Häyhä after being awarded the honorary rifle model 28.
|Born||17 December 1905|
Rautjärvi, Viipuri Province, Finland, Russian Empire
|Died||1 April 2002 (aged 96)|
|Years of service||1925–1940|
|Rank||Alikersantti (Corporal) during the Winter War, promoted to Vänrikki (Second Lieutenant) shortly afterward|
|Awards||Cross of Liberty, 3rd class and 4th class|
Medal of Liberty, 1st class and 2nd class
Cross of Kollaa Battle
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. 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. Häyhä estimated in his diary that he killed more than 500 Red Army soldiers in the Winter War. His unit's chaplain Antti Rantama credited him with 259 confirmed kills by sniper rifle and an equal number of kills by machine gun during the Winter War.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Some of Häyhä's figures are from a Finnish Army document, counted from beginning of the war, 30 November 1939:
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.
On 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 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.
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. 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.
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