The Legendary Cat That Survived Three Shipwrecks And a War

His name was Unsinkable Sam and he went viral long before the internet was invented

Grant Piper
4 min readMar 23, 2022

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Sinking of HMS Ark Royal (Public domain)

On May 27th, 1941, the German battleship Bismark was sent to the bottom of the ocean after a fierce naval battle with the Royal British Navy. Over 2,000 crewmembers lost their lives in the aftermath. Hundreds of dead and wounded were put into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

After the battle, the HMS Cossack moved in and began picking through the wreckage. The British destroyer was looking for survivors. The destroyer found a lot of German sailors splashing in the sea but they also found something else — a cat.

A black and white cat was reportedly clinging to a board in the waves awaiting rescue with the rest of the crew that had survived. Cats on ships were very common but it was not often that one survived such a violent wreck.

Delighted, the British sailors plucked the cat from the sea and rehabilitated it back to health aboard its new home. The British named the cat Oscar after the German code for “O” which had been playing on repeat signaling men overboard.

The cat had survived one shipwreck when thousands of others hadn’t and it was going to survive a whole lot more.

HMS Cossack

Portrait of Unsinkable Sam (Public domain)

After fishing out the survivors of the Bismark the Cossack returned to its regularly scheduled duty of escorting convoys around the European theater. The Cossack would only have four months of peace before it too ran afoul of the war. In October of 1941 in the waters around Gibraltar, the destroyer was hit by a German torpedo and began to sink.

The British tried to rescue the ailing vessel but bad weather and the presence of German U-boats in the area made the task impossible. They abandoned the destroyer to her fate and transferred as many crew as possible to a nearby vessel.

As the evacuation of the Cossack was taking place an explosion tore through her bow and vaporized a third of the ship killing over 150 sailors. But…

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Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.