RICHARD “Dick” CRESSWELL DFC - 1920 to 2006. Fighter Pilot.
Dick, was a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. He held command of No. 77 (Fighter) Squadron during World War II and again during the Korean War.
He was credited with being the first RAAF pilot to shoot down enemy aircraft at night over Australian soil,
The only person to serve as Commanding Officer of an RAAF Squadron on 3 occasions during wartime,
The first person to lead a jet-equipped Australian squadron in combat.
His performance in Korea earned him both the Commonwealth and the United States Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Dick joined the RAAF at Point Cook in July 1938. By 1942, he was promoted to Squadron Leader and commanded the newly formed 77 Squadron at Pearce, Western Australia. The Squadron was flying P-40 Kittyhawks.
At 21, he was younger than most of his personnel.
Initially, he was responsible for the air defence of Perth. 77 Squadron then transferred to Batchelor Airfield near Darwin in August 1942, becoming the first RAAF fighter unit to be stationed in the North-Western Area.
77 Squadron then moved to another of Darwin's satellite airfields, Livingstone.
Dick led the squadron in the defence of Darwin against Japanese raiders and claimed the first aerial victory just after 5 a.m. on 23 November 1942, when he destroyed a Mitsubishi "Betty" bomber.
It was the first "kill" for an Australian squadron over the mainland, and the first night victory over land.
In February 1943, 77 Squadron was transferred to Milne Bay in New Guinea. The Japanese attacked Milne Bay on 14 April, and Cresswell claimed one of four bombers credited to 77 Squadron.
The next month, 77 Squadron began island hopping, firstly to Goodenough Island.
He was Wing Leader of 81 (Fighter) Wing in New Guinea from May 1944 to March 1945, simultaneously commanding No. 77 Squadron for a second time between September and December 1944. During this command, the wing flew 1,125 sorties against Japanese buildings, stores and transport.
The Late Ken Wilkinson recalled his first encounter with Dick Cresswell: “We were told that Wing Commander Cresswell the C.O. wanted us to report to him in his tent. He was sitting in a director style chair, dressed in non-regulation clothing and black high boots [not flying boots].
He said, ‘You have joined the best fighter squadron in the R.A.A.F., you have received the best training possible in a wartime situation and we have recently been equipped with the latest model Kittyhawk P40-N25 and N30, aircraft, so if any of you dare prang one of them, back home to your mother's you will go”.
After World War 2, 77 Squadron moved to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) and were still there on the declaration of hostilities between North and South Korea. After the death of the CO of 77 Squadron, Lou Spence, on 9th September 1950, Dick was sent to replace him and became the Squadron’s longest serving commanding officer in the Korean War and commander of 77 Squadron in combat for the third time.
He oversaw its conversion from P-51 Mustangs to Gloster Meteors, becoming the first RAAF commander of a jet squadron in war. As well as Meteors, Dick flew F-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre jets in combat while on attachment to the United States Air Force in Korea. He handed over command of No. 77 Squadron for the last time in August 1951, but flew six more missions as a Meteor pilot in 1953.
Dick resigned from the RAAF in December 1956 and was discharged on 30 April 1957 so ending the service career of one of Australia’s finest.
Dick Cresswell holds a special place in the RAAF historical record.
In 2006 He was the guest speaker at an Aviation Club Lunch. He gives a very modest account of his exploits in the Air Force containing humour, drama and frankness.