Thanom Kittikachorn

Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (Thai: ถนอม กิตติขจร, Thai pronunciation: [tʰà.nɔ̌ːm kìt.tì.kʰa.t͡ɕɔ̌ːn]; 11 August 1911 – 16 June 2004) was a Thai military dictator. A staunch anti-communist, Thanom oversaw a decade of military rule in Thailand from 1963 to 1973, during which he staged a self-coup, 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.

Thanom Kittikachorn
ถนอม กิตติขจร
Thanom Kittikachorn 1960 02.jpg
Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
9 December 1963 – 14 October 1973
MonarchBhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded bySarit Thanarat
Succeeded bySanya Dharmasakti
In office
1 January 1958 – 20 October 1958
MonarchBhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded byPote Sarasin
Succeeded bySarit Thanarat
Minister of Defence
In office
23 September 1957 – 14 October 1973
Prime Minister
Preceded byPlaek Phibunsongkhram
Succeeded byDawee Chullasapya
Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces
In office
11 December 1963 – 30 September 1973
Preceded bySarit Thanarat
Succeeded byDawee Chullasapya
Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army
In office
11 December 1963 – 1 October 1964
Preceded bySarit Thanarat
Succeeded byPraphas Charusathien
Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
9 February 1959 – 8 December 1963
Serving with Prince Wan Waithayakon
Prime MinisterSarit Thanarat
Preceded bySukich Nimmanheminda
Succeeded byPraphas Charusathien
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
19 December 1972 – 14 October 1973
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byJaroonphan Isarangkun Na Ayutthaya
Succeeded byJaroonphan Isarangkun Na Ayutthaya
President of Chiang Mai University
In office
21 February 1964 – 20 February 1972
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byUniversity established
Succeeded bySukich Nimmanheminda
Personal details
Born(1911-08-11)11 August 1911
Mueang Tak, Tak, Siam
Died16 June 2004(2004-06-16) (aged 92)
Bangkok, Thailand
Spouse(s)Jongkol Thanad-rob
Children6, including Narong
Military service
Allegiance Thailand
Branch/service Royal Thai Army
Years of service1929–1973
CommandsSupreme Commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces

Early lifeEdit

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.[1] 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 Chiang Mai. Thanom later studied at the Cartography School and the Infantry School, and graduated from the National Defense College in its first class.

Rise to powerEdit

Thanom Kittikachorn in 1960

After serving in the Shan States of Burma during World War II, then Lieutenant Colonel Thanom took part in a successful 1957 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 Phibunsongkhram, and was subsequently appointed defence minister in Pote Sarasin's puppet regime in 1957. Thanom consolidated his power base as the second military leader and right-hand man of Sarit. A few days after the December 1957 general election, in which the pro-government Sahaphum Party ("United Land") had performed disappointingly, Thanom co-founded the National Socialist Party (Chat Sangkhomniyom). He became the deputy leader of this party, designed to extend the pro-government camp and win over former members of Phibunsongkhram's Seri Manangkhasila Party who had been reelected to parliament as independents.[2]

In 1958, he was made a full general and assumed the offices of prime minister and defence minister. He was prime minister for nine months, after which he was replaced by Sarit himself and made deputy prime minister, defence minister, and armed forces deputy supreme commander.

Prime ministerEdit

Thanom (Second right) at the 1966 SEATO convention in the Philippines

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 United Thai People's Party (Saha Prachathai) 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 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 government. 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.

After Thammasat University massacreEdit

Thanom in press conference

In October 1976, Thanom returned to Thailand in the robes of a novice monk,[3] to stay at Bangkok's Wat Bowonniwet. Even though he announced he had no desire to enter politics, 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 neighbors Laos and Cambodia had fallen to the communists, and right-wing Thais suspected the protesters wished the same fate for their own country. On 6 October 1976, right-wing militants, aided by government security forces, stormed the Thammasat campus, violently broke up the protests, and killed many protesters. That evening, the military seized power from the elected civilian government of Democrat MR Seni Pramoj and installed hard-line royalist Thanin Kraivichien as premier.

Thanom soon left the monkhood, but he kept his word never to take part in politics again. 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 himself 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.[4] His family's medical expenses were paid by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which some saw as payback for Thanom's agreeing to the king's request that he 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, the Princess Chulabhorn, also presided. Thanom's wife died in 2012, aged 96.


Thanom received the following royal decorations in the Honours System of Thailand:[5]

Foreign honoursEdit


  1. ^ Chaloemtiarana, Thak (2007), Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, Ithaca NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, p. 88, ISBN 978-0-8772-7742-2
  2. ^ Thak Chaloemtiarana (2007), Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, Ithaca NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, p. 88, ISBN 978-0-8772-7742-2
  3. ^ In the book of exile, Thaksin pens his legacy
  4. ^ John Aglionby (21 June 2004). "Thanom Kittikachorn". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  5. ^ Biography Archived 18 September 2012 at, Royal Thai Army website (in Thai). Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  6. ^ "Senarai Penuh Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat Persekutuan Tahun 1962" (PDF).

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Supreme Commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army
Succeeded by