Russian reindeer put on weight during happy spell as diving mate to British World War II submarine crew

A black and white photo of a man in a naval uniform hugging a reindeer in the 1940s

Commander Geoffrey Sladen with Pollyanna the Russian reindeer© National Museum of the Royal Navy

A reindeer eased through the torpedo loading hatch of a Trident class submarine in a gift from a Russian crew during World War II will be the star of BBC One tonight.

Pollyanna – the “reindeer submariner” known as the “zoo attendant” by the 50 crew members of HMS Trident – arrived with a barrel of moss for the care of Petty Officer James Riddoch in 1941. A Russian Admiral decided on the present after a speech at a farewell dinner when the leader of the British ship, Commander Geoffrey Sladen, mentioned that his wife was struggling to push a pram in the snow.


A photo of two men standing inside a naval museum smiling

Royal Navy Submarine Museum guide Spike Milligan (left) with The One Show presenter Gyles Brandreth© National Museum of the Royal Navy

“There was always a myth about a reindeer and it was recorded in a book of anecdotes by a crew member,” says George Malcolmson, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum Archivist who welcomed presenter Gyles Brandreth to Gosport for a special One Show recording about the unusual Christmas gift.


“This came to light in the 1980s and pictures were found in the archives.

“Pollyanna spent six weeks with HMS Trident on patrol off Norway after rumours that elements of the German fleet were on the move.


“Accounts show that Pollyanna became quite settled with life on the submarine and moved about easily.


“She had taken up residence in the captain’s cabin next to his bunk and got used to the noises of the submarine.


“She would be the first to trot into the control room to be ready for the main hatch to open and the fresh air to pour in.


“On diving she would go back to her resting area.”


The teams had been working on an exercise sharing tactics.


“After the barrel of moss ran out, she would help herself from the buckets of leftovers from the officer’s mess and got a taste for condensed milk. She even ate some of the navigation charts,” says Malcolmson, his words illustrated by Pollyanna’s arrival at Blyth Northumberland, when she had to be hoisted out of the main hatch after putting on weight.


“Trident survived the war, but by a sad irony they both perished within a week of each other five years later, Pollyanna in Regent’s Park Zoo and Trident in the breakers yard.


“It was rumoured that she never forgot her submarine career, for whenever she heard bells or a sound like a submarine tannoy she would lower her head as though preparing for diving stations.”


Understandably, the reindeer is said to have been a “firm favourite” at the zoo.