Roosevelt Papers: Telegram

Prime Minister Churchill to the British Deputy Prime Minister ( Attlee ) and the British Foreign Secretary ( Eden )1


Pencil No. 159. Prime Minister to Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.

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1. I cannot feel that the proposed request to the Portuguese Government will lead to any useful result.2 As indicated in my Pencil No. 18, I do not think there is a chance of procuring Portuguese agreement.3 They might submit under protest, but they could not agree.

Proceeding as is proposed will only incur a rebuff. The Portuguese will make a virtue of their refusal to Germany, and measures will be taken to increase the resisting power of the Islands. The only way in my opinion is to confront them the night before with the fact that occupation is about to take place, and to warn them of the dangers of bloodshed, leaving them time to stop it. Then there is a good chance of none occurring.

2. We have now received a formal statement from the Combined Chiefs of Staff which stresses the extreme importance of our acquiring the use of these islands at the earliest moment.4 The gist of this will follow.

In conference Admirals King and Pound have spoken with the utmost emphasis of the advantages to be gained and the losses to be avoided. My estimate that 1,000,000 tons of shipping and several thousand lives might be saved was regarded by the Combined Chiefs of Staff as a serious underestimate. In short, military necessity is established in the most solid manner.

3. The President had drafted a telegram to President Vargas of Brazil, hoping that he might use his good offices with the Portuguese to persuade them to come over quietly,5 but this method is open to the same fatal objections as attach to our appeal to them to remember the old alliance. After discussion with the Combined Chiefs of Staff and myself the President recognized this.

4. The Chiefs of Staff have been directed to prepare a plan for immediate action, i.e., within the next three or four weeks, and this should be ready by Monday.6 I wish to be in a position to inform the President that in principle His Majesty’s Government are willing to act provided that the United States is similarly committed.

5. I have read the assurances given to Salazar on the eve of Torch and do not consider they constitute any additional barrier to action since they are related to the operation Torch and its consequences whereas the present need arises from a wholly different cause.

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6. I cannot see that there is any moral substance in the legalistic point involved in overriding the neutrality of Portugal in respect of these islands which are of no peace-time consequence but have now acquired vital war significance. The fate of all these small nations depends entirely upon our victory. Both the German and the Japanese have openly violated all neutralities. Timor is the latest example.7 Are we not putting the good cause to an undue disadvantage if in these circumstances we are not to take the steps which are necessary for the future law and freedom of the world? It is a painful responsibility to condemn so many great ships of the British and American flag to destruction and so many of our merchant seamen to drowning because our inhibitions prevent us from taking the action which would save them. I do not fear, nor does the President, any adverse reaction in our own countries though, of course, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo will be inexpressibly shocked. I beg you to look up what we did in Greece in 1916. We went to war in 1914 because of the violated neutrality of little Belgium and a vast volume of rhetoric and argument was presented on that theme. However by 1916 the struggle had become so severe that the allies had no hesitation in violating the neutrality of Greece and landing at the Pyreus [Piraeus] by force of arms, and installing a Government favourable to their interests. I have not the records with me, but I cannot recall the slightest protest that was made by any of those who wished to see us win. In this case the issue is far more precisely pointed because the rate of new buildings over sinkings is the measure of our power to wage war and so to bring this pouring out of blood and money to a timely end.

7. Accordingly I ask to be empowered to state in your name on Monday next that if the President agrees to share the responsibility we will authorize the Combined Chiefs of Staff to make and execute a plan to take these islands at the earliest possible moment. As it is most undesirable that their names should be mentioned again I have agreed with the President that the code name for the operation shall be Lifebelt .

8. We should, of course, offer the Portuguese several million pounds for the lease of the islands during the Avar and promise them their return at the end, plus all the improvements we shall have made to the air-transport facilities. It might also be desirable to associate Brazil with the occupation. This can be discussed later.

  1. Presumably, this is the message which Churchill, during his conference with Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff on May 19, promised to send to the British Government; see ante, p. 121.
  2. Attlee and Eden had telegraphed to Churchill a proposal that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance of 1373 be invoked in the effort to secure military facilities for the United Kingdom in the Azores; see Eden, p. 454.
  3. The reference is presumably to Churchill’s telegram of May 10, 1943, to the British War Cabinet; for discussion of telegram, see ibid., p. 453.
  4. See C.C.S. 226/2, May 18, 1943, ante, p. 307.
  5. For text of the draft message from Roosevelt to Vargas, see supra.
  6. May 24, 1943.
  7. Japanese forces landed on the island of Timor, in the areas both of Dutch and Portuguese sovereignty, in February 1942. The events incident to this attack are set forth in Woodward, pp. 376377.