The German battleship was sunk on 27 May
1941. Of more than 2200 men on board, only
116 survived, together with Oscar, the ship's
cat. He was picked up by the British
destroyer HMS Cossack, but she too was
torpedoed a few months later, on 24
October, with the loss of 159 lives. Attempts
to rescue the ship failed, and she was
abandoned and sank two days later. Oscar
survived again, was taken to Gibraltar, and
was then taken on by HMS Ark Royal. His
stay there was even shorter, as the aircraft
carrier was torpedoed by U-81 on 13
November, eventually capsizing and sinking
only 30 miles (50 km) from Gibraltar.
could cause economic damage if the ship was carrying grain or similar substances as
part of its cargo. Rats and mice were also sources of disease, an important
consideration for ships which could be at sea for long periods of time. Cats naturally
attack and kill these rodents.
Ship's cats have been especially important in wartime, when supplies could be short,
and men were far from home for extended periods and welcomed feline
companionship. Sadly, since 1975 the British Royal Navy has banned cats, and indeed
all animals, from its ships. It's a far cry from the days of Louis XIV's French Navy in
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|Too easy. Before I even had my first sip of coffee this morning, I Googled "cat on
ship wwii". Bad typing and all, the first item to pop up had this picture in reverse.
That's Blackie, the mascot of the HMS Prince of Wales. That is Winston Churchill
bending over touching the cat. Whether this was just a friendly pat on the head or an
effort to keep Blackie from visiting the USS Augusta which was moored alongside, I'll
never really know. The Cats Protective League took it as a pat on the head and
commented that cats abhor head-patting and added: "He should have conformed to the
etiquette demanded by the occasion, offering his hand and then awaiting a sign of
approval before taking liberties." ;-)
N. B. When you say "He should have conformed to the etiquette demanded by the
occasion, offering his hand and then awaiting a sign of approval before taking
liberties" does "he" refer to Churchill or Blackie?
Either way, hard to blame the breach of protocol on Churchill. What would have
been the proper response if the cat made the first move and introduced itself to
|Since the quote came from the Cats Protective League, I’m pretty sure they were
taking a tongue-in-cheek stab at Churchill for ‘breaching protocol’. Of course,
Blackie was renamed Churchill. So regardless of who they were talking about it was
Churchill. The Royal Navy could have put a different spin on it. “Churchill stops cat
attack!” During a time of war, the humor of the cat folks was needed.
My neighbor was born and raised in Japan and he is a Japanese history buff. He
knew all about the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales and the H MS Repulse, but
nothing about the cat.
Being that Halloween is this week, is there a connection between Halloween cats and
It is a sign of good luck when a cat comes up to you on a ship.
I think it is awesome that the service men can enjoy the animals.
I am not sure what you want on the last question. Do you mean the comment that
cats don't like to be patted on the head, or that the cat may have been ready to jump
ship and go over to the American ship, or that Blackie, renamed Churchill, was
rescued when the ship was sunk off of Malaya and was in Singapore with the
survivors of the crew. When the crew had to evacuate Singapore Churchill was
nowhere to be found so he was left behind? Or is there something I haven't found
N.B. As you can see from my note above, I actually had the wrong cat in mind.
The one I thought this was has an incredible story that is hard to believe. That's
why I asked if the readers believed it.
I think it was possible that the cat was stopped because the ships carried cats for
many reasons and a ship would not want to lose their cat, also Churchill was a cat
lover.. He had many over the years.
I haven't found any references to a "story" that could be seen as insufficiently
plausible for anyone to disbelieve.
N.B. Too many negatives for me.... "haven't found" - "insufficiently" - " to
disbelieve". I think you mean you believe the story?
I've always had cats as pets and admired their adaptive nature. My present incumbent
is Miss Cali.
|N.B. Should that be "recumbant" and not "incumbant"?
Knowing my cats, I think correct protocol would be to wait for the cat to signal it's
interest and make the approach. Unwanted attention could be met with hissing and
wild swings with sharp claws or a sudden turn and head for cover. Churchill was
correct in waiting for the cat to approach. He must have had some experience with
You're right about my present incumbent/recumbent. I
think Miss Cali is going into hibernation. It's been 0C
or below -0C most of this week with about 3 inches of
snow. There are not many birds or squirrels active
outside, so she is probably bored.
I do enjoy your site.
One thing is certain, the photo in the quiz is reserved from the one in the Wikipedia
article. A look at where the button holes are located, typically on the left side of a
man's jacket, make me suspect the quiz photo has been switched. (Artist's license?)
|N.B. No - Quizmaster's license!
I'll have to 'paws' and reflect before I answer that question.
That Churchill was a cat owner, he knew how to held out his hand to show that he
was friendly. After all, Churchill was a guest on the cat's ship.
I guess it all depends on whether the Blackie was actually deserting the British ship~ If
Blackie was indeed headed for the American ship, Churchill made the right move. I
hope Blackie/Churchill has lots of descendants running around Singapore!
After extensive research, I think that a cat will welcome a groveling Prime Minister.
The correct form is to offer ones hand in a gesture of submission while planning to
save the world from crazed Evil, and then wait for the cat to approve or disapprove.
Technically, at the time of the photo, since neither the cat nor Churchill were naval
officers(Churchill was Prime Minister [no longer the First Lord of the Admiralty], but
the Commander-in Chief of the armed forces of Great Britain is the Sovereign,
although the PM, for all practical purposes, serves in that capacity), it would make no
difference - again, technically - who approached first. In practice, I can't find
anything which dictates such protocol, if it even exists. Churchill loved cats, and had
several himself, so I suspect he would not have stood on protocol to greet any cat,
anywhere. Cats have been banned from British ships since the 1970's, I think.
There were certainly lots of cats to choose from! It was interesting to read all the
stories (meowographies?) of seafaring cats. After I found the right cat I saw that you
had reversed the original photo to make it a bit more challenging - I know you've
mentioned doing that in the past but I never seem to remember that little technique.
Love the debates, I really enjoy the fun people have, you included, with these quizzes.
And learning lots of stuff.
My experience with cats (all my life) is that they are reserved until you offer fingers to
be sniffed. However, if you initially offer said fingers with the palm down (as you
might with a dog), they will turn away leary of being grabbed. Fingers offered with
the palm up is a signal that you are not trying to trap them.
Because Churchill was a "cat person", I suspect he had already recognized the cat's
authorization to approach (the cat being a senior officer on the vessel) and had used
the palm up for finger sniffing so that, at the time of the photo, the cat had deemed
him acceptable, was offering friendship, and waiting for the mandatory ear scratch.
I currently have three cats and two of them are very demanding when it comes to ear
scratching and head rubbing. If you don't have something in your hand, you will soon
notice a cat head bumping up against your fingers. :)
However, I did not check the content of those sites.
Had I done so, I would have read the story of Blackie,
not the other cat.
Thanks to all the readers who straightened me out this
week. Meow! - Q. Gen.
|Congratulations To Our Winners
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Robert Edward McKenna
Quiz Poet Laureate
|Comments from Our Readers
|Click here to see results of
5th occasional photoquiz survey.
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10th occasional photoquiz survey.
|Answers to Quiz #373 - October 28, 2012
|1. What is the name of the cat?
2. What is the name of the ship?
3. What is his story? Do you believe it?
|"Cat is a Cat,
And that is that."
Said Dr. Seuss.
But there was much more to one Cat's story!
One that brought a Ship's mascot a lot of glory.
Robert Edward McKenna
Quiz Poet Laureate
Returned from hiatus in the Far East
What is Naval protocol
When greeting a cat?
Do you make the first move?
Do you take off your hat?
Should you wait for a sec
'Til a paw is extended
To give your respect
So he isn't offended.
I'll toy with this later
No need for such flap.
It's just after dinner.
So time for my nap!
Colleen Fitzpatrick PhD
Understudy to Quiz Poet Laurreate
Robert Edward McKenna
|Submitted by Quizmaster Suzan Orchard-Farris.
|How Arthur Solved the Puzzle
|I googled Ship's Cats and immediately was sent to wikipedia where all
was explained. Tineye gave 5 other locations where the (reverse)
picture could be found. Google's images gave many copies of
Winston Churchill and Blackie. One of them put me on
brigadierblackie.blogspot.com where I found more about Blackie.
For a long time it was thought that cats first
started to become domesticated some 5,000
to 8,000 years ago, when the Egyptians
began storing grain and the rats and mice
moved in for a feast. However, in 2004 an
archaeological dig at a Neolithic village in
the south of the Mediterranean island of
Cyprus unearthed the skeleton of a cat
alongside that of a human who had been
carefully interred. This makes it the earliest
known domestic cat, dated to about 9,500
In August of 1941 Winston Churchill,
Britain's wartime prime minister, was
meeting President Roosevelt of the USA
on board this battleship while it was
positioned off the coast of Newfoundland;
they were discussing the Atlantic Charter.
Churchill noticed the ship's large, black
cat Blackie apparently about to desert in
favour of the American ship Augusta,
moored alongside, whereupon he
immediately bent down to stroke the cat
and stopped him from leaving. Churchill
was very fond of cats and at the time had
his own 'Nelson' at home.
1. Blackie aka Churchill
2. HMS Prince of Wales
3. Winston Churchill (pictured with Blackie) met him after
attending a secret meeting to discuss the Atlantic Charter
with Franklin Roosevelt on board a ship
off the coast of Newfoundland.
|Remark from the Quizmaster General
Convoy was the ship's cat aboard HMS
Hermione. He was so named because of
the number of times he accompanied the
ship on convoy escort duties. Convoy
was duly listed in the ship's book and
provided with a full kit, including a tiny
hammock where he would sleep. He
stood by his ship to the end and was lost
along with 87 of his crew mates, when
the Hermione was torpedoed and sunk on
16 June 1942 by U-205.
|This is the first time in the 7 1/2 years I have been posting the quizzes that I
have been completely in error about a photo. When Suzan Farris submitted
the quiz, she identified Blackie as Unsinkable Sam, with his own incredible
story (see below). In researching the quiz, I checked whether the picture could
be found on Tineye-in fact, there are about half a dozen sites where it is posted.
|This picture is a perfect illustration of the maxim, "Dogs have
owners; cats have staff". To solve this puzzle, we toyed with some
ideas, batted around a few strategies before we stalked it via search
engines. We cornered it using the search terms, shipboard, cat, and
naval, which allowed us to pounce on the site
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship's_cat. On learning some details, we
pursued the puzzle mercilessly, finally delivering the killing-bite. We
proudly lay its carcass at your feet for your approval. Why are you
standing on a chair?
Gotta go, it's nap time.
John and Susie Roberts
N.B. Makes purrfect sense to me... - Q. Gen.
|Pooli at 15, on July 4, 1959
Pooli served aboard a United States attack
transport during the Second World War. A
veteran who rates three service ribbons and
four battle stars, Pooli shows she can still
get into her old uniform (pictured on her
Blackie was, of course, straight away renamed Churchill and was a much loved
mascot. When the ship was sunk later that year off Malaya by the Japanese, with great
loss of life, Churchill the cat managed to make it ashore with some of the crew to Sime
Road Royal Air Force Station in Singapore. He settled in with them, shared their rations
and moved camp with them. But in February 1942 orders came to evacuate Singapore
within hours and Churchill, off on one of his hunting trips, could not be found in time.
Despite extensive searches, he finally had to be left to his fate.
|Simon, of HMS Amethyst
awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry
under enemy fire
Later the Egyptians took cats on Nile boats to catch birds in the thickets along the
riverbanks — the first waterborne cats! (right) Before long, traders from other nations
were taking felines on their ships to help control rodents, and that is how cats started to
colonise the world.
As time went by they reached virtually all parts of the world by ship, and over the
centuries their offspring developed into different breeds according to the climate in
which they found themselves and the mates they took.
The history of ships' cats thus goes back a very long time indeed.
Cats do not have a natural or important place in mankind's wars in the same way as
dogs, horses and some other animals do, since (as cat owners will know!) it is very
difficult to get a cat to do what you want. There were stories that the Americans tried
to use cats during the Vietnam war, but they were too easily distracted and either
started playing or disappeared into the
jungle! However, these tales are
apocryphal. During the nineteenth century
it is said that the Belgians tried using cats
to deliver letters, but with a marked lack
There is one function that cats have
fulfilled since time immemorial, though,
and that is as ship's cats, where they kept
the vessel's stores free from rodents.
These rodents, when aboard, could cause
considerable damage to ropes and
woodwork. More serious was the threat
rodents posed to the stores the ship
carried. Not only could they devour the
foodstuff carried to feed the crew, they
Lieutenant Commander R H Palmer
OBE, RNVR plays with Peebles, the
ship's cat, who leaps through his
clasped arms on board HMS Western
Isles, at Tobermory, Mull
the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when
it is reported that all French ships were ordered to
carry two cats for rodent-control duties.
Cats, being attached to a territory as much as to
people, are better mascots for a ship's company —
or perhaps for an air-force base — than they are for
an army regiment which is likely to be on the move
for much of the time during war. The story of
Simon of HMS Amethyst is well known and it
seems likely that one reason he didn't survive in
quarantine was simply that he pined so much for his
ship and his friends on board. Some ships had more
than one cat (and many kittens were born at sea);
and ship's cats were able to, as it were, 'rise
through the ranks' to become the mascot of a
particular part of a ship, such as the engine room or
one of the mess-decks, before going on to maybe
ultimately become the 'official' mascot of the whole
Tiddles at his station aboard
HMS Victorious. He
eventually travelled over
30,000 miles (48,000 km)
during his time in service.
again, was taken to Gibraltar, and was then taken on by HMS Ark Royal. His stay there
was even shorter, as the aircraft carrier was torpedoed by U-81 on 13 November,
eventually capsizing and sinking only 30 miles (50 km) from Gibraltar.
Yet again Oscar was lucky — but there were no more ships for him, as it was decided
that his presence was certainly not lucky! By now known as Unsinkable Sam, this great
survivor among cats stayed as mouse-catcher in the Governor General of Gibraltar's
office buildings until he was taken by a brave ship to Belfast, in Northern Ireland
(although some reports say Plymouth). There he lived until his death in 1955, at the
Home for Sailors. A portrait of him has a place of honour in the National Maritime
Museum in Greenwich, on the River Thames near London.
Some serious researchers of the matter believe that the tale of Oscar as given above,
while it makes a marvellous story, is what would probably today be called an 'urban
myth', and is highly unlikely to have happened in that way, or even at all.
The reasons are several:
1. None of the survivors from Bismarck remembers there being such a cat on the ship
— not even the Baron, who would have been in its likely home of the wardroom.
2. There is no photographic or documentary evidence of a cat on board (and there are
plenty of surviving photos of and from Bismarck).
3. A small animal like a cat in the sea could not have reached a rescue ship. Both of the
rescue ships present (neither of which was the Cossack, incidentally) were high-sided
vessels, and Bismarck's survivors, covered in oil, had to climb ropes in heavy seas to
reach safety — so how could an extremely wet cat have got on board? A sailor would
not have been able to reach down and pick it up, either. And no cat could have survived
for long, drenched through and very cold, to be picked up later.
4. Human survival instincts make it extremely unlikely that any sailor, German or
British, as much as they liked their mascots, would have rescued an animal under the
very poor conditions at the time, when all efforts were being concentrated on saving
5. The Ark Royal part of the tale sounds similarly unlikely. On that occasion the ship
sank very slowly; there was time to evacuate all survivors in an orderly way, and no
one had to be rescued from wreckage. If there had been a cat alive, unless it hid itself
very well, it would not have had to be in the water at all.
6. Lastly, there seem to be two different versions of Oscar!
The photo (right), although copied a number of times,
definitely shows a striped tabby. However, the painting in
the British National Maritime Museum (above), supposedly
of Oscar, shows a 'tuxedo' (black-and-white) cat. They
cannot both be correct — but is either of them? Did Oscar
ever exist, or was he the figment of someone's fertile