235 Commonwealth Government to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 837 [1] CANBERRA, 29 December 1941


Your telegram 931. [2] Reviewing all circumstances including advantage of enabling you to meet Portugal's wishes as far as possible we are agreeable to sending to Dilli certain Australian troops now in Dutch Timor to replace equivalent number Dutch troops whom you suggest should be withdrawn from Portuguese Timor to Dutch Timor.

This exchange would mean the transfer of two companies of the A.I.F. from Koepang to Dilli. Because of the importance to Australia of the defence of Koepang, our Chiefs of Staff draw attention to the following additional points:-

(1) That if the Dutch will not be party to the proposed exchange but will withdraw their troops from Dilli, then this should be done. In this event, no Australian troops should be transferred from Koepang to Dilli but the reduced force at Dilli viz. one independent company A.I.F. should be accepted for the present in preference to depleting the forces at Koepang which are already insufficient for their important role.

(2) That the composite force that will be established at Koepang if the proposed exchange is carried out will be less satisfactory than the present force which is entirely or preponderantly Australian.

(3) That in no event should there be any change in the policy whereby the A.I.F. Commander at Koepang [3] is in command of the composite forces.

(4) That the Department of the Army is investigating the possibility of forming two rifle companies out of available A.I.F.

reinforcements to replace the two companies that will be transferred from Koepang to Dilli if the proposed change is effected. [4]

1 Repeated to the N.Z. Prime Minister as no. 558.

2 This is presumably an incorrect reference to cablegram 913 (Document 233).

3 Lt Col W. W. Leggatt.

4 In cablegram 144 of 31 December (on file AA: M100, December 1941) S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, reported that Sir Ronald H. Campbell, U.K. Ambassador to Portugal, believed that the Portuguese Govt would acquiesce in the substitution of Australian troops for the Netherlands portion of the garrison in Portuguese Timor, provided the Australians withdrew when an expected 700 Portuguese reinforcements arrived in the colony. Bruce said he had advised the U.K. Gorr that the Commonwealth Govt would only agree to its forces being relieved by the Portuguese if the arrangement secured Portuguese neutrality, safeguarded vital Allied interests and was paralleled by joint staff talks to secure both these ends.