This is the first of what I plan to be a series of posts about cats of history. We'll highlight stories about famous cats throughout the years. First up is the legend of a cat famous for surviving 3 shipwrecks - Unsinkable Sam!
It was World War II and the Germans had a battleship named the Bismarck. History.com calls the Bismarck an "ocean-bound castle" and the most formidable battleship to ever have been built. Although there is no official record of the Bismarck having a cat aboard, this is where the legend of Unsinkable Sam starts. It is unclear what his name was at that time, but he was said to have been aboard the Bismarck, perhaps as a stowaway, a pet smuggled aboard by a sailor or maybe even on the job as a mouse catcher.
When the British heard that the Bismarck was on the move, they decided to send a fleet to track it down, including the HMS Prince of Wales and the pride of the Royal Navy, HMS Hood. The Bismarck was successful in sinking the Hood, but the Bismarck sustained a ruptured oil tank and decided to lead back toward Nazi occupied France. It was attacked on the way by the British Navy, and History.com reports that it sank, either as a result of the British attack or a decision by the Germans to scuttle the ship. Over 2,000 souls were lost on the Bismarck, but our friend Unsinkable Sam wasn't one of them. According to allthatsinteresting.com, the British battleship the HMS Cossack started to try to rescue the survivors of the Bismarck and spotted the cat on a floating plank. They rescued him and gave him the name Oscar - sometimes spelled Oskar due to his German roots.
But, that wasn't the end of the story for this ship's cat! The HMS Cossack was sunk by a German torpedo several months later, but once again our hero was saved by the crew of the HMS Ark Royal. Allthatsinteresting.com reports that this is where the boat cat got the name "Unsinkable Sam". After all, he had now survived 2 ship wrecks!
But, that still wasn't the end for Sam! After only about a month since his last rescue, the Ark Royal itself was torpedoed. Sam was again found clinging to a floating plank and according to ZMEScience was described as “angry but quite unharmed”.
At this point, after likely spending 3 of of his line lives, Sam was transferred to a job on land. The Royal Musuems Greenwich says he then worked in the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar and later retired to a seamen's home in Belfast.
The legend of Unsinkable Sam may be just that - a legend, but we know that cats were not unusual on naval vessels at the time, and cats are also famous for their abilities to survive, so if something could survive 3 ship wrecks, a cat would be resourceful enough to do it! Whether true or legend, or maybe a mix of both, the story of this famous cat reminds us hang on even with things around you are sinking!