202 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 839 LONDON, 17 December 1941, 9.38 p.m.

IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

My telegram 834 of 16th December. [1]

It is very regrettable that at the last moment the Portuguese Government appear to have lost their nerve and to have completely changed their whole position. His Majesty's Ambassador at Lisbon [2] later reported that it was clear from his own and from his Dutch colleague's [3] discussions with the Portuguese Secretary General that the Portuguese Government were now most anxious for any mention of the Alliance with Britain to be avoided. It was now apparent that they would in no circumstance consent to Allied troops entering the territory unless and until the enemy attack had actually been made. It appeared probable however that recognising and sympathising with our need for securing so far as possible Portuguese Timor from Japanese attack they were anxious that we should force their hand and thus give them formal grounds for claiming that they had done nothing willingly to prejudice their neutrality.

2. Now that the landing has taken place we have discussed further with the Dutch the question of a statement being issued in order to forestall statement by the Portuguese Government, which they will probably make in any case but may withhold if forestalled.

3. Advice given by His Majesty's Ambassador is that in the circumstances it would [be] [4] best that the public statement should emanate from the Netherlands and the Commonwealth Governments only, preferably from the former alone, and that any mention of the United Kingdom would suggest that the Alliance with Britain has [come] into play and increase the possibility of Portugal being drawn into the war.

4. The following is the latest revision of the statement which we have discussed with the Dutch.

'In view of the Japanese submarine activity off Portuguese Timor it became an unavoidable necessity to take steps to safeguard this territory against Japanese aggression and to forestall its being used as a base from which attacks could be made on allied territory and communications.

Accordingly a force of Allied troops has been landed in Portuguese Timor.

The Portuguese Government have affirmed their desire to preserve their neutrality and the Governor of Portuguese Timor has protested against the action taken. Portuguese sovereignty of course remains intact and it has been made clear to the Portuguese Government that the troops will be withdrawn as soon as the threat from the enemy is removed since their presence is purely a measure of defence on the part of allied nations at war with Japan.' We understand that the Netherlands Government will adopt this text if they decide to make a statement in London. We hope that the Commonwealth Government will be prepared to take the same line in any statement which they may issue.

1 On file AA:A981, Timor (Portuguese) 3, i. It reported that the reaction of the Portuguese Secretary-General, Dr L. Teixeira de Sampaio, to the proposed Allied landing had been 'violently unfavourable' and urged that the Commonwealth Govt make every effort to reach agreement with the Governor, M. de A. Ferreira de Carvalho, before any landing was attempted.

2 Sir Ronald H. Campbell.

3 Baron van Harinxma thoe Slooten.

4 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the London copy on file AA:A2937, Timor-Portuguese, defence operations, i.

[AA:A981, TIMOR (PORTUGUESE) 3, i]