Unsinkable Sam the Cat

This cat allegedly survived not one or two sinkings but three. I am sure he used up a few of his 9 lives.

Originally named Oscar he saw service in both the Kriegsmarine and Royal Navy during the WWII. He was a black and white patched cat and had been owned by an unknown crewman of the German battleship Bismarck. He was on board the ship on May 18, 1941 when it set sail on Operation Rheinübung. Bismarck was sunk after a fierce sea-battle on May 27 , from which only 118 from its crew of over 2,200 survived. Hours later, Oscar was found floating on a board and picked from the water, the only survivor (alongside 114 others) to be rescued by the homeward-bound British destroyer HMS Cossack. This is were he picked up the name Oscar. He became the crew of Cossack’s new mascot.

The cat served on board Cossack for the next few months as the ship carried out convoy escort duties in the Mediterranean and north Atlantic. On October 24, 1941, Cossack was escorting a convoy from Gibraltar to Great Britain when it was severely damaged by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U-563. Crew were transferred to the destroyer HMS Legion, and an attempt was made to tow the the Cossack but this failed. The ship would end up sinking. The initial explosion had blown off one third of the forward section of the ship, killing 159 of the crew, but Oscar survived this too and was brought to the shore establishment in Gibraltar.

Now nicknamed “Unsinkable Sam”, he was soon transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which coincidentally had been instrumental in the destruction of Bismarck. When returning from Malta on November 14, 1941, this ship too was torpedoed, this time by U-81. The carrier rolled over and sank 30 miles from Gibraltar. The slow rate at which the ship sank meant that all but one of the crew could be saved. The survivors, including Sam, who had been found clinging to a floating plank by a motor launch, was described as “angry but quite unharmed” was transferred to HMS Lightning and the same HMS Legion which had rescued the crew of Cossack. Legion would itself be sunk in 1942, and Lightning in 1943.

Sam’s shipborne career would come to an end when he was transferred first to the offices of the Governor in Gibraltar, and then sent back to the United Kingdom, where he saw out the remainder of the war living in a seaman’s home in Belfast called the “Home for Sailors”.

Sadly, Sam passed in 1955. In tribute a pastel portrait of Sam (titled “Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat”) by the artist Georgina Shaw-Baker was done and now is in the possession of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Some people question the validity of Sam’s story, classing it as a ‘sea story’. The sinking of the Bismarck, and rescue of a limited number of survivors, took place in desperate conditions; British ships were ordered not to stop as there was believed to be a U-boat in the area and many survivors were left to drown. There is also no mention of this incident in Ludovic Kennedy’s detailed account of the sinking.

Adela