The True Story Of The Russian Reindeer Who Lived On A British Submarine For 6 Weeks

The Second World War — with its tens of millions of participants and victims, its thousands of battles, its reach across continents — was fertile ground for incredible stories. There was Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier in the Philippines who did not believe the news that Japan had surrendered, and thus continued to wage a one-man war against American forces and facilities until the 1970s (via What Culture). There was the British plot to get estrogen into Hitler's food to make him less aggressive, and Stalin's use of bomb-strapped dogs to blow up German tanks. And don't forget that Nikola Tesla-inspired death ray the Japanese were building (via Cracked).

Those are just some of the wildest WWII stories, but there are many more that sound fake — yet they aren't — like the concentration camp that had a zoo to entertain its guards or the messed-up tale of a 12-year-old who secretly served in the U.S. Navy, and the remarkable story of the Polish bear that helped transport military supplies. But here's one of the best yet: the story of a communist reindeer who lived on a submarine and grew too fat to get out.

Reindeer Below Deck

In 1941, British and Soviet naval forces fighting German ships in the Arctic Circle met and exchanged strategies and pleasantries. The captain of Britain's HMS Trident said off-hand that his wife back home had difficulties pushing her pram, a baby stroller, through the snow. The Russian admiral to whom he spoke replied that what she really needed was a reindeer to pull the pram, and saw to it that one was captured from the Arctic shores and brought to the captain (via BBC). Presumably not wishing to be rude, the British accepted the gift.

So Pollyanna, as she was named, was lowered into the HMS Trident, a submarine, through the torpedo tubes. In her new home, Pollyanna slept under the captain's bunk and roamed around the officers' mess, first eating moss that the Russians had sent with her, then the same foodstuffs as the crew. For six weeks man and beast lived together in a cramped, claustrophobic tube underwater, mostly peaceably but not without incident, for Pollyanna also developed an appetite for navigation charts.

Pollyanna's Return to Land

When the submarine arrived at Blyth on the eastern coast of the U.K., the crew had a problem. Pollyanna had grown fat off condensed milk and other human treats, and couldn't be evacuated through the torpedo tubes. Alas, she used to rush past the crew to get to the deck and breathe some fresh air when the sub surfaced. Now she was trapped. It took a great deal of effort and some mechanical aid, but the sailors managed to get her through the main hatch. She was then transported to a zoo in London (via BBC). She died there in 1947, the same year her submarine was decommissioned.

Pollyanna and her underwater journey to Britain are finally getting the attention they deserve. Several websites have spread the word, and in November 2022 a children's book by Beverley McWilliams called "The Reindeer and the Submarine" is coming out (via Pantera Press). This is too fine a story not to be known far and wide.