KELLETT William Stanley

Fusilier William Stanley KELLETT 1923 – 1943

3608618 Fusilier William Stanley Kellett, 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers died of wounds 22 April 1943 aged 19 and is buried at La Reunion War Cemetery, south west of Bejaia, Algeria.  He is commemorated on the Butterknowle War Memorial and the memorial in St. John the Baptist Church at Lynesack.  [1]

Family Details

William Stanley Kellett was born 29 July 1923, the son of John William and Amy Kellett and brother of Elsie May, Joseph Gilbert, Mary, Trevor and Sylvia. In 1939, the family lived at 5 Stone Row, Butterknowle.  John worked as a general labourer and William as a forestry worker.[2]

Service Details

The service details for Fusilier W.S. Kellett have not been traced.   The 1st battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers formed part of the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade, along with the 2nd and 6th battalions, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (the Skins) and the 2nd battalion, the London Irish Rifles.  In March 1943, the Brigade joined the 78th (Battleaxe) Infantry Division in Tunisia, North Africa and fought with distinction in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy.  [3]

Fusilier William Stanley Kellett

The Irish Brigade in Tunisia [4]

The Irish Brigade started to disembark on 19 November in Algiers and was subjected to its first experience of Luftwaffe bomb attacks. A week later, the brigade was moved by train to Bougie from where it was transported by truck over the border into Tunisia. It was put into the front line, about 100 miles south-west of Tunisia.

The first serious fighting involving the Irish Brigade took place north of Bou Arada in January. The first battalion-scale attack took place on 13 January against German positions on Two Tree Hill, a highpoint which dominated the flat land around Goubellat Plain in the north and Bou Arada Plain in the south. The attack was carried out by the Skins and was unsuccessful. The battalion lost 28 dead on the day and almost 100 casualties. All three battalions were subsequently involved in battles around Bou Arada in January and February and they played a critical role, as part of the 78th Infantry Division, in the final battles around Tunis in April 1943. The city fell to the Allies on 7 May and the Irish Brigade was given the distinction of being the first marching troops into the Tunisian capital. Caught between Allied armies advancing from the west and General Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army advancing from the east, hundreds of thousands of Germany and Italian soldiers were taken prisoner. The Irish Brigade joined a victory parade through Tunis on 20 May 1943.

The UK and the US had by then decided that Allied forces in Tunisia should be used to capture Sicily which dominated the sea lanes between the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea. The invasion of Sicily started on the night of 8 July 1943. The Irish Brigade, now part of Montgomery’s 8th Army, set out for Sicily from Sousse and landed in Syracuse on 26 July.

On 26 February von Arnim, in the mistaken belief that the Kasserine battles had forced the Allies to weaken their northern Tunisia line to reinforce the south, launched (with Kesselring’s approval but without consulting Rommel) Operation Ochsenkopf, an attack against V Corps across a wide front and commanded by General Weber.[69] The main attacks were by Weber Corps (named after its commanding general) which included 334th Infantry Division, newly arrived elements of the Hermann Göring Division and the elements of 10th Panzer Division which had not been involved in Operation Frűhlingswind. Weber’s force was to advance in three groups: one moving west towards Medjez el Bab; a second, to the north of the first group, advancing south west on the route from Mateur to Béja (which was some 25 miles (40 km) west of Medjez); and the third group pushing west some 25 miles south of Medjez. The northern flank of Weber’s corps was to be protected by the von Manteuffel Division advancing west and forcing the Allies out of their advanced positions opposite ‘Green Hill’ and the Axis-held Jefna Station.

In fierce fighting the attack on Medjez was defeated by 78th Division but further south some tactical gains were made before the advance was halted. In the north progress was made towards Béja but, in fighting which lasted until 5 March and in terrible weather conditions, the attack was blunted at Hunt’s Gap (about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of Béja) by 46th (North Midland) Division‘s 128th Infantry Brigade with substantial artillery and two squadrons of tanks from the North Irish Horse under command over several days intense fighting.

Von Arnim’s attack in the north by the Manteuffel Division made good progress across the French-held, lightly defended hills between Cap Serrat and the railway town of Sedjenane. Costly counter-attacks on February 27 and 2 March by elements of 46th Division’s 139th Infantry Brigade and attached units (No 1 Commando and supporting artillery[71]) delayed the Axis advance. However, Sedjenane was captured on 4 March and the 139th Brigade was pushed slowly back over the next three weeks some 15 miles (24 km) towards Djebel Abiod. Von Arnim abandoned his attacks in the centre and south of the front, but withdrawals of French battalions in the Medjez area to join XIX Corps had allowed him to occupy, with little opposition, the high ground dominating the town, which was left in a dangerous salient.

On 25 March Alexander gave orders to regain the initiative on V Corps’s front. On 28 March Anderson launched 46th Division, composed at this time of 138th Infantry Brigade with 128th Infantry Brigade in reserve and reinforced by the attachment of 36th Infantry Brigade, 1st Parachute Brigade and French units including a tabor of specialist mountain Goumiers, supported by the artillery of two divisions plus more from army resources. In four days it succeeded in recapturing all ground previously lost to the Manteuffel Division and took 850 German and Italian prisoners in the process.

On 7 April Anderson tasked 78th Infantry Division with clearing the Béja-Medjez road. Supported by artillery and close air support they methodically advanced 10 miles (16 km) through difficult mountain terrain over the next ten days clearing a front 10 miles (16 km) wide. 4th Infantry Division were introduced for the first into the fighting taking position on 78th Division’s left and pushing towards Sidi Nisr.

The salient at Medjez had been relieved and lateral roads in the V Corps area cleared so that Anderson was able to turn his full attention to the orders he had received on 12 April from Alexander to prepare the large-scale attack, scheduled for 22 April, to gain Tunis.

Fusilier W.S. Kellett received wounds during the attack of 7 April and he died 22 April 1943.  [5]

By this stage, Allied aircraft had been moved forward to airfields in Tunisia to prevent the aerial supply of Axis troops in North Africa (Operation Flax) and large numbers of German transport aircraft were shot down between Sicily and Tunis. British destroyers operating from Malta prevented marine supply, reinforcement or evacuation of Tunisia by sea (Operation Retribution). Admiral Cunningham, Eisenhower’s Naval Task Force commander, issued Nelsonian orders to his ships: “Sink, burn, capture, destroy. Let nothing pass”.

By 18 April, after attacks by Eighth Army from the south and flanking attacks by IX Corps and French XIX Corps the German-Italian forces had been pushed into a defensive line on the north-east coast of Tunis, attempting to protect their supply lines, but with little hope of continuing the battle for long.

The following is an extract from “Supplement to the London Gazette, 6 November 1946”:

“V Corps at once began preparations for the attack to clear the Beja-Medjez road.  78 Division under Major-General V. Evelegh, undertook the task, again supported by heavy artillery concentrations throughout the whole operation.

This mountain land is a vast tract of country, every hill in which is large enough to swallow up a brigade of infantry, where consolidation on the rocky slopes is very difficult, in which tanks can only operate in small numbers, where movement of guns and vehicles is very restricted and where the division had to rely on pack mules for its supplies and to carry wireless telegraphy sets, tools and mortars.

The general impression is one of wide spaciousness – a kind of Dartmoor or Central Sutherlandshire but with deeper valleys and steeper hills.

In the early darkness of 7th April, 78 Division started its attack north of Oued Zarga, gaining all objectives and taking over 400 prisoners, all German.  For the next 9 days until the 16 April, 78 Division methodically advanced on a front of about 10 miles, taking in turn each key position – Mahdi, Hills 512 & 667, Djebel el Ang, Tanngoucha and the mountain villages of Toukabeur, Chaouach and Heidous – with concentrated artillery fire and splendidly helped by the RAF with close bombing.  But it was chiefly an infantry battle, fought by units who had been in continuous contact with the enemy without a break since November 1942.  In all during these 9 days, 1,080 German prisoners were captured in a series of extremely fierce hand to hand fights, including much night work.”

The following letter was written by Matron (Miss) J.B.C. Orchardson, 69th General Hospital, BNA7, dated 23 April 1943:

“Dear Mrs. Kellett

By the time you receive this you will have had the official wire about your son.  I wish to send you the deepest sympathy from the Nursing Staff here.  Your dear boy was badly wounded in the head and arm and all the skill of our wonderful surgeons was of no avail.  Poor boy, he put up a big fight for life but he was so badly injured that it was hopeless from the start.  He did not suffer, I am not just saying this to help you in your sorrow, it is perfectly true, we gave him sedatives to dull the pain and he slept a great deal.  His end was very peaceful and he was laid to rest in our pretty little military cemetery beside alas many of his comrades both army & navy also one of my Nursing Sisters who was killed here.  I shall try and send you a photograph of his grave if I can find someone with a camera.

My deepest sympathy to you & yours

Yours sincerely

(Miss) J.B.C. Orchardson Matron”

A letter from Buckingham Palace followed:

Burial: La Reunion War cemetery, Algeria

Fusilier William Stanley Kellett is buried at grave reference 4.G.5, La Reunion War Cemetery.  It is located some 250 kilometers west of Bejaia, Algieria.  The cemetery contains 211 Commonwealth burials of WW2.

REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1939 England & Wales Register

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/38th_(Irish)_Infantry_Brigade_(United_Kingdom)

[4] http://www.irishbrigade.co.uk/pages/history-of-the-irish-brigade.php

[5] Family details & CWGC

Many thanks to Mrs. Greta Kellett for the use of family documents