Java Sea: Royal Thai Navy
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Thailand’s participation in the Second World War is about as obscure as these topics get; there’s not much desire in Thai society today to let anyone know that the kingdom fought alongside the Axis and was an aggressor in both Indo-China and Burma. But it happened, and we have the story, because at Avalanche Press, that’s what we do.

The Royal Thai Navy was quite small, with very few effective combatants, and not really suited to the aggressive posture taken on by the kingdom’s military dictator, Marshal (formerly Colonel) Phibul Songkhram. The coast-defense ships, small submarines and torpedo boats spoke of a defensive posture centered on defending the Bay of Bangkok from enemy penetration. The new cruisers ordered in Italy would have given a better option for power projection, but those ships were laid down in August and September 1939, even as the war began, and would never be delivered.

Even so, Songkhram ordered the tiny fleet forward when his troops invaded neighboring French Indo-China. The French responded sharply, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Thais in January 1941 and prompting the Japanese to step in and force a peace settlement on both parties. When the Japanese struck against the Allies in December 1941, they did not include the Thais in their plans and even attacked their putative ally. Thailand quickly aligned herself with the Japanese, and Thai troops invaded Burma where they would later fight the Chinese. But the fleet, now reduced since its losses to the French, did not participate in any of those operations.

Second World War at Sea: Java Sea includes playing pieces for the Royal Thai Navy, both the ships they built (well, purchased) and those they purchased but never received. The scenarios for them wouldn’t fit in Java Sea, either physically or thematically, so we shaved them off into a separate Campaign Study, titled Royal Thai Navy.

Royal Thai Navy is a Campaign Study, what we call our small books of history and scenarios that add to the stories of their core games. Royal Thai Navy has eleven new scenarios for Java Sea, all focused on the Royal Thai Navy; you just need Java Sea to play all of them – Java Sea has all the pieces and all that maps that you’ll need, plus the rules and ship data and such.

The Royal Thai Navy is pretty weak, but then, so is the French squadron stationed in Indo-China – the bigger French warships were called away to other theaters long before our story opens. The Thai fleet had been ordered to support the Army’s advance on land, but doesn’t seem to have done much beyond some half-hearted patrols offshore. That still put them within reach of the French squadron – an old light cruiser and a half-dozen utterly useless gunboats – which set out to attack them in the unimproved (but spectacularly beautiful) anchorage where they actually spent most of their “patrols.”

The resulting Battle of Koh Chang cost the Thais one of their two coast-defense ships, and two of their nine modern torpedo boats, but perhaps more importantly, any sense of initiative. The Navy did not challenge the Japanese occupation in December 1941, and it saw no action against the Allies after Thailand went to war with Britain and the United States in January 1942 (beyond serving as stationary bombing targets).

Royal Thai Navy includes both operational and battle scenarios for the Battle of Koh Chang, both the historical operation and battle and then with the Thai lineup that the French could have faced had they been slightly less lucky.

During the fraught days before and after France sought an armistice with Germany in June 1940, the commander of Britain’s China Station, Sir Percy Noble, threatened to attack the French squadron in similar fashion to the British assault on their former allies at Mers el-Kebir on 3 July 1940. That never happened, not least because London ordered Sir Percy to make the threat but gave him no additional ships and planes to carry it out. His French counterpart, Vice Admiral Jean Decoux, likewise had orders to attack the British in retaliation for the Mers el-Kebir incident. He had even less force and ignored the directive. But we get to play it out and see what sort of damage Sir Percy and Admiral Decoux might have done to each other with their limited means.

Thanks to a lack of maintenance the French flagship eventually developed boiler problems, and when the U.S. government embargoed needed parts, the ship had to go to Osaka for repairs. British naval intelligence analysts believed this could be a ruse to cover an attempted return to France. This seems insane in hindsight, given the distance involved, but the China Station dutifully deployed its ships to hunt for the French and so we have scenarios for this eventuality, too.

In December 1941, the Japanese invaded Thailand, and fought land and air battles with their putative allies. The Royal Thai Navy did not join the fighting, despite a Japanese convoy steaming leisurely past its main base at Sittahip. So, we of course send them out to fight, since they built their fleet specifically to resist a seaborne assault on Bangkok and there it was, right in front of them. The police fought back, so now the Navy can do its job, too.

Instead of fighting the Thais, the Japanese could have brought them into their scheme, as they did a month later with a military alliance. We get to play that one out, too, and it’s a tremendous advantage for the Japanese as they don’t have to invade Thailand, only Malaya, and get an airbase right on the border of Malaya. They also get the assistance of the Royal Thai Navy and Air Force, which isn’t a whole lot of help but it does exist. Thai involvement would have been a security risk, so the British are alert to the pending Japanese invasion and have concentrated their forces, which makes the chance of battle more likely.

This is what I like best about designing and publishing wargames: the opportunity to take an aspect of military history and thoroughly explore it – both as it happened, and as it could have happened. Royal Thai Navy is just a little book, but it’s exactly the sort of thing I want to publish. I think you’ll like it, too: you have all of those Thai pieces, so you might as well play with them.

You can order Royal Thai Navy right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.

You can order Java Sea right here.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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