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

Cablegram 13 CANBERRA, 6 January 1942


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]


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Allied forces were then withdrawn; this proposal was considered to
have superseded the earlier suggestion that additional Australian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

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.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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