Thanom Kittikachorn

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Field Marshal
Thanom Kittikachorn
ถนอม กิตติขจร
Thanom Kittikachorn 1960 02.jpg
10th Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
December 9, 1963 – October 14, 1973
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Sarit Dhanarajata
Succeeded by Sanya Dharmasakti
In office
January 1, 1958 – October 20, 1958
Preceded by Pote Sarasin
Succeeded by Sarit Dhanarajata
Personal details
Born (1911-08-11)August 11, 1911
Tak, Tak, Siam
Died June 16, 2004(2004-06-16) (aged 92)
Bangkok, Thailand
Nationality Thai
Spouse(s) Jongkol Kittikachorn
Religion Theravada Buddhism
Military service
Service/branch 23x15px Royal Thai Army
Years of service 1929–1973
Rank RTA-17.svg Field Marshal (Chom-phol)
Commands Supreme Commander
Battles/wars Franco-Thai War
World War II

Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (Thai ถนอม กิตติขจร, Thai pronunciation: [tʰànɔ̌ːm kìttìkʰat͡ɕɔ̌ːn]; August 11, 1911 – June 16, 2004) was a military dictator of Thailand. A staunch anti-Communist, Thanom oversaw a decade of military rule in Thailand from 1963 to 1973, until public protests which exploded into violence forced him to step down. His return from exile in 1976 sparked protests which led to a massacre of demonstrators, followed by a military coup.

Early life

Thanom Kittikachorn was born in Tak Province to Khun (ขุน) Sopitbannaraksa (Amphan Kittikachorn) and his wife, Mrs. Linchee Kittikachorn. His family was of Thai-Chinese descent. He attended Wat Koak Plu Municipal School, then was admitted to the Army Cadet Academy. After receiving his commission, he reported for duty with Infantry Regiment VII in Chiangmai. Thanom later studied at the Cartography School and the Infantry School, and graduated from the National Defense College in its first class.

Rise to power

After serving in the Shan States of Burma during World War II, then Lieutenant Colonel Thanom took part in a successful 1947 coup headed by Colonel Sarit Thanarat. He became a regimental commander and was head of the Lopburi military department. He was soon promoted to colonel, commanding the 11th Infantry Division. Thanom was appointed a Member of Parliament in 1951, his first political role. He was promoted to major general the same year.

In February 1953, Thanom led the suppression of a rebellion against military rule, and was rewarded with promotion to lieutenant general. He represented Thailand at the ceremony to mark the end of the Korean War in July 1953 and was later promoted as Commander of the 1st Region Army.

He was appointed Deputy Cooperatives Minister in 1955. Thanom supported Sarit in his coup against the government of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, and was subsequently appointed Defence Minister in Pote Sarasin's puppet regime in 1957.

Thanom consolidated his power base as the 2nd military leader behind Sarit. In 1958, he was appointed a full general and assumed the offices of Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and Army Commander-in-Chief. He was Prime Minister for 9 months, when he was replaced by Sarit himself and made Deputy Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and Armed Forces Deputy Supreme Commander.

Prime minister

Thanom was appointed Prime Minister one day after Sarit's death in 1963. He subsequently appointed himself Commander-in-Chief of the Army. One year later, he promoted himself to the concurrent ranks of Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet, and Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force. Thanom continued the pro-American and anti-Communist politics of his predecessor, which helped to ensure massive US economic and financial aid during the Vietnam War. Although he was personally popular, his regime was known for massive corruption. He established and led the Saha Prachathai Party in October 1968.

Thanom reappointed himself Prime Minister in February 1969 after general elections had been completed. The following year saw the beginnings of the 1970s peasant revolts in Thailand. Then, in November 1971, he bizarrely staged a coup against his own government, citing the need to suppress communist infiltration. He dissolved Parliament and appointed himself Chairman of the National Executive Council, and served as a caretaker government for one year. In December 1972, he appointed himself Prime Minister for a fourth time, also serving as the Defence and Foreign Ministers. Thanom, his son Colonel Narong, and Narong's father-in-law General Praphas Charusathien became known as the "Three Tyrants".

Public discontent grew, along with demands for a general election to choose a new Parliament. Student-led demands for a return to constitutional government, the so-called "14 October 1973 uprising", led to three days of violence followed by the sudden downfall of his regime. Thanom and the other "Tyrants" flew to exile in the United States and Singapore. Thanom's departure was followed by a restoration of a democratic rule in Thailand.

6 October 1976 massacre and aftermath

In October 1976, Thanom returned to Thailand in the robes of a novice monk[1] to stay at Bangkok's Wat Bowonniwet. His return triggered student protests, which eventually moved onto the campus of Thammasat University. This was only a year after South Vietnam and Thailand's neighbours Laos and Cambodia had fallen to the communists, and right wing Thais believed the protestors wished the same fate for their country. On 6 October 1976, right wing militants, aided by government security forces, stormed the Thammasat campus, violently broke up the protests and massacred many protesters. That evening, the military seized power from the elected civilian government of Democrat MR Seni Pramoj and installed hard-line royalist Tanin Kraivixien as Premier.

Thanom left the monkhood but never again entered politics. Late in his life, he attempted to rehabilitate his tarnished image and recover properties seized when his government was overthrown.

In March 1999, Thanom was nominated to be a member of the honorary Royal Guard by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, which led to controversy. Thanom settled the matter by turning down the appointment.

Thanom Kittikachorn died in 2004 the age of 92 in Bangkok General Hospital, after suffering a stroke and a heart attack two years earlier. His family's medical expenses were paid by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which some saw as payback for Thanom's agreeing to leave the country to end the violence in 1973. Thanom's cremation was held on 25 February 2007 at Wat Debsirin. Queen Sirikit presided over the cremation ceremony, lighting the royal flame on behalf of King Bhumibol. Her youngest daughter, Princess Chulabhorn, also presided. His wife died in 2012 aged 98.

Royal decorations

Thanom received the following royal decorations in the Honours System of Thailand:[2]

  • 1925 - King Rama VII Coronation Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png King Rama VII Coronation Medal
  • 1934 - Safeguarding the Constitution Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png Safeguarding the Constitution Medal
  • 1943 - Medal for Service in the Interior - Asia (Thailand) ribbon.png Medal for Service Rendered in the Interior
  • 1944 - Chakra Mala Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png Chakra Mala Medal
  • 1946 - King Rama IX Coronation Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png King Rama IX Coronation Medal
  • 1950 - King Rama IV Royal Cypher Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png King Rama VIII Royal Cypher Medal, Third Class
  • 1955 - Flame pin to adorn the Victory Medal - Korean War
  • 1955 - Order of the Crown of Thailand - Special Class (Thailand) ribbon.png Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of The Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand
  • 1956 - Order of the White Elephant - Special Class (Thailand) ribbon.png Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant
  • 1958 - Order of Chula Chom Klao - 2nd Class upper (Thailand) ribbon.png Knight Grand Commander (Second Class, higher grade) of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao
  • 1959 - King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal, Second Class
  • 1961 - Order of Chula Chom Klao - 1st Class (Thailand) ribbon.png Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of The Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao
  • 1962 - Border Service Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png Border Service Medal
  • 1962 - Victory Medal - World War 2 (Thailand).png Victory Medal - World War II
  • 1964 - King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal, First Class
  • 1965 - Order of Rama 1st Class ribbon.png Knight Grand Commander of the Honourable Order of Rama
  • 1969 - Freeman Safeguarding Medal - Class 1 (Thailand).png Freeman Safeguarding Medal, First Class
  • 1972 - Bravery Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png Bravery Medal
  • 1972 - Victory Medal - Vietnam with flames(Thailand).png Victory Medal - Vietnam War, with flames
  • 1972 - Red Cross Medal of Appreciation (Thailand) ribbon.png Red Cross Medal of Appreciation, First Class


  1. In the book of exile, Thaksin pens his legacy
  2. Biography, Royal Thai Army website (in Thai). Retrieved on December 4, 2008.
Political offices
Preceded by
Pote Sarasin
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Sarit Dhanarajata
Preceded by
Sarit Dhanarajata
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Sanya Dharmasakti
Military offices
Preceded by
Sarit Thanarat
Supreme Commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces
Succeeded by
Thawee Chulasap