Simo Häyhä

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Simo Häyhä
Simo hayha honorary rifle.jpg
Häyhä after being awarded the honorary rifle model 28.
Nickname(s) White Death
Born (1905-12-17)December 17, 1905
Rautjärvi, Viipuri Province, Grand Duchy of Finland
Died April 1, 2002(2002-04-01) (aged 96)
Hamina, Finland
Allegiance  Finland
Years of service 1925–1940
Rank Alikersantti (Corporal) during the Winter War, promoted to Vänrikki (Second Lieutenant) shortly afterward[1]
Unit Infantry Regiment 34
Battles/wars Winter War
Awards Cross 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: [ˈsimɔ ˈhæy̯hæ]; December 17, 1905 – April 1, 2002), nicknamed "White Death" (Russian: Белая смерть, Belaya Smert; Finnish: valkoinen kuolema; Swedish: den vita döden) by the Red Army, was a Finnish marksman. Using a Finnish version of the Mosin–Nagant in the Winter War, he acquired the highest recorded number, in any major war, of at least 505 confirmed sniper kills.[2]

Early life[edit]

Häyhä was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi near the present-day border of Finland and Russia, and started his military service in 1925. Before entering combat, Häyhä was a farmer and hunter. At the age of 20, he joined the Finnish militia Suojeluskunta and succeeded with his marksman skills in shooting sports in Viipuri province. His home was reportedly full of trophies for marksmanship.[3]

Winter War service[edit]

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

During the Winter War (1939–1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, Häyhä served as a sniper for the Finnish Army against the Red Army 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. Häyhä was credited with 542[4] confirmed kills of Soviet soldiers by Finnish military historian Robert Brantberg, while the documentary shown on Finnish channel MTV Oy stated 505 sniper-kills. [2][5] A daily account of the kills at Kollaa was made for the Finnish snipers. All of Häyhä's kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – an average of just over five kills per day – at a time of year with very few daylight hours.[6][7][8]

Häyhä used a M/28-30 with serial number 60974, since it suited his small frame (1.6 m (5 ft 3 in)). The rifle is a shorter, Finnish White Guard-militia variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle, known as "Pystykorva" (literally "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 to present a smaller target for the enemy (a sniper must raise his head higher when using a telescopic sight), to increase accuracy (a telescopic sight's glass can fog up easily in cold weather), and to aid in concealment (sunlight glare in telescopic sight lenses can reveal a sniper's position). As well as these tactics, he frequently packed 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 also known to keep snow in his mouth whilst sniping, to prevent steamy breaths giving away his position in the cold air.[9]

The Soviets' efforts to kill Häyhä included counter-snipers and artillery strikes, and on March 6, 1940, Häyhä was shot in his lower left jaw by a Russian soldier. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said "half his face was missing", but he did not die, regaining consciousness on March 13, the day peace was declared. Shortly after the war, Häyhä was promoted from alikersantti (corporal) to vänrikki (second lieutenant) by Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.[10]

Later life[edit]

Simo Häyhä's gravestone in Ruokolahti Church Graveyard, Karelia, Finland

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.[9]

When asked in 1998 how he had become such a good shooter, Häyhä answered "Practice." When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said, "I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could." Simo Häyhä spent his last years in Ruokolahti, a small municipality located in southeastern Finland, near the Russian border. Simo Häyhä died in a war veterans nursing home in Hamina in 2002 at the age of 96.[11][10]

In popular culture[edit]

Film[edit]

Actor Steven Wiig was cast in the role of Häyhä in the 2012 HBO docudrama Hemingway & Gellhorn. However, the scene that included Häyhä was cut from the final version of the film to reduce the overall running time.[12]

Music[edit]

Swedish power metal band Sabaton wrote a song about Häyhä called "White Death" on their 2010 album Coat of Arms.

Video games[edit]

In the game Sanctum 2 of 2013, an android named Simo is one of the playable characters, his name a reference to Häyhä.

There is a unique sniper rifle named "White Death" in the first person shooter game Borderlands 2 by Gearbox Software.

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  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. 
  2. ^ a b Rayment, Sean (30 April 2006). "The long view". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 30 March 2009. 
  3. ^ Gilbert, Adrian (1996). Sniper: The Skills, the Weapons, and the Experiences. St. Martin's Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-312-95766-1. 
  4. ^ Brantberg, Robert: Tarkka-ampujan joululahja 2004.
  5. ^ "Sotasankarit-äänestyksen voitti tarkka-ampuja Simo Häyhä". MTV3 (in Finnish). Retrieved 30 March 2009. 
  6. ^ Jowett, Philip S. (2006). Finland at War, 1939–45. Osprey Publishing. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-84176-969-1. 
  7. ^ Pegler, Martin (2006). Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper. Osprey Publishing. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-84603-140-3. 
  8. ^ Farey, Pat; Spicer, Mark (5 May 2009). Sniping: An Illustrated History. Zenith Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 978-0-7603-3717-2. 
  9. ^ a b Stirling, Robert (20 December 2012). Special Forces Sniper Skills. Osprey Publishing. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-1-78096-003-6. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Yle
  12. ^ "Nicole Kidmanin takamus ja talvisota" (fee required). Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Retrieved 30 October 2012.