19. WWII’s Undersea Reindeer
In 1941, the British Royal Navy submarine HMS Trident docked in a Soviet port. At the time, the USSR was reeling from the recent Nazi onslaught, enduring horrific losses, and hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Appreciating any help, the Soviets went out of their way to be friendly. While the submarine’s captain was chatting with a Soviet admiral, he mentioned that his wife complained about plowing snow. The admiral responded: “you need a reindeer!” It was funny, until the admiral followed up by gifting the captain a reindeer calf. Life within the Trident’s narrow confines was already cramped for its 56 crewmen, but turning down the gift would have been undiplomatic. Thus the reindeer, named Pollyanna, was brought aboard via a torpedo tube, and inducted into the Royal Navy.
Over the ensuing six weeks, Pollyanna was fed from a barrel of moss provided by the Soviets, and when that ran out, she subsisted on condensed milk and scraps from the galley. It was hoped that she would sleep in the torpedo room, but her tastes were more refined, and she insisted on sleeping under the captain’s bed. Whenever the submarine surfaced for air, Pollyanna barged her way through the narrow corridors to be the first to get some fresh air, before returning to officer country. Although Pollyanna ate a navigational chart, the Trident made it back to Britain. By then, she had grown too big to exit through a torpedo tube, so a winch was used to get her out via the hatch. Pollyanna was then discharged from the Royal Navy, and spent the rest of her life in the London Zoo.