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Cats in Wartime


NOTE: We'd be delighted to hear from anyone who can add to our account of cats in wartime – on land, sea or in the air – from any part of the world. Photos would be even better!



2.  At Sea: Ship's Cats

[ for wartime cats on land and in the air, see this separate page ]


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 of success.

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 and also acted as mascots and companions to the crew. They were 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 the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when it is reported that all French ships were ordered to carry two cats for rodent-control duties.

Many of these wartime tales are short and without photos, as they date from decades ago now; information is sparse and snippets have been gleaned from many sources.

A memorial to all the animals that have been caught up and have suffered in human wars has been erected in England, in London's Park Lane. Read more about the Animals in War Memorial and see some photographs.

Anonymous ship's cat


War at Sea



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Wartime cat in helmet 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 vessel.

From the many stories involving cats at sea during wartime, here are some we have come across. They are largely from Britain and World War 2, and are in alphabetical order of the ships; however, British Admiralty documents from World War 1 show significant sums paid out during that conflict, too, for the annual maintenance of cats to keep down rats on board ship.



   HMS Anson
The claim to fame of Annie, wardroom cat of this battleship, was the number of kittens she produced during an especially long voyage. Presumably there was at least one tomcat aboard too — but when the vessel finally returned to port there were found to be more than 50 kittens, mostly looking remarkably like Annie!


   HMS Argonaut
Ship's cat Minnie from this cruiser was one of the most travelled of naval cats. She joined the crew early in 1944 from Tyneside, in north-east England, and among many other pets that came and went she stood out and became indisputably 'the ship's cat'. A bit of a loner, she took no special friends and seemed to regard the whole ship as her domain; she'd sleep on the mess-decks just as happily as in the captain's cabin. Minnie was a tabby, with immaculate white paws and breast. Her first action was at the D-Day invasion of the Normandy beaches, where none of the pandemonium appeared to affect her routine of sleeping, eating and doing her rounds. Subsequently she sailed with Argonaut to the French Riviera; to Palermo, in Sicily; Colombo and Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); the Dutch East Indies; Sydney and Fremantle in Australia; several of the larger Pacific island groups; and when news of the Japanese surrender was received in 1945, her ship was off Tokyo.
    Lengthy peacetime voyages then followed; but after 2½ years 'before the mast' Minnie disappeared while the ship was in Singapore. She had previously gone missing in Hong Kong, where she was eventually found aboard another warship in the harbour — so it is thought she may have become fed up with Argonaut's long and monotonous voyages and sought adventure elsewhere. The ship waited until the last minute before having to sail without her, and she was sorely missed. A signal was sent to the Commander of the naval base to request her return to the UK if found — but she never was.


Kitten, HMS Aurora, 1914

   HMS Aurora
Aurora carried among her armaments four of the 4-inch quickfire guns shown in the photo, which dates from September 1914. The kitten, name unknown, is sitting on the gun's shell tray.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the National Maritime Museum, London.


HMS Barham's's kitten Ship's cat and dog, HMS Barham, ca 1916

   HMS Barham
This 'Dreadnought' battleship was launched in 1915. The image of the kitten (outer) seen apparently hanging onto the ship's bell for dear life is used by courtesy of the HMS Barham Association. Later, perhaps in 1916, there appear to have been both a ship's dog and a ship's cat (inner), who were evidently friendly enough to have their photo taken together.
Cat/dog image © and reproduced by kind permission of the National Maritime Museum, London.


HMS Belfast's kitten, 1942 HMS Belfast sailors and ship's cat, 1942

   HMS Belfast
Belfast had a kitten on board at one stage (far left), and in 1942/3 a cat called Frankenstein. The second photo shows sailors with a young cat, which may be Frankenstein, on the starboard side of 'A' turret in about 1942.
Inner left image © and reproduced by kind permission of the IWM: see notice above.


Alleged to be Oscar, formerly of German battleship Bismarck    Bismarck
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.

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 human lives.
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! Our photo above, although copied a number of times, definitely shows a striped tabby. However, there is a painting in the British National Maritime Museum, supposedly of Oscar, that 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 imagination?
(Many thanks to Frank Allen of the HMS Hood Association for supplying the information above.)


   HMS Black Prince
Her ship's cat, named Beauty, was another feline present at the D-Day landings. While the ship's guns were busy bombarding the Normandy coast, Beauty chose to give birth to three healthy kittens. The captain, impressed, said that she 'carried on with magnificent indifference to her surroundings'.


Ginger and Minnie, ship's cats of HMS Bramble

   HMS Bramble
A minesweeper in the early years of WW2, with two ship's cats, Ginger and Minnie. The ship was sunk by German action during the Battle of the Barents Sea on 31 December 1942, while she was on convoy-escort duty to Russia. All 121 crew, and presumably the cats, were lost, and the wreckage of the ship was never found.


   HMS Bulldog
Smokey was ship's mascot here, and had her moment of fame when the battleship, one of two — the other was HMS Beagle — sailed to the Channel Islands in 1945 to accept the surrender of the German occupation forces there. As the ship approached the waterfront, which was lined by wildly cheering islanders, Smokey was sitting at one of her vantage points watching the scene with interest. A BBC radio commentator, reporting the event to the world, noticed her and referred to her presence as 'a symbol of the importance servicemen and -women attached to their animal friends'. Subsequently thousands of eager listeners wrote in to enquire about her.


bullet   ORP Burza
[ORP is 'Okret Rzeczypospolitej', or 'ship of the Polish Republic'; Burza translates as Tempest.]
Shortly before WW2, after a visit to the Hei naval base in Poland, the Chief Petty Officer of Burza reported to the captain that a new crew member, with a nice fur uniform, had joined the ship. The captain said that was a good sign. The ship then sailed for Great Britain, along with two other Polish destroyers, and when war was declared soon afterwards they came under the command of the British Admiralty. The cat, now named Kicia, was living in a petty officer's quarters near the bow of the ship — and one day produced six tiny kittens! But then not long afterwards, following a heavy storm, she moved them all one by one, along practically the length of the ship and across wet and slippery decks, to a cabin at the stern belonging to a Georgian officer, Lt Tumaniszwili, where she deposited them in a drawer of clean laundry.
     A few days later Burza was engaged in action off Calais, during which HMS Wessex was sunk. Burza shot down two Stuka dive-bombers, but received a hit on her bows. The petty officer's quarters where Kicia had her kittens was completely destroyed. Cat's intuition? The story parallels that of London church cat Faith.
(Many thanks to Bartlomiej Blaszkowski for sending us this account. He is in touch with Jerzy Tumaniszwili, who later became an admiral and is now living in the US with his cat Roscoe.)


Hoskyn of HMS Chester, embroidered on a cushion, ca 1916

   HMS Chester
The ship took part in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. On board were the ship's cat Hoskyn and the captain's sheepdog, the latter being wounded during the action. After the battle Surgeon Lieutenant Brownfield of the ship's medical staff was presented with this cushion cover picturing Hoskyn, embroidered by one of the crew.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the National Maritime Museum, London.


Australian soldiers on troopship, 1916 Enlargement from Australian troopship soldiers, with soldier holding a cat, 1916

   Demosthenes
This was a WW1 troopship, perhaps formerly the White Star liner of that name. The outer photograph shows members of the Australian Army 15th Battalion leaving Australia for England on the ship on 20 December 1916. The third soldier from the left at the front is holding a cat (enlargement, inner left).


Whisky of HMS Duke of York, 1940s

   HMS Duke of York
The German battle cruiser Scharnhorst was sunk on Boxing Day 1943 by Duke of York and other Royal Navy ships; out of the German crew of almost 2000 there were but 36 survivors. Whisky, the tabby mascot of Duke of York, slept through the whole of the action; after all, it was time for her afternoon nap, so that's what she did! She had a reputation as a formidable ratcatcher when she was awake.


HMS Eagle's kitten in his hammock, 1945

   HMS Eagle
Eagle had this kitten who, like a number of ship's cats, relaxed in his own hammock, made by the vessel's sail-maker. The photo dates from 1945.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: see notice above.


   Empire Winnie
This was a steam rescue tug with two mascots: tomcat Tommy and black female Lucky. They had no problems with being at sea, and made numerous trips between Normandy and the Channel ports on D-Day and afterwards. By Christmas of 1944, though, the ship was due for a refit and the crew for some shore leave; she returned to her base on Tyneside, and a watchman from ashore was engaged to 'keep an eye' and look after the cats. But Lucky seemed to miss her crewmates, and not long before they were due to return, she abandoned ship and disappeared; extensive searches of the dockyard area failed to find her. The men were very upset, as she had been very popular as well as being an excellent ratcatcher. Tom was also highly thought of, but unfortunately they lost him too, as he was not aboard when the tug was called out suddenly on an urgent mission. Later it was discovered that he had joined another tug — or possibly had been 'coaxed' aboard — and he was thought to have continued going to sea.


Ship's cat of HMAS Encounter in muzzle of 6-inch gun

   HMAS Encounter
A cruiser built in Britain early in the twentieth century and transferred into the Australian Navy in 1912. She took part in WW1, which she survived. Her ship's cat, name unknown, is seen here sitting in the muzzle of one of the ship's 6-inch guns.


Ship's cat Scouse of HMS Exeter, with Herbert Chalkley

bullet   HMS Exeter
The ship's cat was Scouse, a handsome white with tabby blotches. There's also a fine painting of him in the National Maritime Museum, but we are unable to reproduce it here owing to copyright difficulties. Exeter took part in the action that resulted in the scuttling of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee off South America, in December 1939; suffering extensive damage and heavy casualties, she was nevertheless able to return to Plymouth by February 1940 — and Scouse was first down the gangplank! Scouse is seen here with Herbert Chalkley, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal following the action, for his efforts in saving human lives — and it was Herbert who rescued the cat too.
Thanks to Jim Winchell for sending the image.


bullet   HMS Gentian
In 1940 this corvette was on duty in the north Atlantic, with the crew on constant alert for submarines. One calm day when no shipping was apparent, a disturbance was seen in the water — and it turned out to be a kitten, swimming for its life. It was scooped out of the water in a net and became the ship's cat. No one knew how a kitten came to be swimming alone in the ocean, but presumably it must have fallen from a ship, or perhaps was a survivor from one that had been sunk. Whatever the case, it certainly used up some of its lives that day!
(Thanks to Amanda Woolley for the story: her father was on board Gentian when the incident took place.)


Ship's cat Tibby, HMS Hawkins, ca 1920

   HMS Hawkins
We'll squeeze in this delightful pair, possibly siblings, who were ship's cats on board the light cruiser, although actually the ship was built in 1917 and did not see service in WW1. She served on the China Station in 1919-20 as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief. From a verse in the ship's magazine of the time, one of the cats was called Tibby, but we don't know which one or the name of the other.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the National Maritime Museum, London.


Convoy in his hammock, HMS Hermione, Nov 1941

   HMS Hermione
This anti-aircraft cruiser was launched in 1939, and went into service a few months later with ship's cat Convoy, seen here in his hammock during November 1941 while the ship was docked in Gibraltar. Convoy had full kit and was listed in the ship's book. He was so called because of the number of times he had accompanied the ship on convoy patrol. Unfortunately Hermione was sunk by U-205 in the eastern Mediterranean in June 1944 and presumably the cat perished.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: see notice above.


   SS Hjalmar Wessel
This was a Norwegian cargo ship during WW2 and had a ship's cat known simply as Puss. She was determined to go ashore at every port where the ship docked but, as with some other ship's cats, she had an amazing homing instinct and the uncanny ability to arrive back on board shortly before sailing time. In the latter part of 1943 the ship was on convoy duties ferrying war goods between Italy and North Africa; to her disgust Puss was often shut up in a cabin when docked in Italy, because the local population was starving and it was feared she would be abducted and made into a tasty meal for someone.
     One day when about to leave the port of Algiers the unthinkable happened and Puss had not returned to her ship. They delayed as long as possible, but eventually had to leave without her. Several round trips were made between Algiers and various Italian ports, until one day they were due to dock at Bari — but Bari had been bombed the previous day, many ships sunk and crew and civilians killed. The Hjalmar Wessel was diverted instead to Barletta. While it was docked there, sailor George Barrat was leaning over the ship's rail when he was astonished to see the lost cat Puss crawling weakly up the gangway, exhausted and much the worse for wear. She made it up to the deck, and was found to have a nasty wound on her back. They were unable to do much for her; her special friend the chief engineer, whom she used to follow around the ship, took her to his cabin, where she died next day. She was treated as any dead shipmate would have been, and consigned to the sea with a prayer.
     How did she get to Barletta from Algiers? — presumably she had hitched a ride on another ship. How did she find the Hjalmar Wessel? It was uncanny. And had the ship arrived at Bari a day earlier, it would have been blown to smithereens.
Information about the Hjalmar Wessel's war service can be seen at WarSailors.com.


Ginger the cat with a puppy, HMS Hood


Ginger, ship's cat of HMS Hood
Ginger aboard HMS Hood, probably 1930s


Fishcakes, ship's cat on board HMS Hood

Ginger and Fishcakes aboard HMS Hood bullet   HMS Hood
When commissioned in 1920 the battleship Hood was the largest warship afloat. Over the years she had a number of mascots of varying species, including a wallaby, a macaw — and these two fine felines, known as Ginger and Fishcakes. Ginger was a large, ginger-and-white male and Fishcakes a smaller 'tuxedo' cat. Although Ginger, at least, is known to have been aboard throughout the 1930s, not much else is known about them. It is also not known for sure whether they were still aboard the ship at the time of its loss in 1941; Ginger would have been relatively old by then so might have died beforehand. The latest known photo of Fishcakes was taken aboard the ship in late 1940, so it is quite likely that he did perish with the ship, the sinking of which was accompanied by huge loss of human life. The image of Ginger alone was taken on board while Hood was in the Mediterranean Fleet, probably during the late 1930s.
Photos of the cats seated on the guns (lower left) are the property of the Willis family; all photos are reproduced with the kind permission of the HMS Hood Association.


Togo, ship's cat of HMS Irresistible, 1905

Ship's mascot Togo of the battleship Irresistible

   HMS Irresistible
This is Togo of the battleship Irresistible, posing in the muzzle of a 12-inch gun in 1905 (top). The photo and accompanying details were kindly sent to us by Robert W. Green. Mr Green's grandfather, William Thomas Clegg, AB, served on the Irresistible between July 1905 and the end of 1906, and apart from his assigned duties as a gun layer it was his responsibility to look after the ship's mascot, 'Ordinary Sea Cat Togo' (a title written by AB Clegg on the back of the photo). Togo certainly qualifies as a wartime cat, because he remained with the ship until she was sunk by a mine off the Turkish coast during the Dardanelles engagement in 1915. Leading Stoker William Burrows made a heroic attempt to save the cat, but sadly both he and Togo drowned. The second photo also from Mr Green, shows Togo to better effect, and he was clearly a very handsome cat.


Ship's cat Peggy of Belgian merchant ship SS Julia, WW2

   SS Julia
The Julia was one of only two Belgian merchant ships to take part in the 1944 D-Day landings of WW2, when she carried munitions, explosives and a New York infantry division for Omaha beach. Ship's cat Peggy was black and white, and had a canine pal in the captain's dog, Mireau. Very shy at first, Peggy felt at home with the crew before long, but her best friend was Mireau. (The dog later went missing when the Julia berthed in England, but was found in Portsmouth.) Both animals were terrified by all the noise and hid during the invasion. Our photo shows Peggy in the arms of Robert van Damme, Julia's first officer, before D-Day; we are indebted to his daughter Jeanine Hardcastle, of Brussels, for passing it on together with information about the ship.


Snow and Mouse, ship's cats of SS Jupiter, with J E Hall, ca 1917

   SS Jupiter
Later renamed Democracy, the SS Jupiter was an American cargo ship built in 1917. Later that year she transported World War 1 cargo, and while doing so she carried a Naval Armed Guard unit. The photo shows a J.E. Hall with the ship's cats, Snow and Mouse.
Source: US Navy's Naval History and Heritage site.


Ship's cat of WW2 landing craft HMAS Kanimbla

   HMAS Kanimbla
A WW2 landing craft. The cat's name is not recorded, but as with many naval felines a dedicated hammock went with the job, and the occupant certainly looks relaxed!


   HMS King George V
The battleship that sailed at the head of Britain's Grand Fleet to the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. On board was ship's cat Jimmy, a large, long-haired, tortoiseshell type who had been adopted by one of the ship's cooks when his former owner, an Australian soldier, had been wounded and was no longer able to look after him. Jimmy suffered severe damage to his left ear when a shell exploded near him on deck and he was hit by a piece of shrapnel. Later he was transferred to HMS Renown (see below).


   HMS Ladybird
Ladybird was a river gunboat launched in 1916, but was pressed into service in WW2 in the Mediterranean. Her ship's cat was Cinders, who probably perished when the ship was sunk off Libya in May 1941.


Susan, of landing craft T166, present at D-Day in 1944

   HM Landing Craft T166
The unlikely mascot of this vessel was Susan, a black-and-white cat; in fact, there were two mascots, as there was also Bosun, a boisterous mongrel dog. Susan was given to a lieutenant on the craft shortly before sailing one day and, being a former street cat, was found to have fleas. Not wishing to transfer these unwelcome guests to the wardroom, and having no flea powder, the officer bathed Susan in warm disinfectant. She appeared to be none the worse and soon settled down to become a favourite of the crew along with Bosun, with whom she became friends. The animals saw several engagements in the English Channel and were in on the action on D-Day.
    Susan became such a dyed-in-the-wool sea cat that when the war ended and she was taken ashore, she didn't like dry land at all; grass, in particular, terrified her! Eventually, though, she did settle down to being a 'landlubber' at her home in Ireland, where she loved playing in the garden with her companions of a Yorkshire terrier, two Siamese cats and her own son — named Bosun, after her friend who had died just before war ended.


Minnie the Marine's cat, HMS London Chief Baker's cat, HMS London Chief Baker's cat, HMS London

   HMS London
The ship had two cats, which are pictured here courtesy of Mike Overton of the HMS London 1947-49 Association. The spotted tabby with the 'prize' of a fish was Minnie the Marines' Cat (far left), while the handsome tabby and white was the Chief Baker's Cat. HMS London was involved in the 1949 Yangtze Incident, along with Amethyst, Consort and Black Swan. Read more about the Yangtze Incident in the story of Amethyst's cat Simon.


US Coastguard LST mascot cat Camouflage, 1945    LSTs (Landing Ships, Tank)
Camouflage, pictured here on 30 March 1945, was the mascot of a US Coastguard LST operating in the Pacific. His shipmates swore that when the craft was being strafed by Japanese planes with tracer bullets, Camouflage's idea of fun was to chase the bullets from one ship's rail to the other as they pinged across the deck. He never caught one, which is probably just as well as it sounds a highly risky occupation; but his antics kept the crew amused and helped to relieve their tension in difficult times. He is pictured with Coast Guardsman Henry Richmond Jr.

US Coastguard LST cat Tarawa and ship's dog Kodiak US Coastguard LST cat Tarawa On another LST, Tarawa was named after the atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, previously part of the former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, where she was rescued as a frightened and half-starved kitten from a smashed pillbox during the WW2 battle there. She was taken aboard and installed in the officers' quarters, where she looks fairly relaxed about the whole thing. Kodiak, the ship's canine mascot, however, didn't think much of this intruder in his domain, and the two didn't get along, so he stuck with the enlisted men and Tarawa decided she preferred her privileges with the officers! When the vessel returned home for a spell she jumped ship, so Kodiak had his 'empire' to himself again.


   HMS Manxman
A WW2 minesweeper, reported once to be the Royal Navy's fastest vessel. Naturally the ship had a Manx cat as mascot, but the holders of the post don't seem to have been very lucky. The first, taken on when the ship was commissioned, was lost at sea during the war. A replacement was taken on when the ship visited the Isle of Man on an official visit, but it too was lost at sea. Further peacetime mascots seem to have fared little better, and the next two did not live out their natural lifespan either.


Ship's cats Mary and Mack of the Merrimack, US Navy 1941 Mary and Mack of the Merrimack, WW2

   Merrimack
The third ship to bear the name, Merrimack was a fleet oiler acquired by the United States Navy in 1941. Commissioned in 1942, she served in both the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II and gained eight battle stars. She had two ship's cats, appropriately named Mary and Mack.


Ship's mascot Side Boy of WW1 battleship HMS Neptune

   HMS Neptune
A World War 1 battleship of 20,000 tons, Neptune had a handsome black mascot called Side Boy. He featured on one of the 'lucky black cat' postcards, popular at the time, which crew members could send home to their loved ones. Perhaps he did bring luck, as the ship survived the war.


Ship's cat Saipan of the battleship USS New Mexico

bullet   USS New Mexico
The ship was one of three similar battleships and was launched in May 1918. Extensively modernised in the early 1930s, she served in WW2 in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Although we don't know its story, Saipan the cat was no doubt named after the Pacific island, one of the places where New Mexico saw action in 1944.
Image source: USNI: Cats in the Sea Services.


Ship's cat of HMAS Nizam in hammock, 1941

   HMAS Nizam
Nizam had two cats in June 1941, when the photo was taken. The ship was owned by Britain but sailed under the Australian flag during WW2. She was named after the Nizam of Hyderabad, who helped to pay for her.


   HMS Orion
On board here was intrepid ship's cat Nigger, who insisted on staying on the bridge to keep an eye on things while the ship was involved in the shelling of Salerno, in Italy, in September 1943. But the following month, a letter written by Orion's commander said, 'Unfortunately Nigger is not with us at present. He wished to remain on active service in the Mediterranean, so he was temporarily allowed to transfer to one of His Majesty's battleships in the sphere of operations. We hope, however, to have him back before long.' But the cat did not return, or appear on any other of HM's ships, so maybe he just preferred a Mediterranean lifestyle on land.


   HMAS Perth
Perth served in the Mediterranean during the early years of WW2 and then returned to Australia. Before long she was needed in the Pacific to help combat the Japanese advance across south-east Asia. She left Sydney in January 1942, stopping en route at Fremantle in Western Australia. It seems likely that is where a small black kitten joined the crew as mascot and was named, for some reason, Red Lead.
    He quickly became a favourite and, as cats do, found the most comfortable spot to sleep, in Captain Waller's cabin. At the end of February battle was joined with a Japanese convoy attempting to make a landing on the island of Java; Allied ships were badly outnumbered and in the fierce fighting that followed many were badly damaged, and some were sunk. The noise and chaos of battle, which included aircraft flying close overhead, frightened Red Lead and he spent the entire time in 'his' cabin, until Perth finally withdrew and returned to harbour.
    At that point the kitten seems to have decided that he'd had enough of battle and that it would be prudent to seek a quieter and safer home. He crept quietly down the gangplank, but unfortunately for him a sailor saw him and brought him back on deck, ignoring his loud protests. He tried again, and again — three times he tried unsuccessfully to leave. It was a bad omen, and the sailors knew it.
    Perth sailed into battle again the following day and met a large fleet of Japanese warships. This time she was not so lucky; she was sunk, with the loss of Captain Waller and 350 other crewmen — and a small black kitten called Red Lead.


Monty, ship's cat of HMS Poppy, 1944

   HMS Poppy
A 'Flower' class corvette on Atlantic convoy duties, and her ship's cat was Monty. He is shown here in 1944 when the ship was in the Hebrides, in Scotland, with a large fish that had been killed by a depth charge.


Winston Churchill with ship's cat Blackie aboard HMS Prince of Wales, 1941    HMS Prince of Wales
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 (left) and stopped him from leaving. Churchill was very fond of cats and at the time had his own 'Nelson' at home.
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.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: see notice above.


Ship's cats Zaba and Tygrya, aboard Polish destroyer Pioron

   ORP Piorun
A Polish WW2 destroyer, and here ship's cats Zaba ('Frog') and Tygrys ('Tiger') are being encouraged to make friends with a stowaway thought to have escaped from an oiler. Polish sailors make a big fuss of their pets, as it's considered an ill omen if cats voluntarily leave a ship before it sails.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: see notice above.


Ship's cat, HMS Queen Elizabeth, Gallipoli, 1915

bullet   HMS Queen Elizabeth
A 'dreadnought' battleship launched in 1913 and named after Elizabeth I of England. She saw service in both world wars, but was scrapped in 1948. Here she is off the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 during the Dardanelles campaign, and the ship's cat, name unknown, is seen 'exercising' on one of the 15 inch guns that formed the ship's main armament.
Image source: Australian War Memorial.


Pilots entertain unnamed ship's cat aboard USS Ranger, 1944

bullet   USS Ranger
Launched in 1933, Ranger was the first American ship to be purpose-built as an aircraft carrier, and the only one of eight pre-WW2 carriers to survive the war intact — perhaps because she never engaged the Japanese in battle. In 1944 when the photo was taken she was on training duties in the United States, including Hawaii.
Image source: USNI: Cats in the Sea Services.


   HMS Renown
Formerly ship's cat of HMS King George V (see above), Jimmy was transferred in September 1916 to this battle cruiser, where he became ship's mascot and was reportedly usually to be found in the galley (well, he had been a cook's cat!). He was later 'decommissioned', and he died in 1924 in a Chelsea cats' home in London.


bullet   SS Rinda
A Norwegian cargo ship that was torpedoed and sunk during World War II. The ship's cat was rescued, along with the surviving crew, by the naval trawler HMT Pict and remained on board as its cat. He was given the name Rinda after his previous ship.


   HMS Scorpion
The tomcat mascot of one of the messes on Scorpion was called Thomas Oscar and was spoiled rotten! As with many ship's cats, he had his own hammock complete with mattress, blanket and pillow — but he also had a kitbag, an 'HMS' cap ribbon that he wore round his neck on Sundays, and a rabbit-tail toy that he loved to play with. In October 1944 the crew of No. 3 Mess applied for Thomas Oscar to be enrolled in the Allied Forces Mascot Club, with his own pawmark at the foot of the application. This Able-Bodied Cat participated in several Russian convoys, a raid in Norway, and he was at a beachhead offensive on D-Day. He was never seasick, always cheerful and a great companion and source of comfort to the men.


   HM SGB-7
This was a steam gunboat, launched on the river Clyde in Scotland in 1941. One winter's night, when it was snowing and bitterly cold, crew members were unloading boxes of ammunition from railway wagons and carrying them to the boat. Someone heard a strange noise, and called on his mates to stop cursing and grumbling for a moment; there was a faint mewing, and by using a torch the men located a small, cold and pathetic kitten hiding under one of the wagons. 'Poor little b------!' someone said, picking it up and putting it under his jersey.
    Back on board on the mess-deck, the freezing cat was gently warmed up by putting it in one of the galley's warm ovens with the door open, and then on top of a bulkhead heater. A bowl of evaporated milk with a dash of rum in it was quickly lapped up, and the little soul became a mess-deck resident and a crew member, although he never had a proper name other than That Bloody Cat or TBC. In his own way he showed quite warlike behaviour: whenever the Action Stations alarm sounded, he would rush towards the bridge, spitting and snarling all the way! And he would always be around when the time came for the rum ration to be issued.
    TBC liked to be 'first ashore and last aboard' in port, and used the forward torpedo tubes as his launch pad for disembarking and returning; he would often come flying down the jetty at the last minute, to leap aboard as the vessel started to move off. Unfortunately, after some months on board, he misjudged his departure one day when coming into port, slipped on the rounded surface of the torpedo tube and fell into the sea. Despite prompt action by a sailor (who had been described as 'the worst, dyed-in-the-wool villain') who immediately jumped in after him, TBC could not be found and must have drowned.


Lyddite, ship's cat of HMS Shark

   HMS Shark
This undated picture shows Lyddite, the feline mascot of HMS Shark. We presume it refers to the World War I destroyer of that name, which was torpedoed and lost at the battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916. If so, Lyddite probably perished along with most of the ship's crew.


   HMAS Sleuth (formerly Vigilant)
An Australian WW2 patrol boat; she had a black ship's cat called Minnie.


Ship's cat Sarah, of HMS Shropshire

   HMS Shropshire
A 'London' class cruiser launched in Britain in 1928. She gained a number of battle honours in WW2, later being involved in prisoner-of-war repatriation. Her cat Sarah was another feline with her own hammock, including her personal mattress, blanket and pillow. She is said to have been 'spoiled rotten' by the crew!


   HMS Snowflake
This was a 'Flower' class corvette on Atlantic convoy duties, and one of the crew later recalled some memories of ship's cat U-Boat. He didn't know how the cat came on board, but said he was an 'incredible little animal' who taught himself things. Like many other Royal Navy cats, U-Boat had his own little hammock and lifejacket, and he was listed on the ship's complement. When 'action stations' was called, the cat would make a beeline for the flour bin in the galley and would stay up on top of it until the action was over.
    At the end of a voyage, U-Boat went ashore as soon as the ship had tied up in harbour, but somehow he knew when it was due to sail again and reappeared shortly beforehand. On one memorable occasion he hadn't returned by sailing time, and half the crew were talking of jumping ship, as it was considered extremely unlucky to sail without the mascot; but then, just as Snowflake was casting off, a little grey shape came hurtling down the jetty, made a flying leap across the widening gap of several feet between ship and shore, just made it onto the deck and then calmly sat down to wash himself.
    On another occasion, after U-Boat had been on board about a year, someone decided he should have a birthday, and on such an occasion it was customary to provide some rum. The cat was given some, mixed with evaporated milk, in a saucer and lapped it all up. It made him quite drunk, and he ended up with a terrible hangover! He eventually slept it off, and would never touch rum again.
    U-Boat left the ship in rather strange circumstances. Normally a very clean cat, he always 'did his business' on the upper deck, where it would be cleaned up by the crew, but one day, for some unknown reason, he made a mess on the captain's wardroom chair. The captain put him on report and, to cut the tale short, the upshot was that the captain decided U-Boat was to be put ashore when the ship reached Newfoundland and was not to be allowed back on board.
    The crew felt this judgement was 'over the top' and were not at all happy about it. But the extraordinary thing was that the cat seemed to make his own decision. When Snowflake tied up at St John's he went ashore, as was his custom — and didn't return. The crew never saw him again.


Kitten Salvo and puppy Shrapnel, HMAS Sydney, 1940

   HMAS Sydney
AB J.T. Walker of the Royal Australian Navy is pictured with his puppy 'Shrapnel' in July 1940, while AB Gamble holds his kitten Salvo (interesting choice of names! — Ed.)


Sooty RN, Ship's Cat First Class of HM Tank Landing Craft No. 5, 1942

   HM Tank Landing Craft No. 5
This vessel was involved in the abortive British raid on Dieppe, France, in 1942. Sooty RN, Ship's Cat First Class, was a small black-and-white female attached as mascot to the vessel and was just ten weeks old at the time. The craft was hit by enemy fire while retreating, caught fire and was sinking when Sooty managed to swim clear. She clung on to a surviving crewman's steel helmet until both were rescued by a flakship. She was the only animal to accompany the force involved in that ill-fated operation, and was said to have behaved throughout in a seacat-like manner, taking little notice of all the noise and confusion. Our photo was contributed by Mrs Jeanine Hardcastle, to whom thanks; the quality is poor as it is from an old newspaper cutting, but it shows Sooty wearing a 'miniature VC' fashioned for her by her shipmates.


Ship's cat of HMS Vernon, with regulation collar

   HMS Vernon and cats' collars
Ship's cats were actively encouraged during WW2 by the Royal Navy, although never officially listed as part of the crew. However, cats being cats, of course they tended to change ships quite often, so to try to bring some order into the chaos it was decreed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that 'all cats in naval establishments must wear collars at all times'. The collars were to have the ship's name embroidered on them, so it would be known where a cat belonged. Ominously, it was also stated that cats wearing no collar were to be 'summarily dealt with'. HMS Vernon's cat was duly supplied with his smart collar. However, no one seems to have considered who was going to pay for the thousands of collars that would be needed! As neither the Treasury nor the Admiralty was willing to find the funds, the order was quietly forgotten.


Tiddles of HMS Victorious, 1942

   HMS Victorious
This WW2 aircraft carrier had a cat named Tiddles who spent his whole life on aircraft carriers, having been born at sea on another one, HMS Argus. Tiddles is seen in July 1942 at his favourite station on the aft capstan, where he enjoyed playing with the bell rope!
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: see notice above.


Pincher, of aircraft carrier HMS Vindex, WW1

   HMS Vindex
Pincher was the WW1 mascot of HMS Vindex, which was one of Britain's first aircraft carriers. He is seen here sitting on the propeller of one of the seaplanes the ship carried, which is the reason for his entry being duplicated in the Air section of our first Cats in Wartime page.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London - see notice above.


USS Vixen ship's cat Miss Vixen

   USS Vixen
Miss Vixen was mascot aboard the USS Vixen, which was a former pleasure yacht bought by the US Navy in 1940 and converted to a gunboat. It was commissioned in 1941 and served in the Caribbean keeping an eye on German U-boat activity. It was decommissioned in 1946.
Photo courtesy of Michael W Pocock, Maritime Quest.


HMT Vizalma - ship's cat Whitey and dog Whisky with Cox Astles and J Butcher Ship's cat Whitey, of HMT Vizalma

bullet   HMT Vizalma
This was a Royal Navy antisubmarine trawler, built in 1940 and commissioned in 1941. She apparently had two mascots on board: Whitey the cat and Whisky the dog. In our photo Whitey is held by Cox Astles and Whisky is with sailor J. Butcher. The photos came from an album that belonged originally to a Lt Peter Taylor, from Australia, and were kindly sent to us by Kathryn Shapland of Western Australia.
Also in the album was a photo of the ship with the following caption: 'H.M.T. Vizalma, 8th Aug '41 - 30th Aug '42, L'Derry 8.8.41 - 3.3.42'.


USS Walton ship's cat Otis with Lou Bodiford

   USS Walton
This was a destroyer escort ship that saw service in the latter stages of WW2, but later served in the Korean War in the early 1950s. We think this sad story dates from then. Apparently at some point the captain decided to bring aboard a ship's cat, although the crew didn't particularly want one; it was named Otis. The radio operators — a group of sailors the captain had taken a dislike to — was tasked with attending to Otis's litter box, a job they did not welcome. At one time someone covered the poor cat in diesel oil; it was suspected that was one of the radio men 'getting back' at the captain. One day while the ship was in the South China Sea Otis disappeared; again it was suspected the radio operators had a hand in his vanishing. However, much later on one of the men reported that he had seen the captain himself throwing the unfortunate animal overboard.
Source: USS Walton site.


   HMS Warspite
Around 1939, Stripey, tabby and white, was actually born on board the battleship, which had already seen service in World War 1. Stripey remained with the ship until it was due to be broken up in 1947, but for the last year or so she was alone on board with George Watson, the watchman. They became very attached to each other, and George was determined that the cat would not be abandoned. On Warspite's demise he was transferred to HMS Malaya, and the pair continued to sail together.


Peebles of training vessel HMS Western Isles, 1944

   HMS Western Isles
Western Isles was an old Scottish inter-island ship that was based at Tobermory on the island of Mull. During WW2 Vice-Admiral Sir Gilbert Stephenson, KBE, CB, CMG (known as 'the Terror of Tobermory' because of his ruthless efficiency) used it as his headquarters when he was running a Royal Navy battle school for U-boat hunters. Ship's cat Peebles was said to be very clever, and would 'shake hands' with strangers when they entered the wardroom. Here he is 'jumping through the hoop' formed by the arms of Lt Cdr R.B. Palmer, OBE, in 1944.
Image © and reproduced by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: see notice above.


Unknown ships

   After their merchant ship was sunk in the North Atlantic in March 1943, ship's cat Maizie and six crew members spent 56 hours on a life raft before they were rescued. Crewman Eugene Clancy of New York said, 'If Maizie hadn't been with us, we might have gone nuts. We completely forgot our personal discomfort and almost fought for the privilege of petting her.' Maizie took her turn at eating malted milk tablets and condensed food with the men, and even comforted those suffering from exposure or seasickness by going from one to another 'almost like a mother'. It was reported that the cat had spent only about ten days on shore since America entered the war in December 1941.


Pooli, US veteran cat of WW2

   Pooli served as a youngster aboard a United States attack transport during the latter part of World War II. This picture was taken on Independence Day in 1959, her fifteenth birthday, when Pooli, a veteran who rated three service ribbons and four battle stars, showed she could still get into her old uniform.


Toughy, Huffy and Snuffy, WW2 British tanker mascots

   Toughy, Huffy and Snuffy were mascots on board a British tanker vessel, and this delightful photo was taken when it was berthed at a shipyard in Brooklyn, New York, in 1944. They are investigating an old-fashioned diver's helmet.



See also our first Cats in Wartime article, covering
War on Land and in the Air

Note: An enormous archive of information about not just warships, but the world's ships in general,
is to be found at the Maritime Quest site.


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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.


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