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 British action.

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 rage.
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, 418-420)