Snipers have helped armies gain the upper hand in decisive battles throughout history. Effective snipers such as Simo Häyhä were able to cause a lot of damage to the enemy and thwart their attacks.
After the Soviet army invaded Finland, Häyhä had to use his respected hunting skills on the battlefield.
Because of that, Simo Häyhä is still a legend in his own right. Despite the harsh weather conditions, he became the deadliest sniper in history, and here is his unbelievable story.
The Soviet Invasion That Started Simo Häyhä's Career
Born in 1905 to a farming family, Simo Häyhä completed the mandatory year of military service at 20 and went back to farming and hunting. He stood out in his small community for his shooting prowess and often took part in competitions.
Nevertheless, Simo Häyhä's career as a sniper started in 1939 when the Soviets were sent to the western border to invade Finland. With that, the Winter War began.
Even though Finland was the underdog, it won, and people like Häyhä had a considerable role in the victory.
Josef Stalin did not see the defeat coming since he had more resources at his disposal.
To begin with, the Soviets outnumbered the opposing Finnish forces by an important factor. About 750,000 Soviet soldiers were fighting against 300,000 Finnish soldiers.
Also, the Finnish army had only a couple of tanks and about 100 aircraft. Stalin's army had 6,000 tanks and 3,000 aircraft, which means he did not expect his army to lose.
Unlike the Soviets, the Finnish had Simo Häyhä, also known as "White Death," in their corner.
Simo Häyhä measured five feet in height and had a mild-mannered demeanor that made him anything but intimidating. This combination of factors might have made him quite an effective sniper.
Simo Häyhä's Foolproof Strategy
Häyhä used his old rifle, which didn't even have a telescopic lens, as is usually the case with sniper weapons. He had noted that the new sniper lens would tip off targets by glinting. That is why he was not eager to trade his old antiquated gun for a new model. He preferred to use iron sights, which he had gotten from a Soviet version of the Finnish rifle he was using.
He was also given a heavy, white uniform to blend better with the snow for camouflage. The Finnish army had the advantage of having great camouflage, while Soviet soldiers had bright uniforms that made them stand out more.
Häyhä preferred to work alone, and all he needed was a day's supply of food and ammunition. After that, he looked for a good spot and waited for his targets. Consequently, when members of the Red Army crossed his path, he was always ready.
He would pour water on his rifle to freeze it to stop it from smoking after he fired, which would have given away his position. He also aimed for center mass on his targets rather than the head to ensure he had a bigger target to work with.
Simo Häyhä also had a lot of knowledge of the local area, which helped him find the best hiding positions.
Another technique that worked in his favor was his decision to create snowdrifts around him, which hid him even more. The drifts also meant that his rifle did not stir up the snow and make him easy to spot.
He also put snow in his mouth to ensure that steamy breaths did not betray him. These strategies managed to keep him alive even as the Soviets tried their best to kill him.
Simo's Unbeatable Record And Finland's Win
During the Winter War, which took about 100 days, Simo Häyhä killed between 500 and 542 Red Army soldiers. Even more incredible is that he accomplished this using an old rifle even though the Soviets had modern weapons.
On December 21, 1939, he managed to kill 25 Soviet soldiers, which was his highest daily count. He focused on targets that were within a distance of 150 meters.
In the Kollaa battle, Simo Häyhä faced 4,000 Soviet soldiers with only 31 of his colleagues. Even though they were incredibly outnumbered, they managed to hold off the Soviet soldiers for the entire winter.
The temperatures were often below freezing, reaching lows of up to -40 degrees Celsius, and the days were pretty short. Clearly, the conditions under which he worked were pretty harsh.
By the end of the war, USSR had about 400,000 casualties, while the Finnish army had only 66,000 casualties.
Part of the reason the Soviets lost the war was their lack of proper leadership, thanks to Stalin's purging of the USSR as a way to eliminate any potential political threats to his reign.
The USSR Came To Know And Fear Simo Häyhä
Due to his incredible success as a sniper, Simo Häyhä grew quite popular among the Soviets, who referred to him as the "White Death." Thanks to his small frame and effective camouflage, nobody could notice him when he was in his position.
The enemies tried all they could to kill him, including deploying counter-snipers and conducting artillery strikes from which he managed to get away unscathed.
Getting close to him was out of the question since he was a remarkable marksman, making it so much harder for the enemies to kill him. Simo Häyhä quickly dispatched many of the snipers they deployed to take him out.
The Finnish Loved Him
The Finnish took a lot of pride in their sniper and often used him in their propaganda. He was portrayed as a legend and a guardian spirit. The fellow soldiers called him Magic Shooter.
His reputation impressed the Finnish High Command so much that they made him a custom sniper rifle.
Unfortunately, just 11 days before the war's end, a Soviet soldier saw him and shot him in the jaw with an exploding bullet. According to rumors, half his face had been blown off.
At the time he was found, he was unconscious. Initially, he was thought dead, and his body was thrown on a pile of dead bodies until someone noticed that his body was twitching.
The hit put him in a coma for 11 days. When he got up from his coma, the countries signed peace treaties.
He ended up with a scar that lasted all his life, and his speech never fully recovered. He had to undergo 26 surgeries on his jaw.
Simo Won Several Awards For His Work As A Sniper
After the end of the war, Simo Häyhä still used his incredible skills as a sniper to hunt moose. Regularly, he went on hunting trips with Urho Kekkonen, the Finnish president.
Simo Häyhä also got several awards for his achievements as a sniper. To begin with, he was promoted from corporal to second lieutenant. The government also gave him a farm in 1961.
He continued to farm and hunt after the war and even managed to win the Ruokolahti Hunting Society's Game Cup five times in a row.
His face was also seriously disfigured all his life due to the bullet he took. Luckily, he made a full recovery and enjoyed a long life over time before passing away at the age of 96.
Simo Häyhä died in 2002 in a veteran's nursing home in Hamina. He was buried in Ruokolahti, Finland.
A book has been written about him known as The White Sniper: Simo Häyhä. Additionally, a documentary film was made, and it includes accounts of his life from his friends and family members.