Peter Dingemans, My Incredible Journey: From Cadet to Command. Studley: Brewin, 2013. 224 pp.
Review by Chuck Steele, PhD
United States Air Force Academy
As the title suggests, My Incredible Journey is an autobiography detailing the career of Rear Admiral Peter Dingemans, who most notably served as the Captain of HMS Intrepid during the Falkland Islands War. The book has less than 206 pages of text, of which nearly half (93 pages) chronicle Dingemans’ time in Intrepid and his service in the War. Indeed, despite its brevity, this book is almost two different stories. One story is that of Dingemans’ rise to rear admiral, as conveyed through a series of vignettes based on his various assignments, and the other is of his command of Intrepid.
While the paucity of all sorts of naval assets made each and every vessel seemingly invaluable to the British effort in the Falklands War, the case for holding the worth of Intrepid and her Captain in extraordinary regard is sound. Most people familiar with the 1982 war in the South Atlantic are aware of the importance of the two aircraft carriers that were at the heart of Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward’s battle group, Hermes and Invincible. However, it should also be remembered that the Royal Navy could only provide two purpose built Assault ships/Landing Platform Docks (LPDs), Intrepid and Fearless, to help facilitate the landings that were essential to regaining the islands. If Dingemans career had amounted to nothing more than this one command, it would still be sufficient to warrant study.
Although Dingemans’ life is certainly important enough to deserve a published account, this book is perhaps too modest to do its subject justice. Primarily, the book needed expert editorial assistance. Its 23 chapters are parceled into three parts. Part one, “The start of something big,” contains 16 chapters that span less than 100 pages. Many of the chapters are only two to three pages in length. The stories are often mere summations of cruises and shore visits reduced to but a few paragraphs that are not fashioned into any cohesive story. The book also suffers from numerous redundancies, such as repeating the basic functions of an LPD, and addressing the role played by ships serving as training vessels for the Royal Naval College. The second and longest part of the book is “Intrepid.” This portion of Dingemans’ story is divided into only three chapters and deals primarily with the war. Despite its greater length and sharper focus, it still misses the mark of offering a cohesive story. Specifically, the last chapter of this section, “crew’s stories,” provides the scattered remembrances of those who served under Dingemans on Intrepid, without making any effort to incorporate them into a single narrative. The final part of the book, “After the big event,” is four chapters, three of which describe his naval assignments after the war, and one offering a glimpse of his employment as a civilian. These final chapters revert to the same format as those in part one.
In comparison with other biographical accounts of Britain’s Falkland Islands War commanders and dramatis personae, My Incredible Journey leaves a bit too much to be desired. The story is neither as detailed, nor as consistent as Woodward’s One Hundred Days, Sharkey Ward’s Sea Harrier Over the Falklands, or Dingemans’ operational commander during the war, Commodore Michael Clapp’s Amphibious Assault Falklands. Perhaps Dingemans would have been better served if he had enlisted the help of a co-author, as did Woodward and Clapp. There may still be nuggets to mine in this book, and it may serve as a useful companion to Clapp’s broader account of the war, but beware, those nuggets may prove hard to find.