Tips&TricksSailing with whiskers: The untold story of cats in naval history

Sailing with whiskers: The untold story of cats in naval history

The sailor and the cat on the ship
The sailor and the cat on the ship
Images source: © Wikipedia | Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer
5:22 PM EST, December 25, 2023

Historical anecdotes suggest that cats were more useful on ships than dogs, which furnished negligible benefits. Dogs were inept at hunting vermin, maintaining hygiene, or managing their waste. Cats were considerably more efficient at utilizing litter boxes and catching pests.

Cats in the navy

Was every cat compatible with an extended naval journey? Theoretically, yes. However, a specific breed, the Russian Blue, was especially prevalent aboard these vessels. Allegedly, these cats were first discovered by sailors during stops at Archangelsk, a northern city in Russia. These wild hunting cats were brought onboard and surprisingly, displayed substantial resistance to water and cold. Their thick, plush fur led some to compare them with polar bears.

These distinguished cats rendered invaluable service aboard the ship. Notably, several served in Polish units as part of the Allied forces in Northern waters during World War II. The majority of information available is about one specific cat, Puszek. While on a dangerous mission, this brave feline safeguarded both her life and her kittens' when the cabin flooded. Allegedly, she placed her kittens in floating bowls while awaiting assistance.

Sailors and a cat in a hammock
Sailors and a cat in a hammock© Wikipedia | Beadell, S J (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer

In specific regions, cats were perceived as talismans. Without them, sailors hesitated to embark on long voyages. If a cat fell overboard, sailors interpreted it as an ominous sign. According to seafarers' lore, such an event cursed the crew and doom was believed to be imminent for the ship.

Oscar: the lucky charm cat

Various sources describe a cat named Oscar, which the sailors considered a kind of talisman. Of the European shorthair breed, this cat survived many perilous maritime adventures. Specifically, he was aboard the Bismarck during a voyage to Greenland's coasts. In a well-documented battle against a squadron of Royal Navy ships, one damaged the ship's unarmored oil tanks, and another hit the boiler room. Undoubtedly, this was a harrowing ordeal for the poor critter.

While cats are often labeled as indolent and moody, history demonstrates their utility even on the high seas. Their companionship was highly prized onboard, and cats were neither bored nor mistreated. Although having pets on ships is impractical nowadays, a few decades ago, these cats were making history alongside humans.

Sailors at sea
Sailors at sea© Freepik | freepik
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