You’ve Heard of Flying Reindeer; What About Pollyanna, the Reindeer of the Deep Seas?

Pollyanna, with officers of the HMS Trident Pollyanna, with officers of the HMS Trident

The British submarine HMS Trident had an unusual crew member for part of its World War II service: a reindeer named Pollyanna.

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 Trident was based at Polyarny near the Arctic port of Murmansk when it acquired its new crew member. On the sub’s last night at port, Trident commander Geoffrey 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 through snow 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. The gift 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 crew named the new passenger Pollyanna, in honor of their most-recent port, Polyarna. She became the sub’s mascot and was allowed free access to the sub and even slept in the captain’s cabin. Captain Sladen, a large, burly former rugby player became the mother figure for the young reindeer. She soon adapted to the sub’s culture and routine. 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.

Although the Soviet admiral had kindly placed food — local Murmansk moss — in the bag with Pollyanna, 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. “She took a great fancy to Carnation Milk,” said one crew member.

Having the animal in the tight confines of a submarine during wartime was far from ideal. “Pollyanna probably was about as happy at the smell of 53 submariners as they were happy with the smell of a reindeer,” said one crew member. When the submarine arrived three weeks later in Blyth in northeastern England, Pollyanna had grown so much that she could not fit easily through the hatch. With the help of a butcher who was a member of the crew, they trussed the animal up through the hatch for a taste of life on solid ground.

After arriving in England Pollyanna 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.

Pollyanna, however, was said to have never forgotten her youth under the seas,  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.


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