The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The loss of the Johanna Thorden

The Johanna Thorden was a Finnish vessel, travelling from New York and was bound for Gothenburg in Sweden on 12 January 1937, when she ran into severe weather. In the early hours of the morning, hurricane-force gales drove her aground in the Pentland Firth.

 The Johanna Thorden

The shock of the impact rendered the ship's wireless useless and prevented the transmission of an SOS. Crewmen set off distress rockets and a fire was started on deck to attract the attention of lighthouse keepers nearby, but these desperate measures were not seen.

The ship was plunged into darkness when flooding in the engine room led to the power failing. Twenty-one members of the crew, along with two women and their sons, got into one of the lifeboats. An hour later a second lifeboat was sent out with the remaining 13 passengers and crewmen on board. After three hours battling on the sea, only eight men managed to make it ashore.

One of the survivors said later: "The boat upended three times in succession, throwing us all into the sea. We were washed ashore, along with the boat. Our captain and unfortunate comrades who died were battered so severely that I do not think they drowned. They were probably killed in the first smash."

Thirty people lost their lives and some are buried in Orkney. The photographs below show a gravestone erected to the memory of two of the men lost in the tragedy in St Peter's Kirk graveyard at Kirkpoint, South Ronaldsay. It is a lovely stone which has been carved to form hands in prayer.

        Memorial in South Ronaldsay to two men lost on the Johanna Thorden