Unsinkable Sam the Battleship Cat

Tonight, we’re going to hear the tale of a very special animal.  One that is smart and cunning and likes to roam around at night.  One with keen eyesight, superior stalking skills, and sharp claws that can quickly capture its prey.  Do you know what it is?  No, it’s not an owl, a fox, or a tiger.  It’s smaller and might be living inside your house right now!  It’s a CAT!  And did you know that cats are rumored to have 9 lives?

Well, I don’t know if they really do have nine lives, but I know of one cat who was truly remarkable – and survived three truly scary events.  Here’s his amazing story:

Germany, 1941

Many years ago, in 1941, a tiny stray kitten was born in Germany.  The kitten was black with glowing eyes and white patches on his chin, chest, and paws.  Without an owner, he didn’t have a name.  He looked cute – but also spooky, too, like Casper the ghost – always sneaking around on dark nights with glowing eyes and a white belly!  Or maybe people liked to call him “Tuxedo” or “Boo.”

Well, let’s call him “Boo” for now.  Boo enjoyed life immensely in Germany – he loved stalking crickets in green meadows, chasing mice in dark alleyways, and flushing birds out of bushes.  He also liked wandering the streets searching for friendly shopkeepers with fresh food or bowls of crème. 

One day, Boo followed the scent of fish along the banks of the river to a nearby port.  He saw giant ships lined up in a row with men coming and going carrying boxes and crates and bags.  They were walking up wooden gangplanks onto the ships.  Boo thought this must be where they kept all the good food, so late one night he stalked silently up a gangplank, nearly invisible in his black fur. He snuck quickly along the deck and down some stairs, following the smell of food coming from somewhere deep in the ship.  He slunk along dark passageways, his whiskers grazing the cold metal walls until he came to a brightly lit room.  Inside were men, laughing and eating.  Their forks scraped their plates as they shoveled mounds of fish into their mouths and slurped coffee – and MILK!  Boo was so excited – this seemed like heaven on Earth – a whole room full of FOOD!  He inched into the room and skittered under a table.

Then he waited.  And waited.  And waited.  No food fell to the floor and no one seemed to notice him.  This was getting annoying.  The food smelled so delicious and his tummy was rumbling.  So, he started to meow.  Faintly at first and then with more gusto.  Finally, a young sailor heard him and peeked under the table.  Boo glared at him with big, glowing eyes.  The man laughed and threw a piece of fish on the floor.  Boo gobbled it up and meowed for more.  Soon, he was feasting on a whole plate of fish.

Other sailors gathered ‘round, laughing and joking about a cat on board.  But they had lots of questions, too.  Who did he belong to?  How did he get on board?  Would the captain let them keep him?  One sailor rushed off to ask the captain and came back a few minutes later.  “We can keep him!” he shouted.  “The captain said he can stay on board and catch the mice!”  The room erupted in cheers and laughter!

The Battleship “Bismarck”

Boo’s new home was the 41,000-ton German Battleship called the Bismarck, a prize ship of the Nazi Navy or “Kriegsmarine.” A day or so later, it sailed out of port for the open sea.  Boo had never been on a ship before.  He couldn’t understand why the ground seemed to sway below his paws.  This made stalking mice a little trickier, but he soon got his “sea legs” and enjoyed chasing the rodents around the ship.


One day, Boo heard lots of yelling and running – and then loud booms.  Suddenly the ship shook like thunder and started to tilt.  Sailors screamed and ran through the hallways as water rushed into the rooms, rising quickly.  Boo didn’t know what was happening, but he didn’t like it.  And he REALLY didn’t like water.  And this was very cold water.  Boo followed the sailors and raced up metal steps. He saw big waves of water rushing across the deck.  Men were jumping into the water and shouting at others.  Boo didn’t know what to do, but he knew he couldn’t stay on the ship – it was slowly sinking below the waves.  Boo saw a piece of wood floating in the water nearby.  He crouched and sprang into the air, landing on the wooden plank.  It was hard holding on at first, but he dug his claws into the wood and held on.

Soon the ship sank out of sight below the water, along with many of the men who had become his friends.  Boo huddled on the plank for many hours, rocking in the waves, exhausted and alone.  Was he ever going to get off the plank?

The Battleship “Cossack”

Many hours later, another huge battleship came into view – a British battleship called the Cossack.  Someone saw Boo floating on the plank and hoisted him onto the ship.  They wrapped him in a scratchy blanket and took him to a room like the other ship, filled with food and men.  These men’s voices sounded different.  But the food tasted the same – delicious! The men started calling him “Oscar” – probably because he was rescued from a German ship and “Oscar” was a common German name.  

HMS Cossack

The British sailors made a little swinging hammock for Boo – now Oscar – and wrote his name on the side. In no time, he was curled up in the hammock, purring and licking his paws in utter contentment.  The sailors laughed and clapped each other on the back.  They had a lucky mascot on board!

For the next several months, Boo, now Oscar, sailed the oceans – the warm Mediterranean and the chilly North Atlantic.  He stalked mice and curled up on laps.  Life seemed perfect again – until it wasn’t.  Several months later, Oscar heard another loud boom, followed by a violent shudder, and the now-familiar sound of running and screaming.  The ship had been hit by a torpedo!  Once again, Boo was running for his life and jumping onto another floating plank.

HMS Ark Royal

On October 27, 1941, just a few days before Halloween, Oscar the black cat was found floating near Gibraltar and was picked up once again by British sailors on yet another ship, the HMS Ark Royal, a battleship that had helped to sink the Bismark, his first home.  When the sailors heard of Oscar’s adventures on other battleships, they gave him a new name, “Unsinkable Sam!”

HMS Ark Royal

This third ship was considered very lucky – it had survived several near misses and the Germans thought they had sunk her numerous times.  But “Unsinkable Sam” (or Boo or Oscar) couldn’t catch a break.  Once again, his new home, the HMS Ark Royal, was hit by a torpedo within two weeks.  Unsinkable Sam was enraged.  Why did this keep happening to him?  He hated everything about ships and water now.  He just wanted to be on dry land.  

Once again, he was found floating on a plank in the water, and eventually picked up hissing and growling but unharmed.  He was delivered to the Governor’s house in Gibraltar.  He was finally on the solid ground surrounded by trees and birds.  No more fish, mice, or battleships for Boo!

While at the Governor’s house, he heard the words “World War II” spoken a lot.  Was that what all the ships and noise and water were about?  Well, one day he heard the Governor state that “World War II” was over and everyone was leaving the island of Gibraltar to go home.  But where would Boo go?

Belfast, Ireland

He was soon put into a crate and transported to Ireland.  His new home was in Belfast at a “Home for Sailors,” the perfect place for war veterans like Boo, or Oscar, or Unsinkable Sam.  And that is where he spent the remainder of his days, stalking crickets and chasing birds. He lived happily for 14 more years, until November 1955, when he passed away in peace and comfort, in a house filled with love.

The Legend of Unsinkable Sam

So, what do you think of Boo’s – or “Unsinkable Sam’s” story?  Do you believe that cats have nine lives?  Do you believe the myth of black cats crossing your path and bringing bad luck? Do you believe this cat was a blessing or a curse to the battleships and sailors?

I think this cat was very lucky.  He survived three battleship sinkings where many men did not.  On his first ship, the Bismarck, only 139 sailors survived out of 2,200, while 139 sailors died after the sinking of his second ship, the Cossack.  But that wasn’t the cat’s fault.  He just happened to be aboard battleships in the middle of a war. But he was lucky and survived it all, finally finding a home where he enjoyed peace and comfort for many years.

What can we learn from Unsinkable Sam?

I think this story reminds us that we may experience difficult times in our lives, but there is always a way out, a way to move forward to reach brighter days.  If you just hang on, like Boo, Oscar, or Unsinkable Sam did on those planks in the ocean, better days will come.  He was such a brave little cat, and a survivor, too.  

What about you?  Are you facing any challenges in your life?  What can you do to change things for the better, like reaching out to family and friends, teachers, or other adults, to ask for help?  There is always a life raft waiting to bring you to shore – all you need to do is grab it – like Boo or Oscar or Unsinkable Sam!