NEBOGATOV, Nikolai Ivanovich. Rear Admiral. Nebogatov was born in 1849. As a captain, Nebogatov commanded the armored cruiser Admiral Nakhimov from 1896 to circa mid-1898. At that time he became commander of the Baltic Fleet Gunnery School. By 1/13 May 1900, when he assumed command of the old ironclad Minin for use in the Gunnery School, he was also commander of the Sixteenth Fleet Equipage. He commanded Minin until December 1901, at which time he was transferred to the post of commander of the Ninth Fleet Equipage of the Baltic Fleet.

Promoted to rear admiral, he was named to command the Third Pacific Squadron, a post several other admirals had already declined. The Third Squadron was composed of ships Admiral Z.P. ROZHDESTVENSKII had managed to leave behind, believing them unfit for both the long voyage and battle with the Japanese. Urged on by Captain N.L. KLADO, who argued that these old and unsuitable ships would attract shells that might otherwise be aimed at the Rozhdestvenskii's more modern and effective ships, the Admiralty had reluctantly agreed to the formation of this Third Squadron.

Nebogatov had to work quickly to get the squadron prepared for sea in time to rendezvous with Roshestvenskii's Second Pacific Squadron, then already well on its way to the Far East. Nebogatov's job was not eased by the fact that the outfitting of both the Second and Third Pacific squadrons had required the transfer of men to Libau from other equipages in both the Baltic and Black seas; apparently many commanders had taken the opportunity to send their trouble-makers or politically-suspect sailors. Thus when the squadron was ready to sail in February 1905, several thousand sailors refused to embark on Nebogatov's ships, claiming (quite justly) that they were obsolete. 1300 sailors were transferred to army disciplinary battalions following the incident.
Despite these problems, Nebogatov did get his ships and his crews ready and put to sea in February 1905. The admiral flew his flag in the old battleship Imperator Nikolai I. Unlike the Second Pacific Squadron, Nebogatov's ships had a relatively uneventful voyage. Described as "a man of sound common sense but hardly a great leader," Nebogatov exercised his crews in night navigation by steaming in formation without lights. Sailing through the Mediterranean, Nebogatov reached Port Said in March. There he received via the Russian consul a message from the Naval Ministry that directed him to rendezvous with the Second Pacific Squadron even though Rozhdestvenskii had already left Madagascar; the Ministry flatly admitted that Rozhdestvenskii's "route is unknown to us." By using the Suez Canal (and lacking Rozhdestvenskii's obsession over coal) Nebogatov made good time, and met the Second Pacific Squadron in Indochina on 25 April/8 May 1905.

Although Rozhdestvenskii outwardly welcomed the Third Pacific Squadron, their presence, and the delays they had caused him, seemed to deepen his gloomy disposition. Nebogatov's ships were simply incorporated into the fleet as the third division, but Rozhdestvenskii did not inform Nebogatov of his intentions or battle plans -- in fact, he did not even tell Nebogatov that Admiral D.G. von FELKERZAM was near death. Although Felkerzam died three days before the Battle of Tsushima, Nebogatov led his squadron into battle without knowing that he was now the fleet's second-in-command.

During the Battle of Tsushima on 14/27 May, Nebogatov's force of coast defense battleships and the old Imperator Nikolai I acquited themselves well in the early stages, demonstrating a high standard of gunnery. His ships inflicted a fair amount of damage on the Japanese, damaging three cruisers and briefly disabling one, the Asama. As the battle progressed, however, Nebogatov's force was gradually out-ranged by the Japanese, who concentrated -- in spite of Klado's absurd theories -- on the more powerful battleships of Rozhdestvenskii's main force. The considerable Japanese speed and maneuvering advantage helped them in this concentration, allowing Togo to bring his full weight of fire to bear on the leading Russian ships, which were put out of action one by one.

The Japanese concentration of the more powerful Russian battleships allowed Nebogatov's ships to survive the first day of battle. During the night, the badly damaged battleship Orël and the cruiser Izumrud also joined his squadron. Steaming with ships darkened and in good order, Nebogatov eluded the Japanese torpedo boats, while other Russian ships used their searchlights and were quickly found by the numerous torpedo craft.

When morning came Nebogatov soon found himself confronted by virtually the entire Japanese fleet. As the unequal action began, Nebogatov called a council of his senior officers; the Japanese were beyond the range of his 10in. and old model 12in. guns, and he faced the prospect of the annihilation of his entire squadron without doing the enemy even token damage. Nebogatov therefore decided to surrender, thereby saving the lives of his crews. He assumed full responsibility for this act, and its first consequences were not long in coming. On 8/21 August 1905, while still in Japanese captivity, he was expelled from the navy.

On return to Russia, he and seventy-seven of his officers were court-martialled at Kronshtadt in December 1906, charged with improperly surrendering the squadron to the enemy. Although the conservative press held that Nebogatov should have fought to the death, most of the press and public believed that the blame for the disaster belonged on the Naval Ministry itself. Nebogatov's defense centered on the fact that his force could not have done any damage to the Japanese: "I would not have hesitated to sacrifice the lives of fifty thousand men if it might have served some purpose.... but what right did I have to sacrifice their lives to no purpose?" The prosecution maintained that it was Nebogatov's conduct, and not the condition of his ships, that was on trial, a position with which the court agreed, ruling out any evidence on the fighting capabilities of Nebogatov's ships. Rozhdestvenskii's testimony on Nebogatov's behalf was equivocal at best, and did nothing to help his second-in-command's defense. On 12/25 December 1906 Nebogatov and three of his captains were found guilty and sentenced to be executed by firing squad, while four other officers were given short prison terms. Tsar Nikolai II commuted the death sentences to ten-year prison terms, and Nebogatov was held in the fortress of Sts. Peter and Paul. There he remained until 3/19 May 1909, when he was freed on the occasion of the tsar's birthday. At noon on that day, Nebogatov left the prison and boarded a streetcar. From that day on he led a quiet existence until his death during the bitter winter of 1922, when famine and fuel shortages ravaged Russia.

Nebogatov was a stout man, considerate of his crews and an intelligent commander. The fact that he was able to shepherd his odd assortment of vessels to the rendezvous with Rozhdestvenskii in Indochina demonstrates considerable skill both as a seaman and a commander, and his surrender at Tsushima was an act of considerable moral courage, for its consequences were inescapable.

(WI, 1/1977, p. 71; Modern Encyclopedia, vol. 24, pp. 120-122; Westwood, Russia, pp. 144, 150-151; Westwood, Witnesses, passim; Hough, Fleet, passim; Testimony of Kolchak, p. 222 n.48; Hartgrove, "Red Tide," pp. 57-58)