A B-29 Veteran's Speculations about the 8 June 48 Bombing of the Dokdo Islets

Korean War Air Force veteran E.J. McGill flew in combat as a B-29 co-pilot and logged a total of around 700 hours in the aircraft. Mr. McGill did not fly B-29s in June 1948. However, his experience in the USAF with the B-29 in around the same time period might help to shed some light on what might, or might not have happened at Dokdo.

E.J. McGill flew as a B-29 copilot in the Korean War

In flight: E.J. McGill in the copilot's seat of the U.S. Air Force B-29 he flew in the Korean War. (c. 1951-52)

Mr. McGill's experience:

"I graduated from Aviation Cadets in December 1950 and went directly into training as a B-29 copilot. My first Korean War combat mission was flown on 25 August 1951 against Rashin [Korean name: Najin], on the Soviet border. We crashed The Outlaw [the B-29 he flew] on 2 October 1951 at Kadena [an airbase on Okinawa], and completed our tour on 1 March 1952. I logged about 700 hours in the B-29, my last flight on 18 June 1953. Subsequently I became an instructor pilot in both the B-47 and B-52 aircraft, retiring in 1969 with approximately 6,500 total flying hours, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel".

B-29s in flight

Mr. McGill gives his input on the following issues concerning the 8 June Bombing:

"1948 was before my time; however, I can offer several educated guesses".

B-29 dropping 500-pound bombs

Altitude: (2,000 feet or 23,000 feet?)

"First, B-29s never dropped bombs from 2,000 feet. There were several compelling reasons for this: The bombs would not have had time to fuse properly. In other words, the propellor vanes would not have had sufficient rotation to arm the bombs. Bombs dropped from 2,000 feet would not explode. They would be duds. If, for some peculiar reason they were set for a low level drop, doing so would endanger other aircraft, especially in a large formation of 12. I believe you can discount entirely the supposition that the formation [of B-29s] dropped bombs from 2,000 feet".

Could people have seen the markings (national insignia) on the underside of B-29s at 23,000 feet?

"Absolutely, without a doubt, NOT with the unaided eye".

Eyewitnesses had said that they had been fired at with machine-guns:

"[This] part of the scenario, however, can make sense. We often flew to gunnery ranges to allow the gunners to practice firing live ammunition; and sometimes flew low to accomplish this. I can see the possibility of a few aircraft making several passes on what they thought was a designated gunnery range. Bombing and gunnery ranges had to be cleared via radio contact prior to live firing and live drops -- primarily because of the possibility of inflicting damage on our own forces who might also be using the ranges. I seem to vaguely recall [island] ranges, but am not at all sure. I remember one island for sure off the Texas Gulf. Later we used Matagorda Island for B-52 bombing and gunnery."

Why would live bombs be used for a training excercise?

It makes little sense that 12 bombers would make a live practice drop in peacetime with anything other than the "Blue Devil" practice bomb. Normal procedure was for single aircraft to drop a single 100-pound "Blue Devil" bomb at a time on a fixed target so the bombardier's bombing technique could be evaluated. The blue bomb contained so little explosive that there were often observers on the ground to triangulate the impact point.

In three years of flying B-29s, I cannot recall a single deviation from this procedure other than bombing actual enemy targets. To have 12 B-29s salvo on Dokdo would not only be expensive, it would prove nothing insofar as evaluation of the eleven other aircraft were concerned. Nothing would be accomplished that couldn´t be done with practice bombs, except to use up old bombs and, of course, make a tragic mistake. During the Vietnam War we were so short of bombs that we had to buy old WWII Lancaster bombs from the Aussies. They had handles and really looked strange hanging on a B-52. The point here is that the B-29s [that bombed Dokdo] wasted bombs that could have been put to use in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

E.J. McGill works as a freelance writer. You can see his article, "Black Tuesday Over Namsi," in the October 2001 issue of VFW Magazine.

The above commentary and photo of E.J. McGill are copyrighted 2001 by E. J. McGill.