Simo Häyhä

Simo Häyhä
Simo hayha honorary rifle.jpg
Häyhä after being awarded the honorary rifle model 28.
Nickname(s)"White Death"
Born(1905-12-17)17 December 1905
Rautjärvi, Viipuri Province, Finland, Russian Empire
Died1 April 2002(2002-04-01) (aged 96)
Hamina, Finland
Allegiance Finland
Service/branchFinnish Army
Years of service1925–1940
RankAlikersantti (Corporal) during the Winter War, promoted to Vänrikki (Second Lieutenant) shortly afterward[1]
Battles/warsWinter War
AwardsCross of Liberty, 3rd class and 4th class
Medal of Liberty, 1st class and 2nd class
Cross of Kollaa Battle[1]

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,[2] was a Finnish sniper. He is believed to have killed over 500 men during the 1939–40 Winter War, the highest number of sniper kills in any major war. He used a Finnish-produced M/28-30 rifle, a variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle, and a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun.[3][4][5] Häyhä estimated in his diary that he killed more than 500 Red Army soldiers in the Winter War.[6] His unit's chaplain Antti Rantama credited him with 259 confirmed kills by sniper rifle[7] and an equal number of kills by machine gun during the Winter War.[2]

Early life

Häyhä was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi in the Grand Duchy of Finland in southern Finland near the border with Russia. He was the second youngest of eight children in a Lutheran family of farmers.[8] He was a farmer, hunter, and skier prior to his military service. He joined the Finnish voluntary militia White Guard (Suojeluskunta) at age 21, and he was successful in shooting competitions in the Viipuri Province. His home was reportedly full of trophies for marksmanship.[9]

Winter War service

Häyhä in the 1940s, with visible damage to his left cheek after his 1940 wound

Häyhä served as a sniper for the Finnish Army during the 1939–40 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. He was 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. On the other hand, Soviet troops were not issued with white camouflage suits for most of the war, making them easily visible to snipers in winter conditions. Joseph Stalin had purged military experts in the late 1930s, and the Red Army was consequently highly disorganized.[10]

All of Häyhä's kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days, an average of five per day at a time of year with very few daylight hours.[11][12][13] A sniper's kill-count was based on the sniper himself, with the confirmation of his comrades, and only those who were killed for certain are considered. No count was taken when several snipers shot at the same target. The number of men killed by the group leader was not counted,[clarification needed] which was estimated to be more than 200, according to some sources.[14]

During the war, the "White death" was one of the leading themes of Finnish propaganda.[15] The Finnish newspapers frequently featured the invisible Finnish soldier, thus creating a hero of mythical proportions.[15][16]

Häyhä's division commander A. Svensson credited him with 219 confirmed sniper kills and an equal number of kills by submachine gun, when he awarded him an honorary rifle on 17 February 1940. On 21 December 1939, he achieved his highest daily count of 25 kills.[17] In his diary, military chaplain Antti Rantama reported 259 confirmed sniper kills and an equal number of kills by submachine gun from the beginning of the war until 7 March 1940, one day after Häyhä was seriously wounded.[2]

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

  • 22 December 1939: 138 sniper kills[18] in 22 days
  • 26 January 1940: 199 sniper kills[19] (61 in 35 days)
  • 17 February 1940: 219 sniper kills[2] (20 in 22 days)
  • 7 March 1940 (when Häyhä was seriously wounded): total of 259 sniper kills[2] (40 in 18 days)

Häyhä used his issued Civil Guard rifle, an early series SAKO M/28-30, serial number 35281, Civil Guard number S60974. It 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), 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). He would frequently pack dense mounds of snow in front of his position to conceal himself, provide padding for his rifle and reducing the characteristic puff of snow stirred up by the muzzle blast. He was known to keep snow in his mouth while sniping to prevent his breath in the cold air from giving away his position.[20]

On 6 March 1940, Häyhä was hit in his lower left jaw by an explosive bullet fired by a Red Army soldier.[21] He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said that "half his face was missing". He did not die and regained consciousness on 13 March, the day that peace was declared. Shortly after the war, he was promoted from alikersantti (Corporal) to vänrikki (Second lieutenant) by Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.[22]

Häyhä's recollections reveal 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."[23]

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 Finnish President Urho Kekkonen.[20] He was asked in 1998 how he had become such a good sniper: "Practice." He was asked in 2002, just before his 96th birthday, if he regretted killing so many people. He replied, "I only did what I was told to do, as well as I could." Häyhä spent his last years in Ruokolahti, a small municipality located in southeastern Finland near the Russian border.

Häyhä died in a war veterans' nursing home in Hamina in 2002 at age 96.[22][24] He was buried in Ruokolahti.


  1. ^ a b Lappalainen, Jukka-Pekka (6 December 2001). "Kollaa kesti, niin myös Simo Häyhä" [The Kollaa held out, so did Simo Häyhä] (fee required). Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Helsinki. Retrieved 19 February 2011.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e Saarelainen, Tapio (31 October 2016). "The White Sniper". Casemate. Retrieved 12 March 2019 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Rayment, Sean (30 April 2006). "The long view". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  4. ^ Saarelainen, Taipo (15 November 2016). "The White Death: History's Deadliest Sniper". Forces Network.
  5. ^ Tapio A.M. Saarelainen: Sankarikorpraali Simo Häyhä (2006)
  6. ^ Kauppinen, Kari (18 July 2017). "Sotasankari Simo Häyhän ennennäkemätön päiväkirja löytyi - "Tässä on minun syntilistani"". Iltalehti (in Finnish). Helsinki. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  7. ^ "The world's deadliest sniper, Simo Hayha". 25 March 2017. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  8. ^ About Simo Häyhä
  9. ^ Gilbert, Adrian (1996). Sniper: The Skills, the Weapons, and the Experiences. St. Martin's Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-312-95766-1.
  10. ^ [pp. 145–146 The Winter War: The Russo–Finnish War of 1939–40 by William R. Trotter, Workman Publishing Company, New York (Aurum Press, London), 2002, First published 1991 in the United States under the title A Frozen Hell: The Russo–Finnish Winter War of 1939–40]
  11. ^ Jowett, Philip S. (2006). Finland at War, 1939–45. Osprey Publishing. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-84176-969-1.
  12. ^ Pegler, Martin (2006). Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper. Osprey Publishing. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-84603-140-3.
  13. ^ Farey, Pat; Spicer, Mark (5 May 2009). Sniping: An Illustrated History. Zenith Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 978-0-7603-3717-2.
  14. ^ Myllyniemi, Timo; Manninen, Tuomas (25 December 2014). "Tarkka-ampuja Simo Häyhä ei koskaan saanut Mannerheim-ristiä - "Harkitaan"". Ilta-Sanomat. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  15. ^ a b Systems, Edith Cowan University School of Management Information; Australia, Teamlink (12 March 2019). "Journal of Information Warfare". Teamlink Australia Pty Limited. Retrieved 12 March 2019 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ "Suuret Suomalaiset - 100 Suurinta suomalaista". 22 February 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  17. ^ Simple History (15 February 2018), Simo Häyhä 'The White Death' (World’s Deadliest Sniper), retrieved 8 April 2019
  18. ^ JR34:n toimintakertomus 30.11.39-1.12.40. SPK 1327. Finnish National Archive Sörnäinen; Alikersantista vänrikiksi. Hurtti Ukko 1/1941
  19. ^ Rantamaa, A. J. 1942. Parlamentin palkeilta Kollaanjoen kaltahille. WSOY, Porvoo. Pg. 84, 206
  20. ^ a b Stirling, Robert (20 December 2012). Special Forces Sniper Skills. Osprey Publishing. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-1-78096-003-6.
  21. ^ Saarelainen, Tapio (31 October 2016). The White Sniper: Simo Häyhä. Casemate. ISBN 9781612004297.
  22. ^ a b Feist, Paul (21 July 2012). "The Winter War and a Winter Warrior". The Redwood Stumper 2010: The Newsletter of the Redwood Gun Club, Arcata, CA. Arcata, CA: Redwood Gun Club. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-300-03973-0.
  23. ^ Kivimäki, Petri (14 March 2018). "Tutkijan kädet alkoivat vapista – maailmankuulun sotalegendan Simo Häyhän muistelmat löytyivät sattumalta". Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  24. ^ "Ei ne osumat, vaan se asenne". Retrieved 12 March 2019.

Further reading