John Kenneally’s one man attack on German positions

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vbs of No. 417 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, flying in loose formation over the Tunisian desert on a bomber escort operation, April 1943.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vbs of No. 417 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, flying in loose formation over the Tunisian desert on a bomber escort operation, April 1943.

A formation of No 24 Squadron, South African Air Force Douglas Boston aircraft flying over Tunisia.

A formation of No 24 Squadron, South African Air Force Douglas Boston aircraft flying over Tunisia.

In Tunisia the 1st Battalion Irish Guards had been had been rebuilt with replacement soldiers from the base area, following their earlier losses. Now, once again, they were asked to take and hold an exposed mountain top position, the ‘Bou’. Once again they sustained heavy casualties taking the position – and more as they held it against repeated counterattacks between 27th and 30th.

On 28th April John Kenneally woke to discover that his closest companion Michael Dempsey, with whom he had celebrated St Patricks Day only weeks before, had been killed by shellfire overnight. He extricated Dempsey’s identification papers from the mangled body.

There was now only Lance Corporal ‘Liz’ Fanning in charge of the position, all the other officers and NCOs having been killed or wounded:

There were about fourteen of No 1 Company remaining. Around 9.00am the shelling and mortaring started again. Our lookout man on the forward slope shouted that there was movement way down below. Liz said, ‘You had better go and have a look and send him back up, he’s been out there from stand-to and he’s had no grub. Do you want a No 2?’

I slid over the ridge and took over the OP. The guy was right. There was movement, plenty of it, and it looked as if the target was going to be our positions on Point 212. Trucks and armoured vehicles were disgorging infantry at the bottom of the lower slope. The sun was up now and their steel helmets glistened.

One thing, I thought, was that they were not seasoned troops as no self-respecting infantry would climb the hill in bunches as they were doing. They must be reinforcements from Tunis which was only fourteen miles away.

The shelling increased. It seemed as if they were trying to knock the top off the ridge behind me. The lads must be having it rough. I ducked lower myself as I was being showered by rocks and rubble. When the barrage eased, I took another look.

I could not see them but I could hear them. There were two large boulders about ten yards in front of me so I ran to them and took cover. A German voice was very clear now. I left the Bren gun behind the boulders and crawled through the scrub.

The ground fell away into a deep gully and there they were. Most of them were squatting round a German officer. Some were lying down taking a breather and they were bunched like a herd of cattle. What an opportunity.

I crawled back to the boulders and quickly took off all my equipment — speed was to be the essence of this operation. I put a new magazine on the Bren gun and one in each pocket. ‘Here goes,’ I said to myself. I took a deep breath and belted forward, firing from the hip.

I achieved complete surprise. I hose-piped them from the top of the gully. They were being bowled over like nine-pins and were diving in all directions. I had time to clip on another magazine and I gave them that too. Enough was enough, and I fled back to the boulders and safety.

The remaining Germans had scattered and were firing everywhere, even at each other. Bullets were shattering off the boulder in front of me. The lads from No 1, hearing the firing, came over the top screaming like banshees and were picking them off left, right and centre.

They fled down the hill and out of sight. ‘Holy Mother of Christ,’ Liz Fanning said, as he viewed the carnage below. ‘What have you done?’

‘Nothing to it,’ I replied, as I picked up my equipment and went for a drink of his cognac.

See John Kenneally: The Honour and the Shame

This was just one part of the action for which Kenneally would be awarded the Victoria Cross, although his actions were not immediately known to the Battalion commanders:

SUBJECT:- Defence of Pts 212 and 214 by 1st Bn IRISH GUARDS.

TO:- Officer Commanding, 1st Bn IRISH GUARDS.

FROM:- Captain D.J.L. FITZGERALD, Adjutant, 1st Bn IRISH GUARDS.

Sir,
I have the honour to submit the following account of the events which took place on Pts 212 and 214, and the ridge connecting these points, after you left to report to Brigade H.Q. on the morning of Wednesday 28th.

WEDNESDAY, 28TH APRIL 1943

After a quiet morning, the enemy began to mortar the ridge heavily at about mid-day. The only result of this was that any slit trenches that were not finished were rapidly deepened. The top of the ridge, however, was bare rock, and it was extremely difficult to find good over, or digging ground there.

At about 14.00hrs, 88 mm guns, and tanks firing HE opened up on the crest form close range in the olive grove. This fire was heavy, most accurate and most unpleasant. The men were withdrawn to the top of the reverse slope, leaving look outs dug in as well as possible. Unfortunately, both then and throughout the following days casualties were heavy among the look out men, but never was there any lack of volunteers for the task.

15.00hrs
The fire was intensified and German infantry were reported to be climbing the slope, up the end of the ridge nearest to Pt 214. This was the first opportunity the men had of engaging the enemy personally, and it was eagerly taken.

No. 3 Coy and No. 4 Coy moved up to the crest and were ready to take on the infantry when the shell fire ceased and the infantry appeared. L.M.G. and Rifle fire halted the Germans and caused them heavy casualties. They were already wavering, when 2 L.M.G.s and a section of No. 1 Coy were transferred from the right flank, which was not engaged, to strengthen the fire power of the left.

This increased S.A. fire had the desired effect. The Germans turned and ran back down the hill. We were all astonished by this sight, but soon recovered from our amazement. The men went forward and shot down the fugitives till they disappeared into the corn field below.

Two German officers, who attempted to rally their troops, were picked off by riflemen. The whole force was elated by this success and from then on morale was at highest possible level. The men never for one moment doubted their ability to thrash and to go on thrashing the Germans as long as our ammunition and water hold out.

After this attack, the mortar fire and shell fire began again and continued steadily till Friday night. I cannot remember any time during the intervening time when we were not shelled and mortared, and later machine gunned and sniped as well.

At about 18.00hrs No. 3 Coy, on Pt 214 on the left, reported that the Germans were trying to work their way round our left and had got into the gully below Pt 214.

Preparations were made to meet another attack, which duly came at approx. 19.00hrs. The enemy attempted to scale Pt 214 from the NORTH, and the ridge from the NORTH EAST. No. 2 Coy went round the WESTERN side of the hill and caught the enemy on the flank, causing heavy casualties. In spite of this the enemy succeeded in reaching the top of Pt 214. Since life would have been intolerable if the enemy had held this point a bayonet and tommy gun charge was organized and the enemy were swept off it and grenaded down the hill. The credit for this, and for the entire defence of Pt 214, without which our life would have been even more intolerable, was due to Lieut. C.D. KENNARD.

The enemy continued to press their attack on the NORTHERN half of the ridge and were nearly on to the flat top. It was getting dark, and the situation looked serious. At the moment of greatest need, Sgt MUSGROVE and his 3” Mortar team appeared, running along the reverse slope, carrying their mortar, which had to be abandoned that morning on the SOUTHERN foot of Pt 212. One their own initiative the detachment rescued their mortar; it was assembled in record time and 20 bombs were shot over the ridge at minimum range, with alternative switches to left and right. The effect on the enemy could be judged by the screams which followed each burst.

No. 4 Coy and the left half of No. 1 Coy then went forward and destroyed the leading enemy troops who had been cut off from the main body by the mortar fire. If we had had more 35 grenades, we could have done even more damage. The enemy then retired, and throughout the night could be heard digging in half way up the hill, and collecting his dead an wounded there and in the plain below. The roll of one German Company was loudly called by what appeared to be a very bad type of C.S.M. and we were glad to note that he was deficient of a good half of the names called out. Captain J.T. EGAN was wounded in the arm during this attack.

There was no rest for the Bn that night. A prisoner brought in by No. 2 Coy belonged to 2nd Bn 47 REGT and stated they had left ENFIDAVILLE yesterday afternoon, and were rushed out to the attack by lorry.

See TNA WO 175/488

Hawker Hurricane Mark IIDs of No 6 Squadron, Royal Air Force rolling out at Gabes soon after noon on 6 April 1943 for a tank-busting raid.

Hawker Hurricane Mark IIDs of No 6 Squadron, Royal Air Force rolling out at Gabes soon after noon on 6 April 1943 for a tank-busting raid.

A Flight Lieutenant bomb-aimer of No 223 Squadron, Royal Air Force checks over his bomb sight in Martin Baltimore aircraft `N-NAN'. The open bomb-bay doors give a glimpse of general purpose 250-pounder bombs.

A Flight Lieutenant bomb-aimer of No 223 Squadron, Royal Air Force checks over his bomb sight in Martin Baltimore aircraft `N-NAN’. The open bomb-bay doors give a glimpse of general purpose 250-pounder bombs.

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