The Unsinkable Sam (also known as the Oscar) is the nickname of a German ship cat that is said to have served in the Kriegsmarin (Navy) and the Royal Navy during World War II.
The original name of the cat is unknown. The name Oscar was given to him by the crew of the British destroyer HMS Cossack, which saved him from the sea after the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. The name Oscar is derived from the International Signal Code for the letter “O”, which is the code for “Man Overboard”.
The black and white cat was reportedly owned by an unknown crew member of the German battleship Bismarck and was on board on May 18, 1941 when it sailed for Operation Rheinübung, Bismarck’s only mission. Bismarck was sunk after a fierce naval battle on May 27, of which only 115 of his team of over 2,100 survived. A few hours later, Oscar was found floating on a board and was picked up by members of the crew of the British destroyer HMS Cossack. They didn’t even know what his name was on Bismarck, so the Cossacck crew named their new mascot Oscar.
Age of service in the "Royal Navy"
The cat served on the Cossack ship for the next few months as the ship performed the duty of escorting convoys in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. On October 24, 1941, Cossack accompanied a convoy from Gibraltar to Great Britain, when it was severely damaged by a torpedo fired by a German U-563 submarine. 170 crew members were transferred to HMS Legion, and they tried to tow the Cossack ship, which was in the terrible side, to Gibraltar. However, worsening weather conditions meant that the task became impossible and they had to leave the ship. On October 27, one day after they left it, the Cossack sank west of Gibraltar. The initial explosion blew up one-third of the front of the ship, killing 159 crew members, but Oscar survived this and came ashore in Gibraltar.
Now called "The Unsinkable Sam", the cat was soon transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which happened to be key in the destruction of Bismarck (along with Cossack). However, Sam did not have much more luck there, and when he returned from Malta on November 14, 1941, this ship was torpedoed. This time by U-81. They tried to bring the Ark Royal to Gibraltar, but the unstoppable influx of water into the ship made the task futile. The aircraft carrier sank 30 miles from Gibraltar. The slow speed at which the ship sank meant that the entire crew could be saved. Survivors, including Sam, who were found floating on the engine dashboard were described as “angry but quite unharmed,” transferred to HMS Lightning and the same HMS Legion that rescued the Cossack crew. The Legion was sunk in 1942, and the Lightning in 1943.
Retirement of the Unsinkable Sam!
The sinking of the Ark Royal ship marked the end of Sam’s ship career. He was first transferred to the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar, and then sent to the United Kingdom, where he lived for the rest of the war in a sailors' home in Belfast called the "Home for Sailors". Sam died in 1955.
A pastel portrait of Sam (named Oscar, Bismarck’s Cat) by artist Georgina Shaw-Baker is housed in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
As for Sam’s legacy - it shows that even in the most difficult of circumstances, even as everything around you collapses, you can still hold on to a piece of wood, save yourself and move on to another ship and start over. Or it shows that cats really have 9 lives.
A beautiful story. I love cats. I had one that looked similar to the Oscars, but unfortunately she left and never came back ...