CANADA BOY, YOU DIE TONIGHT1

 By Captain Duncan McMillan

2 November 1952 was a warm and sunny day after a cold night previous
on the Jamestown Line in Korea. As evening approached Lieutenant  Ed Mastronardi, the platoon commander of 2 Platoon, A Company, 2RCR, 
had just finished a beer with his section commanders in the 28-man platoon outpost position on the Song-gok Spur in Korea.
2  It was Mastronardi’s birthday. He told his section commanders that he had a feeling they were in for a hard night.  He was right. The following verbatim excerpts from citations for three decorations (Lt Mastronardi MC, Pte Bauer DCM and Pte. Johnson MM) awarded for valour that night tell the tale. The footnotes are additions.

  “…2 Platoon would gallantly conduct the defence of their outpost position some six hundred yards beyond the company forward defended localities for a period of eight  hours on the night 2/3 November 1951 whilst under a full-scale enemy battalion attack.  At 2040 hours, Lieutenant Mastronardi reported considerable movement on both his flanks.  At 2100 hours his platoon came under heavy fire from the flanks, the front and the rear. 

Between 2115 hours and 0100 hours the enemy made two very determined assaults, wave after wave of Chinese storming the wire around the position.  Throughout the assaults, despite enemy shell, mortar and small arms fire, Lieutenant Mastronardi moved around his platoon encouraging his men to hold firm and at the same time securing information on the enemy’s disposition in order to call down defensive fire tasks.  Private Bauer was acting as a section commander of the forward section that first became engaged.  Private Bauer’s employment of his section and in particular his Bren gun was so skilful that the enemy were driven back time after time and forced to commit a great number of men.  His fire control was a magnificent display of leadership; on two occasions, the enemy succeeded in blowing up the wire in front of his position, and still the section held its fire until the enemy rushed into the gap in the wire.  After the second enemy attack Private Bauer’s Bren gun jammed and he immediately picked up a Sten gun and without thought for his own personal safety moved forward from his trench to a position where he could cover the gap in the defensive position. 

During the enemy’s second intense attack, the Bren gun in No 6 Section, which was the forward section, became jammed.  Private Johnson was acting as Platoon Headquarters Bren gunner for 2 Platoon. He immediately asked the platoon commander for permission to go forward to that section with his own Bren gun.  Private Johnson took up his new position and used his Bren gun in a most skilful manner, completely routing the enemy of his sector.  In addition, Private Johnson took over the jammed Bren gun and in the darkness, during moments of lull in the fighting, completely stripped it, cleaned it with petrol, and put the weapon back into operation.  Both these assaults were repulsed by the gallantry, control and magnificent fire discipline displayed by Lieutenant Mastronardi and his platoon. 

At 0200 hours the platoon again came under heavy enemy attack by an enemy force estimated at three hundred in number.  Heavy, accurate enemy artillery and mortar fire pounded the position.  Under cover of this fire the Chinese succeeded in blowing several holes in the defensive wire and poured wave after wave of men through the gaps.  Time after time the enemy were beaten back.  Pte Bauer personally moved about his section encouraging his men, controlling their fire, and serving as an inspiration to all.  He with his section kept at bay an enemy company and (he) is credited with personally killing five Chinese.  His actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of Gallantry and Selflessness. Three Chinese succeeded in getting within a few feet of Lieutenant Mastronardi.  He killed two of them with his pistol and, pistol empty, fired his Very pistol killing the third.  During the third and final attack, involving three enemy companies, Private Johnson twice was called upon to strip and clean other guns that had jammed.  He did so, again in the dark, enabling the platoon to inflict heavy casualties on the assaulting enemy.  The superb personal courage of Lieutenant Mastronardi, his absolute control over his platoon, forced the Chinese to deploy more and more men in assault after assault, until so many were committed that the limited fire power of a single platoon was insufficient to hold off all the enemy, attacking from front and rear. 

By 0320 hours, the platoon had twice been completely overrun by the enemy, and ammunition was in short supply.3  The company commander ordered Lieutenant Mastronardi to withdraw to the main defences of the company.  The platoon had suffered fifty percent casualties and Lieutenant Mastronardi, with complete disregard for his own safety, in the midst of fierce attack, moved about his platoon area and organized them into three groups.  One group was the wounded, of which there were fifteen.4  Private Johnson although wounded in both arms and hands, assisted Private McDougall who had been wounded in the leg over the fire swept ground to the company defences.  With the additional burden progress was slow and the danger increased but never at any time did Private Johnson lose sight of what he took to be his responsibility.  He finally arrived into the battalion area through “D” company lines.  Without Johnson’s assistance, Private McDougall would have been unable to return. A second group was detailed to assist the wounded back to safety and to give them protection enroute.5  The third group, which Lieutenant Mastronardi commanded acted as rear guard and covered the withdrawal, fighting their way back step by step.6 

Lieutenant Mastronardi’s superb courage and outstanding leadership enabled him to return to the company with only one more casualty, despite the fact he had to fight for the entire route back.  He brought out all of his casualties except one man who had been killed.7  He personally fought the rearguard action and he was the last of his platoon to return.  His platoon returned with all weapons intact.  On arriving in the main company position, he quickly reorganized and checked the roll.  He reformed his platoon and placed it in a fighting position. 

After the withdrawal, the Chinese did not press their attack against the company position, probably due to the severe losses they had suffered.  Throughout the remainder of the night the remainder of the Chinese force could be heard carrying away their dead and wounded.  Had the attack against 2 Platoon been a quick success, it is evident, that, with the large force they had at their disposal, the enemy would undoubtedly have assaulted the main defences of the battalion.  The platoons success in holding them off for a period of eight hours prevented such action, and very probably called a halt to an attack that might have engaged the brigade and the division. 

At 0630 hours Lieutenant Mastronardi and the remaining men under his command returned to the outpost position without opposition.8  21 dead enemy were found and five wounded prisoners were taken.9  From interrogation of prisoners it was learned that 2 Platoon had engaged over a period of nearly eight hours, a full-scale enemy battalion attack.  It is impossible to estimate closely the injuries inflicted on the enemy, but it was out of all proportion to casualties suffered by the platoon.  Lieutenant Mastronardi’s personal courage during this eight-hour engagement was of the highest order and his personal leadership and example very greatly contributed to the excellent showing made by his platoon.  The men under his command were extremely confident of his leadership and they followed his every order with enthusiasm and pride.  To the last man they have the highest words of praise for his courage, his leadership and his skill

Captain Ed Mastronardi has gone on record as stating that if he takes pride in anything it is in the fact that they brought out all of their wounded. 2 Platoon that night made the Third Rule of Conduct that applies to all Royal Canadians under all conditions of service in the Regimental Catechism a reality. No wounded member of the Regiment will ever be left on the battlefield!

1 Telephone conversation with Ed Mastronardi – Ed recalled that the Chinese calling through the darkness in English in an effort to unnerve the defenders.  It did not work.
2
After conversation with Ed Mastronardi I would judge that his position was on the spur that was occupied by B Company of 3RCR in 1953 and by other units in between.  The defences dug by 2RCR were dug into virgin earth…the defences occupied by 3RCR had been built up over a year and a half only to be half destroyed by constant shelling.
3
Mastronardi stated in an interview later that they had thrown “Toc San” (Japanese for a lot) of grenades – some 350 of them
4
Under the Platoon Stretcher Bearer, Pte J.D.Sharp of Toronto Ontario
5
5 men led by Cpl Jack Sargent MM (awarded for his actions at the Battle of Chail-li earlier that year) of Owen Sound Ontario . Cpl Sargeant was the senior Section Commander and de facto Platoon 2ic as that position was vacant at the time of the attack.
6
3 men including the Platoon Signaller, Pte R.D. Kilpatrick of St John NB and Pte. C.W. Baker of Lunenburg NS
7
Pte J.J. Campeau MM (Pte Campeau’s MM had been awarded to him in WW II – he was not with The RCR during WW II).
8
See “Welcome” a story by Art Johnson posted on the KVA website – he states that Lt. Miller’s platoon from A Company was sent to re-occupy the outpost position the morning of 3 Nov 51 .  Art is correct.  This is confirmed in the Battalion War Diary.  Lt Mastronardi and those of his men fit for combat accompanied Lt Miller and his men.  Art also comments on the artillery supporting fire that night.  Bill Boss stated in a newspaper article that 2RCHA fired over 3,700 rounds of 25 pounder that night in support.

9
Bn War Diary - 35 enemy bodies had been found by 5 Nov 53 .

 

Capt McMillan is the Regimental Adjutant of The Royal Canadian Regiment at the Regimental Home Station of London, Ontario . He was commissioned in 1978 and was first posted to 2RCR in CFB Gagetown , NB.   Because part of the Regimental Adjutant’s role is to act as a point of contact between serving and retired members of the Regiment, he came in contact with many veterans of the Regiment who served in the Korean War.  The decision of Captain Ed Mastronardi MC, CD to donate his medals to the Regimental Museum caused McMillan to look into the details of what happened during what Colonel G.R. Stevens called “perhaps 2nd Battalion’s finest hour” in Volume II of the Regimental History of The RCR. Reading these citations left him speechless.  Regimental histories tend to be a bit dry without too much emotion and intensity. The citations seemed to tell the tale better.  Fortunately the Regimental Adjutant is also the Editor of the Regimental Newsletter PRO PATRIA and this story resulted.  This is a revised version of the PRO PATRIA story.

 

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