Skip to comments.Russian Reindeer Sailed to England on World War II Submarine
Posted on 01/16/2002 4:57:08 PM PST by Shermy
A World War II legend of how a Russian reindeer sailed from the Far North to Britain in a submarine had always been written off as one of those hoary old wartime tales.
But 60 years later, the tale has been proven true with the unearthing of a photograph showing the burly commander of the HMS Trident, Commander Geoffrey Sladen, with Polly Anna the reindeer, a gift from one generous Soviet admiral.
The British Royal Navy Submarine Museum, which received the photograph last week, had heard of the reindeer from a former Trident crew member, but had always been suspicious until the photo came along, museum director Jeff Tall, a retired British submarine commandant, said Wednesday.
The Trident was among a fleet of submarines and supply ships that the British Navy sent to support the Soviet Union after the Nazis invaded in June 1941. The submarines, although sometimes called on to defend the merchant ships carrying badly needed supplies to the beleaguered Red Army, were mainly patrolling the seas of the Norwegian coast in a hunt for German supply ships.
The Trident was based at Polyarny near the Arctic port of Murmansk, and it was there that the reindeer made its appearance. On the sub's last night at port, Trident commander Sladen had a farewell dinner with a Soviet admiral. Through the perhaps not very good services of a translator, the two chatted about their families and Sladen explained how his wife had to push a baby carriage up the hill to get to the shops.
The admiral, obviously wanting to help Sladen's wife, duly sent along the local equivalent of a baby carriage puller, a baby reindeer that was passed through the torpedo hatch in a gray bag. With the crew too busy moving out of port, no one realized what was inside the bag until the submarine was at sea.
The reindeer, quickly named Polly Anna after the port of Polyarny, soon became the sub's pet, roaming the sub at will and living in the captain's cabin.
Polly Anna quickly adopted a new mother figure in Sladen, a large, burly character who once played rugby for England. Every evening when the sub's klaxon would ring to signal that the submarine was surfacing, Polly Anna would rush from her cabin to stand under the hatch, eager for a breath of fresh air. The only person she would allow to get close to the hatch was Sladen.
The Soviet admiral had kindly placed food -- local Murmansk moss -- in the bag with Polly Anna. Unfortunately, he hadn't known that the sub was not heading straight back to Britain but on a three-week mission. When the food ran out after three days, the animal was fed scraps from the submariner's galleys.
"He took a great fancy to Carnation Milk," Tall said. However, a wild animal in the tight confines of a submarine during wartime was far from ideal.
"Polly Anna probably was about as happy at the smell of 53 submariners as they were happy with the smell of a reindeer," Tall said.
And when the submarine arrived three weeks later in Blyth in northeastern England, Polly Anna had grown so much that she could not fit through the hatch.
"Fortunately there was a butcher on board," said Tall, pausing with the relish of a story well told, "and they trussed her up and pulled her out of the hatch."
Tall believes the newly found photo was taken not long after the submarine arrived in Blyth in November 1941. "It's wonderful," Tall said. "You have the combination of this commander who was in charge of a submarine whose job was to destroy and this Russian reindeer."
After arriving in England -- and after the hug depicted in the photograph -- Polly Anna was presented to London Zoo in Regent's Park as a present to the British people from the Russian people.
Sladen went back to the Trident, going on to receive a number of medals, including the British Distinguished Service Cross and France's Croix de Guerre.
The identity of the Soviet admiral was unclear Wednesday. The Submariners Seamen's Club in St. Petersburg could not immediately identify him, although a representative said he had heard -- and dismissed as fable -- the reindeer story. Polly Anna, however, was said to have never forgotten her youth under the seas, Tall said. Whenever she heard the clanging bell of a fire engine going past the zoo she would lower her head as if ready to rush to the hatch.
She died in 1946, only a few days after the Trident was decommissioned
Nice story! And nice cannon.
More big guns ;-)
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