Boat Cats II

Famous Boat Cats

Meet the famous boat cats who’ve sailed the seas, bringing companionship and charm to sailors worldwide. 

The prevalence of cats on ships has also led to media coverage of cats, thanks to well-known sailors. Especially during the Second World War, with the spread of mass media and the rise of news about world navies, manyboat cats and  ship cats also became famous media personalities.

Boat Cats - Blackie


Blackie, who served as a ship’s cat on the British Royal Navy’s warship HMS Prince of Wales, is perhaps the first famous cat in media history. In August 1941, during the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic to the coast of Nova Scotia on the Prince of Wales ship to hold a secret meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Churchill was about to leave the ship to meet with Roosevelt. 

Seeing Blackie walking towards him, Churchill stopped and reached out to caress him, and the photographers captured the moment. The photo was published in newspapers around the world.

Blackie survived the sinking of the ship by the Japanese Air Force in the same year as the attack on HMS Prince of Wales and was taken to Singapore with the survivors. He was not found when Singapore was evacuated the following year and his fate is unknown.


Simon was the ship’s cat of the British Navy HMS Amethyst. In 1949, the ship was disabled in a bombardment on the Yangtze river that killed 25 of her crew, including the commander. After the incident, the ship remained unsupported and disabled, stuck in the mud for almost 10 weeks while the two governments negotiated. Simon survived the bombardment with minor injuries, soon recovered and fought off the attacking rats, maintaining the crew’s dwindling food supply and continuing to boost crew morale.

Boat Cats - Simon

After the ship’s crew escaped the situation one night with a risky escape plan, the crew and Simon were greeted as war heroes. Simon was promoted to the rank of Able Seacat by the British Navy.

Boat Cats - Simon's medals

He was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest honour bestowed on animals for bravery in battle, by the British animal rights group People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Simon became the only cat to win a Dickin medal.

After Simon retired fron being a boat cat, returned to England, he contracted an infection and died shortly afterwards. His obituary was published in The Times and his funeral was formally held with full navy honours.

Oscar/Unsinkable Sam

When the German battleship Bismarck was sunk by the British Navy on 27 May 1941, only 116 of the over 2,200 crew members survived. British sailors aboard HMS Cossack, one of the British Navy ships involved in the attack, saw a black and white cat swimming in the sea, trying to hold on to a piece of wood. The cat was rescued and the rescuers named it Oscar. On October 24, 1941, HMS Cossack was torpedoed and sunk by the German navy. 

159 of the Cossack crew died, but Oscar survived and was rescued after this attack. Oscar was taken to Gibraltar and became the ship’s cat of HMS Ark Royal. Ark Royal was also torpedoed and sunk in November of that year, but Oscar was rescued again.

Because he survived the sinking of three ships, Oscar was nicknamed Unsinkable Sam. With 6 of his 9 lives remaining, Unsinkable Sam has been reassigned on land to a new job as a rat hunter in the Gibraltar Governor’s office buildings. He was eventually taken to England and spent the rest of his life in the ‘Sailors’ House’. A portrait of Oscar/Unsinkable Sam is still on display in the collections of the British National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

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