Apr 13

Cats in the Sea Services

Friday, April 13, 2018 9:18 AM


Sailors and cats have a special relationship that dates back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians likely were the first seafarers to realize the true value of having cats as shipmates. In addition to offering sailors much-needed companionship on long voyages, cats provided protection by ridding ships of vermin. Without the presence of cats, a crew might find their ship overrun with rats and mice that would eat into the provisions, chew through ropes, and spread disease. Superstitious sailors believed that cats protected them by bringing good luck. Others thought that the keen eyesight of cats would help guide them in a shipwreck at night, because a cat can more easily detect distant lights. It was also common for crews to adopt cats from the foreign lands they visited to serve as mascots as well as reminders of their pets at home.

1 USS Pensacola 2-1888

Apprentices on board the USS Pensacola pose with mascot cat and dogs in February 1888. The Pensacola was a screw steamer that participated in Rear Admiral David Farragut’s capture of New Orleans in 1862 during the Civil War.


Crew of the USS Nahant show their two cats, ca. 1898. The Nahant was an ironclad monitor that joined the fleet of Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont (for whom Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle is named) in the Civil War attack on Charleston Harbor in 1863.


Crewmen on the deck of the protected cruiser USS Olympia (C-6) use a mirror to play with their cats in 1898. The Olympia served as Admiral George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. The ship currently is docked in Philadelphia and is the world’s oldest floating steel warship. She is in desperate need of restoration.


4 USS Texas 1900 cp

Crewman of the USS Texas pose with mascot dog and cat on the muzzle of one of the ship’s 12-inch/35 guns, ca. 1900. Built in 1892, The Texas was the first U.S. battleship and gained a reputation for being jinxed because of a series of accidents. The crew of “Old Hoodoo,” as the ship was nicknamed, probably hoped the cat and dog would change the ship’s luck.


5 Cats in a gun

“You may fire when ready, Muffin.” Two cats pose in the breech of a 4-inch naval gun of an unidentified ship prior to World War I.


“I’ll be in my bunk.” The cats of the USS Mississippi (BB-41) climb ladders to enter their hammock, ca. 1925. The Mississippi was involved in several fierce battles in the Pacific during World War II and was hit by kamikazes twice. She survived to be among the ships in Tokyo Bay that witnessed Japan’s surrender.


“Do not want!” USS Flusser (DD-368) cat ‘Wockle’ on the capstan in Venice, Italy, 1924-25.


“Waiting instructions in the briefing room, pilots on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier relax by playing with the ship’s mascot. Shortly after this picture was taken, they were flying far above the Atlantic on a battle-mission.” Probably the USS Ranger (CV-61), July 1944.


“Why don’t you leave me alone so I can get some shut eye?” New mascot “Saipan” of the USS New Mexico (BB-40) tries to get comfortable. The New Mexico provided naval gunfire support during the U.S. Marine invasion of Saipan in 1944, so it it likely the cat was rescued after the battle.


“After the smoke of battle had cleared on Betio Island, Tarawa, this tiny kitten crept out from beneath a wrecked Japanese tank, to receive a drink from a U.S. Marine.” Tarawa, November 1943.


“Here is ‘Bilgewater,’ the mascot of the Coast Guard Academy, circa 1944. He’s modeling the new wartime grey cadet uniform.”


“War Veteran – ‘Pooli,’ who rates three service ribbons and four battle stars, shows she can still get into her old uniform as she prepares to celebrate her 15th birthday. The cat served aboard an attack transport during World War II.” Los Angeles, 1959.


“I demand your unconditional surrender!” French sailors play with a cat as they wait to take over six LSSLs (landing ship support, light) being given to France by the U.S. Navy under the Defense Aid Pact. Seattle, 1950.


“Accepting her fate as an orphan of war, ‘Miss Hap’ a two-week-old Korean kitten, chows down on canned milk, piped to her by medicine dropper with the help of Marine Sergeant Frank Praytor … The Marine adopted the kitten after its mother was killed by a mortar barrage near Bunker Hill. The name, Miss Hap, Sergeant Praytor explained, was given to the kitten ‘because she was born at the wrong place at the wrong time’.” Korea, 1953. Praytor received marriage proposals from all over the United States after this photo appeared in 1,700 newspapers. He passed away on January 10, 2018.

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