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Mr Double Seven, by George Odgers

One of my friends here at RAAF Base Wagga supplies me with books to “further my education” and “broaden my experience”. This book was my latest challenge, which reviews the life and achievements of Wing Commander Richard (Dick) Cresswell, one of the leading fighter pilots in WW11 and the Korean War, during which he was also the Commanding Officer of 77 Squadron, on three occasions, hence the label Mr Double Seven. He logged over 450 hours flying hazardous operational missions and became one of the legends of the RAAF.

To wet your appetite, without telling the full story, he took up his first command of 77 SQN in early 1942 at the tender age of 21 years and formed the only modern fighter Squadron available to defend Perth, during a time when it was feared that maybe that city was the next target of the Imperial Japanese Fleet. As that threat passed the SQN moved north and Dick was the first Australian fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy bomber over Australian soil.

As the fighter squadrons moved further north, Dick Cresswell was again posted as CO of 77 SQN in Dutch New Guinea in 1944-45, flying Kittyhawks. He again proved himself to be an exceptional pilot and a great leader, though not recognised officially.

Some of the statistics that Odgers included as background information to conclude this section of his story really surprised me:

In 1939 RAAF strength 3,498 total number aircraft 246
Peak numbers in Aug 1944, 182,000
End of war 132,000 total number aircraft 5,600
Enlistments over 6 years 189,700 men and 27,000 women
RAAF casualties in 6 years 10,562 killed and 3192 injured.

With WW11 at an end the RAAF drastically reduced it numbers. Dick was reduced in rank, but was thankful to still have a job, even if the staff positions that he served in gave him little opportunity to fly. Finally he was posted to Laverton in command of 21 Citizen Air Force Squadron, what we would now call a Reserve SQN who flew P-51 Mustangs on the weekends.

However, at this point the situation in Korea was deteriorating and in June 1950, 77 SQN, while thinking they were withdrawing from Japan, were committed to a new war. In the first couple of months of that conflict they lost several of their senior officers including their CO, undermining their morale and confidence. Within hours of the news reaching Australia, Dick Cresswell was told he would again be CO of 77 SQN in a theatre of war.

Again SQNLDR Cresswell excelled, providing excellent leadership in the air (flying Mustangs) and on the ground. He helped sell the idea that the Mustangs were outclassed by the MiGs and needed Jets to be able to hold their own. He supervised the transition to twin jet Meteor 8 fighters while still in theatre, and went on to fly combat operations in F-80 Shooting Stars and American F-86 Sabre fighters as well. He returned to Australia a hero, but all this took a toll on his family life, and he returned to a broken marriage.

He resigned from the RAAF in 1958 but continued to be an active member of the 77 SQN association and active in the aviation industry for the rest of his life. He passed away on 13 December 2006 at age 86.

Obviously there is much more in the book, particularly the missions and issues during the Korean War. Why should you bother to read it? For me it gave me a rare insight into the Korean War, and the fanatical views of the North Korean leadership (backed by China) which is still being felt today. It was a war that never really ended and the current media coverage confirms that it could re-erupt at any time. Yes, the world has changed but a renewed conflict on the Korean peninsular could very rapidly escalate and again involve the RAAF as it did in 1950. It is my hope and prayer that if that occurred, we would have leaders of the calibre of Dick Creswell among us who would take up the challenge.

Chaplain Ian S Whitley