Unsinkable Sam: The Lucky Cat Who Used Three Of His Nine Lives To Survive Shipwrecks

By Karen Harris
A view of the German battleship Bismarck firing on a merchant ship in the north Atlantic. The Bismarck was sunk after attack by the British fleet on May 27, 1941. (Keystone/Getty Images)

They say cats have nine lives, but for the feline lovers of the world, that myth proves tragically untrue all too often. Some furry friends, however, are luckier than others. One kitty emerged as one of them during World War II, when he famously defied death not once, not twice, but three times.

Unsinkable Sam

"Unsinkable Sam," as he came to be known, was actually a German cat named Oscar who was probably born around 1939. Two years later, a young soldier brought him aboard the battleship Bismarck to keep the ship rodent-free, a job he reportedly excelled at. Just days later, on May 27, the German battleship was hit with a barrage of cannon fire from the British Navy and sank. The cat was among only 115 survivors out of the 2,200 sailors onboard, found clinging to a board in the open waters by the crew of the H.M.S. Cossack. They adopted the handsome black-and-white furball as their own, and Oscar thus switched sides to join the Allies.

The H.M.S. Cossack spent a few months in the Mediterranean Sea but left the Straits of Gibraltar to escort a convoy back to the U.K., and on October 24, 1941, it was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine. The damage killed 159 of the 190 sailors on the ship, which sank three days later, but once again, the cat was found floating on the wreckage. At this point, some of the Cossack's surviving sailors began calling him "Unsinkable Sam."