Oscar, cat from the German battleship 'Bismarck'

Framed drawing in pastel, which shows a black-and-white cat sitting on a piece of floating wooden wreckage. It was one of the survivors of the ship, which had a crew of about 2200 of whom only 114 survived its final battle and sinking by units of the Home Fleet in the north Atlantic on 27 May 1941. The cat was the only survivor picked up some hours afterwards from a floating plank by the destroyer 'Cossack', which is where it got the name Oscar or Oskar - since its original one was never known. It survived again when 'Cossack' was torpedoed on 27 October 1941, being rescued by HMS 'Legion' and taken to Gibraltar. It then joined the aircraft carrier 'Ark Royal' with the name of Sam or 'Unsinkable Sam', and survived yet again when that was torpedoed on14 November 1941 (though only one man was lost in this incident) and was again picked up off a floating board. After this it found a safer berth in the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar before going back to pass the rest of the war in a seamen's home in Belfast where it died in 1955.

Some doubt has been cast on Oscar's origins on the 'Bismarck' both for practical reasons, including there being no survivor account of him there, and because two contradictory photos exist, one showing a tabby claimed to be him and the other a black-and-white cat but clearly wearing a collar tag with the inscription 'HMS Amethyst 1949' (which would make that cat 'Simon' not 'Oscar'). Allowing a degree of confusion, however, there is no suggestion 'Oscar' was an official mascot on 'Bismarck' (so possibly aboard as an illicit crew pet) and no reason for the artist to have done this portrait if he was not.

Object Details

ID: PAJ2744
Type: Drawing
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Baker, Georgina Shaw
People: Unsinkable Sam
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Frame: 785 x 610 mm

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