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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. R G Kellett

 

Wing Commander (Squadron Leader during the Battle) Ronald "Boozy" Kellett, who has died aged 89, commanded the Polish airmen of 303 Squadron which, credited with 113 kills and many ‘probables’, was rated the highest scoring fighter squadron of the Battle of Britain.


On July 19 1940 Kellett was posted to form No 303, flying Hurricanes from Northolt. His pilots, he was told, would be Czech but they turned out to be Poles who had escaped to England via France.
Since no arrangements had been made to pay the Poles, Kellett paid them himself with cheques drawn on his own account. When, after some weeks, Winston Churchill visited the squadron, Kellett mentioned that he was still issuing cheques for his men's pay - as if he were serving in the Crimean War. The problem was swiftly resolved.


Kellett had several narrow squeaks at the hands of the enemy. Early one morning. he climbed his pilots to 15000 feel and dived them into the centre of an enemy bomber formation. He recalled:

I picked my bomber, a Heinkel, and opened fire at about 20 yards. I was being hit by a bomber behind me and finally the ammunition in each wing exploded and my guns stopped firing. At the same time the Heinkel's left engine caught fire, I received a blow on my left knee and the cockpit was filled with smoke and liquid.


Kellett put his Hurricane into a spin. When he recovered and attempted to fly straight and level he could barely control the aircraft. Worse, baling out was impossible as the cockpit canopy had jammed.

Below him he could see that the fighter airfield at Biggin Hill was under attack: at the same moment the Heinkel he had attacked fell past, perilously close, in flames. Kellett just managed to avoid a collision and then landed at Biggin as enemy bombs were raining down. After ground crew had axed off the canopy of his aircraft, Kellett surveyed his crippled fighter.


It had been a near thing - the aircraft had virtually no rudder or elevators left. There was a hole in each wing large enough for a man to get through.

His squadron had lost five aircraft. On another occasion King George VI was inspecting the squadron when it was scrambled to counter an attack on Portsmouth. The Poles destroyed 3 enemy aircraft without loss, ascribing their good fortune to luck brought by the royal visit.


By October 31 1940, the last day of the Battle of Britain, Kellett had himself accounted for five enemy aircraft, three of them within the space of two days - enough to rate him an ace. Moreover, his score was almost certainly higher when his probable kills are taken into account.


Ronald Gustave Kellett was born on September 13th 1909 at Biddick Hall, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, where his father owned a colliery. He was educated at Rossall from where, aged 14, he ran away and got a job at the Liverpool Stock Exchange. Kellett prospered in business and eventually became a member of the London Stock Exchange. In 1933 he also became a weekend volunteer pilot in No 600 (City of London) an Auxiliary Air Force squadron. In May 1940 he was posted to No 249 Squadron as a flight commander flying Spitfires until in June these were replaced by Hurricanes.

After fighting in the Battle of Britain with 249 and 303 squadrons, Kellett was posted in October 1940 to command No 96, a Hurricane night-fighter squadron. In March 1941 he moved up to lead the North Weald fighter wing. In mid-summer1941 Kellett was appointed a fighter training instructor at the Air Ministry and then from late 1942 instructed at the Turkish Staff College. He was demobbed in 1945.

After the war Kellett returned to the City where in 1948 he became a partner at the stockbrokers Laurence, Keen and Gardner. From 1946 to 1949 he also commanded No 615 (County of Surrey), a Spitfire squadron in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Kellett bred Charolais cattle at his farm in Kent and laid out a landing strip for light aircraft there. He much enjoyed sailing and hunting and would fly to Lincolnshire to hunt at Cranwell.

He was knowledgeble about wine and advised the Stock Exchange on wine purchases. He stocked a cellar at home for himself calculating that it would see him out to the last bottle.

Kellett was awarded a DFC, a DSO and the Polish Virtuti Militari in 1940; he also received the Air Efficiency Award and Bar.


He married, in 1939, Daphne Sheaf, who predeceased him; they had two sons and three daughters.

With acknowledgments to the Daily Telegraph


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