Zinovy Rozhestvensky

Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky[2] (Russian: Зиновий Петрович Рожественский, tr. Zinoviy Petrovich Rozhestvenskiy; November 11 [O.S. October 30] 1848 – January 14, 1909) was an admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy. He was in command of the Second Pacific Squadron in the Battle of Tsushima, during the Russo-Japanese War.

Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky
Zinovi Petrovich Rozhestvenski.jpg
Birth nameZinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky
Nickname(s)Mad Dog (never to his face)[1]
BornNovember 11, 1848
DiedJanuary 14, 1909(1909-01-14) (aged 60)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Allegiance Russian Empire
Service/branch Imperial Russian Navy
Years of service1868–1906
RankVice Admiral
Commands heldBaltic Fleet
Battles/warsRusso-Turkish War (1877–1878)
Russo-Japanese War
AwardsOrder of St. George
Order of St. Vladimir

Under Admiral Rozhestvensky's command, the Russian navy holds the record of steaming an all-steel, coal-powered battleship fleet over 18,000 miles (29,000 km) one way to engage an enemy in decisive battle (Battle of Tsushima), selecting Knyaz Suvorov, one of four brand new battleships of the French-designed Borodino class, as his flagship for the voyage to the Pacific.

Early naval careerEdit

Rozhestvensky was the son of a physician from St Petersburg, and joined the Imperial Russian Navy at the age of 17.[3] He graduated from the Sea Cadet Corps, where he mastered English and French, in 1868, and the Mikhailovsky Artillery Academy in 1873. He initially served with the Baltic Fleet as a gunnery officer.[4] In 1876 he transferred to the Black Sea Fleet.

During the Russo-Turkish War Rozhestvensky served on board the gunboat Vesta. On June 10, 1877 six torpedo boats, five of which were armed with spar torpedoes, attempted to attack four ironclads of the Ottoman Navy at Sulina. Rozhestvensky volunteered to lead the first attack against the Turkish warships but his torpedo boat became caught up in the rope boom defenses that protected the enemy ships. The attack was beaten back by Turkish gunfire which destroyed one torpedo boat and the remaining boats withdrew, leaving the enemy ironclads intact.[5] In July 1877 while still assigned to Vesta, he engaged and damaged an Ottoman battleship, Feth-i Bülend, in a five-hour battle. Rozhestvensky was awarded the Order of Saint Vladimir and Order of St George for this action and was promoted to lieutenant commander. However, after the war he revealed in a newspaper article that he had falsified his reports, and that the overloaded Feth-i Bülend escaped with only minor damage. This revelation had no adverse impact on his career.[3] From 1883 to 1885 Rozhestensky was seconded to the newly formed Bulgarian Navy.[3] He also designed a defense plan for the Bulgarian coastline, and was one of the founders of the Technology Association of Bulgaria.

Rozhestvensky returned to Russian service and was senior officer on the battery ship Kreml and the cruiser Gerzog Edinburgski. He then commanded the clipper Naezdnik and gunboat Grozyachiy. From 1891 to 1893 he was naval attaché to London. In 1894 he commanded the Vladimir Monomakh[3] which was part of the Russian Mediterranean Squadron under the command of Admiral Stepan Makarov. From 1896 to 1898 he commanded the coast defence ship Pervenets. In 1898 he was promoted to rear admiral and became commander of the gunnery school of the Baltic Fleet. In 1900 he commanded the salvage operation for the General Admiral Graf Apraksin. In 1902 he was appointed Chief of the Naval Staff and proposed a plan for strengthening the Imperial Russian Navy in the Far East.

Russo-Japanese WarEdit

Route of Baltic Fleet to the Battle of Tsushima.

Prior to the war against Japan starting in 1904, Rozhestvensky was commander of the Baltic Fleet. Tsar Nicholas II ordered Rozhestvensky to take the Baltic Fleet to East Asia to protect the Russian naval base of Port Arthur. The Tsar had selected the right man for the job, for it would take an iron-fisted commander[6] to sail an untested fleet of brand new battleships (for some of the new Borodinos, this voyage was their shakedown cruise) and new untrained sailors on the longest coal-powered battleship fleet voyage in recorded history.[7] Rozhestvensky had a fiery temper when dealing with a subordinate, and both officers and men knew to stand clear of "Mad Dog"[8] when a subordinate either disobeyed orders, was incompetent, or both.[9]

Rozhestvensky was fully aware that he had a new untrained fleet under his command and that re-coaling stations would not be available during the journey, due to Britain's alliance with Japan; and that both the shakedown testing of the new battleships and the gunnery practice/training would have to occur during the voyage. Also, re-coaling would have to be done at sea, instead of in port as with most other navies. As a consequence of these circumstances, the mission-minded commander would sometimes fire service ammunition (live gunfire) across the bows of an errant warship, and in a fiery moment fling his binoculars from the bridge into the sea.[10] When his battleship fleet set sail in 1904, Rozhestvensky's staff ensured that his flagship, Knyaz Suvorov, had a good supply of binoculars on board.[11]

Nevertheless, the inexperience of the Russian Baltic Fleet almost triggered a war between Russia and Great Britain as it sailed through the North Sea. After several Russian ships mistook British fishing trawlers at Dogger Bank for torpedo boats from the Imperial Japanese Navy, they opened fire on the unarmed civilian vessels.[12] The Dogger Bank incident on the night of 21–22 October 1904 resulted in the deaths of three British fishermen and many wounded. One sailor and a priest aboard a Russian cruiser were also killed in the crossfire.[13]

The Russian government agreed to investigate the incident following a great deal of international diplomatic pressure. Rozhestvenski was ordered to dock in Vigo, Spain, while battleships of the Royal Navy from the British Home Fleet were prepared for war. Several British cruiser squadrons shadowed Rozhestvenski's fleet as it made its way through the Bay of Biscay. On arrival in Spain, Rozhestvenski left behind those officers he considered responsible for the incident (as well as at least one officer who had been critical of him).[14] On November 25, 1904, the British and the Russian governments signed a joint agreement in which they agreed to submit the issue to an International Commission of Inquiry at The Hague.[15] On February 26, 1905, the commission published its report. It criticized Rozhestvenski for allowing his ships to fire upon the British ships, but noted that "as each [Russian] vessel swept the horizon in every direction with her searchlights to avoid being taken by surprise, it was difficult to prevent confusion". The report also concluded that once the mistake was known "Admiral Rozhestvenski personally did everything he could, from beginning to end of the incident, to prevent [the trawlers] from being fired upon by the squadron".[16] Russia eventually paid £66,000 (£5.8m today) in compensation.[17]

Rozhestvenski believed from the start that the plan to send the Baltic Fleet to Port Arthur was ill-conceived, and vehemently opposed plans to include a motley collection of obsolete vessels, the Third Pacific Squadron to his fleet (referred to by the Admiral and his staff as the 'self-sinkers'), to the extent of refusing to reveal to the Admiralty his exact routing from Madagascar and to share his battle plan with Third Pacific Squadron commander Nikolai Nebogatov.[3] Remote and distrustful of his staff, Rozhestvenski grew increasingly bitter and pessimistic as he approached Asia.[3] Almost as soon as the Baltic Fleet arrived in the Far East in May 1905, it was engaged by the Japanese Navy at the decisive Battle of Tsushima (27–28 May 1905).

Battle of TsushimaEdit

Japanese Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō drew upon his experiences from the battles of Port Arthur and the Yellow Sea, and this time would not split his fires nor engage Rozhestvensky at excessive ranges, as he had done with Admiral Vitgeft at the Battle of the Yellow Sea the year previously.[18] He would instead, with the proper use of reconnaissance vessels and wireless communications[19] position his battle fleet in such a way as to "preserve his interior lines of movement", which would allow him to have shorter distances to cover while causing Rozhestvensky to have longer distances to travel, regardless of battleship speeds.[20]

Naval intelligence had already informed Togo of Rozhestvensky's mission, that of reaching Vladivostok, and avoiding contact with the Japanese navy if at all possible, and fighting as little as possible, if forced into it. Rozhestvensky's objective was to reinforce the Vladivostok Squadron, and then, when the Russian navy felt sufficiently prepared, they would engage the Japanese navy in a decisive action.[21]

With this knowledge in possession, Togo planned on preempting the Russian plan, by positioning his battle fleet to "bring the Russian fleet to battle, regardless of the speed of either battlefleet." Admiral Togo was able to appear directly across Rozhestvensky's line of advance (Rozhestvensky's T had been crossed).[19] With only most of his bow guns to use, Rozhestvensky's main batteries were "thrown successively out of bearing" as he continued to advance.[22] Other than surrender or retreat, Rozhestvensky had but two choices; fight a pitched battle or charge Togo's battleline. He chose the former, and by the evening of 27 May 1905, Rozhestvensky's flagship and the majority of his fleet were on the bottom of the Tsushima Straits.[22] The Russians had lost 5,000 sailors.[23]

Admiral Tōgō Visits Rozhestvensky, by yōga painter Fujishima Takeji

During the battle, Rozhestvensky was wounded in the head by a shell fragment. The unconscious admiral was transferred to the destroyer Buinii and subsequently to the destroyer Bedovii. He was taken prisoner when the ship was later captured by the Imperial Japanese Navy. After the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth he returned to St Petersburg via the Trans-Siberian Railway.[3] The victorious Admiral Tōgō would later visit him (while being treated for his injuries in a Japanese hospital), comforting him with kind words:

Defeat is a common fate of a soldier. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. The great point is whether we have performed our duty.[24]


In 1906, Rozhestvensky faced court-martial for the disaster, along with each of his surviving battleship commanders. Some faced prison and some the firing squad for either losing the battle or surrendering on the high seas. The Tsar's court was fully aware that Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov had surrendered the Russian fleet, as Rozhestvensky had been wounded and unconscious for most of the battle, and was very reluctant to accept his statements of responsibility. Nonetheless, Rozhestvensky was adamant in his defense of his subordinate commanders and maintained total responsibility, pleading guilty to losing the battle. As was expected (and hoped) by the courts, the Tsar commuted the death-sentenced captains to short prison terms and pardons for the remaining officers.

Historical viewpoint – opposing commandersEdit

The Russian Navy had accrued several combat experienced admirals during the war; Admirals Oskar Victorovich Stark, Stepan Makarov, and Wilgelm Vitgeft being amongst them. Makarov had been the most promising with his "energy, tactics" and his "ability to inspire confidence in his subordinates."[25] But by a series of setbacks all of them had been lost to Russia, from one cause or another.

Although Makarov may have been Russia's greatest asset in the war, had he survived, he may not have been the right choice to lead the "Baltic Fleet" (later redesignated the 2nd Pacific Fleet) to the Far East. Even without battleship combat experience, Admiral Rozhestvensky was the one man with the personality, skill, and determination to sail an untested battleship fleet on an unprecedented voyage to the other side of the world. So much that Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm remarked to the Czar during a fleet exercise in 1902, "I wish I had such splendid admirals as your Captain Rozhestvensky in my fleet!"[26]

Rozhestvensky's future opponent, on the other hand, had fought a battleship fleet action at Port Arthur on February 9, 1904, against Admiral Stark who flew his flag in the battleship Petropavlovsk. Stark had utilized his shore batteries along with his battle fleet to assist him during this fight, a lesson not lost on Admiral Togo; and only 4 Russian cruisers were slightly damaged during the 40 minute engagement.[27] When Admiral Makarov relieved Stark in early March 1904, Admiral Togo immediately made war plans to defeat his new adversary by laying four rows of 400 pound mines two miles outside the mouth of Port Arthur. On 13 April 1904 Makarov, flying his flag on the battleship Petropavlovsk went out to rescue his destroyers, and in doing so, confronted Togo's battlefleet. Outgunned, he turned about and his battleship struck a mine and sank, taking Makarov to the bottom.[28] , Following Admiral Makarov's death, Admiral Vitgeft took command of the Russian battle fleet. In the first long range gun duel in history, the Battle of the Yellow Sea, in which opponents opened up with 12 inch guns at over 14,200 yards (13,000 meters), this, at a time when the world's navies were "...struggling to extend normal gunnery range to 6000 yards."[29] Admiral Vitgeft was killed by a 12 inch shell when it struck the bridge of his flagship, the battleship Tzesarevich, on 10 August 1904. Admiral Togo had fired nearly 1,200 12 inch and 8 inch shells, and well over six thousand 6 inch or lesser shells during the nearly day long sea battle. And even though no ships were sunk during the engagement, it was "...confirmed that guns could hit at very long ranges",[30] and the Russians turned about and returned to Port Arthur.[31]

Even though Admiral's Rozhestvensky and Togo were evenly matched in age, both had been born in 1848, Rozhestvensky was about to engage at Tsushima the only modern battleship combat experienced admiral in existence. Admiral Togo had already killed two enemy admirals (Makarov and Vitgeft), driven another away (Stark), and would very nearly kill Admiral Rozhestvensky in the coming battle on 27 May 1905 at Tsushima. But Rozhestvensky wasn't cut from the same cloth as the other Russian Admirals, with the possible exception of Makarov, and he certainly was more aggressive and determined than was Vice admiral Reinhard Scheer who turned his battlefleet 180 degrees in the opposite direction when faced with the British Grand Fleet at Skagerrak in 1916[32] To his credit, Rozhestvensky knew Admiral Togo's background, knew what he was up against, and did what arm chair commanders have dreamed of doing since wars have existed; Rozhestvensky used his battleships for what they were designed to do, he charged forward to his objective, and in doing so, charged Togo's battleline.

Later lifeEdit

Rozhestvensky lived out the last years of his life in St Petersburg as a recluse. He died of a heart attack in 1909 and was buried in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Pleshakov, photo caption, page not numbered
  2. ^ Рожественский. Several other transliterations are also known in English texts.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War, pp. 326–27, 340.
  4. ^ Pleshakov p. 40
  5. ^ Watts p. 16
  6. ^ Pleshakov p. 37
  7. ^ Pleshakov p. 59
  8. ^ Pleshakov pp. 153, 322
  9. ^ Pleshakov p. 38
  10. ^ Pleshakov p. 53
  11. ^ Pleshakov p. 123
  12. ^ The Russian Outrage (Chapter XXII) – Wood Walter, North Sea Fishers And Fighters, K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co, London, 1911
  13. ^ Connaughton, Richard Michael (1988). The War of the Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear (Digitized by Google Books online). New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 247, 250, 259. ISBN 978-0-415-07143-7. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
  14. ^ Dogger Bank – Voyage of the Damned ('Hullwebs – History of Hull' website. Retrieved 2007-09-08.)
  15. ^ Joint British-Russian declaration Archived October 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Dogger Bank Incident Final Report Archived October 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ International Dispute Settlement – Merills, J. G., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University, 1999
  18. ^ Forczyk pp. 41–54
  19. ^ a b Mahan p. 456
  20. ^ Mahan p. 450
  21. ^ Mahan, p. 458
  22. ^ a b Mahan p. 458
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved February 20, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ Regan, p.178
  25. ^ Grant pp. 93, 131, 145
  26. ^ Busch p. 87
  27. ^ Corbett (2015) Vol. 1 p. 105, 472
  28. ^ Corbett (2015) Vol. 1 p. 182
  29. ^ Friedman (2013) p. 68
  30. ^ Friedman (2013) p. 272
  31. ^ Corbett (2015) Vol. 1 p. 380, 393, 404
  32. ^ Staff (2016) p. 124; the German name for the Jutland engagement


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