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Marshal of the RAF Viscount Portal of Hungerford

C F A Portal - 1916Charles Frederick Algernon Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of HungerfordCharles Frederick Algenon    

b: 21 May 1893             r: 31 Dec 1945              d: 22 Apr 1971

Viscount -  1 Jan 1946 (Conferred - 8 Feb 1946), Baron - 17 Aug 1945 (Conferred - 12 Oct 1945, KG - 3 Dec 1946, GCB - 11 Jun 1942 (KCB - 11 Jul 1940, CB - 2 Jan 1939), OM - 1 Jan 1946, DSO - 18 Jul 1917, Bar - 26 Jul 1918, MC - 10 Jan 1917,  MiD - 19 Oct 1914 (& 9 Dec 1914), MiD - 11 Dec 1917, MiD - 31 Dec 1918, LL.D.  PR1 - 15 Jul 1941, SO(GC) - 18 Dec 1942, WL1 - 12 Jan 1943, DSM (US) - 15 Mar 1946, GI-GC - 6 Sep 1946, ON(KGC) - 18 Nov 1947, OL (KGC) - xx xxx 194?, Cwn-P (GC) - 27 Aug 1948, CdeG (P) (B) - 27 Aug 1948, LoH (GC) - xx xxx 194?, CWC - xx xxx 194?, DL (Sussex) - 27 Apr 1951

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Hon DCL - Oxford (27 Apr 1951), Durham

Hon LLD - Cambridge, Birmingham, Manchester, Belfast, Bristol

Hon DSc - Reading

(Army): - (T) 2 Lt: 26 Sep 1914, (T) Lt (MCS): 11 Dec 1915,  (T) Capt: 16 Jul 1916, (T) Maj: 14 Jun 1917.

(RAF): - (T) Maj [Capt]: 1 Apr 1918, (T) Lt Col: 17 Jun 1918, Lt Col(A): 1 May 1919, Sqn Ldr: 1 Aug 1919 [1 Apr 1918], Wg Cdr: 1 Jul 1925,   Gp Capt: 1 Jul 1931, A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1935, AVM: 1 Jul 1937, Act AM:  3 Sep 1939, (T) AM: 1 Jul 1940, (T) ACM: 25 Oct 1940, ACM: 14 Apr 1942 [26 May 1940], MRAF: 1 Jun 1944.  

Photo (left) - taken from his RAeC Certificate

Photo (right) - Charles Frederick Algernon Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 11 October 1940
NPG x26997

© National Portrait Gallery, London

  6 Aug 1914:          Motor Cycle Dispatch Rider, Royal Engineers.

27 Sep 1914:           Motor Cyclist Section, Royal Engineers, (Special Reserve).

30 Nov 1914:          Motor Cyclist Officer, HQ Signal Company, 1st Corps.

 5 Jul 1915:              U/T Observer, No 3 Sqn RFC

 4 Aug 1915:           Observer, No 3 Sqn RFC.

22 Aug 1915:           Detained in UK following an accident

28 Sep 1915:           Re-embarked for France

29 Sep 1915:           Observer, No 3 Sqn RFC.

22 Nov 1915:          Appointed Flying Officer (Observer), RFC.

 1 Jan 1916:             Returned to Home Establishment

10 Jan 1916:            Basic Training, No 5 (Reserve) Sqn.

17 Mar 1916:          Advanced Training, No 8 (Reserve) Sqn.

xx xxx xxxx:             'Wings' Course, Central Flying School.  

27 Apr 1916:           Appointed Flying Officer, RFC.

  3 May 1916:          Pilot, No 60 Sqn. (Morane Bullet, Morane Biplane – Western Front)

25 May 1916:          Re-embarked for France (with No 60 Sqn)

16 Jul 1916:             Flight Commander, No 3 Sqn. (BE2c, BE2d – Western Front)

16 Jun 1917:            Officer Commanding, No 16 Sqn. (RE8 – Western Front)

18-28 May 1918:      Temporary Officer Commanding, 1st Wing

16 Jun 1918:             Returned to Home Establishment

28 Aug 1918:           Officer Commanding, No 24 (Training) Wing.

22 Jan 1919:            Officer Commanding, No 1 Wing - France.

 9 Feb 1919:            Officer Commanding, No 15 Wing - France.

16 Mar 1919:           Posted to HQ No 5 Brigade

21 Mar 1919:           Returned to Home Establishment

 1 May 1919:           Officer Commanding, No 59 (Training) Wing, RAF Cranwell.

 1 Jun 1919:             Air Staff, HQ No 12 Group - RAF Cranwell.

 1 Aug 1919:            Awarded Permanent Commission as a Major

 1 Nov 1919:           CFI, RAF College - Cranwell.

 3 Apr 1922:            Attended RAF Staff College.

10 Apr 1923:           FO 1, Deputy Directorate of Operations and Intelligence.

11 Oct 1926:           Senior Officer's War Course - Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

11 Mar 1927:          Officer Commanding, No 7 Sqn. (Virginia)

30 Nov 1928:          Proceeded on leave

14 Jan 1929:            Attended Imperial Defence College.

16 Jan 1930:            Special Duty in India?

18 Apr 1930:           Supernumerary, HQ Coastal Area.

15 Dec 1930:           Deputy Director of Plans, Directorate of Operations & Intelligence.

21 Feb 1934:           Officer Commanding, Aden Command.

14 Jan 1936:            Directing Staff, Imperial Defence College 

 1 Sep 1937:            Director of Organisation

 1 Feb 1939:            Air Member for Personnel

 2 Apr 1940:            AOC in C, Bomber Command

25 Oct 1940:           Chief of the Air Staff

26 Feb 1946:           Transferred to half pay list.

Leaving Winchester, he entered Christchurch College, Oxford in October 1912 reading for a Law Degree with the intention of becoming a barrister, however he  never formally finished his degree owing to the start of World War One.  Volunteering for service as a dispatch rider on 6 August 1914, he was made a Corporal in the Royal Engineers and posted immediately to France, being awarded a Commission within seven weeks.   He transferred to the RFC as an observer when the need for dispatch riders reduced and later trained as a pilot gaining RAeC Certificate No 2543 on 9 May 1916 . He married Joan Margaret Welby at Denton, Grantham on 21 July 1919.   In 1922 ‘Peter’ Portal was among those selected to attend the first course at the new RAF Staff College, most of who later rose to prominence in the RAF during World War 2.

During the General Strike of 1926, he was responsible for the setting up of a RAF air mail service, mostly for official correspondence.   It was during this period of his career that Trenchard himself appears to have begun grooming the young Sqn Ldr Portal as a future Chief of the Air Staff.  He attended many meetings in Trenchard's office, not simply to advise his Director but as a participant in his own right.  A further indication that he was being prepared for greater things came when Trenchard recommended him for the Royal Navy's Senior Officer's War Course.  As a Wing Commander he found himself in the midst of Admirals.

A successful tour as AOC in C brought with it a knighthood in July 1940 and a realisation that precision night bombing was an impossible concept at this stage of the war  and he left Bomber Command with the seeds of what would later become Area Bombing firmly routed in his mind.   The ultimate appointment within the RAF, that of Chief of the Air Staff was assumed by Portal in October 1940 placing him directly  over a  number of Air Officers with seniority over him.  He continued in this capacity for the remainder of the war, being the youngest of the Chiefs of Staff until the arrival of Lord Mountbatten.  He quickly gained a reputation for clear thinking and diplomacy and was a favourite of Churchill.  When he retired from the post in December 1945 he had held the position for over five years, a period of time only exceeded by Trenchard.

Post-war, Portal took on a number of directorships in the city including Barclays Bank and the Ford Motor Company.  He was persuaded by the new Prime Minister, Attlee, to take on the appointment as Controller of Production, Atomic Energy which in 1950 was changed to Controller, Atomic Energy, taking in all aspects of the Atomic energy Industry and weapons development.   As a Marshal of the RAF he attended the funeral of King George VI.  Leaving  the Ministry of Supply, Portal joined the Board of British Aluminium becoming it's chairman in 1953 but following unsuccessful attempts to prevent it's take-over by the Americans, he left and took on the chairmanship of the British Match Corporation from 1960 to 1964.  Government rationalisation of the British aircraft industry led to the formation of the British Aircraft Corporation in 1960 with Portal appointed Chairman.  Whilst hunting in Scotland in September 1970, he found himself at a low ebb resulting in his return home.  The following month he was diagnosed to have an inoperable cancer and although he fought doggedly, by April 1971 he was in constant pain and eventually fell into unconsciousness and died.

Further reading: - Portal of Hungerford,  Richards, Denis - William Heinemam Ltd  (1977)

Citation for the award of the Military Cross

PORTAL, Charles Frederick Algernon, Captain

"For conspicuous gallantry in action. He has done excellent artillery work in the air, often in bad weather and at low altitudes; he has always set his flight the best of examples. On one occasion he shot down a hostile machine."

(Source - London Gazette, 10 January 1917)

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Service Order

PORTAL, Charles Frederick Algernon. Temporary Lieutenant and Temporary Captain, MC, General List and Royal Flying Corps - No.3 Squadron

 "For many months he has done magnificent work in cooperation with the artillery.  During an attack he succeeded in silencing nine active batteries, ranging our artillery.  His splendid example has been of the greatest value."

(Source - London Gazette, 18 July 1917)

Citation for the award of the Bar to the Distinguished Service Order

PORTAL, Charles Frederick Algernon, Temporary Lieutenant and Temporary Major, DSO, MC, General List and Royal Air Force - No.16 Squadron.

"During a period of four months, chiefly under adverse weather conditions, he repeatedly carried out successful raids by day and night, his ingenuity and daring enabling him to drop many tons on bombs on important enemy posts.  One night he crossed the lines five times, only landing between each flight to replenish with bombs.  Another day he took on, single-handed, five enemy machines, and drove down three of them - a most gallant and splendid feat.  On another day, despite thick mist, he registered one of our batteries on an enemy battery, causing the destruction of one pit and obtaining one fire and two explosions; and on another day, flying for five and one-quarter hours, he carried out two very successful counter-battery shoots, observing 350 rounds.  He has always set a most magnificent example to the squadron under his command."

(Source - London Gazette, 26 July 1918)

 AIR 1/1479/204/34 has a remarkable amount of documentation relative to this award, commencing with a letter dated 4 April 1918 from Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew McNaughton, Canadian Field Artillery, (Counter-Battery Staff Officer, Canadian Corps) to the General Officer Commanding, Royal Artillery, Canadian Corps (Brigadier-General E.W.B. Morrison).

 "I have the honour to bring to your attention the very gallant and useful work which has been performed by Major C.F.A. Portal, FDO, MC, commanding No.16 Squadron, RAF.

 This officer has been associated with the Canadian Corps since June 1917, and during our operations he has set and maintained a remarkably high standard of efficiency Wherever extremely difficult or dangerous work has had to be carried out this officer has done it himself. In particular I wish to bring before you the following:-

On the night of December 26th by moonlight Major Portal successfully registered the 24th Siege Battery on to a Hostile Battery in Sallaumines.  This necessitated flying very low over the enemy’s lines and was the first occasion on this front in which a moonlight shoot has been successfully carried out.  Since then considerable work has been done under similar conditions.

On April 3rd Major Portal, despite thick mist, successfully registered the 1st Canadian Siege Battery on to a hostile Battery [at] Haute Deule Canal, destroying one pit and obtaining one fire and two explosions. This was the only shoot with aeroplane observation carried out this day on the Army Front south of the La Bassee Canal, and the thick mist necessitated low flying far over the enemy’s lines.

These are only two of any similar instances in which the initiative and energy of Major Portal have been used for the benefit of the service."

This is followed by a memo from Brigadier Morrison to the General Officer Commanding, Canadian Corps (Lieutenant-General A.W. Currie), 6 April 1918:

"I have much pleasure in forwarding the above, and also in adding my appreciation of the uniformly excellent work that Major Portal has been doing since he has been in command of No.16 Squadron."

 Currie in turn writes on 13 April 1918 to Headquarters, First Army:

"It gives me much pleasure to forward the above appreciations of the uniformly excellent work of Major Portal, DSO, No.16 Squadron, RAF.  I wish to add that I am constantly having my attention called to the outstanding efficiency and ability of this officer.  I would like to see him receive further award."

 On 21 April 1918 Brigadier-General D. le G. Pitcher, Officer Commanding 1st Brigade, Royal Air Force, send forward his recommendation for a Bar to the DSO.  Note that McNaughton’s memo identified the unit engaged on 26/27 December 1917 as the “24th Siege Battery” while Pitcher identifies it as the “204th Siege Battery”.

 "For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, and consistently valuable work throughout the past ten months whilst in command of an Artillery Squadron.

 On the night of the 26th/27th December 1917, flying for two hours, he carried out a very successful experimental moonlight shoot with 204th Siege Battery on Hostile Battery NZ.16.

On the night of 28th/29th January 1918 flying between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. he carried out three bomb raids on Annay, and one on Hostile Battery NX. 63, with good effect.

On the 31st January 1918 he flew from 1 a.m. to 6.30 a.m. carrying out night bombing on Menin Lietard and Sallaumines under adverse weather conditions and dropping half a ton of bombs.  He crossed the lines five times, only landing between each flight to replenish with bombs.

On 16th February 1918, flying with Captain C.T. Cleaver, MC, he escorted his squadron formation on a special day bomb raid on a hostile long range gun at Courrierres.  The formation was attacked by about 20 enemy machine , five of which he engaged single-handed, drawing them away from the bombing machines, which were thus enabled to reach their objective.  In this engagement, which lasted ten minutes, he drove three enemy aeroplanes down.

On the night of the 23rd/24th March 1918, he carried out a three hour reconnaissance, dropping bombs and firing his machine guns at trains, searchlights, and active H.V. [high velocity ?] guns.

On the night of the 24th/25th March 1918, flying between 10 p.m. and 1.30 a.m., he dropped bombs on Annoeullin, on a train, and carried out a reconnaissance of the front and back areas opposite the Canadian Corps.  He reported many active hostile batteries, two of which were successfully engaged for effect on MQ NF calls, by the 2nd Canadian Siege Battery.  He also sent down five area calls.

On the night of 31st March 1918/1st April 1918, during a raid on Douai, he dropped a 112-pound bomb on the Barracks, causing a very large fire which burned for five hours.

On April 3rd, 1918, this officer, despite thick mist, successfully registered the 1st Canadian Siege Battery on to a hostile Battery near the Haute Deule Canal, destroying one pit and obtaining one fire and two explosions. This was the only shoot with aeroplane observation carried out this day on the Army Front south of the La Bassee Canal, and the thick mist necessitated low flying far over the enemy’s lines.

On 12 April 1918, flying for 5 1/4  hours, he carried out two very successful Counter Battery Shoots, observing 350 rounds.

On the night of the 18th/19th April 1918, Major Portal carried out a bombing flight, dropping bombs on Berclau, flying for 50 minutes, mostly in snow-storms.  He had previously that evening (the 18th) flown over the lines for three hours 15 minutes, during which time he sent down thirteen area calls on hostile batteries.

Major Portal has completed 870 hours War flying, and carried out a total of 248 successful shoots, during his 33 months flying in France, 250 hours and 34 successful shoots having been accomplished during the past ten months.

He has always set a most magnificent example to the squadron under his command."

This page was last updated on 11/12/22

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