Incredible Historical Cats: Unsinkable Sam

Sparkle Kitty

Unsinkable Sam, the black and white cat, was initially named Oscar but soon earned a historical reputation. Sam’s story began in the Nazi regime’s fleet and ended in the British Royal Navy. While all three ships sank, Sam survived them all: the Bismarck, the HMS Cossack, and the HMS Ark Royal.



In the beginning, Oscar belonged to an unknown crew member of Bismarck and was on board on May 18th, 1941, when Bismarck set sail on Operation Rheinübung, Bismarck’s only mission. The British battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Hood engaged the German battleship Bismarck and her escort the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in a battle where Hood was completely destroyed and Bismarck suffered an oil leak.

Due to the oil leak the British were able to find Bismarck again and torpedo biplanes from the British carrier Ark Royal disabled Bismarck’s rudder making her unable to escape. The ship sank, and only 118 of its 2,200 crew members survived. Oscar was found clinging to a floating board and rescued from the water by the homeward-bound British destroyer HMS Cossack hours later. Unsinkable Sam had officially switched sides from the Nazis to the Allied forces, but his luck didn’t change much.

HMS Cossack

During the next few months, Cossack performed convoy escort duties in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. While things went well for a time, 139 of the destroyer’s crew members were killed when a torpedo damaged the ship.

The Cossack eventually sank 30 miles west of Gibraltar, and Sam was found clinging to a piece of plank. After surviving the ordeal, he was brought to Gibraltar’s shore establishment. In light of what had happened, British officers renamed him Unsinkable Sam, but his adventure wasn’t over yet.

HMS Ark Royal

The crew of the HMS Ark Royal then adopted Unsinkable Sam – ironically, the same ship that helped sink the Bismarck. The Ark Royal survived several near misses and earned the reputation of being a ‘lucky ship.’ Sadly, the luck didn’t last, and on November 14th, 1941, a U-boat torpedoed this ship, too, while returning from Malta.


Sam’s Retirement

This time, Sam was found on a floating plank by a motor launch and described as “angry but unharmed.” Sam had had enough by this point. After being transferred to a job on land, he hunted mice in Gibraltar’s Governor General’s building. His final years were spent at a ‘Home for Sailors’ in Belfast, where he remained until he peacefully passed.

Some question Sam’s story, calling it a ‘sea story.’ Bismarck’s sinking was a horrendous affair as the British threw everything they had at it, making survival especially unlikely. However, we can easily imagine a British soldier saving the cat.

For now, we’ll take the story as it is, regardless of whether it’s true. It can be taken in any way: as a legend, a myth, or a simple fact. Sam’s legacy shows that even in the direst circumstances, even when everything around you is crumbling, you can still cling to a piece of wood, get rescued, and move on to another ship and start over. So it shows that cats indeed have nine lives – all of which are worth living.

Sparkle Kitty