White Death

white death

Simo Häyhä (1905 – 2002), nicknamed ‘White Death‘ by the Soviet Red Army, was a Finnish sniper. Using a modified Mosin-Nagant rifle in the Winter War of 1939 he tallied 505 confirmed kills, the most in any major war. Häyhä, born near the present-day border of Finland and Russia, was a farmer before entering combat. He joined the Finnish militia at 17, and his farmhouse was reportedly full of trophies for marksmanship.

In temperatures between −40 and −20 degrees Celsius, dressed completely in white camouflage, Häyhä was credited with 542 kills of Soviet soldiers, 505 confirmed. The unofficial Finnish front line figure from the battlefield of Kollaa places the number of Häyhä’s sniper kills over 800. A daily account of the kills at Kollaa was conducted for the Finnish snipers.

Besides his sniper kills, Häyhä was also credited with over two hundred kills with a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun, thus bringing his credited kills to at least 705. Remarkably, all of Häyhä’s kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days with a very limited amount of daylight per day.

Häyhä used a Finnish militia variant, White Guard M/28 ‘Pystykorva’ or ‘Spitz,’ of the Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle, because it suited his small frame (5 ft 3 in). He preferred to use iron sights rather than telescopic sights to present a smaller target. Another tactic used by Häyhä was to compact the snow in front of him so that the shot would not disturb the snow and reveal his position. He also kept snow in his mouth so that when breathing the steam would not give him away.

The Soviets tried several ploys to get rid of him, including counter-snipers and artillery strikes. On March 6, 1940, Häyhä was shot in the jaw during combat by a Russian soldier. The bullet tumbled upon impact and left his head. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said ‘half his head was missing’ but he was not dead. He regained consciousness on March 13, the day peace was declared.

It took several years for Häyhä to recuperate from his wound. The bullet had crushed his jaw and blown off his left cheek. Nonetheless, he made a full recovery and became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder after World War II, and hunted with Finnish president Urho Kekkonen.

When asked in 1998 how he had become such a good shooter, he answered, ‘practice.’ When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said ‘I did what I was told to as well as I could.’ Simo Häyhä spent his last years in Ruokolahti, a small village located in southeastern Finland, near the Russian border.

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