John Keneally’s second attack from the ‘Bou’

A Churchill tank in the Medjez-el-Bab area, 23-25 April 1943.

A Churchill tank in the Medjez-el-Bab area, 23-25 April 1943.

In Tunisia the 1st Battalion Irish Guards were still defending the ‘Bou’ a critical position for the advance on Tunis. They had taken heavy casualties and they were still facing counter-attacks from more German troops who were brought into assault their positions.

Once again John Kenneally was in the thick of the action, very close to the position where he had made his attack on the 28th:

The Germans started clambering over the gully and tried to pick us off. No 1 Company came over the top firing rifles and throwing grenades. Bullets were hissing and spattering round my feet and out of the corner of my eye I saw poor Sergeant Salt go down with a machine gun burst in the back.

As I reached the top of the ridge a great blow hit me in the right leg. It knocked me flying over the top and tumbled me into an empty slit trench. Meanwhile No 1 were beating them off: that box of grenades proved to be priceless.

The enemy below us retreated and joined up with the attacks on 2, 3 and 4 Companies.

Brogan ripped open my trouser leg. I had a bullet wound just under the right knee and deep into the calf. Still, I felt myself lucky. Sergeant Salt was dead. We had lost one guardsman and Pollock had been shot through the shoulder. Brogan poured sulpha-anamide powder into our wounds and applied Field Dressings. The powder was a godsend as we were all terrified of gangrene poisoning which quickly set in with the hot climate.

Meanwhile, attack after attack was going on at Point 214. Indeed, No 2 Company had been overrun by tanks and two or three of them had been taken prisoner. We were ordered to evacuate our positions and every man was to line up with 3 and 4 Companies where the fighting was at its peak.

Pollock and I hobbled after them as the lads ran down the ridge. Pollock had only one usable arm but he had picked up a Luger pistol. I still had the Bren and a guardsman tried to grab it off me. I told him to ‘piss off’ — that gun had served me well and was going to serve me some more.

We dropped down beside No 4. It was close combat stuff. German infantry came over the rocks in droves. Grenades and stick grenades were passing each other in the air like snowballs.

The air was full of the chatter of machine and the ground we lay on trembled with the explosions of grenades. There was no time for fear; a strange ‘don’t-give-a-damn’ feeling took a grip — something every infantryman feels when he is constantly exposed to death in brutal and violent forms. Two German figures loomed over us and I cut one of them in half with the Bren. Pollock shot the other in the face.

Suddenly they were not round us any more. They had started to break and were firing at us as they retreated. As one man we all got up and chased after them, though we hobbled behind, and we shot into them as they fled. Those who could not run were bayoneted from behind.

We cheered and shouted ‘Up the Micks’ as they fled. Well to the fore was big Guardsman May.

And that was it. They never came again. After the battle was over, seven hundred German dead were counted around the Bou. I say that with no pride. Of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, just eighty came off the hill.

See John Kenneally: The Honour and the Shame

It was for this action and his previous one man attack on the 28th April that Kenneally was awarded the Victoria Cross:

No. 2722925 Lance-Corporal John Patrick Kenneally, Irish Guards (Tipton, Staffs.).

The Bou feature dominates all ground East and West between Medjez El Bab and Tebourba. It was essential to the final assault on Tunis that this feature should be captured and held.

A Guards ‘Brigade assaulted and captured a portion of the Bou on the 27th April, 1943. The Irish Guards held on to points 212 and
214 on the Western end of the feature, which points the ‘Germans frequently counter- attacked.

While a further attack to capture the complete feature was being prepared, it was essential for the Irish Guards io hold on. They did so.

On the 28th April, 1943, the positions held by one Company of the Irish Guards on the ridge between points 212 and 214 were about to be subjected to an attack by the enemy.

Approximately one Company of the enemy were seen forming up preparatory to attack and Lance-Corporal Kenneally decided that this was the right moment to attack them himself. Single-handed he charged down the bare forward slope straight at the main enemy body firing his Bren gun from the hip as he did so.

This outstanding act of gallantry and the dash with which it was executed completely unbalanced the enemy Company which broke up in disorder. Lance-Corporal Kenneally then returned to the crest further to harass their retreat.

Lance-Corporal Kenneally repeated this remarkable exploit on the morning of the 30th April, 1943, when, accompanied by a Sergeant of the Reconnaissance Corps, he again charged the enemy forming up for an assault. This time he so harassed the enemy,inflicting many casualties, that this projected attack was frustrated: the enemy’s strength was again about one Company.

It was only when he was noticed hopping from one fire position to another further to the left, in order to support another Company, carrying his gun in one hand and supporting himsetf on a Guardsman with the other, that it was discovered he had been wounded. He refused to give up his Bren gun, claiming that he was the only one who understood that gun,and continued to fight all through that day with great courage, devotion to duty and disregard for his own safety.

The magnificent gallantry of this N.C.O. on these two occasions, under heavy, fire, his unfailing vigilance, and remarkable accuracy were responsible for saving, many valuable lives during the days and nights in the forward positions.

His actions also played a considerable part in holding these positions and this influenced the whole course of the battle. His rapid appreciation of the situation, his initiative and his extraordinary gallantry in attacking single-handed a massed body of the enemy and breaking up an attack on two occasions, was an achievement that can seldom have been equalled. His courage in fighting all day when wounded was an inspiration to all ranks.

See the London Gazette 17th August 1943.

Sergeant J P Kenneally, VC - 1 Battalion, Irish Guards. Artist: Henry Carr 1943

Sergeant J P Kenneally, VC – 1 Battalion, Irish Guards. Artist: Henry Carr 1943

A soldier working on a Bren gun at a field armoury in the desert

A soldier working on a Bren gun at a field armoury in the desert

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nick Collins February 4, 2019 at 10:40 am

The good old Bren! Re-chambered for NATO 7.62 and still in use in South West Africa in 1980.

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