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

Cablegram 831 [1] CANBERRA, 26 December 1941


Reference your telegrams 886, 887, 895, 897, 898. [2]

1. On December 11th you indicated desire of United Kingdom that
Australia should associate 'even a very small token force' with
main Dutch force for the defence of Portuguese Timor against
Japanese aggression or infiltration. [3]

2. On December 13th you informed us [4] that Portugal, by virtue
of ancient alliance, had accepted proposal to forestall Japanese
aggression and had agreed to instruct Governor [5] either to
invite assistance or acquiesce in assistance being furnished.

3. We agreed to your request to send detachment, despite our very
limited resources. [6]

4. Subsequently plan was arranged and Dutch fixed time for
landing. While acquiescing we impressed upon you desirability of
getting Portuguese Government suitably informed and ready to give
public explanation of operation by reference to ancient alliance.


5. On December 16th you approved of all arrangements and sent us
draft of statement to be made by Portuguese and Netherlands
Governments. [8]

6. At your request we agreed to amend plan so that landing should
take place more than two hours after consultation with the
Governor. It was only after expedition had set out that we heard
from you that Portuguese Government had suddenly become hostile
and lost its nerve. [9]

7. Your view was that because of the change of attitude by
Portugal United Kingdom's association with operation should not be
mentioned by us, although the plan was primarily yours. You
suggested further that Netherlands and Commonwealth Governments
might make joint statement. Before we could agree to that course,
Dutch made a public statement in accordance with draft approved by

8. Commonwealth Prime Minister received a protest direct from the
Governor [10] and in difficult circumstances and solely in order
to meet your position we confined ourselves to a reply to the
Governor [11] making no reference whatsoever to your part in the
enterprise and we made no public statement whatever.

9. Subsequently you expressed to Portugal deep regret that action
was taken by Allied military authorities on the spot, the
suggestion being that you were not a party to the plan. [12]

10. When the New Zealand Government protested, you repeated this
explanation to them although at their request we were compelled to
inform them as to how it was we came to take part in the
expedition. [13]

11. The position now is:

(a) Our military advisers at Dilli say the position is most
unsatisfactory, that the Governor is organising troops to harass
our troops and will certainly assist in any Japanese landing. We
are also informed that the Dutch Commander [14] is awaiting
instructions from Dutch headquarters authorising him to take full
military control and disarm Portuguese.

(b) Governor of Portuguese Timor complains to his Government that
Allied Commanders at Dilli have acted high-handedly and
requisitioned extensively. There is no independent evidence to
support this allegation.

12. We have wired urgently for advice as to the position from our
representatives on the spot. [15]

13. Your suggestion in No.887 is that:

(a) Until adequate Portuguese forces reach Timor, defensive
arrangements should be undertaken exclusively by Australian

(b) When Portuguese forces arrive, we also evacuate.

(c) That Dutch forces should be withdrawn as soon as further
Australian forces have entered.

(d) That we should agree to a proposal to Portugal that the
present force should be converted to one comprising Australian
troops only.

14. Strategic importance of Portuguese Timor is obvious. On
December 23rd (Circular M.476 [16]) Defence Committee of your War
Cabinet (para. 9) said that to achieve our main objectives Far
East we must repeat must hold Timor. It is presumed that you know
Japanese have civil air base at Dilli and that Portuguese local
authorities seem to be quite unreliable.

15. In our view:-

(a) We cannot agree to the suggestion [17] contained in your 898.

Because of our limited resources and our wide commitments it is
not practicable for Australia to furnish additional troops.

(b) We have no objection to other British troops being added to
the Dilli force.

(c) The withdrawal of the Dutch forces might be very dangerous to
the prospects of future co-operation with those Allies.

(d) We consider Portugal should have been frankly informed at the
beginning that in your opinion the occupation was based upon
military necessity and that Japanese infiltration or invasion
could not otherwise be prevented.

16. Subsequent difficulties have been aggravated by United Kingdom
itself failing to take a strong line with the Portuguese
Government. Local Portuguese authorities might hand over to the
Japanese particularly in view of the latter's successes.

17. We still have every desire to be helpful but we must insist
that the defence of Portuguese Timor is crucial both to the
Netherlands and to the whole British position in Far East and
there should be no retreat. Faith of Australian public would be
shaken if, having regard to what has already happened, a further
withdrawal of occupying forces were to take place at the very door
of Australia.


1 Repeated to the N.Z. Prime Minister as no. 554.

2 Copies of these cablegrams (all dispatched on 25 December) are
on file AA:A981, Timor (Portuguese) 3, i.

3 See Document 186.

4 See Document 191.

5 M. de A. Ferreira de Carvalho.

6 See Document 187.

7 See Document 195.

8 Cablegram 833 on the file cited in note 2.

9 See Document 202, note 1.

10 See Document 200, note 2.

11 See Document 201.

12 See cablegram 858 of 20 December on the file cited in note 2.

13 See cablegram 551 of 23 December on the file cited in note 2.

14 Lt Col N. L. W. van Straaten.

15 See cablegram 6 of 26 December to David Ross, U.K. Consul in
Dili, on the file cited in note 2.

16 Document 215.

17 That all Netherlands forces in Portuguese Timor be replaced by
British Empire (in fact Australian) forces, in recognition of the
'ancient alliance' between Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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