232 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 140 LONDON, 27 December 1941, 11.50 p.m.

IMMEDIATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER MOST SECRET

Your telegram 831. [1] Have just seen the draft of a long telegram from the United Kingdom Government in reply. [2] This goes at great length into the sequence of events and is an attempt[ed justification of] [3] a bad case. The hard facts are that the Portuguese reaction to the landing without previous consent of the Portuguese before actual attack by the Japanese was misjudged and the sooner this is admitted the better. I said this frankly and urged that the long argumentative part of the telegram should be scrapped and the hard facts of the present position put to you and your co-operation in finding a way out invited. I doubt if this will be done but the telegram may be divided into two parts. I suggest that you ignore the historical recital part of the telegram and in view of the seriousness of the situation deal with the facts. These as I see them are:-

(a) Portuguese Timor had to be occupied;

(b) this was done by Australian and Dutch Forces with the agreement of the United Kingdom Government;

(c) the desirability of Portuguese acquiescence recognised, and believed that as a result of the United Kingdom-Portugal conversations this would be forthcoming;

(d) this anticipation was wrong and the Portuguese have reacted violently with the possibility if solution not found of breach of relations, almost certainly with the Dutch and probably with the United Kingdom;

(e) such a breach most undesirable at the present time particularly in view of the secret conversations in regard to Portuguese Atlantic Islands in the event of German invasion of Iberian Peninsula;

(f) suggested possible solution Australian troops to replace the Dutch in Portuguese Timor.

Points on such solution are- (1) Can Australia provide the troops (a) by [switching] troops with the Dutch in Timor as a whole? (b) by sending additional forces? In considering this point the possibility that reinforcements will be sent to Australia for the Far East and even for Australia herself has to be borne in mind.

(2) The reaction of the Dutch. United Kingdom Government assure me that the Netherlands Government completely agree. I have deliberately refrained from contacting the Netherlands Government myself. Is the attitude of the Netherlands Government shared by the Dutch in the Far East? (3) Would the Portuguese Government accept the solution? The United Kingdom Government argue that probable they would but if they did not it would strengthen the United Kingdom Government's hands in taking a strong line. An alternative view would be that it is a mistake for the United Kingdom to keep putting up possible solutions to the Portuguese, but rather they should say to them we cannot take any other course but protect ourselves against a dangerous and treacherous foe, and follow this up by appealing to them to give us a solution.

Personally I regret that a strong line was not taken early but regrets are useless, the job is to find a way out and to this end I agree that every possible solution must be explored.

In any event you can take it that there will be no weakening here as to the necessity of defending Portuguese Timor.

1 Document 225.

2 See Documents 233-4.

3 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, December 1941.

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