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Simo Häyhä, the Fearless Finnish Sniper of the Winter War

Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Simo Häyhä also called “white death” is credited with more than 500 kills, all with his antiquated rifle.

Simo Häyhä also called “white death” is credited with more than 500 kills, all with his antiquated rifle.

The Master of Camouflage

He was the master of camouflage and the Finns called him the guardian spirit who could move like a ghost through the snow.

He was diminutive, only 5 feet tall and he will wait patiently for days in the snow, dressed all in white for his target to show up. He even kept the snow in his mouth to prevent his breath from coming out that might give away his position. The Russians were so terrified of him and they nicknamed him the ‘white death’, a sniper who can never be seen. He was Simo Häyhä and he was the deadliest sniper in history.

And Simo Häyhä’s moment of fame came during the winter war that was fought for three months between the powerful Soviet Union and the underdog Finland. The war began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II. Josef Stalin had the numbers,750,000 soldiers, 6,000 tanks, and over 3,000 aircraft. The war was expected to be a cakewalk.

Except that it wasn’t. The Finns gave the Soviets the bloodiest nose they ever got in any war and substantial credit goes to the farmer-turned-sniper Simo Häyhä who killed more than 500 soldiers singlehandedly, averaging 5 kills a day.

And he did all this killing with an M/28-30, an antique, Russian-made rifle, a bare-bones model with no telescopic lens. It was a basic weapon compared to the Soviets who were using state-of-the-art rifles, but he had mastered it through years of experience.

In his later years, when he was asked the secret of his stupendous success, Häyhä has smiled and simply said ‘practice’.

The winter war that was fought for three months between the powerful Soviet Union and the underdog Finland. The war began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II

The winter war that was fought for three months between the powerful Soviet Union and the underdog Finland. The war began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II

The Story of Simo Häyhä

Simo Häyhä was born on 17 December 1905 in the hamlet of Kiiskinen in Rautjärvi municipality. He was a farmer by profession and was skilled in many hobbies like shooting, skiing, and hunting. He lived close to nature and his upbringing in the forests gave him uncanny skills to avoid getting detected while moving around to hunt animals.

As Tapio Saarelainen, author of The White Sniper: Simo Häyhä writes about him.

“He hunted birds in clearings and pine forests, and some of the birds were extremely sensitive to even the slightest sound, reflection, or sudden movement.”

His perfect blending into nature skills proved invaluable to him during the winter war where he developed a foolproof method of not getting sighted. His techniques to remain camouflaged included pouring water into the snow in front of him so that the muzzle blast would not expose his location by disturbing the light snow, building up snowdrifts around his position to keep himself hidden, and also holding snow in his mouth to prevent his breath from revealing his position.

His perfect blending into nature skills proved invaluable to him during the winter war where he developed a foolproof method of not getting sighted.

His perfect blending into nature skills proved invaluable to him during the winter war where he developed a foolproof method of not getting sighted.

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He Planned Meticulously

He was a master of preparation. It is said that he used to visit his ‘firing spots’ a couple of weeks in advance so that he can get acquainted with the terrain and also take note of any topographical features that can be used effectively.

He strongly believed that an ill-maintained weapon is the main reason for failure as the weapon would fail to fire at the right moment. He was fanatical about cleaning his antique rifle and keeping it in ship-shape always. At -20°C temperatures of the Finnish winter, proper gun maintenance is what makes the difference between life and death and prevents any jamming mishaps, he used to say.

Häyhä’s obsessive strategies kept him alive in brutal, demanding conditions and soon he tallied 505 kills, the highest ever killed by a sniper in any war. All of the kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days — meaning he averaged over five per day.

The Soviets were terrified. He became the prime target of the Red Army. They tried everything on him, from pummelling his positions with heavy artillery to taking him out with a band of lethal snipers. Nothing worked.

Simo Häyhä was a master at exploiting the harsh terrain to his advantage and the Soviets were left clueless on how to handle him as their body count began to grow enormously.

11 days before the war ended, Simo Häyhä was finally struck.

11 days before the war ended, Simo Häyhä was finally struck.

Simo Häyhä Was Finally Struck

11 days before the war ended, Simo Häyhä was finally struck.

A shot from a Soviet soldier caught him in the jaw, blowing away half his face. He went into a deep coma and it took more than 26 surgeries to restore his face and but even then, his speech was never fully restored. By the time he woke up, the war had ended and he had been crowned the national hero of Finland.

He spent the rest of his life peacefully staying away from the limelight on his farm in the lap of nature. As a friend of Häyhä talks about him.

“Simo spoke more with animals in the forest than with other people.”

He passed away in 2002 at the age of 96 due to natural causes. When asked in his later years about any regrets he felt due to his killings, he had simply said.

“War is not a pleasant experience, but who else would protect this land unless we are willing to do it ourselves.”

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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