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

Cablegram 13 CANBERRA, 6 January 1942

MOST IMMEDIATE SECRET

1. Your No. 10. [1] Our Chiefs of Staff have carefully considered the new proposal as to Portuguese Timor. They advise as follows:-

(1) It should be realised that the defence of Timor as a whole is closely bound up with the defence of Darwin and the Netherlands East Indies. The occupation of Timor by Japan would seriously prejudice the defence of Darwin.

(2) We do not consider that the arrival of 700 Portuguese troops would constitute an adequate protection of Portuguese Timor nor could it be so regarded even if the present Dutch and Australian troops are retained in addition.

(3) The forces now available in both Portuguese and Dutch Timor, together with the proposed addition of 700 Portuguese, are capable of keeping out only 'small nibbles' and are not capable of withstanding any serious Japanese attempt to seize the Island unless very considerable air forces could be brought immediately to their aid. Such air forces seem unlikely to be available in the near future.

(4) The defence problem of Timor as a whole would be very much facilitated if that portion of the road from Dilli to the Dutch border, which is now merely a pack track, were converted to a motor road. This would enable troops to be moved from Koepang to Dilli by road if the local situation permitted such action.

2. In view of the above, the proposal seems dangerous.

3. Now that Wavell [2] is responsible for area which includes Timor, his opinion on military aspect should in our view be immediately obtained and no action should be taken unless he is prepared to take full responsibility for the risks involved. [3]

CURTIN

1 Dispatched 2 January. On file AA:A981, Timor (Portuguese) 3, i.

It reported that there was some possibility of the Portuguese Govt agreeing to dispatch a force of 700 men to Timor provided that Allied forces were then withdrawn; this proposal was considered to have superseded the earlier suggestion that additional Australian troops should replace Netherlands troops already in Portuguese Timor.

2 See Document 252, note 4.

3 The dispatch of this cablegram followed the receipt of a message from S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, which urged Curtin to convey to the U.K. Govt the Commonwealth Govt's views on the strategic consequences of Portuguese troops replacing the Australian-Dutch force in Timor. See Bruce's cablegram 4 [A] of 3 January on the file cited in note 1.

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