9 Lives: The Tale of Unsinkable Sam and 9 Other Cats that Sailed the High Seas

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2. Oskar/Unsinkable Sam

Oskar remained in Cossack as a member of the crew, and was aboard when the destroyer was sent to the Mediterranean that fall. Cossack was soon busy with convoying duties, protecting merchant and transport ships from U-Boats, and in that role traveled between Gibraltar and ports in the British Isles. The ship was off Gibraltar when it was torpedoed by a U-Boat on October 23, 1941. Three days later the ship sank after attempts to tow it to Gibraltar failed. More than 150 of her crew were lost. Oskar survived and was taken with the other survivors to Gibraltar. Having now survived the sinking of two warships, British sailors took to calling the cat Unsinkable Sam.

Sam was next brought aboard HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier which had been instrumental in the sinking of Sam’s first home. Just a few weeks later Ark Royal was returning to Gibraltar from Malta when another U-Boat’s torpedoes found their mark. The carrier was severely damaged but sank slowly enough that all of the crew which survived the torpedo attack were rescued from the water, save one.

Oskar/Sam was one such survivor, brought on board a launch from the destroyer HMS Legion – the ship which had rescued him when Cossack sank. According to witnesses, Oskar was unharmed, but “angry.” Oskar/Sam had survived the violent sinking of three warships in less than one year.

It was determined to be enough. Oskar/Sam found a home in the Office of the Governor at Gibraltar for a time before being sent to a home for retired sailors in Belfast. He remained there, evidently quite content to remain ashore, for the rest of his life, dying in 1955 of natural causes.

He is remembered in photos from the two British ships on which he served, and a portrait in pastel hanging in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Some dispute his story arguing that there was no confirmation of Oskar/Sam’s existence from the Bismarck survivors. Others point out that very few of Bismarck’s crew of more than 2,000 survived, and a cat could easily have been overlooked by those that did.

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