Thailand, however, only males, who are older than 21 and haven’t gone through reserve are subjected to a random draft. The randomly chosen men are subjected to 24-month full-time service and volunteers are subjected to 18-month service dependent of their education.
Naresuan (นเรศวร) was the King of the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1590 and overlord of Lan Na from 1602 until his death in 1605. Naresuan is one of Thailand’s most revered monarchs as he is known for his campaigns to free Ayutthaya from the vassalage of the Taungoo Empire. During his reign, numerous wars were fought against Taungoo Burma. Naresuan also welcomed the Dutch to Siam.
In October 1586, Burmese armies to Ayutthaya to begin a third invasion of Ayutthaya, laying siege to the city for five months, but ultimately failing to take the city due to an aggressive defense by Naresuan. In 1590, Maha Thammarachathirat died. That July, Naresuan was crowned King of Ayutthaya as Sanphet II. Soon afterwards, the Burmese army led by Phra Maha Uparat attacked Siam again, but Naresuan defeated it near Ban Khoi. The Burmese army retreated back to Bago, losing many men, elephants, horses, arms, and ammunition.
In November 1592, Nanda Bayin ordered his son to attack Ayutthaya again. Mingyi Swa, Natshinnaung the son of the viceroy of Taungoo, and the viceroy of Prome formed three divisions. Mingyi Swa went through Three Pagodas Pass while the other two divisions came via Mae Lamao. The chief of Chiang Mai sent a boat force. Naresuan had been planning to attack Cambodia because of its border incursions, but then adjusted to the Burmese threat. Naresuan marched towards Suphan Buri and encamped his armies at Nong Sarai near the Thakhoi River. Naresuan formed a battle plan which involved a retreat, allowing the Burmese to follow, and then attack the disordered advance with his main army.
During the battle, in January 1593, the war elephants of Naresuan, Chaophraya Chaiyanuphap, and Ekathotsarot, Chaophraya Prap Traichak, were “in musth” and charged into the midst of the Burmese, with only a handful to Siamese being able to follow them in. According to Damrong’s reconstruction, Naresuan, seeing Mingyi Swa on an elephant under a tree, shouted, “My brother, why do you stay on your elephant under the shade of a tree? Why not come out and engage in single combat to be an honor to us? There will be no kings in future who will engage in single combat like us.”
The personal battle between Naresuan and Mingyi Swa was a highly romanticized historical scene known as the “Elephant Battle” (สงครามยุทธหัตถี Songkram Yuddhahatthi.)
After a prolonged duel and narrowly missing Naresuan but cutting his helmet, Naresuan was able to cut Mingyi Swa with his ngaw (glaive). Prince Somdet Phra Ekathotsarot was also able to kill the governor of Muang Chacharo. The main Siamese army then arrived and the Burmese were routed and scattered. The King of Bago then ordered the other two divisions to retreat.
Naresuan brought before a council of judges those commanders he thought had disobeyed him or were negligent in their duties; they had been unable to follow him into the middle of the Burmese. The punishment was death. However, Somdet Phra Phanarat, a bhikkhu from Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, calmed Naresuan enough to have the punishment rescinded. Instead, the guilty commanders were ordered to take Dawei and Tanintharyi for redemption.
The Burmese chronicles, however, do not mention a duel at all. They say that the two armies engaged in a battle on January 18, 1593, and Swa was felled by a shot from a Siamese firearm. According to Terwiel, there are ten different accounts of the battle by indigenous, European and Persian authors: four Siamese, one Burmese, four late sixteenth and early seventeenth century European accounts and one late seventeenth century Persian account. Only one Siamese account says that there was a formal elephant duel between Naresuan and Swa. Per Terwiel’s analysis of the ten accounts, the Burmese crown prince and Naresuan both fought on their war elephants in the battle, although no formal duel probably ever took place. It is highly unlikely that Swa would have agreed to a formal duel since agreeing to do so would have “jeopardized the costly invasion that had thus far progressed without a hitch.”
During the battle, Naresuan’s elephant got surrounded by the Burmese forces. During that crucial moment, a Burmese war elephant went musth, and attacked Swa’s elephant. Seeing that Swa was in difficulty, Naresuan “closed in, and he (or one of the warriors riding with him, maybe a Portuguese) fired a gun which mortally wounded the crown prince” Swa. Naresuan was “lucky to escape from a very dangerous situation” but also quick to take advantage of it. According to Terwiel, the “Burmese and European accounts stayed closer to what actually may have happened”, and “Naresuan’s much repeated challenge to hold a duel, even though it looms large in many Thai history books, should be relegated to a legendary tale.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Kong Thap Thai — กองทัพไทย) is the name of the military of the Kingdom of Thailand. It consists of the following branches:
- Royal Thai Army (กองทัพบกไทย)
- Royal Thai Navy (กองทัพเรือไทย, ราชนาวีไทย)
- Royal Thai Marine Corps (นาวิกโยธินไทย)
- Royal Thai Air Force (กองทัพอากาศไทย)
- Other Paramilitary Forces
The Head of the Thai Armed Forces is the King of Thailand. However, this position is only nominal. The armed forces are ostensibly managed by the Ministry of Defense of Thailand, which is headed by the minister of defense (a member of the Cabinet of Thailand) and commanded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, which in turn is headed by the Chief of Defence Forces of Thailand.
As of 2015, the Royal Thai Armed Forces had 306,000 active duty and 245,000 reserve personnel, representing 0.8 percent of Thailand’s population of 67 million. This percentage is higher than that of the United States, but lower than that of Vietnam. The Thai military has more than 1,750 flag officers (generals and admirals), a bloated number for a military of its size. By comparison, the U.S. military as of April 2011 had 964 flag officers for a force several times the size of Thailand’s. On May 2, 2015, 1,043 new flag officers of all three services promoted in 2014-2015 took the oath of allegiance. It is not clear how many retired during the same period.
The Royal Siamese Armed Forces was the military arm of the Siamese monarchy from the twelftth to the nineteenth centuries. It refers to the military forces of the Sukhothai Kingdom, the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the Thonburi Kingdom and the early Rattanakosin Kingdom in chronological order. The army was one of the major armed forces of Southeast Asia.
The army was organized into a small standing army of a few thousand, which defended the capital and the palace, and a much larger conscription-based wartime army. Conscription was based on the “ahmudan” system, which required local chiefs to supply, in times of war, a predetermined quota of men from their jurisdiction on the basis of population. The wartime army also consisted of elephantry, cavalry, artillery, and naval units.
In 1852, the Royal Siamese Armed Forces came into existence as a permanent force at the behest of King Mongkut, who needed a European trained military force to thwart any Western threat and any attempts at colonialization. By 1887, during the next reign of King Chulalongkorn, a permanent military command in the Kalahom Department was established. However the office of Kalahom and the military of Siam had existed since the days of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the thirteenth century. In fact, the history of the kings of Siam is teeming with tales of military conquest and power.
Since 1932, when the military, with the help of civilians, overthrew the system of absolute monarchy and instead created a constitutional system, the military has dominated and been in control of Thai politics, providing it with many prime ministers and carrying out many coups d’état, the most recent being in 2014.
On August 6, 2015, Thailand Post issued a single stamp to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the Royal Thai Army Training Command. The 3-baht stamp, with Thailand Post’s listing number of TH-1078, was designed by Taneth Ponchaiwong and printed by the Thai British Security Printing Company in Bangkok.