The merchant ship Eleanor had been chartered for service in the Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary and was carrying a cargo of sea mines and depth charges to the Mediterranean via Falmouth. At approximately 4 am on the 12th February 1918, when she was south west of the Isle of Wight, a massive explosion shook the vessel. The Eleanor had been torpedoed by SM UB-57, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Johannes Lohs, one of Germany’s most highly-regarded First World War submarine commanders.
The ship sank almost immediately and of the crew of 35, only one man escaped. Second Officer Barton Hunter rushed onto deck after the explosion and quickly found himself in the water as the vessel sank beneath him. He found some debris to cling to and as he waited in the darkness, a vessel approached from the gloom. Lohs had come to interrogate the survivor and, after obtaining the name of the ship and information about its cargo, SM U-57slipped back into the darkness.
Barton Hunter survived the war and in the months and years that followed he received numerous letters from the families of his crewmates, desperately seeking information about their loved ones.
Today the Eleanor lies approximately 9 miles off St Catherine’s point, the most southern point of the Isle of Wight, in 40 metres of water. The cargo of mines and depth charges still remains stacked in the areas of the cargo holds, although their explosives have been washed away.