Simo Häyhä “WHITE DEATH” – Finish sniper who killed more than 500 Russian soliders

February 24, 2019

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Simo “Simuna” Häyhä (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈsimo̞ ˈhæy̯ɦæ]; 17 December 1905 – 1 April 2002), nicknamed “White Death” (Russian: Белая смерть, Belaja smert; Finnish: valkoinen kuolema; Swedish: den vita döden) by the Red Army,was a Finnish sniper. Using a Finnish-produced M/28-30 rifle (a variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle) and a Suomi KP/-31, he reportedly killed 505 men (according to other sources he is credited with 542) during the 1939–40 Winter War, the highest recorded number of sniper kills in any major war. Häyhä estimated in his diary that he killed more than five hundred Red Army soldiers in the Winter War. Antti Rantama (Häyhä’s unit military chaplain) credited Häyhä with 259 confirmed sniper kills and an equal number of kills by machine/submachine gun during the Winter War.

Early life

Häyhä was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi in the Grand Duchy of Finland, in present-day southern Finland near the border with Russia, and started his military service in 1925. He was the second youngest of eight children in a Lutheran family of farmers. Before entering combat, Häyhä was a farmer, hunter, and excellent skier. At the age of 17, he joined the Finnish voluntary militia White Guard (Suojeluskunta) and was also successful in shooting sports in competitions in the Viipuri Province. His home was reportedly full of trophies for marksmanship.

Winter War service

Häyhä in the 1940s, with visible damage to his left cheek after his 1940 wound
During the 1939–40 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, Häyhä served as a sniper for the Finnish Army against the Red Army in the 6th Company of JR 34 during the Battle of Kollaa in temperatures between −40 °C (−40 °F) and −20 °C (−4 °F), dressed completely in white camouflage. Because of Joseph Stalin’s purges of military experts in the late 1930s, the Red Army was highly disorganized and the Soviet troops were not issued with white camouflage suits for most of the war, making them easily visible to snipers in winter conditions.

All of Häyhä’s kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – an average of just over five per day – at a time of year with very few daylight hours.

The number of killed Soviet soldiers was counted according to the sniper himself and with the confirmation of his comrades, only those who were killed for sure are considered. It was not taken into account when several snipers shot at the same target. The number of men killed by the group leader was not counted, which was estimated to be more than 200, according to some sources.However, Simo Häyhä’s kill total is impossible to check, because his targets were on the Russian side.[15][clarification needed] During the war, the “White death” was one of the leading themes of Finnish propaganda.[16] The Finnish newspapers frequently featured the invisible Finnish soldier, thus creating a hero of mythical proportions.

A. Svensson, Häyhä’s division commander, credited Häyhä with 219 confirmed sniper kills, and an equal number of kills by submachine gun, when he awarded Häyhä an honorary rifle on 17 February 1940. In his diary, military chaplain Antti Rantama reported 259 confirmed sniper kills and an equal number of kills by machine/submachine gun from the beginning of the war until 7 March 1940, one day after Simo Häyhä was seriously wounded.

Some of Simo Häyhä’s figures are from a Finnish Army document (counted from beginning of the war, 30 November 1939):

22 December 1939: 138 sniper kills[19] (138 in 22 days)
26 January 1940: 199 sniper kills[20] (61 in 35 days)
17 February 1940: 219 sniper kills[2] (20 in 22 days)

7 March 1940 (when Simo Häyhä was seriously wounded): total of 259 sniper kills (40 in 18 days).

Häyhä used his issued Civil Guard rifle, an early series SAKO M/28-30 (Sn.35281/Civil Guard district number S60974). The rifle was a Finnish Civil Guard variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle, known as “Pystykorva” (literally “The Spitz”, due to the front sight’s resemblance to the head of a spitz-type dog) chambered in the Finnish Mosin–Nagant cartridge 7.62×53R. He preferred iron sights over telescopic sights, as they enable a sniper to present a smaller target for the enemy (a sniper must raise his head a few centimeters higher when using a telescopic sight), and can be relied on even in extreme cold (unlike telescopic sights, which tend to cloud up in cold weather), and are easier to conceal (sunlight can reflect off a telescopic sight’s lenses and reveal the sniper’s position). Häyhä also did not have prior training with scoped rifles, and therefore preferred not to switch to the Soviet scoped rifle (m/91-30 PE or PEM). Häyhä would frequently pack dense mounds of snow in front of his position to conceal himself, provide padding for his rifle and reduce the characteristic puff of snow stirred up by the muzzle blast. He was also known to keep snow in his mouth while sniping, to prevent the steam of his breath in the cold air from giving away his position.

On the 6 March 1940, Häyhä was hit in his lower left jaw by an explosive bullet fired by a Red Army soldier. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said “half his face was missing”, but he did not die, regaining consciousness on 13 March, the day peace was declared. Shortly after the war, Häyhä was promoted from alikersantti (Corporal) to vänrikki (Second lieutenant) by Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.

Häyhä’s recollections, written in 14 August 1940 after being wounded, tell that Häyhä also had a lighter, humorous side to him: “After Christmas we caught a Ruskie, blindfolded him, spun him dizzy and took him to a party in the tent of The Terror of Morocco. The Ruskie was joyed by the carousing and was disgusted when he was sent back.”

Later life

Simo Häyhä’s gravestone in Ruokolahti Church Graveyard, Karelia, Finland. The inscription reads: Home – Religion – Fatherland
It took several years for Häyhä to recuperate from his wound. The bullet had crushed his jaw and removed most of his left cheek. Nonetheless, he made a full recovery and became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder after World War II, and even hunted with the Finnish President Urho Kekkonen.

When asked in 1998 how he had become such a good sniper, Häyhä answered, “Practice.” In 2002, just before his 96th birthday, he was asked if he regretted killing so many people. He replied, “I only did what I was told to do, as well as I could.” Simo Häyhä spent his last years in Ruokolahti, a small municipality located in southeastern Finland, near the Russian border.


Simo Häyhä died in a war veterans’ nursing home in Hamina in 2002 at the age of 96, and was buried in Ruokolahti.

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