Marshal of the Royal Air Force Charles Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford

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Charles Frederick Algernon Portal

Death: April 22, 1971 (77)
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Robert Portal and Elinor Kate Portal
Husband of Joan Margaret Portal
Brother of Admiral Sir Reginald Henry Portal DSC, KCB, CB; Hubert Victor Evelyn Portal; Mervyn Robert Portal and Nigel Hugh Portal
Half brother of William Robert Napier Portal; Maj. John Leslie Portal, DSO and Lieutenant-Col. Gervase Edward Portal

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About Marshal of the Royal Air Force Charles Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Charles Frederick Algernon Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford KG GCB OM DSO & Bar MC (21 May 1893 – 22 April 1971) was a senior Royal Air Force officer and an advocate of strategic bombing. He was the British Chief of the Air Staff during most of the Second World War.

Early life

Portal was born at Eddington House, Hungerford, England, the son of Edward Robert Portal and his wife Ellinor Kate (née Hill). His younger brother Admiral Sir Reginald Portal (1894–1983) joined the Royal Navy, becoming a naval aviator in the Fleet Air Arm, holding three aviation-related flag appointments between 1943 and 1951. The Portals had Huguenot origins, having arrived in England in the 17th century. Charles Portal, or "Peter" as he was nicknamed, was educated at Winchester College and Christ Church, Oxford where he read law. Portal had intended to become a barrister but he did not finish his degree and he left undergraduate life to enlist as a private soldier in 1914.

First World War

At the beginning of First World War, Portal joined the British Army and served as a dispatch rider in the motorcycle section of the Royal Engineers on the Western Front. Portal was made a corporal very soon after joining the Army and he was commissioned as a second lieutenant only weeks later. Around the same time he was commended in Sir John French's first despatch of September 1914. In December 1914 Portal was given command of all riders in the 1st Corps Headquarters Signals Company.

In 1915, with the need for dispatch riders reducing, Portal transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He graduated as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in April 1916, and joined No. 60 Squadron. He served first as an observer and eventually a flying officer. In June 1917 he was promoted temporary Major and given command of No. 16 Squadron, and in June 1918 he was promoted to temporary Lieutenant-Colonel and given command of No. 24 Wing. He earned the Distinguished Service Order in 1917, with a Bar in 1918, and the Military Cross. In April 1918 he became an officer in the new Royal Air Force, following the Royal Flying Corps' merger with the Royal Naval Air Service. In July 1919 he was appointed to a permanent commission in the rank of Major (shortly Squadron Leader).

Inter-war years

After the war, Portal took over No. 7 Squadron RAF[3] and concentrated on improving bombing accuracy. He was promoted Group Captain in 1931. In February 1934 he was appointed commander of British forces in Aden, where he tried to control the local tribesmen by air power.

In January 1935 he was promoted to air commodore and in July 1937 to air vice marshal, when he was appointed Director of Organization in the Air Ministry.[5] Just prior to outbreak of the Second World War, he was ordered to establish 30 new air bases in Britain.

Second World War

In early 1939 Portal was appointed Air Member for Personnel on the Air Council. At the outbreak of the war in September he was made acting air marshal and in April 1940 commander-in-chief of Bomber Command.

Portal advocated strategic area bombing against German industrial areas instead of bombing of specific factories or plants. He gave the first order to bomb Berlin on August 25, 1940. The result was that Hermann Göring ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb London instead of British airfields. The Blitz had begun. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was impressed with Portal's strategy and Portal was knighted in July 1940.

In October 1940, Portal was appointed as Chief of the Air Staff with the rank of air chief marshal. This ultimate appointment within the RAF placed 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 immediately became involved with the controversy over the Big Wing that resulted in Hugh Dowding's removal as the head of RAF Fighter Command. He concentrated on improving bomber navigation systems and bombing aids and increasing the power of the bombs themselves. He strongly supported the scientific intelligence work of R. V. Jones and others. In August 1941 he received a report of the relative inefficiency of RAF daytime raids and proposed area bombing by night. To implement his directive he replaced the chief of bomber command, Air Chief Marshal Richard Peirse, with Arthur Harris.

Portal accompanied Churchill to all the conferences and made a good impression on Americans. In January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference, the Combined Chiefs of Staff selected him to coordinate the bomber forces of both the United States and Britain in a combined bomber offensive over Germany. The forces were transferred to U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower for the duration of Operation Overlord; but when their control reverted to the Combined Chiefs, Portal still advocated area bombing of German cities instead of specific targets.

In June 1944 Portal was promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force and in February 1945 he was one of the senior commanders present at the Yalta Conference. In early 1944 Portal's view of strategic bombing changed; he felt that bombers could also play a more auxiliary role in Allied offensive. Such statements are often based on memoranda written by Portal. He argued for the new rationale, based on a hugely increased bomber force, which would carry out not just precision bombing but also indiscriminate "area bombing" by night of all German cities with populations exceeding 100,000. Portal thought that the resulting damage to the German war effort and civilian morale would lead to victory within six months. A second memorandum in 1945 made a similar argument.

In March 1945 Churchill gave the final order to stop Portal's strategy of area bombing, after the firestorm of Dresden a few weeks earlier. Churchill subsequently distanced himself from the bombing writing that "the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied Bombing".


In 1945, after the war's end, Portal retired from the RAF and on 17 September 1945 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Portal of Hungerford, of Hungerford in the County of Berkshire, with remainder, failing male issue of his own, to his daughters and their male heirs. On 28 January 1946 he was further honoured when he was made Viscount Portal of Hungerford, of Hungerford in the County of Berkshire, with normal remainder to his heirs male. From 1946 to 1951 he was Controller of Production (Atomic Energy) at the Ministry of Supply.

He was elected Chairman of British Aluminium and in 1958/9 he fought in the City of London's "Aluminium War" against a hostile takeover bid by Sir Ivan Stedeford, Chairman & CEO of Tube Investments. T.I. along with its ally Reynolds Metals of the US, won the takeover battle, and in the process, rewrote the way the City of London conducted its business in relation to shareholders and investors. Stedeford replaced Portal as Chairman of British Aluminium. In 1960 Portal was elected chairman of the British Aircraft Corporation.


Lord Portal of Hungerford married Joan Margaret Welby, daughter of Sir Charles Glynne Earle Welby, 5th Baronet, in 1919. They had two daughters, Rosemary Ann (1923–1990) and Mavis Elizabeth Alouette. A son died at birth in 1921. Lord Portal of Hungerford died at West Ashling House on April 22, 1971, aged 77. The viscountcy died with him while he was succeeded in the barony according to the special remainder by his eldest daughter, Rosemary, 2nd Baroness Portal of Hungerford. The barony became extinct on her death in 1990.

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