Currently reading: Cats in the Navy

When I first met Laura, my wife, we each had two cats. I joked that the merging of our feline families into one was the lesbian version of the Brady Bunch. Twenty years later and all of our cats are now in Kitty Heaven. We have two dogs that I adore, but I do miss living with cats. So when the Naval Institute Press offered me a copy of their new release, Cats in the Navy by Scot Christenson, I enthusiastically said yes, please! I get my feline fix where I can these days.

Cats in the Navy is a fun and endlessly fascinating read. I knew that cats had served aboard ships to catch rats, but I didn’t realize that early on rats posed more of a problem than spreading disease or eating provisions.

“During the Age of Sail, rodents presented another danger because they would skitter through magazines and track gunpowder throughout the ship. Eventually, the trail could become a de facto fuse leading back to the magazine, which might then be accidentally lit by lamps or the fires in the galley. As navies modernized, rats posed further problems by getting stuck in machinery and disabling equipment, thus putting ships at risk during combat.”

page 4

That’s intense!

Cats did useful work on ships for the navies of the world and they also travelled the world, sometimes switching ships. They provided entertainment and comfort. There are stories of cats helping shipwrecked crews survive by catching rats and fish for the sailors to eat. One crew said the comfort their cat gave them maintained their sanity while adrift. Others swore that cats’ nocturnal vision helped spot rescue ships at night. This book is loaded with interesting stories and facts. Did you know cats make their own Vitamin C so never suffer from scurvy?

One of many charming historic photos.
How good it must feel to hold a cat when you’re far away from home for months or years at a time.

Mystery writers, take note of this fun fact: Cats inadvertently helped U.S. agents during prohibition. They were known to give away the location of illegal alcohol caches by running to their hiding place when startled, a hiding place that was often where the booze was hidden.

The layout of Cats in the Navy makes it a book you can easily read straight through, or pick up here and there. On the left hand page is text with interesting historic tidbits, and the right hand page features a vintage cat related photo. Part I is A History of Cats at Sea, Part II is The Many Roles of the Ship’s Cat, and Part III is Claws of fame.

This book belongs on the shelves of all cat lovers and will make an excellent gift for the cat lover in your life. Sailors and history buffs will also enjoy this book.

Trim, Monument Cat

Title: Cats in the Navy
Author: Scot Christenson
Publisher: Naval Institute Press, 2022
178 pages, 82 bw photos
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Watch a short video about how a kitten, Miss Hap, saved a Marine from court marital.


    • Yes, it does! Here’s the text about him:

      “Perhaps the most famous trophy cat was a black-and-white that originally had been the mascot on the _Bismark_. After the feared Nazi battleship was sunk by the Royal Navy, the cat was scooped out of the water by the crew of the destroyer HMS _Cossack_, who named him Oscar. Just a few months later, Oscar would again need to be rescued after the _Cossack_ was torpedoed by a U-boat. He was transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS _Ark Royal_ and given a new name — Unsinkable Sam. The optimistic name seems to have doomed the _Ark Royal_, because the ship also fell victim to a U-boat. After surviving three sinkings, Oscar/Unsinkable Sam was sent to live out his days in a retired seaman’s home in Belfast. What a charming story, several historians believe it was partially or fully fabricated for the sake of raising public morale.”

      I’d prefer to think the story is true. Does this account fall inline with what you know about Unsinkable Sam?

      • I’m inclined to believe it too; in fact when I initially came across it, I had no idea there was any doubt around it, and when I learnt that there was, I didn’t want to believe that.

        Thanks for taking the trouble to share the full extract 🙂

  1. How very interesting! I am glad Trim was mentioned. Australian writer Bryce Courtney wrote ‘Matthew Flinders Cat’ about the cartographer and his feline friend Trim who circumnavigated and mapped the coastline of Australia from 1801 to 1803. Courtney wrote a fictional account. However ‘Trim: The Cartographer’s Cat’ by Philippa Sandall is non-fiction and more accurate. Trim also has a statue with Matthew Flinders outside State Library of NSW, Sydney. Cats create such special bonds!

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