John C. Ausland
Utah Beach and onward into France
29th FA Battalion, 4th Infantry Division
John C. Ausland's book was dedicated to Else Ausland,
who patiently relived World War II with me.
I was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on July 14,
1920 and have spent much of my life on the move. My father worked
for a railroad, and we lived at various times in Illinois, Minnesota,
Missouri, and Texas. In twelve years of schooling, I went to twelve
different schools. After the war years in the US Army (more on this
later), I spent four years at Princeton University. From there I
went into the Foreign Service, which took me to Germany, Yugoslavia,
Australia, Norway, and Switzerland
4TH Infantry Division Lands
Other than rough seas, which increased the normal amount of seasickness,
the channel crossing was uneventful. We boarded our Landing Craft
Tank (LCT) in the port of Dartmouth, on a bright, sunny day. Lt.
Col. Joel F. Thomason (Tommy) and I crossed the channel on the same
landing craft as Col. James Van Fleet. He was commander of the 8th
Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division, which was the assault regiment
on Utah Beach. It was probably no coincidence that Maj. Gen. Raymond
O. Barton, commander of the 4th, chose the 8th for this task. He
had commanded it earlier (as had General George Marshall in 1933).
After we were out in the channel, a storm came
up. General Eisenhower decided to delay the invasion, set for June
5. As a result, we spent an uneasy night near the Isle of Wight.
June 6 dawned grey and windy. As we neared the French coast, we
found ourselves in the midst of a gigantic armada. Naval guns were
firing, and we could see the smoke from the naval and air bombardment
of the coast.
We moved to a smaller landing craft for the run
into the beach. I thought of the advice my father had given me when
we last saw each other. Having seen terrible combat during World
War I, he said, John, you will be in great danger. You must
My first letter after the landing was to my father
but was undated. When writing it, I was not aware that, as I went
ashore in France, he was lying on a stretcher in an aircraft. Seriously
ill, he was on his way from China to a hospital in India.
Am following your advice as closely as possible and finding it not
too unsound. I suppose the first engagement is the hardest, at least
I hope so. We aint losing and lets hope we can keep
Jerry on the run long enough to convince him hes licked.
My best love to you, John
Another letter went to my mother about this time.
She was living at her family home in Philadelphia. I used the salutation
Dear Folks to indicate that it could be shared with
other family members.
Dear Folks, June 15
As I look back on the past days, it is with difficulty that I recall
varying times and events, and it is impossible to tie the two together.
Actually, it is more as a void, a nightmare I should prefer to forget.
Oh, never fear for me, as my danger is no more or less than any
other soldier, but many about me, as is inevitable in war, suffered.
This has been one of the few times in my life that I have been able
to completely forget myself and think actually of the welfare of
others. It seldom occurs to me that it might have just as well been
me. Now I can see that it could have been but wasnt.
Yes, this makes a tale
of heroic sacrifice of which Americans may well be proud. A group
of men with little in the way of weapons and no protection other
than the countryside has completely smashed the so-called West Wall,
and dont think for a moment that it was not tough. If I get
the time, in coming days I shall tell you what I can remember and
am allowed of what happened. Just this short period could very easily
fill a book. The development of the green troops into
experienced fighting men is a marvel to behold. Poor soldiers became
heroes, and some who seemed good proved inadequate.
It is getting dark. Tomorrow
brings another day and one day nearer the destruction of the enemy
and the freedom of a continent. May they and the American citizens
prove worthy of these mens efforts and sacrifices.
Dear Folks, June 16
My lungs feel as though they are getting fox-hole-itis.
It is nothing at all really. Just the result of sleeping in a damp
hole, eating an inadequate diet, and getting inadequate exercise.
Do you know with whom I crossed the channel, or at least he was
on our craft. It was Larry Lasueur, CBS correspondent. He was a
pretty nice fellow and interesting to chat with.
As I moved inland, some interesting things occurred.
First of all, I was amazed by the few dead one noticed. There were
hundreds of German prisoners on the beach, but few dead. The prisoners
were frightened to death, thoroughly shaken up by our air and navy
beach drenching. Going inland, our own walking wounded were already
A German gun was firing on a bridge on the road.
Col. Thomason and I stopped and asked a young Frenchman where it
was. He said he knew. Would he lead us to it? Yes, he would. Then
he took us to within 600 yards, pointed in a direction, and indicated
he would go no further. We never did find it. Col. Thomason later
told me that a single parachutist happened across the gun, got the
drop on them, and took them prisoner.
These parachutists are rugged soldiers. They neither
seek nor give quarter. But theirs was a difficult task and they
did it efficiently.
RECOLLECTION: GUILT FEELINGS
The 8th Infantry attacked and captured the last strong point
in its zone, one of the most heavily armed positions yet encountered.
(Utah Beach to Cherbourg, Historical Division, Department of the
Army, 1947, page 183.)
Shortly before reaching Cherbourg, the 8th Regiment
ran into a strong point. I suggested to Col. Van Fleet that instead
of just using an artillery preparation, he ask the Air Force to
have dive bombers attack it. As a result, on June 24 twelve P-47s
dropped twenty-four five hundred pound bombs, all but one of which
hit the target area.
Nevertheless, the 2nd Battalion attack failed,
with heavy casualties. In an after action interview, Lt. Col. Carlton
O. MacNeely, the battalion commander, commented that the forward
observer stopped the artillery prematurely. As a result, the infantry
began its charge too far from the strong point. The Germans simply
came out of their dugouts after the bombardment was over and started
Later in the day, with the help of tanks, the battalion captured
the strong point and took over sixty prisoners. While some of the
guns had been destroyed by the air bombardment, most of them were
Dear Folks, June 25,
1944, Somewhere in France
And here it is, D plus 19. Not many days to the observer, but to
me it seems like an eternity - that is, to me and to thousands of
others. However, we all have high hopes that this phase of the second
front is not too far from termination.
After a time, our warfare seems to settle into
a bit more of a routine, but our living, eating, and sleeping habits
are far from the best, and one soon finds himself just a little
groggy and tired. And my task has been comparatively
easy, so you may imagine how others feel. Im usually at least
a thousand yards from the front. But its those who make the
front who really have it tough. We have learned much and no doubt
in the future will take advantage of this experience. Lets
hope we have learned our lessons well.
I have received several of your small packages
and am looking forward to a big one. You can use this as a request
for another package. Theres nothing I particularly need just
now, aside from an occasional box of boodle. Mail is
also one of the biggest lifts we get. We received our first letters
about D plus 7, and was it welcome!
A letter from dad. He seems to be having a rough
time of it, but Im quite sure should be all right in no time
at all now. At least, that is the way he seemed to feel about it.
My best love to all - John
FINALLY, A Long letter about D-Day
Dear Folks, June 28, 1944, Somewhere in
Each night we said, The Luftwaffe is bound to strike tonight.
But it didnt. The last night our sleep was far from satisfactory.
On a rough sea, our LCT tossed about like a bottle. Four of us slept
in a space large enough to hold two. We awoke shortly after midnight
to hear the C-47s, which had carried the paratroopers, come over.
It was a beautiful sound - there must have been a thousand of them.
After an inadequate breakfast of coffee and pancakes,
we loaded on an LCM that came alongside the LCT. We then moved over
to pick up some personnel from another craft. With the exception
of an occasional splash caused by a coastal battery, there was little
difference between this and the dozen practice landings Ive
H-hour passed us while we were still far from
shore. We couldnt even hear the terrific naval and air bombardment
we knew was going on. But we knew that right then a death struggle
was being waged on the beach, one which had to be won by the infantry,
since they were the only ones ashore.
Meanwhile, we cursed for the x'th time the spray
that came over the front end of the craft and soaked us to the skin.
Capt. Livingston and I pulled a blanket lying in the boat over us
to ward the worst of the water off. How unimportant being wet was
soon to become!
At last our craft touched the beach. The ramp
went down. Automatically we went off the side of the ramp and into
the water up to our knees. We walked ashore (one doesnt run
in surf). Aside from rifles and machine guns firing inland, all
was quiet. There were surprisingly few dead on the beach. Just back
of the sand dunes several hundred German prisoners huddled. Already
hundreds of people were organizing the beach for the largest amphibious
undertaking in history.
We went about our work of getting the battalion
in and into position, a task not without heartache. I saw my first
German dead. He must have been killed while running. Even in death
his body seemed to be trying to surge forward. His helmet and uniform
was all in place. He had been dead several hours. I could tell by
the color of his skin. He was wearing glasses, still not broken.
I remember self-consciously saying to someone, Well, he wont
bother anyone again. Now I wonder whether he ever wanted to
Moving up the road, I came across an American
soldier lying beside the road. He was wounded in one arm. With the
other he was trying to hold a match box and strike a match. I leaned
over and struck the match, lit the cigarette. He was hit pretty
bad. Neither of us spoke a word. What could one say. I moved on.
The rest of the day was a whirl of movement and
activity. At last we got our unit off the bomb torn beach and away
from constant shelling. For the rest of the day there are only momentary
Tough paratroopers wandering about, killing German snipers. The
medics who dropped, unarmed, with the paratroopers, shortly after
midnight. The sniper (we later learned he was 75 yards from our
command post) who shot at us all day without hitting anyone. He
was killed by a paratrooper who happened across him. The French
people in a small village ignoring the bodies about them and waving
to us as we went by. This same village was held for twelve hours
by four paratroopers.
That first night when all the men were nervous
(trigger-happy) and shot at anything that moved. The dumbfounded
glider pilot who had 200 Germans surrender to him, who asked me
what in the h*** he should do with them. The thrill of watching
the multitude of gliders come in and the multicolored supply parachute
drops. And the dull thud of your heart when you watched the wounded
and dead carried out of those gliders that crashed. These and a
hundred other events made up D-day for me.
Story provided by Irving Smolens.
Shoulderpatch of the 4th Infantry
John Ausland in front of the
M-7 in Germany. John did not serve as a cannoneer on an M-7. His
duties were mostly as a forward observer who spent most of his time
in combat up front with the infantry. He evidently had somebody
take a picture of him in front of that M-7 to show people the type
of weapons to which he was sending fire command directions.