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Lucky or Unlucky? The Pigs that Survived at Sea

The head of a pig, stuffed and mounted on a plaque.

Tirpitz the Pig

© WM (EPH 9032)

    • Our friends at the Imperial War Museum have some really interesting objects in their collection and one of them really got us thinking. Tucked away in their First World War galleries visitors are confronted with an unusual sight, even for a museum. That sight is Tirpitz the pig, well the head of Tirpitz the pig, stuffed and mounted on a plaque. But how and why has this pig ended up in a British Museum?

      Well, Tirpitz was a survivor, he survived the sinking of the SMS Dresden in 1915, right at the beginning of the First World War. The SMS Dresden was a German warship that had been shot at and attacked by a British ship just off the coast of the tiny South Pacific Island of Más a Fuera, 600 miles off the coast of Chile.

      Tirpitz was onboard the ship when the Captain ordered for it to be sunk (this was done to stop the British from capturing it) but luckily for this little pig he managed to make his way above deck and escape before the ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

      Tirpitz was spotted swimming alone in the ocean by one of the British sailors who jumped into the water to save him. The sailors who rescued him obviously noted his good luck as they kept him on board their ship, the HMS Glasgow for a year as their mascot and good luck charm.

      It was here that Tirpitz was given his name, he was named after the German Admiral Alfred Von Tirpitz, and it was intended as a way to make fun of the German Admiral. The Imperial War Museum has made this little video so you can hear more about Tirpitz’s story.


      It turns out there is another lucky pig hiding away in a London museum and funnily enough, this one also survived the sinking of a rather famous ship. This lucky pig toy from the National Maritime Museum was one of the fortunate survivors of the Titanic that sunk off the coast of Canada in 1912, just 3 years before Tirpitz himself was found.

      The toy pig belonged to Edith Rosenbaum, it was given to her as a gift from her mother to help her recover after a car accident. Edith’s mother believed that the pig would be a good charm for her daughter and she may well have been right as it was this pig that helped to save Edith when the Titanic began to sink, you can read more about that on our collection page.

      The National Maritime Museum used x-ray technology to see the mechanism inside this lucky toy pig and they have been able to work out that it contains a little music box that would have played a tune. They have recreated this tune and you can hear that music in this video.


      As well as lucky pigs, both musical and real, we at Show Me also know about a lucky cat. This little cat was from the same time as Tirpitz and was owned by a First World War Soldier who fought on the Western Front.

      Why do you think we have so many examples of people using animals as good luck charms? Do you think it’s just a coincidence that we have two lucky pigs in our museums? Can you think of any other lucky animals? We love to hear your thoughts and ideas so if you can think of any make sure to email us at:  info@show.me.uk

      If you want to see Tirpitz in the flesh you can visit him in the First World War Galleries of the IMW on level 0, and while you’re there you can explore their Family in Wartime and Secret War exhibitions to uncover more little stories from the Great War.
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