Heroic dogs and horses may rightfully claim their share of battlefield glory, but cats have proven themselves just as brave, cunning, and loyal. Exalted as mousers, spies, and overall bundles of fluffy joy, cats have participated in war from Ancient Egypt to modern Iraq. Here are six cats that made their mark on military history.
1. Crimean Tom
As the Ottoman Empire weakened in the 1850s, squabbles over territory led to the Crimean War. The main battle was a year-long siege of the Russian city Sevastopol by British and French troops. By the time the city fell, both sides were starving. British Lieutenant William Gair was searching a Russian cellar for food when he noticed a cat sitting on a pile of rubble, “covered in dust and grime, but serene.” He named the cat Tom and brought him to the officer’s shelter, where they noticed he remained well-fed. The British soldiers followed Tom into the city to see where he was getting such a good supply of mice and discovered a pile of rubble, which they cleared to reveal a storeroom full of food.
Gair brought Tom to England after the war. When the cat died in 1856, he had the hero taxidermied and donated to the Royal United Services Institution. The stuffed cat labeled “Crimean Tom” currently in the National Army Museum's collection was purchased at a flea market in the 1950s, so it is uncertain whether or not it actually is the famous war hero.
2. Unsinkable Sam
In May 1941, Allied ships finally sunk the German dreadnaught Bismarck after a bloody three-day battle. Among the wreckage was a black-and-white tuxedo cat, which the British crew of the HMS Cossack named Oscar (the naval code for “man overboard”). Five months later, the Cossack was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and the cat again survived, earning him the nickname “Unsinkable Sam.”
Sam’s luck was tested yet again in November 1941. He was transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which had, coincidentally, assisted in sinking the Bismarck. The carrier was torpedoed only three weeks later. When the HMS Lightning picked up survivors, they found an “angry but quite unharmed” Sam. The cat was retired from military service and spent the rest of his life as a mouser for the governor of Gibraltar and a Belfast sailor’s home.
3. Mourka of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad in World War II was one of the bloodiest in modern human history, and it was often too dangerous for soldiers to cross the city with vital messages. A Russian commander noticed that Mourka, a cat living at army headquarters, nonetheless always found a way back to his food dish. Mourka was ordered to accompany scouts on missions in the city, where reports on German troops were attached to his collar. The cat then crossed the city-turned-battlefield in search of headquarters, where he received food, treats, and attention. After several successful missions, Mourka went missing in action and his fate remains unknown.
Striped tabby Princess Papule was born on July 4, 1944, at the Pearl Harbor Navy Base in Hawaii. Pooli, as she was known to the sailors, was brought aboard the attack transport USS Fremont by crewman James Lynch. The ship fought in the Pacific theater of World War II and participated in the invasions of Saipan, Palau, Leyte, and Iwo Jima.
Pooli chose to sleep in the mailroom during battles. Upon crossing the equator for the first time, the tabby participated in a ceremony transforming inexperienced sailors from “polliwogs” to sea-hardened “shellbacks.” She was issued her own uniform and awarded three service ribbons and four battle stars for her time in the navy. Pooli put the uniform back on for a Los Angeles Times story celebrating her 15th birthday.
5. Able Seacat Simon
In 1948, 17-year-old George Hickenbottom brought a stray black-and-white cat named Simon from the docks of Hong Kong to his ship, the HMS Amethyst. Soon afterward, the Amethyst was ordered up the Yangtze River to guard the British Embassy from the Chinese Communist Revolution. Halfway there, the ship was fired on by the People’s Liberation Army. Simon was sleeping in the cabin’s quarters when a shell tore through the bulkhead, sending shrapnel into his legs and burning his face and back.
The ship ran aground and rescue attempts were deterred by heavy fire. Despite his injuries, Simon hunted the rats infesting an already limited food supply. Dispatching a particularly vicious rat nicknamed “Mao Zedong” earned him an Amethyst campaign ribbon and the honorary title “Able Seacat.” After 101 days of siege, the Amethyst made a mad dash for freedom and arrived in Plymouth, England, to a hero’s welcome. Simon is the only cat to be awarded Britain’s Dickin Medal for animal bravery and was buried with full military honors.
6. Private First Class Hammer
When Staff Sargent Rick Bousfield learned his combat team would be leaving Iraq in March 2004, he knew their cat Hammer need to come too. The striped Egyptian Mau had been born on the Balad air base, located about 50 miles north of Baghdad. “He has been through mortar attacks. He'd jump and get scared like the rest of us,” Bousfield said. While under attack, soldiers tucked the cat into body armor for safety. In exchange, he hunted mice in the mess hall. His role as mouser and stress therapist earned him the title Private First Class and honorary team status.
Bousfield reached out to Alley Cat Allies and Military Mascots for help bringing Hammer to the United States. The organizations raised $2500 for Hammer’s sterilization, shots, paperwork, and flight from Kuwait. Bousfield welcomed the feline veteran into to his Colorado Springs home to live with the family’s five other cats, as well as their dog, hamster, and gecko.