UNSINKABLE SHIP CAT

Ships, including warships, often have feline crew members, and in WW II, a tuxedo cat managed to served on three different warships.

This sea-faring moggie started out on the German battleship, the Bismarck, and then, when it was sunk (May 27th, 1941), shamelessly went over to the enemy to save his own fur. The British destroyer Cossack found him floating among some wreckage and brought him aboard their vessel. The cat’s rescuers called him Oscar, possibly because names are used in conjunction with marine signal flags that stand for letters of the alphabet, and the ‘O for Oscar’ means, ‘man overboard’. Since this cat overboard was no longer in peril from the sea, and again had a shipload of minions to serve him, it’s doubtful he objected to the name change. Or to the later nickname of ‘Unsinkable Sam’.

There are no known photos of Oscar (causing some of a cynic nature to doubt his adventurous existence), but the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich has a pastel drawing of him, and there is no reason for ship cat artist, Georgina Shaw-Baker, to have entitled it ‘Oscar The Bismarck Cat’ if he hadn’t once held that post. The British consider black cats lucky, and if Oscar was a tuxedo cat as depicted, that white bib obviously kept him from bringing the crew of the Cossack any better fortune than he had to the men aboard the Bismarck. On October 24th, 1941, the Cossack was hit by a torpedo and sustained heavy damage and crew loss. The surviving crewmembers (including Oscar) were taken to Gibraltar, where Oscar found a berth on aircraft carrier the Ark Royal. 

He had barely got comfortable, however, when the Ark Royal also came under torpedo attack (November 14th, 1941) and the hapless animal again found himself clinging to a section of his former home’s remains. This time, rescuers described their furry rescuee as ‘angry but quite unharmed’. And who could blame him. (“What the hell is wrong with you people? Can’t you keep anything afloat?”)

After being once more returned to Gibraltar, it was decided Oscar should henceforth be left ashore. (If only to stop the destruction of any ship he was aboard.) For a while, he lived in the office of Gibraltar’s Governor-General but was later taken to the UK, where, in 1955, he ended his days as a resident of a seaman’s home in the Belfast.

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