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Meet the legendary "Unsinkable Sam"

Let me introduce you the cat who survived 3 sinking ships!

It is said that cats have nine lives. If so, there has been one very lucky in history which used just a few of his.

During World War II, many cats became known for their service on ships and the role of ship's cat was a position officially recognized by several navies. The main purpose of having these pets on board was mainly to fight against rodents, since rats created trouble for the crew and even carried germs that caused the plague. And rodents were one reason for the prevalence of cats aboard but not the main one. They provided companionship and served as a good luck charm for the crew and their ship and helped to relieve stress.

Bismark in 1940

What made this pet become more famous than its colleagues by earning it the nickname "Unsinkable Sam"? During his experience in navy he survived the sinking of three different ships!

The military career of Unsinkable Sam began in 1941. He was about 2 years old when one of the sailors of the German Nazi battleship Bismarck carried him aboard. At the time his name was Oscar, he had short black and withe hair and lively eyes.

During its first and last journey the BISMARCK was sunk in the open sea after a long hunt and an intense cannonade by the British navy. On 27 May only 115 sailors out of more than 2,200 embarked survived the sinking. The cat was found hours later floating on a board: he had survived by clawing a wooden grating. He was pick up from the water and rescued by the crew of the destroyer HMS COSSACK (being the only survivor to be rescued by the homeward-bound British destroyer HMS Cossack) who then adopted him. At the time, the cat’s name was unknown so the crew decided to call him Oscar.

This little pet switched sides from the Nazi to the Allied forces then ...

HMS Cossack

Sadly, history repeats itself. Oscar served on board the COSSACK for a few months, during which the ship was used as an escort unit in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. On 24 October 1941 the COSSACK left Gibraltar to escort a convoy to the United Kingdom and was torpedoed by the German submarine U-563. Struck by a torpedo, it suffered serious damage that compromised its stability: the bow had been damaged for about a third of the length of the ship, causing 159 victims amongst 190 total crew.

The destroyer HMS LEGION tried to tow the damaged ship, however, a worsening of the weather conditions made the attempt fail. Then the crew, including Oscar, was rescued by the LEGION while the COSSACK sank October 27 off Gibraltar. The cat survived again, he was found clinging to a piece of plank floating on the sea. When British officers were told what Oscar had been through they decided that the nickname "Unsinkable Sam" was much more appropriate for such a lucky pet!

HMS ARK ROYAL rescued by HMS LEGION in order to take off survivors

However, Sam hadn't even had time to settle into the new ship that misfortune knocked at his door again ... A few months later, Sam took service on the HMS ARK ROYAL aircraft carrier which at that time was looking for a cat as an anti-mouse aid.

On a return trip from the central Mediterranean, where the carrier had launched reinforcement planes to Malta, the HMS ARK ROYAL was torpedoed by the U-81 submarine on November 14, 1941. Every attempt to pull the wreck failed because of the enormous leaks from which the sea entered. The ship capsized thirty miles from the coast of Gibraltar.

The sinking was slow enough to allow the rescue of the entire crew, with the exception of one man. Unsinkable Sam was rescued from the water by the crew of the HMS Legion. He was clinging to a floating artifact of a destroyed lance. Oscar was described by the crew as unharmed, but "angry." He had survived the violent sinking of three warships in less than one year!

After the umpteenth sinking, Oscar found a home in the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar who thought Sam had been through too much to serve as ship's cat again. it was time for him to retire. He was then repatriated to the United Kingdom where he received room and board in the House for Sailors in Belfast. Happy to live far from the sea for the rest of his life, this was his home until his death (of natural causes) in 1955.

During his lifetime, Unsinkable Sam became famous. He is remembered in photos from the British ships on which he served as well as in a pastel portrait titled “Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat” by the artist Georgina Shaw-Baker exposed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.



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