SEE A PORTRAIT
ROZHDESTVENSKII, Zinovii Petrovich. Vice
Admiral. Rozhdestvenskii was born on 30 October/11 November (or 17/29
March) 1848 into an aristocratic family. He graduated from the Naval
School in 1870; in 1873 he graduated with distinction from the Mikhail
Artillery Academy, and most of his career was to be dominated by his
gunnery specialization. He saw service in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878
as commander of torpedo boat No. 2 in Lieutenant I.M. ZATZARENNII's
unsuccessful attack on Turkish warships at Sulina on 31 May/12 June
1877. Although Rozhdestvenskii managed to get past the rope barrier
protecting the Turkish ironclads, his spar torpedo exploded against
the torpedo nets of Idjalieh, almost swamping his own boat. Despite
damage to his small craft, he managed to withdraw.
By mid-year Rozhdestvenskii had been appointed senior officer of the
auxiliary cruiser Vesta, commanded by Captain N.M. BARANOV. Vesta operated
with some success against Turkish merchant shipping, but on 11/23 July
1877 she encountered the Turkish ironclad Fethi Bulend about 35 miles
off the Rumanian port of Constanza. In the action that followed, Vesta
was severely damaged by the Turkish ship, with several of her crew killed
and wounded. Baranov apparently believed that he had heavily damaged
his opponent, which he misidentified as Assari Shevket. He further claimed
that he had contemplated "finishing her off," but had been
forced to retire when he sighted smoke on the horizon. Baranov was hailed
as a hero, awarded the Cross of St. George, and promoted. Rozhdestvenskii
was likewise decorated with the St. George Cross.
Soon, however, English officers in the Turkish navy reported that the
Fethi Bulend had not suffered any significant damage. Some of these
statements were finally confirmed by Rozhdestvenskii in an article published
in July 1878. Rozhdestvenskii furthermore disputed Baranov's claim that
unarmored cruisers were equal to ironclads in combat. Amid a growing
controversy, Baranov eventually resigned from the navy. Baranov seems
to have regarded Rozhdestvenskii as some sort of conspirator against
him, and for some time after the episode tried to indict both the navy's
administration and Rozhdestvenskii for libelling him, but Tsar Aleksandr
II dismissed these efforts.
After the war, Rozhdestvenskii was sent to the Bulgarian navy to reorganize
its gunnery branch (Russian officers provided much of the training for
this new country's military). He then served in the Baltic Fleet, and
was a naval attaché in London in 1885. He was promoted to captain
in the early 1890s and appointed commander of the cruiser Vladimir Monomakh
in 1892. He was still commanding her at the time of the Sino-Japanese
War of 1894-1895, when she served as Admiral E.I. ALEKSEEV's flagship.
He subsequently commanded the old ironclad Pervenets and the Baltic
Fleet's gunnery training division. It was in this unlikely post that
Rozhdestvenskii's ascent to fame began; during a naval review held in
honor of the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm to Revel' on 24-26 July 1902, he
supervised the fleet gunnery demonstration, which apparently impressed
both the kaiser and the tsar considerably. By 1903 Rozhdestvenskii was
an aide de camp to the tsar and chief of the Main Naval Staff, succeeding
Admiral F.K. AVELAN.
His fateful appointment to command the Second Pacific Squadron came
in April 1904. He apparently thought the whole business was ill-conceived,
but agreed to obey since the tsar had ordered it. The task of assembling
and outfitting the squadron required all of Rozhdestvenskii's considerable
energies; he not only had to supervise the refitting of the Baltic Fleet's
most modern ships, he also had to fight off attempts to burden him with
unsuitable coast defense battleships and older, ineffective vessels.
Originally the squadron was to set out in July 1904, but after numerous
delays it finally sailed in October, Rozhdestvenskii hoisting his flag
in the new battleship Kniaz' Suvorov.
The voyage of the Second Pacific Squadron is justifiably considered
one of the epics of naval history. The limitations on training imposed
by the Baltic climate -- the fleet was frozen in the ice almost five
months of the year with its crews berthed ashore in barracks -- inevitably
affected its efficiency, especially in squadron maneuvering. Rozhdestvenskii's
ships experienced continual problems in station-keeping, navigation
and handling. The relative inexperience of the squadron, and the unavoidable
nervousness of a fleet sailing toward battle for the first time, were
the prime causes of the Dogger Bank (or Hull) Incident. On the night
of 8/9 (21/22) October, units of the fleet opened fire on British fishing
trawlers in the belief that they were (or were hiding in their midst)
Japanese torpedo boats. The incident almost brought Britain into the
war; perhaps only the fact that Britain, France and Russia were trying
to reach an understanding in the face of Germany's growing power prevented
Rozhdestvenskii was fully aware of the inexperince of his crews, but
he apparently believed that there was relatively little he could do
about it on the voyage; there was little ammunition to spare for practice
and, more importantly to Rozhdestvenskii, coal was in short supply,
and his sources of it uncertain. The need for coal grew to obsessive
dimensions in Rozhdestvenskii's mind, and at every port his crews labored
long hours to cram sacks of the filthy, precious fuel into every corner
of the ships. This became a morale-crushing burden as the ships lumbered
southward and eastward, especially in the hellishly hot and humid waters
around Africa. The inescapable coal dust infiltrated everywhere and
everything. It hampered the training of the men in other matters, especially
since Rozhdestvenskii was loathe to "waste" any of it on the
practice maneuvering his ships needed so badly. Resupplied from contracted
German civilian colliers, the one skill in which his crews became expert
was coaling -- in harbors, roadsteads, even at sea.
Rozhdestvenskii had to plead and bully to get coal, for he received
relatively little support from St. Petersburg after sailing, and certainly
no moral support. He was a man of great physical strength and energy,
but the voyage took its toll; in Hel, Madagascar, as he awaited the
arrival of Admiral D.G. von FELKERZAM's squadron of older, smaller ships
(which he had sent through the Suez Canal while he led the majority
of the squadron around Cape Horn), Rozhdestvenskii apparently suffered
a severe depression, locking himself in his cabin for several days.
He reappeared only after the behavior of some of his crews aroused his
Rozhdestvenskii may have hoped that his fleet would be recalled to Russia
after the surrender of Port Arthur to the Japanese in December/January,
but no such order came. The fall of Port Arthur and the destruction
of the "First" Pacific Squadron left Rozhdestvenskii in an
almost impossible strategic situation: Commanding a fleet that was inferior
to his enemy's, with no bases from which to operate, he was expected
to get his ships through the narrow waters around Japan to distant Vladivostok.
Once there, Admiral A.A. BIRILEV was to assume command of the fleet,
but what purpose it could serve, other than as a fleet-in-being, is
difficult to imagine. The lack of naval facilities and supplies at Vladivostok
(the needs of the army in Manchuria already overtaxed the one-track
Trans-Siberian Railroad) meant that Rozhdestvenskii had to bring his
slow auxiliaries with him, making his task even more difficult.
The fleet proceded across the Indian Ocean in March 1905. It is difficult
to know how the crews regarded their voyage; although it is generally
held that a sense of impending doom hung over every man in the fleet,
DITLOV later noted "the energy and enthusiasm he [Rozhdestvenskii]
created with his Fleet Order, and its summons to `wash away with blood
the shame of our Motherland,' and the faith we felt in him and his capacity."
Ditlov, however, was a member of Admiral N.I. NEBOGATOV's Third Pacific
Squadron, comprising the coast defense ships and ancient vessels Rozhdestvenskii
had hoped to leave behind, and had not experienced the same sort of
trek that Rozhdestvenskii's squadron had.
Nebogatov's Third Pacific Squadron was the unhappy brainchild of Captain
N.L. KLADO, whose campaign in the Russian press had inspired the naval
command to send these ill-suited ships after Rozhdestvenskii, who did
not want them -- in fact, Rozhdestvenskii may have been trying to avoid
Nebogatov's squadron when he set off from Madagascar without telling
the Admiralty his intended course. However, the Third Pacific Squadron
eventually caught up with Rozhdestvenskii at Van Phong in Indochina.
Although a public show was made of welcoming these ships, their arrival
apparently inspired the fleet's commander to even deeper depths of despair.
A fatalism seems to have overcome him, a premonition of inevitable defeat.
Or perhaps he was simply emotionally exhausted by the tremendous exertions
required just to get his fleet to the Far East. These at least seem
the most reasonable explanations for his behavior during the final portion
of the voyage. He made no attempt to share with his officers a battle
plan -- it is possible he had not worked one out in any detail -- and
left Nebogatov completely in the dark with regard to his intentions.
All this may stem in part from his inexperience at fleet command, but
Rozhdestvenskii was not a stupid or incompetent officer; surely, had
he been less oppressed by the prospects before him he would have made
some effort to promulgate a plan.
Admiral Felkerzam died of a brain haemorrhage three days before the
Battle of Tsushima, which left Nebogatov as second in command, although
Nebogatov was not informed of this; in fact, Felkerzam's death was kept
secret, lest it seem a bad omen to the crews.
The morning of 14/27 May 1905 was misty, causing some in the Russian
squadron to hope that they could slip past the Japanese and sail without
battle to Vladivostok, where Admiral Birilev waited to take over command
of the fleet. But a Russian hospital ship was spotted by a Japanese
auxiliary cruiser and Togo's fleet homed in on the shadowing cruiser's
reports. Battle was now inevitable.
It began about 1:30 PM and lasted until the next morning. It was a battle
characterized by Japanese efficiency and Russian mistakes; throughout,
however, the Russian officers and sailors fought with great courage,
often going down with their ships. Rozhdestvenskii was seriously wounded
in the head by a shell fragment as Kniaz' Suvorov was hammered by the
guns of several Japanese battleships (confounding Klado's theories that
the old, useless ships of Nebogatov's squadron would "attract"
Japanese shells that might otherwise be directed at the modern Russian
ships). Through the efforts of his chief of staff, K.K. KLAPIERS DE
KOLON, Rozhdestvenskii was transferred with most of his staff to the
destroyer Buinyi toward evening. By this time the core of the Russian
squadron had been annihilated, and Buinyi was already overcrowded with
survivors from sunken ships; Rozhdestvenskii and his staff therefore
later transferred to the destroyer Bedovyi; it was aboard this ship
that he was captured the morning after the battle. Rozhdestvenskii was
unconscious at the time, and the decision to surrender seems to have
been prompted by his staff, who afterwards claimed that they surrendered
so that their commander might sooner receive medical attention.
Rozhdestvenskii recuperated in a Japanese hospital, where he was well-treated
by the Japanese and visited by Admiral Togo. After the end of the war
he returned to St. Petersburg via the Trans-Siberian Railway. He was
court-martialled, but acquited because he had been unconscious at the
time of his capture. Other officers were not so fortunate -- Nebogatov,
Klapiers de Kolon and several captains were sentenced to death, although
Tsar Nikolai II commuted their sentences to prison terms. Rozhdestvenskii's
role at the trials was ambiguous; although he assumed full responsibility
for everything that had happened (even while he was unconscious), he
also managed to convey the impression that he would have acted differently
than his subordinates.
Rozhdestvenskii retired from the navy in 1906, and was in poor health
for a considerable time before his death on 1/14 January 1909.
(GSE, vol. 22, p. 312; Modern Encyclopedia, vol.
31, pp. 215-217; Jane, pp. 189-192; Hough, Fleet, passim; Mitchell,
pp. 234-266; Westwood, Witnesses, passim; Witte, Memoirs, pp. 123, 310,