J. Austin Miller, 1st Ranger Battalion
A more elite
soldier who arrived by land or sea ...
July 8, 1943
Action Aplenty in Great African Campaign
sensational eye-witness account of the part American troops took in the
battle of Tunisia is contained in a letter received this week by Mrs.
Ralph Streeter from her brother, Austin Miller, technical sergeant with
the U.S. Army Ranger Battalion. Miller is the son of Mr. And Mrs. J.J.
Rangers in the U.S. Army correspond with the “commandos” in the
letter was mailed June 6 from
and has been passed by censor. It reads as follows:
that the North African campaign is over we are able to write home a few of
the things that happened. So, here goes:
know when we landed in
; we were the first to land-of all the American forces. We cleared out
coastal guns so that my “old outfit” would be able to land. It
wasn’t an easy job, but we did it well and so we got a foothold in
. We ran into the French Foreign Legion. They area a pretty tough bunch of
boys, but it seems they didn’t much care about fighting.
stayed on the coast for some time and then went to
and boarded a plane to Tebessa, which at that time was very near the
front; and from there we went to Gafsa, which was at that time the last
American outpost. By the way, Gafsa is the largest Oasis in
and it is right on the edge of the
. While there, the Germans were coming over and continually bombing the
place, which is no fun.
out in hills…
Gafsa we pulled the raid on the Italian outpost of which I sent home the
clipping. It was behind the enemy lines and we had to hide out in the hill
all day after the raid, for fear of a tank attack, of which we were just
about incapable of handling. But the attack never came, so we got back to
Gafsa safely. The German forces were back in the hills and our forces
could not get at them, however, it seems that the Germans did not like the
raid we pulled, so out they came in a swarm.
nights after the raid, the Germans started the drive of which you have
probably read quite a bit about. We, “F” Company, dug in on the
outskirts of Gafsa to repel a tank attack which was expected just before
dark. As I sate in my foxhole that evening, I thought of all kinds of
things. That was the most nerve-wracking evening I spent in my life. It is
hard to explain the feeling I had. It wasn’t exactly fear, but I just
can’t explain it. However, the Germans went around our position and that
was the beginning of the “withdrawal from Gafsa.”
were the last unit to leave Gafsa that night. We fought rear guard action
for our forces that night and when we did finally get out, we got out as
best we could. Due to the fact we had no trucks of our own; it was up to
every man to get out on his own. We caught trucks wherever and however we
could and got back to Furina, where we organized and straightened up our
lines. In a few days we withdrew from there and again we were the last
American force to leave, and this time we DID walk. We were left all alone
on the plains of
and before we left Colonel Darby, our commanding officer, made a speech.
He said, “I have been proud to be in command of this unit and I am proud
of the men; and if anyth8ng should happen today, we will go together,
fighting. Things look dark today for the Ranger Battalion and the 0old
saying is, “He who fights and runs away will live to fight another
day,’ but we will not run, we will walk.” By this time the Germans
were all around us and we started walking. We walked across the plains for
20 miles that day, a mere five minutes ahead of our enemy.
on the run….
were tired, but we kept going, stopping only once to eat our rations at
. We walked until nearly dark until we reached
where we again dug in to fight the enemy. We were now the last outpost of
the American forces. We were out in front of everybody holding a pass
which helped to stop the last German attempt to break our lines. We held
them and began our drive to the sea. Again we had the Germans on the run
and this time they were kept on the run until it ended just a few weeks
began moving up-Ferianna, Gafsa, El Guettar, Maknassy. At El Guettar, all
hell broke loose. The enemy counter attacked, we attacked again, we drove
them off. There we saw the Germans come across a field, wave after wave of
them, in a straight line, on a slow walk. They didn’t run, they didn’t
crawl, but straight up and walked. The Germans use this method to break
the morale of the enemy; and when one man in shot down, another steps up
in his place. It is quite nerve-wracking, but we stayed in our positions
and shot. Our artillery took heavy toll and the enemy finally turned
around-what was left of them-and walked back at the same speed they came
forward and in the same way. Our machine guns and artillery and rifles
took heavy toll, and again we started driving.
planes flew over every day; wave after wave of bombers and fighter planes,
and the enemy was bombed and strafed until they were in full retreat. And
it was then we met the British Eighth Army, which you have heard so much
about, and it is one of the-if not the-greatest fighting force in the
world. I am proud to say that I fought in the same campaign with them.
short time later, we were withdrawn from the front. While we were up
there, however, we did our share. We took many prisoners, mostly Italians,
and they got so at last they would hardly fight. They knew it was about
over, so they decided they wanted to get on the band wagon, as the Dagos
usually do. Anyway, they can’t be blamed much. They were used mostly to
fight spearhead and rear guard for the Germans, and sometimes when they
started to run or refuse to go forward into certain death, they were shot
by the Germans.
Germans are a great fighting force. They are not to be underestimated, and
the officers are plenty shrewd. I suppose Rommel will go down in history
as one of the great generals of the war. However, the outcome, credit must
be given where credit is due.
were not in on the last of it. It was mainly the British. They have been
at it for four years and all we did was keep the enemy from breaking
through while the English pushed them to the sea.
am glad that it is all over with. We have been bombed, strafed, shot at
with nearly every type of German and Italian gun, and had their hand
grenades thrown at us. Sometimes it seemed as though we were all through,
but then a miracle of some kind would happen. We must have charmed lives
in this battalion. It is quite hard to explain, but it has been miraculous
indeed. Now that it is all over it seems like it couldn’t have happened,
but it did I reckon. I wish I had had my camera with me, but it is too
and story courtesy Ranger John Austin Miller