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Simo Häyhä

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Simo "Simuna" Häyhä ( ; 17 December 1905 1 April 2002) was a Finnish military sniper. He used a Finnish-produced M/28-30, a variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle, and a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun. Häyhä is believed to have killed over 500 men during the 1939–40 Winter War, the highest number of sniper kills in any major war. Tapio A.M. Saarelainen: Sankarikorpraali Simo Häyhä (2006)
Simo estimated in his private war-time diary that he shot around 500. Häyhä's diary, which covers his experiences in the Winter War from 13 November 1939 to 13 March 1940, was accidentally found by those who had studied Häyhä's war history; it had been hidden in an old drawing box for decades.

Early life and youth

Simo Häyhä was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi in the Viipuri Province of southern Finland near the border with Russia. He was the seventh of eight children in a Lutheran family of farmers. He attended school in the village of Miettilä in Kivennapa parish and cultivated his home farm together with his eldest brother. He was a farmer, hunter, and skier prior to his military service.

Militia and military service

Häyhä joined the Finnish voluntary militia White Guard (Suojeluskunta) at age 17. He was successful in shooting competitions in the Viipuri Province; his home was reportedly full of trophies for marksmanship. He was not keen to hog the spotlight, and correspondingly in the photos of his younger years he usually stood at the very back in group photos, until his later success started to force him to take centre place.
In 1925, aged 19, Häyhä began his 15 months of compulsory military service in the Bicycle Battalion 2 in Raivola, Viipuri Province. Häyhä attended the Non-Commissioned Officer School and served as a conscript officer in the Bicycle Battalion 1 in Terijoki. However, he didn't get sniper training until a year before the war in 1938 at a training centre in Utti.
According to Major Tapio Saarelainen, who wrote Häyhä's biography, Häyhä was able to estimate distances with an accuracy of 1 metre (3.3 ft) up to 150 metres (500 ft). Saarelainen notes that during his Civil Guard training, Häyhä once hit a target 16 times from 150 metres away in just one minute. "This was an unbelievable accomplishment with a bolt action rifle, considering that each cartridge had to be manually fed with a fixed magazine that held together five cartridges."

Winter War service

Häyhä served as a sniper for the Finnish Army during the 1939–40 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, under Lieutenant Aarne Juutilainen in the 6th Company of Infantry Regiment 34 (Jalkaväkirykmentti 34, or JR 34) during the Battle of Kollaa in temperatures between and . Häyhä was dressed completely in white camouflage; Soviet troops were not issued with camouflage uniforms for most of the war, making them easily visible to snipers in winter conditions. Joseph Stalin had purged military experts in the late 1930s as part of the Great Purge, and the Red Army was consequently highly disorganized.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
Finnish sources describe that Häyhä was nicknamed "The White Death" by the Red Army ( , ; ; ). During the war, the "White Death" was one of the leading themes of Finnish propaganda. Finnish newspapers frequently featured the invisible Finnish soldier, thus creating a hero of mythical proportions.

Achievements as a sniper

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. Häyhä's kill count as a sniper was based on Häyhä himself, with the confirmation of his comrades, and only those who were killed for certain were considered. No count was taken when several snipers shot at the same target. Men killed with a submachine gun with Simo as a group leader were not counted.
thumbHäyhä in Kollaa on 17 February 1940, right after being awarded the honorary rifle.
Häyhä's division commander Antero Svensson credited him with 219 confirmed kills with a rifle and an equal number of kills by submachine gun, when he awarded him an honorary rifle on 17 February 1940. On 21 December 1939, Häyhä achieved his highest daily count of 25 kills. In his diary, military chaplain Antti Rantamaa reported 259 confirmed kills made by rifle 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. Later in his book, Rantamaa credited Simo with a total of 542 kills.
Some of Häyhä's figures are from a Finnish Army document, counted from the beginning of the war, 30 November 1939:
  • 22 December 1939: 138 sniper kills in 22 daysJR34:n toimintakertomus 30.11.39-1.12.40. SPK 1327. Finnish National Archive Sörnäinen; Alikersantista vänrikiksi. Hurtti Ukko 1/1941
  • 26 January 1940: 199 sniper kills (61 in 35 days)Rantamaa, A. J. 1942. Parlamentin palkeilta Kollaanjoen kaltahille. WSOY, Porvoo. Pg. 84, 206
  • 17 February 1940: 219 sniper kills (20 in 22 days)
  • 7 March 1940 (one day after Häyhä was seriously wounded): total of 259 sniper kills (40 in 18 days)
Häyhä never discussed it publicly but his own private diary, discovered in 2017, shares a figure. He begins by stating that "this is his sin list", and estimates the total number shot by him to be around 500.
Historian Risto Marjomaa questions the large number, as confirmation of casualties was difficult due to the absence of the body. In his article, published by the The National Biography of Finland, Marjomaa credited Häyhä with the total number of "more than two hundred" kills. Complicating matters further is the use of Häyhä's achievements as a tool of propaganda: the Finnish press built a hero's myth around Häyhä at an early stage of war.
According to Soviet Army medical data, the Soviet 56th Rifle Division lost 678 killed in December 1939. If a Finnish Army document is correct, Simo Häyhya had to kill 25% of the dead soldiers of the Soviet 56th rifle division, and only him was taken 100% of his battalion achievements (2nd battalion of the 34th regiment). Historian Oleg Kiselev claimed Hayha could not kill so many, and he credited Häyhä with the total number of "one company" (100 men) sniper kills.Симо Хяюхя: человек-легенда или человек-миф?

Firearms and tactics

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" ( due to the front sight's resemblance to the head of a spitz-type dog) chambered in the Finnish-designed Mosin–Nagant cartridge 7.62×54R. When fighting as a group leader with the rest of his unit, Häyhä used a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun.
Häyhä 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 centimetres 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).
The cold didn't bother Häyhä much, as he considered it an issue of dressing properly with enough clothes in multiple layers. Some sugar and bread in the outer pockets provided energy to keep warm. He 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 known to keep snow in his mouth while sniping to prevent his breath in the cold air from giving away his position. Häyhä's diary also shares a story by him where they caught a Soviet soldier, blindfolded him, spun him dizzy and took him to a party in the tent of Lieutenant Aarne "The Terror of Morocco" Juutilainen of his company. The Soviet soldier was overjoyed by the carousing and was disgusted when he was sent back.
thumbleft210pxHäyhä after being promoted to second lieutenant, 1940. Häyhä was disfigured after being shot in the face by a Red Army soldier.


On 6 March 1940, Häyhä was seriously wounded after an explosive bullet fired by a Red Army soldier hit his lower left jaw. After the battle Häyhä was found unconscious and believed dead, and he was placed on a pile of dead bodies. A fellow soldier, looking for Häyhä on orders from his commanding officer, noticed a leg twitching among the pile and found Häyhä alive. Häyhä was evacuated by fellow soldiers who said that "half his face was missing". The bullet had removed his upper jaw, most of his lower jaw, and most of his left cheek.
Rumours of Häyhä's death spread around in Finland and the Soviet Union. He regained consciousness a week later on 13 March, the day that peace was declared. He read about his own death in a newspaper, and sent a letter to the paper to correct the misunderstanding. Häyhä spent 14 months recovering from his wounds and endured 26 surgeries.
After his wounding, Häyhä would have liked to have served in the Continuation War (1941–44) as well. However, he was not allowed to because the injuries to his face were so severe.


Häyhä was awarded the first and second class Medals of Liberty, as well as the third and fourth class Crosses of Liberty, of which the latter two were normally granted to only commissioned officers. As an additional honour, on 17 February 1940, Häyhä received a nameplated SAKO M/28-30 “Pystykorva” honorary rifle (serial number 100 781), donated by Eugen Johansson, a Swedish businessman and great friend of Finland. According to an unofficial count, Häyhä had shot 219 Red Army soldiers at the time. Häyhä later handed over the rifle to the tradition room of the Karelia Jaeger Battalion, from where it was transferred to the collections of the Military Museum of Finland after the dissolution of the North Karelia Brigade in 2013.
Shortly after the Winter War, on 28 August 1940, Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim promoted Häyhä straight from alikersantti (the lowest military rank of a non-commissioned officer) to vänrikki (the first military rank of an officer). In 1941, Häyhä was also nominated as a Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, the most distinguished Finnish military honour. However, the nomination remained "under consideration". Häyhä also received the Kollaa fighters' medal, the silver version of the Cross of Kollaa Battle, number 4.

Post-war and later life

File:Simo Häyhä's grave.jpgthumbright250pxHäyhä's gravestone in Ruokolahti Church Graveyard, South Karelia, Finland, with the inscription: Home - Religion - Fatherland
It took several years for Häyhä to recuperate from his wound which required lengthy treatments and several surgeries. Nonetheless, he made a full recovery and after World War II lived as a farmer in Ruokolahti, a small municipality located in southeastern Finland near the Russian border. He became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder; he even hunted with the President of Finland Urho Kekkonen. However, he was also met with hate and even death threats; some people did not accept his actions during the Winter War.
Häyhä was known as a modest man who never boasted of his wartime merits. He spoke only sparsely about the war. He was asked in 1998 how he had become such a good sniper: "Practice". He was asked in 2001, shortly before his 96th birthday, if he felt remorse for killing so many people. He replied, "I did what I was told to do, as well as I could. There would be no Finland unless everyone else had done the same".
Häyhä spent his last years in a war veterans' nursing home in Hamina, where he died in 2002 at age 96. He was buried in his home town of Ruokolahti.

In popular culture

American author Arna Bontemps Hemenway has written a short story about Häyhä, called "Wolves of Karelia," which was published in The Atlantic magazine.
Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton released the song "White Death" in honor of Häyhä, which was released in 2010 album Coat of Arms.
In 2011, Philip Kaufman began filming HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn (first airdate May 28, 2012), which features Martha Gellhorn (played by Nicole Kidman) reporting from Finland during the Winter War. In this section, Steven Wiig portrays Simo Häyhä, leading a group of Finnish soldiers to shelter.Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman Simo Häyhän seurassa rintamalka HBO-draamassa Hemingway & Gellhorn (in Finnish)
Simo Häyhä has been made into a manga called The White Witch ( , Shiroi Majo) by Nagakawa Naruki, where the main character's gender has changed to a woman.
A film about Simo Häyhä called The White Death has been planned since 2017.The White Death - IMDb The film is directed by David McElroy and written by James Poirier. IL: Simo Häyhästä suunnitellaan yhä Hollywood-elokuvaa: ”Ei ole tietoa, missä mennään” (in Finnish) Talvisodan tarkka-ampuja Simo Häyhästä tehdään Hollywood-elokuva – mukana huipputuottaja! (in Finnish)

See also

  • Aarne Juutilainen
  • Battle of Kollaa

Further reading

  • P. Sarjanen, . .
  • Tapio A. M. Saarelainen, . .
  • Tapio A. M. Saarelainen, . .
  • William R. Trotter, , Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000. .
  • Adrian Gilbert, Tom C. McKenney, Dan Mills, Roger Moorhouse, Charles Sasser, Tim Newark, , Pelican Publishing Company, 2012. .

External links

  • Kollaa and Simo Häyhä Museum
  • Meeting a Legend: Simo Häyhä (John Mitchell,, 2002)

Category:1905 births
Category:2002 deaths
Category:Finnish military personnel of World War II
Category:Finnish military snipers
Category:Winter War
Category:People from Rautjärvi
Category:People from Viipuri Province (Grand Duchy of Finland)
Category:Recipients of the Order of the Cross of Liberty, 3rd Class

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