The June 8, 1948 Bombing of Dokdo Island
Korean-language version (한국어 번역본)
On the evening of Tuesday, June 8, 1948, three Korean fishermen were rescued from a damaged fifteen-ton wooden boat in the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The men told of a horrifying ordeal they had endured earlier that day. They claimed that aircraft had bombed and strafed them while they and others in up to 80 other boats were harvesting seaweed at the small island of Dokdo. Of all the fishermen present at Dokdo that day, the three badly shaken men were among the few survivors.(1) In the weeks after the incident, the story became national news in Korea, eliciting indignant media responses in both the North and the South. (2) U.S. military representatives in the region issued statements to the Korean press, providing their own version of the incident, while admitting that U.S. Air Force bombers had indeed used Dokdo as a practice bombing target that same day. For decades, Korean survivors´ testimonies, newspaper accounts and press releases issued by the U.S. military have provided the only explanations of how this bombing incident had taken place. The purpose of this research is to provide a more detailed accounting of the June 8, 1948 bombing incident, to provide explanations to previously unanswered questions, and to offer challenges to allegations in previous accounts.
I. Korean Accounts of the 1948 Bombing
Three men were known to have survived the bombing of Dokdo on Tuesday, June 8,1948: Gong Du-up, Jang Hak-sang, and Lee Sang-joo; all Korean nationals. Much of the previous research on the 1948 bombing of Dokdo is based on the testimony of these survivors and on Korean newspaper articles that were published in the days and weeks following the incident.
The articles themselves were based on the survivor´s eyewitness accounts. Having been rescued, these three men were able to return from Dokdo to tell their story the day after the bombing on June 9th. As the news of the bombing began to spread among the residents of Ullung Island, the local police were dispatched at 9:00pm on the ninth to look for other survivors and to collect the dead.(3) The next day, the police returned in the evening with the bodies of two of the dead, but with no other survivors. That same day, June 10th, reporters from mainland Korea arrived at Ullung Island and the first sketchy reports of the bombing incident started to appear in the daily newspapers of the capital, Seoul, on June 11th.(4)
The Seoul daily, Joson Ilbo, ran one of the first detailed accounts of the bombing incident based on survivor testimony in the newspaper´s June 12th edition. In this edition, Choson Ilbo reported that on Tuesday, June 8th, there were nine aircraft were in the sky over Dokdo at around 11:00am when the bombing and shooting from these aircraft started, initially destroying over 20 boats. Soon after the bombing, three aircraft were sighted about 200 meters offshore to the east. Bombs that were dropped from these planes hit around 20 other boats in the area. The account stated that after the area had been bombed a total of four times, a single aircraft circled around the island once and flew off in the direction of Gangwon Province.(5) On June 15th and 16th, the newspaper also reported that police from Ullung Island had seen the bomber formation that morning, and that at the time, the planes were flying low enough for the police to be able to see the star-insignia of the U.S. Air Force on the underside of the wings. The Joson Ilbo also released a preliminary casualty toll that was similar to an estimate reported by a USAMGIK (United States Army Military Government in Korea) agent on Ullungdo: 16 killed, 8 seriously wounded, 21 slightly wounded and 23 boats damaged or destroyed. (6) A similar report was made by a USAMGIK agent in Pohang on June 15th:
"Survivors who are residents of Pohang-dong have returned to their homes. Eight people were severely wounded, twenty-one slightly wounded, and seventeen people unharmed. Sixteen people were killed or missing, of which two bodies have been recovered. Twenty-three fishing vessels involved. Counter-Intelligence Corps, Claims Officer, and Medical Officer have proceeded to area of bombing." (7)
The news of the bombing incident elicited strong reactions in newspaper editorials in Seoul, and from political representatives of the then Provisional National Assembly, essentially holding US authorities responsible. US military intelligence noted that although early reportage on the incident mentioned that the aircraft involved were "unidentified", this "did little to temper the statements which appreared in all Seoul newspapers demanding that a thorough investigation, compensation, and punishment commensurate with the crime be effected immediately." Syngman Rhee´s political party was quoted as saying that the bombing "might worsen relations between the US and Korea". The moderate National Independence Federation indignantly declared that "weak as Korea is, she cannot be silent when her people have been bombed by a foreign nation". The Democratic Independence Party labeled the bombing "inhumane". Kim Gu made a statement in which he said that unless severe punishment is dealt those reponsible for the misfortune, Korean-American friendship will deteriorate, and the Chosun Democratic Party demanded that authorities publish the "real facts" of the bombing, adding that "we cannot permit our good fishermen to be used as testing materials."
The furore over the bombing had consequently become involved in another news story that surfaced in June 1948 from the Seoul daily, Minjoo Ilbo, in which a number of former Japanese colonial officials were reported to have returned to Korea for unknown (but possibly nefarious) purposes. Other newspapers in Korea quickly picked up on the story, from which American intelligence stated that the story had "spread so rapidly and grew to such proportions that many Koreans, whose gullibility is unlimited with respect to the Japanese potential for treachery, placed some degree of credence in stories...that the aircraft involved in the Liancourt Rocks incident were piloted by Japanese."(8) Another result of the bombing incident was the concern it caused among American occupation authorities in Korea, and the perceived seriousness of this event is evident in a personal letter General Hodge wrote to the Army Chief of Staff General Omar Bradley on June 17th. In the letter, Hodge related his deep concern over the Korean press and public´s reaction, stating:
"The Far East Air Force bombing of Korean fishing boats last week is the worst single event that has happened to us in some time. I don´t know how it will come out."(9)
Despite the indignant reactions, within two months of the bombing, the incident was all but forgotten in the Korean press, and the bombing remained out of the Korean public consciousness for almost fifty years.
Forty-seven years later, in 1995, bombing survivors Gong Du-up and Jang Hak-sang again went on record to tell what they remembered about the bombing incident.
They told of the horrifying sight of fishermen futilely waving Korean flags at the planes, jumping into the sea and fleeing into caves to avoid the bombs. Mr. Jang stated in this interview that he heard the sound of airplanes coming from the direction of Ullung Island and had seen 12 bombers divided into two formations, flying at an altitude of about 600 meters. He claimed the planes bombed Dokdo from Suhdo (the West Islet) to Dongdo (the East Islet) and that bombs and machine-gun fire from the planes destroyed nearly 80 boats of different sizes that were in the area. Mr. Gong concurred, adding that since five to eight people were required on some of these boats, it is likely that 150 to 320 people were killed at Dokdo that day.(10) Importantly, it is evident from Mr. Gong´s statements that, like himself and Mr. Jang, Korean authorities on Ullung Island were unaware that Dokdo had been a designated bombing range. Together, the survivors´ testimonies make for a detailed account that can be compared to US Air Force documentation.
II. US Air Force History
In addressing the circumstances of the June 8, 1948 bombing of Dokdo Island, previous research has relied heavily upon the eyewitness accounts of the bombing survivors, and on Korean newspaper accounts and U.S. military press statements that were published in the days and weeks immediately after the bombing. Other, previously unexamined sources exist that provide substantive evidence that can further explain how the incident took place. These sources, from official U.S. Air Force records, also corroborate much of the Korean eyewitness testimony.
The 93d Bombardment Group and its 1948 Deployment to Okinawa
The U.S. Air Force´s 93d Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), comprised of the 328th, 329th, and 330th Bombardment Squadrons, flew B-29 Superfortress bomber aircraft in 1948. The 93d was the Bombardment Group of the 93d Bombardment Wing (VH), Fifteenth Air Force, which was stationed at Castle Air Force Base near Merced, California. In April 1948, the 93d BG was ordered to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, for a three-month temporary deployment.(11) The deployment of the 93d BG to Okinawa was part of a rotation program for B-29 units of the then newly formed Strategic Air Command (SAC).(12) In the program, B-29 Groups took turns operating out of Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa on temporary duty with the Far East Air Force (FEAF), replacing the B-29s of FEAF´s 22nd Bombardment Group of the Fifth Air Force, which left Okinawa for the continental United States in May 1948.(13)
While on duty with FEAF, the Bombardment Groups on rotation "operated in the same manner as organically assigned units, participating in training exercises and flying missions which contributed towards the accomplishment of theater objectives".(14) Due to a number of delays, including atomic bomb testing at Kwajalein Island, it took the 93d BG an entire month to come to full strength at Okinawa, with the first of its aircraft arriving in early May.(15) By early June 1948, the 93d BG earned the title of becoming "the first organization of its size" in SAC history to deploy in full strength to the Far East.(16)
The specific mission of the 93d BG during this 90-day deployment, as outlined in SAC Field Order No. 16 of April 15, 1948, was to "conduct a series of 21 scheduled bombing missions on targets in this area in order to demonstrate the overall preparedness of one Group of B-29 aircraft assigned to the Strategic Air Command."(17) Being the highest Air Force command in the Far East, the Headquarters of the Far East Air Force designated the mission bombing targets in Field Orders issued to the 93d BG. The Field Orders were disseminated through FEAF´s subordinate commands (First Air Division: Fifth Air Force, 316th Bombardment Wing) to the 93d BG approximately one day before the missions were to be flown.
The Group´s Operations Section (S-3) would then plan and plot the flight path, adapting the Group´s resources to meet the requirements of the mission.(18) The 93d BG´s bombing mission objectives were completed by dropping live, General Purpose bombs, or by dropping non-explosive practice bombs, or by photographing the target at ´bombs away´ instead of dropping bombs; a method known as "camera bombing".(19)
The Commanding Officer of the 93d Bombardment Wing, Colonel Lee B. Coats, who accompanied the Bombardment Group on its deployment to Okinawa, established a goal of two maximum effort missions to be flown each week.(20) The missions during this deployment were scheduled on Tuesdays and Fridays every week(21), with the first maximum effort mission having taken place on Friday, June 4, 1948, and flown to the island of Farallon de Medinilla in the Northern Marianas.(22) Mission briefings for the aircrews took place 16 hours prior to the start of a mission, with the first aircraft taking off at 6:20 a.m. on the day of the mission.(23) By the end of June 1948, the 93d BG had completed eight long-range, maximum effort missions that consisted of four "actual bombing missions" and four camera bombing missions "[i]n spite of inclement weather, shortages of vital equipment, and various other impeding factors."(24) It is evident from numerous anecdotes in the unit´s monthly histories that during its deployment to the Far East in the summer of 1948, the 93d BG followed a busy schedule under adverse conditions; all while operating under a different chain of command. It was for the third mission of the deployment that FEAF ordered the 93d BG to use Dokdo, an island that was designated by the Supreme Commander for Allied Powers (SCAP) as an air-to-ground target range, as a bombing target.
Mission Number 3
The unit history of the 93d BG for June 1948 reveals the sequence of events that took place on that day from the perspective of the aircrews and unit historians. According to the report for its third mission, the 93d BG was ordered on June 7, 1948 to fly a maximum effort mission to bomb Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo). Liancourt Rocks was ordered as the primary target, to be bombed with four, 1,000-pound General Purpose bombs per aircraft, while camera bombing was scheduled over Ashiya and Kadena Air Force Bases in Japan and Okinawa.(25) At the start of the mission, three aircraft were unable to participate due to mechanical failures, leaving the Group with 20 bombers plus a weather aircraft that flew 30 minutes ahead of the Group formation on their way to the East Sea/Sea of Japan.(26) The bombing run began at Ullung Island, which was identified as the Initial Point (a well defined spot that fixes the position of a bomber formation before it begins its bomb run), with the formation having arrived over Ullung Island at 11:47 a.m. On their way to the target from Ullung Island, the compass heading for the formation, corrected for wind, was 30 degrees different than was forecasted for that day. Other than the wind discrepancy, the weather over Dokdo was reported as "CAVU" (Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited).
The 93d BG approached Dokdo in a staggered-altitude squadron trail formation, with the 330th Bombardment Squadron in the lead with seven aircraft, the 328th next and flying at a lower altitude with six aircraft, and the 329th in last position and flying higher with six aircraft. The actual altitude at which the B-29s were flying is not mentioned in the mission report. Over the target, the aircraft released their bombs on the command of their squadron leaders, with the three individual squadrons dropping their bombs approximately one minute apart at 11:58½am, 12:00pm, and 12:01pm respectively. The mission report mentions that three of the B-29s did not drop their bombs with their squadrons. These planes flew over the target, then evidently broke formation, turned around and flew back to the target, relying on their own bomb sights to drop their bombs. One of the planes failed to drop on the initial bombing run due to a bomb bay door malfunction, while the other two failed to drop their bombs for reasons not mentioned. A total of 76 bombs were dropped on the island, while the "results as reported at interrogation were superior," with the bombs reportedly hitting within 300 feet of the aiming point.(27) The report also states that "[t]en sightings were made of shipping of all types" during the entire mission.(28)
In the weeks immediately after this bombing mission, the 93d BG´s higher command, the Far East Air Force, would provide an account that was somewhat different from the 93d BG´s own account of its bombing mission over Dokdo. At the time, the U.S. Air Force considered this bombing exercise at Dokdo to be routine training for its bomber crews that flew out of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. In fact, it is known that the 22nd Bombardment Group had also bombed Dokdo with live ordnance on Thursday, March 25, 1948. The exact bomb load that the fourteen B-29s of the 22nd BG used on this March 25th exercise is unknown. However, the 22nd BG´s official history notes that they had expended hundreds of 100-pound and 500-pound General Purpose bombs and at least sixty 1,000-pound AN-M-65 General Purpose bombs for the entire month of March 1948.(28a) Tragedy would mark the difference between this exercise and the 93d BG´s exercise on June 8th.
III. The USAFIK and FEAF Investigations
According to Korean newspaper accounts and American intelligence reports, the Headquarters of U.S. Army Forces in Korea (HQ USAFIK) conducted an initial investigation into the June 8th bombing of Dokdo only days after the incident became a news story in the Korean press on June 11th. The Joson Ilbo reported on a special press release concerning the results of this investigation that was issued on June 15th by the U.S. Commanding General in Korea, Lieutenant General John R. Hodge.(29) In this press release, General Hodge stated that "no U.S. planes based on or assigned to units in Korea were in the area, or bombed, or had any part whatsoever in the affair" and that "further investigation, including the possibility of involvement of American planes based on Japan, is being conducted by the Far East Air Force and the Far East Command." General Hodge had also stated that "the Korean people can be assured that if it is found that American planes were responsible, the American authorities will do everything that can be done to compensate and to comfort the bereaved for the loss of life and property.... Koreans are urged to suspend judgement until all the facts are clarified and a full report can be made."(30) In addition to reporting on USAFIK´s press release in its June 16th edition, the Joson Ilbo published a photo of a dead body, as well as a photo of a storage trunk with bullet holes in it; both allegedly retrieved from the bombing site.(31) On June 18, 1948, the Joson Ilbo reported on the findings of the investigation conducted by the Far East Air Force (FEAF) as related in a USAFIK press release issued at FEAF headquarters in Tokyo on June 16th and issued to the Korean press on June 17th. In the Joson Ilbo article, FEAF was reported to have amended the information provided in General Hodge´s earlier press release, stating that U.S. Air Force personnel flying B-29s out of Okinawa had accidentally hit boats that were at Dokdo when they had used the island as a designated bombing practice range that day, having confused the boats for rocks near the island. The article goes on to state that a weather plane had flown six circuits around the bombing range, visually checking the area within 30 minutes prior to the bombing, reporting back six separate radio reports indicating an ´all clear´ to go ahead with the exercise. The B-29 squadrons then dropped "practice bombs" at an altitude of no lower than 23,000 feet, and the crews had reported later that they did not see any boats in the area. However, small boats were found in photographs that were taken 30 minutes after the bombing by a weather plane. The statement ended by stating that FEAF would report the incident to higher command once the entire investigation was over.(32) Seven days later, the Joson Ilbo reported that an American military announcement released the day before had stated that Dokdo would no longer be used as a bombing range by U.S. forces.(33)
Compensation PaymentsBy the end of June, the U.S. military reportedly investigated compensation claims from Koreans affected by the June 8th bombing at Dokdo. The Joson Ilbo reported that American authorities had informed Korean public affairs officials on June 29th that an American committee investigating the Dokdo bombing incident had finished reviewing 33 out of a total of 36 compensation claims, and that one of its members, an Army Captain, would soon depart to finalize these claims on the spot, while the three remaining claims would be settled as soon as the addresses of the claimants were confirmed.(34) The newspaper later reported on July 16, 1948, that a fisherman´s association in the town of Uljin on Korea´s east coast had reported to Fisheries officials of Gangwon Province that on July 1st, U.S. military representatives had paid an amount totaling 2,484,200 Korean Won in compensation to the families of the victims and for damages resulting from the June 8th bombing.(35) The bombing survivors, Gong Du-Up and Jang Hak-Sang, along with the son of one of the bombing victims, Kim Chan-Soo, recalled in 1995 that they and their families had either received nothing from U.S. officials, or that all of the money that was received had been spent on erecting a memorial monument for the victims.(36) Hong Soon-Chil, a former physician´s assistant on Ullung Island at the time of the bombing and later the head of a Korean volunteer Coast Guard unit, is at least one Korean researcher who has complained about the compensation that was paid, claiming that the amount of money available for each of the claimants was equivalent to the price of one Yorkshire hog sold on the U.S. market.(37)
Korean Government Inquiry
As the news of the bombing incident spread throughout Korea, the then provisional Korean National Assembly in Seoul convened its 11th session on June 15, 1948 to discuss how to investigate this matter. Some congress members suggested that a committee be created to investigate the incident until the national government was established. An amended motion was adopted instead, stating that the question should referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.(38)
The next day, a representative of the Commanding General, USAFIK, issued a statement to Chang Myun of the Foreign Affairs Committee, assuring him that an investigation was being conducted and that if U.S. forces were responsible, "the United States would do everything possible to compensate and comfort the bereaved."(39) Since this time, no further record has been found to show whether or not an investigation was carried out by the Korean National Assembly.
However, four years after the bombing, at the behest of Koreans living on Ullung Island, the Korean Government sent a letter of inquiry through its Air Force liaison to the U.S. Fifth Air Force on April 25, 1952 in an effort to ascertain the status of the island in the wake of the bombing incident that had taken place almost four years previously. On May 4, 1952, the government received a reply from Fifth Air Force Headquarters, essentially stating that there had been no prohibition on fishing around Dokdo, and that the island had not been a FEAF bombing range.(40) This reply from the Fifth Air Force is at odds with the instructions issued by SCAP that had established the island as a bombing range for U.S. forces in both 1947 and 1951, in addition to American General John Coulter´s June 20, 1951 request to the ROK Foreign Ministry that asked permission (which was granted) for the use of Dokdo as a bombing range. SCAPIN No. 1778 was in place at the time of the June 8, 1948 bombing and was not rescinded until July 1951, when SCAPIN No. 2160 replaced it. SCAPIN No. 2160 was in place at the time that this April 1952 inquiry was made, and Dokdo remained a bombing range until after the bombing incident of September 15, 1952.
The May 1952 statement from the U.S. Fifth Air Force also stands as the last known comment on the June 8th incident from any American source. By 1955, the Korean Foreign Ministry had published an official death toll, stating that a total of thirty fishermen had been killed at Dokdo.(41) The Government of the Republic of Korea has divulged very little else concerning the incident in the years since.
Intelligence Assessment of the Bombing Furore
Despite the initial angry reactions from Koreans in the immediate days after the bombing, U.S. military intelligence later reported that the Commanding General´s guarantee that an "investigation would be accomplished and full responsibility would be assumed by the United States if her soldiers were to blame" had "quieted the public tide of unfavorable opinion toward the United States."(42) When the public furore over the bombing finally subsided (and subsequently never returned), military intelligence authorities assessed the bombing incident, especially the initial Korean reaction, as an instructive example of the Korean "susceptibility" to propaganda:
"The reactions to the bombing...illustrate Korean ability to unite spontaneously in the face of external developments construed to be detrimental to the welfare and prestige of the Korean people. Any news, accompanied by the flimsiest of substantiation, merely suggesting the possibility of...[an] infringement...upon the rights of the Korean people rapidly welds the heterogeneous and bickering factions in Korea. This susceptibility is and will continue to be fully exploited by the Soviets and their Communist propaganda machine."(43)
IV. Analysis of the Evidence
Parallels in the Two Accounts of the Bombing
Previous research has offered up little evidence to substantiate the claims made by June 8th bombing survivors Gong Du-Up and Jang Hak-Sang in regard to the actual events that took place that day. However, many similarities exist between the events described in the survivor´s statements, and the events cited in the official account of the 93d Bombardment Group´s bombing exercise at Dokdo (Liancourt Rocks). To begin with, Mr. Jang had stated that he had heard the sound of airplanes coming from Ullung Island, and that the bombs had dropped across the islets from Suhdo (the western islet) to Dongdo (the eastern islet).(44) Similarly, the Air Force´s official record of the event, the 93d BG´s mission report, states that the Group started its bombing run from Ullung Island, flying in essentially the same direction cited by Mr. Jang.(45) Mr. Jang´s assertion that he had initially seen twelve aircraft divided into two formations does not exactly match with the number of aircraft mentioned in the mission report. However, since the squadrons were reported to have flown in a staggered-altitude formation as described in the mission report, it is possible that Mr. Jang had only seen the first two squadrons, comprised of seven B-29s in one formation and six in the other. Regardless of the exact number of aircraft that Mr. Jang had sighted, the significance in the correlation between these the two accounts is the fact that both sources describe aircraft that were flying in squadron-size formations, and not single-aircraft bombing runs that would have been more common in practicing bombing accuracy. In another similarity, both the eyewitness accounts and the mission report describe planes bombing the island after the initial bombing run. According to a newspaper report based on survivor testimony, three aircraft appeared and dropped their bombs on the island soon after the initial bombing.(46) The mission report describes a similar event: Having failed to drop their bombs on the initial run, three of the B-29s in the Group formation bombed the island using their own bombsights outside of their squadron formations.(47)
Both accounts also seem to agree as to the number of bomb runs that took place. The survivors say they had been bombed four times.(48) The 93d BG´s mission report states that the three separate squadrons had dropped their bombs one minute apart, and that three individual aircraft dropped theirs later.(49) Thus, four individual bombings can also be deduced from the mission report. The survivors had also testified to horrific destruction and loss of life caused by the bombing.
The mission report would seem to back up their claims, since the report states that four, 1,000-pound General Purpose bombs per B-29 was the mission bomb-load, with seventy-six bombs reported to have hit the target.(50) This evidence stands in contrast with FEAF´s June 17, 1948 press release that "practice bombs" had been used during the mission.(51) The June 16th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle also ran an article based on this same press release, which quoted the Air Force as stating that, "when the B-29s from Okinawa dropped their practice bombs June 8 no surface craft was visually observed in the target area".(52) What FEAF had meant by "practice bombs" was not explained. From the Joson Ilbo and San Francisco Chronicle articles, it is not clear whether the Air Force meant that the standard M38A2 "blue-devil" bombs (one hundred-pound, blue-painted practice bombs with small explosive charges) were used, or whether 1,000-pound AN-M-65 General Purpose bombs were used as "practice bombs". The wording of FEAF´s June 17th statement as reported in the above newspaper articles would make it seem that the Air Force was referring to the former type, while the mission report and survivor testimony attest to the latter type.
There are many similarities between the survivors´ testimonies and the account written in the 93d BG´s mission report. This would suggest that many of the events described by Mr. Gong and Mr. Jang are relatively accurate, and in addition to the available documentary evidence, it also strongly suggests that the 93d BG was the US Air Force unit involved in the incident at Dokdo on June 8, 1948. This is especially convincing considering the fact that the 93d BG was the only B-29 unit operating out of Okinawa from May to mid-August that year, and that other than the 19th Bombardment Wing stationed at Guam, the 93d BG was the only tactical unit in the entire Far East that flew B-29 bombers in June 1948.(53)
Dissimilarities in Accounts of the Bombing
Despite the similarities between Air Force records and survivor accounts, some aspects of the available evidence do not correlate. For example, the mission report states that the 93d BG was "ordered to fly a maximum effort mission on 7 June 1948", while Korean sources and some American sources cited in this research assert that the incident took place on June 8th.(54) While this date discrepancy cannot be completely accounted for, it can be reasonably assumed that the 93d BG flew its mission over Dokdo on June 8th for two likely reasons. First, the unit monthly histories state that mission Field Orders for this deployment were received one day before a mission began, therefore it is likely that the person or persons responsible for writing the Group historical reports probably had recorded the date on which the Field Orders for the mission were received (June 7th), and not the actual date of the mission (June 8th).(55) Second, information in the monthly history for August 1948 reveals that the 93d BG had flown its missions on Tuesdays and Fridays during the deployment.(56) June 8, 1948 was a Tuesday. The mission report and survivor testimony also disagree as to the exact time at which the bombing took place. Gong Du-up´s assertion that it happened at ten or eleven in the morning does not match the mission report that places the bombing at around noon. While both accounts place the bombing at approximately the same time of the day, the one or two-hour difference between the survivors´ accounts and the mission report cannot be explained with the evidence at hand.
One particular item of conflicting evidence that received attention from the Korean press in June of 1948, and in recent research by Hong Sung-geun (2002) and Yoon Han-gong (2001), is the altitude at which the aircraft flew during the bombing. The June 17th announcement from FEAF stated that the aircraft flew at an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters) or higher.(57) However, survivor Jang Hak-sang stated in 1995 that the planes had flown at around six hundred meters (2,000 feet).(58) There is also the June 15th Joson Ilbo article that reported that police on Ullung Island were able to see U.S. Air Force insignia on the underside of the planes´ wings.(59) As such, the two Korean accounts place the planes at a much lower altitude than claimed by FEAF. Yet, the possibility that the B-29s would have been damaged or destroyed by the detonation of their own bombs at such a low altitude is another issue to consider. The available evidence is not sufficient to substantiate either of these accounts, especially since the altitude of the planes cannot be verified from the 93d BG´s mission report.
Another unresolved issue is whether strafing took place at Dokdo that day. Korean newspaper accounts reported that the survivors had been both bombed and machine-gunned, while the June 16, 1948 issue of the Joson Ilbo included a photo of a supposedly bullet-ridden storage trunk found at the bombing site.(60)
FEAF responded to the strafing allegation by simply stating that the aircraft had not fired their machine-guns during the mission.(61) In this case, at least one unit history does seem to back up FEAF´s response to the allegation. Information in the 329th Bombardment Squadron history states that while the squadron dropped twenty-eight 1,000-pound bombs, the squadron did not expend any rounds of machine-gun ammunition for the entire month of June 1948.(62) The other two squadrons did not report on their expenditure of machine-gun ammunition for this month. This machine-gunning allegation is also related to the altitude question. The higher altitude described by FEAF would preclude effective or accurate machine-gun practice for the planes´ gunners, while the lower altitude described by the survivors would support their claim that they had been machine-gunned (the maximum effective range of .50 caliber machine-guns, the type of guns that were used on U.S. Air Force B-29s, is 2,000 meters).(63) As with the altitude issue, evidence is lacking to further support either claim. A former B-29 copilot (who had no involvement in the bombing incident at Dokdo) has offered his own observations about gunnery and bombing practice and bombing altitude.
Fishing Boats in the Target Area
The 93d BG´s monthly history report for June 1948 does not make any reference to boats being in the target area during its bombing run over Dokdo, only that "shipping" had been sighted during the mission.(64) Two events that were recorded when the monthly histories were written at the end of the month, however, could be of some interest to research on this aspect of the bombing incident, since both of these events may have taken place as a result of what happened on June 8th over Dokdo. In one event described in the monthly history, it was deemed necessary for an officer to be appointed to work with the flight crews on ship and aircraft recognition. This officer was given "silhouettes and position views to aid the men in studying recognition of all nation´s surface vessels and airplanes."(65) Another event recorded in a mission report mentions that the 93d BG encountered evidence of human habitation at the target area during its mission on June 23rd at Maug Island in the Philippines. Prior to the bombing run of this mission, the weather aircraft, "[o]n passing over the target...noted two buildings so they dropped to 800´ to check for signs of habitation and at the same time taking pictures with a K-17 camera."(66) It would seem that the crew of the weather plane had made an extra effort to ensure that no people were in the area.
Even in light of what had happened at Dokdo on June 8th, it could be a coincidence that either or both of these precautionary measures were taken during the same month as the bombing incident. Nevertheless, it is curious that the precaution taken by the crew of the weather plane during the June 23rd mission was also taken fifteen days earlier at Dokdo, where "signs of habitation" were also arguably present. According to information in the June 17th statement from FEAF, the weather aircraft that flew over Dokdo was 30 minutes ahead of the Group bomber formation, and had circled the island six times and had reported the area to be ready for the bombing exercise.(67) Yet, it was never explained how the weather plane crew failed to see the Korean fishing boats during their inspection of the island prior to the bombing. One researcher of the bombing incident, Hong Sung-gun, questions the explanation given by the US Air Force in its June 1948 press releases that stated that the B-29 crews had confused the boats for rocks at the island. Hong argues that the bright colors of the Korean fishing boats were quite different from the colors of any rocks at Dokdo, and unlike rocks, boats generally move about in the water.(68) Therefore, some uncertainty seems to remain as to why, according to FEAF, neither the weather plane crew nor the bomber crews were able to detect any boats at Dokdo during the mission.
Recollections of a Former Bombardier of the 93d Bombardment Group
The eyewitness testimony of two survivors of the June 8th bombing has provided much to our understanding of what happened at Dokdo on that day However, previous research has not provided an account of the incident from any of the aircrew that took part in the mission. In researching the activities of the 93d BG during its time at Okinawa in 1948, it was deemed necessary to gain a better understanding of the situation by contacting former US Air Force personnel who had been on the 93d BG´s deployment to FEAF that summer. With the help of Air Force records, a former officer of the 93d BG was contacted and interviewed. While he was not able to date or name the location of any particular mission on which he flew during the summer deployment to Okinawa 54 years before, one did stand out in his memory; a mission from which he was able to recall details that bore many similarities to the Dokdo bombing incident.
John Gibson, 83, retired from the US Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1965. In 1948, Mr. Gibson was an Air Force Captain and Squadron Bombardier for the 329th Bombardment Squadron of the 93d BG and was with the unit when it was deployed to Okinawa in the summer of that year. In addition to being a member of a flight crew, Mr. Gibson was also a Squadron Bombardier with the 93d BG, and as such, he was in charge of keeping track of the bombing statistics, accuracies and training of the other bombardiers in his squadron. The former bombardier mentioned that during their deployment to the Far East that summer, the 93d BG was engaged in normal training exercises that involved navigation and bombing; both single-aircraft bombing and formation bombing. He could remember only one mission of the deployment that involved formation flying, one in which they bombed a "cove around an island, inside an island tip..."
When told that sources in Korea alleged that U.S. Air Force planes had bombed boats that were at an island that was used as a bombing target by the U.S. Air Force in June of that year, Mr. Gibson immediately recalled he had been involved in a mission in which there were "boats in the cove" of an island that the 93d BG had bombed.(69) He described the bombing as being slightly off-target. He stated: "We were bombing a spit of land off an island out there and, well, we just missed the target by about twenty feet and [the bombs] went over into the cove, and there were boats in the cove..." When asked if he had seen boats in the cove during the mission, Mr. Gibson replied, "Yeah, I think I saw small boats, and I think somebody dispatched it off as saying [that] they were on drugs or something there..."(70) He continued, saying, "that was daytime...I was told later on that there probably was boats, but they were drug-running boats, and they used that [island] to hide away in the daytime...I saw them [but] I found out somebody´s opinion of what it was." Mr. Gibson also insisted that live bombs had not been used during that particular mission, saying that he remembered that the bombs were "one hundred-pound bombs that were smoke bombs," adding: "The only thing I dropped was those blue-devils...so I suppose we messed up somebody´s boats. I wouldn´t think they´d explode if one of those bombs hit a small boat [but] it might knock a hole in it." Regarding altitude, he only remembered that they had flown at 28,000 feet during their missions that summer. Mr. Gibson also replied that there had not been any missions over islands involving live gunnery practice, only that the gunners had fired to clear their guns while out over the ocean.
If indeed describing the June 8th incident, Mr. Gibson´s memories would seem to both support and contradict elements of both FEAF´s statements and the information in the 93d BG´s mission report. First, his recollection that the planes were flying in formation corresponds to information in the mission report. However, his statements would seem to contradict information regarding the use of 1,000-pound bombs, as written in the 93d BG´s mission report, while supporting FEAF´s claim that practice bombs were used. Mr. Gibson´s recollections would also back up FEAF´s statements regarding both the altitude of the planes and the machine-gunning allegation. Most surprising, however, is his memory of seeing boats at the island during the mission. If actually describing the events of the June 8th incident, Mr. Gibson´s statements would directly contradict the Far East Air Force´'s assertion in its June 17, 1948 press release that stated that the B-29 crews had mistaken the Korean fishing boats at Dokdo for rocks. This testimony again brings into question FEAF´s statement that the weather plane crew, upon inspection of the island, had reported that the island was ready for the bombing exercise. Considering that a bombardier could have seen boats at the island while presumably flying over the area once, it is puzzling why the weather plane crew failed to see the boats while flying multiple circuits over the same island only minutes before the bombing. Another question raised by this testimony is why the bomber crews would not have stopped the bombing exercise upon seeing boats in the target area, regardless of the type of bombs being used. Although Mr. Gibson´s statements provide surprising testimony to the research, it must be remembered that the former bombardier was not able to recall such important information as the place and date on which this mission had occurred, only that it was during the three-month summer deployment of 1948; in fact, he claimed to have never heard of any island(s) named "Liancourt Rocks", "Dokdo" or "Takeshima".(71) Therefore, it is possible that the mission Mr. Gibson recalled was one of the other twenty missions that the 93d BG had conducted during their deployment to the Far East that summer. However, his statements regarding formation flying, the sighting of boats at the target area and his description of the island make for an account that is eerily similar to the June 8th incident at Dokdo.
Based on the above evidence, some aspects of the June 8, 1948 bombing incident at Dokdo can be explained with a fair amount of certainty. First, the evident failure of the policy-makers involved to properly communicate information regarding the island´s status as a bombing range, for whatever reason, would seem to be confirmed in the orders issued by SCAP, and by the actions of uninformed authorities in Korea immediately preceding both the 1948 and 1952 bombing incidents. The record also supports the idea that the bombing exercise conducted by the 93d Bombardment Group resulted in the June 8th tragedy. Additionally, certain allegations from the bombing survivors can be verified in parallels between their testimony and the accounts in Air Force records, particularly in regard to the number of times the island was bombed and in the description of the planes´ flight patterns. The evidence also strongly suggests that the bombing exercise had been conducted with live bombs, since, despite statements to the contrary, there is little reason to believe that the bomb load cited in the 93d BG´s monthly histories is incorrect. Again, it seems improbable that the use of practice bombs would have resulted in the deaths of at least thirty individuals and the sinking of numerous boats at Dokdo that day. Although less certain, information brought forth in this research also brings into question FEAF´s statement that aircrews had confused boats for rocks at Dokdo.
Other details concerning the bombing incident remain open for debate. How high were the planes flying during their bombing run? Did the B-29 gunners fire their machine-guns during the exercise? More evidence is needed to these questions with a degree of certainty. They will invariably remain a part of any future discussion about the June 8, 1948 incident. It is hoped that this research will help to raise awareness of this incident and to help provide a basis for future investigation.