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Pre-1917 photo of Kolomeitsev
16 July 1867|
Pokrovka , Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire
6 October 1944 (aged 77)|
|Service/||Imperial Russian Navy|
|Years of service||1880–1915|
|Commands held||Baltic Fleet|
World War I
Order of Saint Stanislaus (Imperial House of Romanov)|
Order of St. George
Order of St. Anna
Order of St. Vladimir
Nikolai Kolomeitsev was born in the village of Pokrovka in the Kherson Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine) in 1867. He entered military service in 1884 and graduated as an officer of the Imperial Russian Navy in 1887. He was promoted to lieutenant in December 1893. In 1894–1895, he was assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet, and after graduating from mine warfare school, served on several vessels operating in Siberia.
Kolomeitsev became a member of the Chief Hydrographic Administration’s Survey Expedition to the White Sea. He also took part in an expedition to the Yenisei Gulf led by L. Dobrotvorskiy, which gave him expertise on sailing in arctic waters.
In 1900, Baron Eduard Toll led an expedition on behalf of the Russian Academy of Sciences on ship Zarya. Kolomeitsev was named commander of the ship. His second-in-command was Fyodor Andreyevich Matisen, who had taken part in a previous exploratory trip to Svalbard. Alexander Kolchak also accompanied the expedition as third naval officer and hydrographer. All these officers were from military backgrounds. Known as 'The Russian Polar Expedition', its aim was to explore well the area north of the New Siberian Islands and eventually sail towards the North Pole in order to find the elusive Sannikov Land.
Kolomeitsev supervised the fitting out of the Zarya in Larvik, Norway. The expedition sailed from Saint Petersburg on 7 July 1900. Soon there was friction between Toll and Kolomeitsev concerning the treatment of the crew. Kolomeitsev, as a classic naval officer of the Russian Imperial Navy tried to keep a distance with the men and to impose harsh punishments for unruly behavior. But Toll (more in line with the spirit of the times in Russia) longed for comradeship, and treated the common sailors as equals. Therefore, both men were getting into each other's nerves. Kolomeitsev interpreted Toll's attitude as an undermining of his authority as commander of the ship. The situation became worse during the first wintering in a bay just southwest of Taymyr Island. (Toll named the bay "Bukhta Kolin Archera", after Colin Archer Shipyard where Zarya had been fitted). Owing to the claustrophobic conditions of the wintering period, the relationship between captain Kolomeitsev and expedition leader Eduard Toll reached the breaking point.
Toll sent Kolomeitsev along with Cossack officer Rastorguyev on dangerous sledge trips into snowstorms to the mouth of Taymyr River. He also sent him on a mission to organize coal depots for the Zarya on Dixon and Golchikha, as well as to bring the mail of the expedition to Dudinka. Toll could not hide his relief at seeing Kolomeitsev depart, but these dangerous trips without even a proper map nearly got Kolomeitsev and Rastorguyev killed. After Kolomeitsev had been relieved of his duties and split from the main expedition, Fyodor Matisen was promoted as commander of Zarya. Although Kolomeitsev and Rastorguyev failed to find the Taymyr River, they travelled more than 800 km, reaching the Dudinka River, a tributary of the Yenisei by May 1901. These trips resulted in significant corrections of the local maps and in the discovery of the Upper Taymyr River.
Years later, Baroness Emmy von Toll, Eduard Toll's widow, played down the fact that there were strong disagreements between "old school" Captain Kolomeitsev and her egalitarian-minded husband. When editing her husband's journal she stated: "Further, I have omitted as non-essential the details of the mutual relations between expedition members."
Apparently, Kolomeitsev was one of the few supporters of Imperial Russia in the expedition. During the last part of the journey, in the New Siberian Islands, Captain Matisen hoisted the flag of the Neva Yacht Club (Nevskiy Flot), instead of the Russian flag, on Zarya's mast. That flag flew over Zarya until it was sunk.
Kolomeitsev wrote two books about his journey with the Russian Polar Expedition; one of them was published in 1901 by the Imperial Naval Academy (Izvestiya Imperatorskoy Akademii Nauk) and the other in 1902 by the Imperial Geographical Society (Izvestiya Imperatorskago Russkago Geographicheskago Obschestva).
During the Russo-Japanese War, Kolomeitsev was captain of the torpedo boat destroyer Buinyi (Буйный) with the 2nd Pacific Squadron, which saw action during the Battle of Tsushima. He became a hero during the battle when he brought his boat alongside the burning flagship Knyaz Suvorov. He rescued Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rozhestvenski, wounded in the head by a shell from his burning and sinking battleship, as well as part of the crew. Admiral Rozhestvenski was transferred to torpedo boat Bedoviy (Бедовый). Kolomeitsev's boat Buinyi returned to Vladivostok and was sunk by artillery fire of cruiser Dmitri Donskoi. Kolomeitsev, also severely wounded, was captured by the Japanese with the crews of Dmitri Donskoy, Buinyi and Oslabya on Dagelet Island. Almaz, Braviy and Grozniy were the only three vessels that returned to Vladivostok after the Tsushima battle.
Following the Russian defeat against Japan, Kolomeitsev served as executive officer on the battleship Andrei Pervozvanny in late 1906. He graduated from the Naval Maritime Academy of Sciences in 1908, he was assigned command of the cruiser Almaz and was promoted to full captain on 6 December 1909. In 1910 Nikolai Kolomeitsev, already in his early forties, married Nina Dmitrievna Nabokov. From November 1910 to December 1913 he commanded the battleship Slava. On 6 December 1913 Kolomeitsev was promoted to the rank of rear admiral.
With the start of World War I in 1914 Kolomeitsev commanded the cruiser squadron of the Russian Baltic Fleet. He retired from active duty on 6 October 1917 with the rank of vice admiral. During the Russian Revolution, he was arrested by the Bolshevik government in 1917 and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in Petrograd. He escaped in 1918 and fled over the ice to Finland. In 1918, he joined the White movement Volunteer Army and the Armed Forces of South Russia and assigned command of the anti-Bolshevik naval forces in the Baltic Sea.
Since he was a war hero, and despite his support of the White movement, Nikolai Kolomeitsev was also honored by the USSR regime. A small island group (Kolomeitsev Islands), a bay in the Kara Sea (Bukhta Kolomeitseva), a mountain (Gora Kolomeitseva) , a river (Reka Kolomeitseva) , as well as a Russian vessel —coastal survey ship Nikolay Kolomeytsev) built in 1972, bear Captain Kolomeitsev's name.