For centuries, the stories of sailors have captivated audiences from one end of the world to the other. Tales of terrifying monsters, beautiful mermaids, and otherworldly storms offer intrigue and enthrallment, but these accounts are often debunked as mere myths. However, a more modern sea story offers excitement completely rooted in factual events.
During the heat of World War II, the British Royal Navy was locked in nautical warfare with the ships of Nazi Germany. The sailors of the Royal Navy scored a critical victory on May 27, 1941, when they sunk the Bismarck, one of the Nazi’s most formidable battleships. When British ships returned to the scene of the sinking, they discovered that only 116 of the 2,200 crew members aboard Bismarck survived, one of which was a black and white cat found clinging to a piece of debris. The crew of the HMS Cossack rescued the floating feline and named him Oscar.
For the next few months, Oscar remained aboard the Cossack, serving as the ship’s cat. Although Allied sailors initially thought Oscar’s luck was unimaginably favorable, the cat’s streak of bad luck was only beginning. On October 27, 1941, the Cossack was struck by a German torpedo, badly damaging the ship and taking the lives of 139 sailors. Although the Royal Navy attempted to tow the injured Cossack to port, the ship eventually sank, once again leaving poor Oscar floating on a plank and waiting for rescue. For the second time, sailors recovered the cat and ferried him safely to shore. When British officers heard of the cat’s series of misadventures, they gave him the moniker “Unsinkable Sam.”
Sam returned to sea aboard the HMS Ark Royal (oddly enough, the Ark Royal had helped sink the Bismarck). For the first few weeks aboard his new ship, Sam’s luck seemed to have changed for the better. The Ark Royal had several close calls with enemy U-boats, but remained afloat despite the constant threat of German torpedoes. However, the Ark Royal’s fortune eventually failed, and it was torpedoed on November 14, 1941. Much like the Cossack, the Ark Royal sunk after a failed attempt to tow her to port. Yet again, Sam was rescued from the wreckage. The sailors who recovered Sam described him as “angry but quite unharmed.”
Deciding that Sam had experienced enough maritime adventure for all of his nine lifetimes, the Royal Navy assigned Sam to the building of Gibraltar’s Governor-General. There he was responsible for keeping the government establishment mouse-free. Eventually, Sam was transferred to a Home for Sailors in Belfast where he remained until his death in 1955. One of the most fascinating (and non-fiction) sea stories, the tale of Unsinkable Sam continues to enchant history buff and cat lovers alike.