Portugal in War



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During the Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942 the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy occupied, after several months of heavy battles with Australian and Dutch troops, the Portuguese colonial possession East Timor Island, in order to take a strategically important airfield at Dili and to destroy all Australian-Dutch troops deployed on the island. Although Portugal was officially neutral during the war 1939-1945, it was in those months when several of its citizens tasted the smell and horror of World War II ...


Macau (Ao-men)

According to the 1940 census Macau (Colónia Portuguesa de Macau) had a population of 340,260 inhabitants, of which 4,322 were Portuguese and 335,938 were members of other nationalities, of which by far the most numerous were Chinese. The Portuguese Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Macau in 1941 was Navy Commander Gabriel Mauricio Teixeira.
In 1936-1937 the Portuguese military colonial garrison in Macau (Portuguese colony in China) numbered exactly 497 men - 22 Portuguese officers, 35 Portuguese NCO's and 440 soldiers, including 224 native soldiers, assembled in
• 1 European infantry company
• 1 European artillery company
• 1 heavy machine-gun company
• 2 native companies
• 1 depot section

The Portuguese military garrison in Macau consisted during the war (1941-1945) from the following units;
Commander: Navy Commander Gabriel Mauricio Teixeira (Comandante)
Headquarters, Chief of Staff: Major Carlos da Silva Carvalho (Chefe de Estado-Maior)
• two native light rifle companies, recruited in Mozambique (companhias indígenas de caçadores)
• one machine-gun company (companhia de metralhadoras)
• one artillery company (companhia de artilharia)
• military detachment at Taipa (Destacamento militar na Taipa)
• military detachment at Ilha Verde (Destacamento militar na Ilha Verde)
and supposedly there were 4 Hawker Osprey seaplanes in Macao in 1940.

Following the surrender of Hong Kong in December 1941, the Japanese decided not to formally occupy Macao. One reason may have been that the Japanese wished to respect Portuguese neutrality. The fact remains that Japanese troops went in and out of Macao at will with little protest from Portuguese authorities. However, in spite of this situation, the Allied flags (USA, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France) were allowed to be displayed in Macao at their respective embassies.

After August 1943, Japanese influence in Macao increased after they attacked and captured a British cargo ship, the Sian (or X'ian), off the coast of Macao after killing 20 of its crew. Perhaps it was carrying contraband war supplies for Nationalist Chinese Forces. It was after this incident that Japan ordered the government of Macao to accept Japanese "Advisors" as an alternative to complete military occupation. Later, Japan became even more aggressive in ordering the Governor of Macao, Commander Gabriel Mauricio Teixeira, to recognize Japanese authority in South China. Furthermore, Japanese authorities ordered Portuguese troops to leave their barracks on Lappa Island, an island adjacent to Macao and occupied by the Portuguese troops. The Japanese also were given the authority to conduct house-to-house searches in Macao.

Macau remained almost isolated from the outside world but was never occupied by the Japanese forces during World War II. It remained neutral during the war, but was essentially out of contact with the government in Lisboa (Lisbon, Portugal), isolated and out of touch. This prevented either reinforcement or withdrawal. Apparently the biggest problems were caused by Chinese civilians taking refuge from the Japanese. However, the Portuguese gunboat at Macau (river gunboat Macau??) was seized by the Japanese and renamed Maiko. This event happened shortly after Portugal made the Azores available to Allied aircraft. At the end of World War II, after the Japonese surrender, Macau returned to his normal situation.



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Portuguese East Timor

According to the 1936 census Portuguese East Timor island (Colónia Portuguesa de Timor) had 463,796 inhabitants of all nationalities. The Portuguese Governor of the East Timor Island and Commander-in-Chief in 1941 was Captain Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de Carvalha.

In 1936-1937 the Portuguese military colonial garrison in East Timor island numbered exactly 375 men - 7 Portuguese officers, 23 Portuguese NCO's and 345 soldiers, including 298 native soldiers, assembled in:
• 1 mixed military police company, comprising an artillery and machine-gun section
• 1 native cavalry platoon

The Portuguese military garrison of Timor Island at the time of the Japanese invasion (February 1942) was;
• one Native Light Infantry Company (Companhia de Caçadores Indígena). It consisted of captain (commander), two white lieutenants, three white sergeants, 15 white or mestico (mixed-blood - mestiços) corporals, 10 Timorese corporals and 240 Timorese privates. Apparently, this unit had numerous administrative and guard duties because the effective field strength was about 170 privates
• the Oekussi Detachment (Destacamento de Oekussi) of one white sergeant (commander), 4 white or mestico privates, and 10 Timorese privates, garrisoning in the Portuguese enclave Oekussi.
• the Frontier Cavalry Platoon (Pelotâo de Polícia de Frontiera) consisting of a white sergeant (commander), two Timorese sergeants, 6 Timorese corporals, and 60 Timorese privates.

The island of Timor is located in the Lesser Sunda Islands and it is the closest to Australia among them. Its western part belonged to the Netherlands and the eastern part to Portugal. This put Timor Island between the powerful colony of Dutch East Indies and the British domain of Australia and also not so far from New Guinea. The closest Portuguese territory was Macau, a small Chinese town controlled by the Portuguese since 1557, when the first Portuguese settlement was established there.

With limited resources of all kinds and difficult communication with the outside world, especially with the metropolis [continental Portugual] plus adding the problems with sea navigation in the middle of a world war, the Army mantained on the island only a tiny garrison with a military value enough to maintain the internal order, but completely hopeless against any possible foreign attack. However, Timor had a strategic meaning because it could act a potential base to any military country that desired to control the neighbour territories, especially New Guinea and Australia.

The biggest nucleus of Europeans was made up of approximately 90 deported criminals. There was also about a dozen settlers, who were mainly old soldiers or retired public servants. Further, there were 5 or 6 employees of the Agricultural Company "Pátria e Trabalho" plus 2 traders (ex-convicted) that were almost bankrupt. Among the active non-military public servants there were around three dozens of Europeans.

When the war broke up in the Far East (December 1941), there were 13 Japonese nationals living in East Timor, working at the "Sociedade Agrícola Pátria e Trabalho" (an agricultural firm), at the Japonese consulate in Dili and at the air company "Dai Nippon Airways". The whole native population on the island was around 450,000 inhabitants.

Farming was the Timor´s main economic activity. It was controlled by a group of the Agricultural Companies: Timor Agricultural Company Ltd. (Empresa Agrícola de Timor Ltda.), Perserverança Agricultural Company (Empresa Agrícola Perseverança) and, the most important of them, the Agricultural Company Pátria e Trabalho (Sociedade Agrícola Pátria e Trabalho), founded in 1897.

A manager of this group of Companies looked for financing suport to make them grow. He found this suport through a Japonese company called Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha. This company made its registration in Timor in 1936 and began to import a lot of goods from Japan. Soon, the Japonese were arriving to Timor through the commecial interests that they now had it.

Timor Island had in 1939, as combat units, the 1st Native Light Infantry Company and the 1st Cavalry Native Platoon (of the Border Police). The Light Infantry Company was stationed in the military barracks in Taibessi, approximately 3 km's outside Dili. Its instalations were very poor, and the soldiers lived in shacks with their wives and children. However, as early as 1939, the company already moved to a new headquarters in the countryside, in a small town of Maubisse, where the new soldiers-recruits were trained. The personal weapons were the Kropatschek rifles, four light machine gun Lewis and six heavy machine guns Vickers.

The Cavalry Platoon, which was also called Border´s Police, was stationed in Bobonaro. A part of these force was spread along the border between the two territories - Portuguese East Timor and Dutch West Timor. The Cavarly Platoon rode the small, but very resistent Timorese horses, called "cudas" (cavalos cudas). The men of this unit were armed with obsolete Winchesters carbines that were at least forty years old and swords. There was also a small military defence detachment, located in Oekussi, that was dettached from the Native Light Infantry Company.

Fulfilling these forces, there were second line units that, which had played in the past a very important role during the fights to control the territory and against insurection movements.

In 1939, existed on the island also so-called Volunteer´s forces that, with a lot of banners, bizarre uniforms, old guns and riding the "cudas", took part at various parades and ceremonies, playing drums and having their own rules. However, they were a potential force that could not be underestimated.

The Portuguese Army in East Timor in 1942 consisted of some 500 officers, NCOs and other ranks, armed mainly with obsolete weapons. The troops were East Timorese commanded by Portuguese colonial officers. There also were no Portuguese ships or planes on East Timor Island. Portugal never declared war on Japan, the garrison was to be reinforced by February 1942 by approximately 800 Mozambique soldiers from Portuguese East Africa, 6,000 miles away, and the troop ship turned back halfway when the Japanese refused safe conduct.

In February 1942, the Japanese troops landed at Dili and at some other places on the East Timor Island, and quickly gained control over all important ports and airfields on the island. The Japonese Invasion Force, under the command of Colonel Sadashichi Doi, was divided in three main groups:
- Comando das tropas de choque - Infantaria [Shock troops Command - infantry]
- Comando de artilharia [Artillery Command]
- Comando das tropas de Marinha e Aviaçao [Navy and Air Force Command]
The Japonese engineers quickly improved and enlarged the airfield near Dili where they had stationed then 12 fighter planes, which together with infantry units took part in the forthcoming battles against the Australian guerillas on the island.


Note For more information about fighting in the Portuguese East Timor check the website's section about Timor !

Note The main source: The History of the Portuguese Army, Volume III; ( Histôria do Exército Portugues, 1910-1945, Volume III )

Note Information about Portuguese troops in Southeast Asia are from League of Nations Armaments Year-Book 1937

NotePlease note that no special flags have been used to represent "Portuguese Macao"; officially only the Portugese national flag was in use.

Note At sea, en route to Timor, 8 September 1945. Captain A.D. Stevenson, officer in charge of the Services Reconnaissance Section, Timforce, with troopers Francesca da Silva and Celestino dos Anjos, and Alexandre da Silva. Francesca da Silva and Celestino dos Anjos were important figures during the 1942 resistance against the Japanese and were evacuated to Australia for training with Z Special Unit. They are on board the minesweeper HMAS Parkes as part of Timforce, which supervised the transition from Japanese occupation back to Dutch colonial rule.

Note The Portuguese operatives were trained at Darwin under Major C. Brandao. The Lagarto operation was led by Captain Santos, Portuguese Forces, accompanied by Lieutenant Pires and AIF Sergeant Ellwood, all were captured east of Dili.


The fighting on Portuguese East Timor Island . "Diggers" on East Timor Island, March 1942 to December 1942
Bibliography . Article List
Copyright © Klemen. L. 1999-2000
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942

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