Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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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)  

This page was last updated on 03/05/22

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