Cats in 20th Century History (Cats in War-Unsinkable Sam)

Unsinkable Sam Georgina Shaw-Baker UK National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, cats in war

Unsinkable Sam
Georgina Shaw-Baker
UK National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Even though some refute the story of this buoyant cat as being true, it is an amazing story of survival which most probably inspired hope in bleak wartime. The black and white cat Oscar “(Oskar in German)”, or as he later became known, Unsinkable Sam, was ship’s mascot on the German battleship Bismarck.

The German Battleship Bismarck, cats in war, Unsinkable Sam, cats in WWII

The German Battleship Bismarck

Out of a crew of 2,200, only 118 and Oscar survived the sinking on May 27th, 1941.  Rescued by the HMS Cossack, Oscar again survived another sinking on October 24th when the Cossack was torpedoed and 159 of her crew were killed. 

HMS Cossack, cats in war, ships cats, cats in WWII, Unsinkable Sam

HMS Cossack



Rescued again, the lucky feline was taken to Gibraltar where he became the ship’s cat on the HMS Ark Royal that was ironically instrumental in sinking the Bismarck, but like the Cossack was torpedoed and sunk.  Clinging to a floating plank, the cat now renamed Sam along with the survivors were found. Rescuers described Sam as “angry but quite unharmed”.

HMS Ark Royal Sinking, cats in war, wartime cats, unsinkable Sam, ships cats

HMS Ark Royal Sinking

After having survived three ships’ sinkings, “Oscar of the Bismarck” /”Unsinkable Sam” was then transferred to a job on land hunting mice at the office buildings of the Governor General of Gibraltar.  Eventually the lucky cat returned to the UK where he remained for the rest of his life at a ‘Home for Sailors’ in Belfast until his death in 1955.  


Want to know more about the cat in history, art and literature?  Then this is the book for you. Available now on Amazon.



Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats



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