527 Commonwealth Government to Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 335 CANBERRA, 18 June 1942


Your cablegrams Nos. 454, 455, 456, 457. [1]

Portuguese Timor The proposal of the Portuguese Government has been discussed with General MacArthur [2], and also with the Australian Chiefs of Staff.

2. For your information, Australian forces in Portuguese Timor number about 400, and there are about 200 Dutch with them. They are well organised, their health is satisfactory, and they are sufficiently supplied with food. There are plenty of drugs. They are conducting guerilla warfare with the Japanese and are materially assisted by Portuguese subjects and by the natives, the majority of whom are loyal to the Allies. Secret means of communication with Australia exist.

3. Ross [3] is in the hands of the Japanese, and was in contact with the Australian troops in March when he was sent by the Japanese with a request for surrender. It is believed that any move for the capitulation of the troops originated with the Japanese, who misinformed Ross about the condition of our men in order to induce him to convey the request for surrender to them.

4. There is virtually no fighting in Dutch Timor.

5. There are between 5,000 and 6,000 Japanese troops in the whole of the Island.

6. It is considered most unlikely, whatever arrangements were made, that the Japanese would withdraw from Portuguese Timor.

Moreover it would be undesirable to make any arrangement which would or might be understood to preclude the Allies from using Portuguese Timor now or in the future for operations against the Japanese.

7. General MacArthur states that Australian and Dutch troops in Timor have been the subject of consideration during the past two weeks. Proposals were made to attack Timor with a view to complete reoccupation, and on the other hand to withdraw the forces from that area. After consideration it was decided that it was impracticable at present to launch a major attack against Timor.

He considers, however, that the presence of the Australian and Dutch forces there entails manifold advantages which it would be unwise to yield unless forced by pressure of enemy action. His view is, therefore, that these troops should be maintained and furnished with supplies and equipment necessary for their continued activities. It is hoped that they can be sustained until it is possible to launch an attack, but in any event it is believed that constant observation of enemy movements will give sufficient advance notice of his intentions to permit of a reasonably safe evacuation, if that should become necessary.

8. In the light of the foregoing considerations the Commonwealth Government has decided that it is not prepared to negotiate with regard to the surrender of our forces in Timor, and we should be glad if you would inform the Portuguese Government accordingly.

9. It is specially requested that no information be conveyed to the Portuguese which could be of any assistance to the Japanese forces on the Island.

1 Cablegram 455 is published as Document 522. Cablegrams 454 of 9 June and 456-7 of 11 June are on file AA:A981, war 72.

2 Allied Supreme Commander in the South-West Pacific Area.

3 Former Consul in Dili.

[AA:A981, WAR 72]