There were instances in our lives, at least once, when we avoided certain dangers, and we could consider ourselves lucky. That was more true to a German sailor named Sam who escaped death not only once or twice but thrice. The fact that he’s a cat makes it more impressive.


Bismarck, built for the Nazi’s Kriegsmarine, was the first of two Bismarck-class battleships. It measured 241 meters in length and weighed 41,700 tons, and when it slipped past the Royal Navy once into the North Atlantic, was relentlessly pursued until it was destroyed.

Sam was aboard Bismarck with his German crewman on May 18, 1941, when they set sail for Operation Rheinübung. An operation aimed to block Allied shipping to the United Kingdom. After a ferocious battle, Bismarck sank, and among its 2,100 crew, only 115 survived. Sam was seen after a few hours, floating on a wooden board. An HMS Cossack crew picked him from the water and called him Oscar.

HMS Cossack

Sam, now called Oscar, was officially adopted by HMS Cossack, the UK Tribal-class destroyer who helped chase and sink his previous ride. He had been with Cossack for a couple of months as it carried out its duties convoying in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.

HMS Cossack.

Everything was perfect until October 1941, when Cossack was escorting a convoy from Gibraltar to Great Britain, a torpedo from the German submarine U-563 hit them and killed its 139 members. It was impossible to tow the damaged ship due to the bad weather, so it sank the next day west of Gibraltar. But not Oscar, as he was found clinging on a plank. He was brought to the shore, and after the British officers heard what happened, they changed his name to Unsinkable Sam— a name that fits him better after those two misadventures that he had survived.

HMS Ark Royal

The carrier HMS Ark Royal crew couldn’t resist the adorable and unsinkable cat, so they adopted him. HMS Ark Royal, like Cossack, was part of the team that took down Bismarck. She had survived several near misses and was dubbed as the “lucky ship.” What could go wrong this time? Well, Ark Royal was later on torpedoed by German submarine U-81 in November 1941 as it was returning from Malta. The ship rolled over and sank slowly 30 miles from Gibraltar. This time, Unsinkable Sam was found clinging to yet another floating plank by a motor launch and appeared to be “angry but quite unharmed.” Who wouldn’t!

Ark Royal sinking.

It was then decided that was enough of his sailing career. Sailors can be a bit superstitious and perhaps they thought that a cat that had survived the sinkings of three ships was lucky, but the ships he was aboard were not. He then lived in the residence of the Governor-General in Gibraltar before being sent back to the UK to the ‘Home for Sailors’ in Belfast, where he lived out the remaining six of his nine lives.