Häyhä after being awarded the honorary
rifle, model 28, on 17 February 1940
"The White Death" (by the Red Army)
|Born||17 December 1905|
Rautjärvi, Viipuri Province, Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
|Died||1 April 2002 (aged 96)|
Ruokolahti Church Graveyard( )
|Service years||1925–1926, 1939–1940|
|Rank|| Alikersantti (Corporal) during the Winter War|
Vänrikki (Second Lieutenant), promoted to shortly afterwards
|Unit||6th Company of Infantry Regiment 34|
|Conflict||World War II|
|Awards||Medal of Liberty: 1st class and 2nd class;|
Cross of Liberty: 3rd class and 4th class;
Cross of Kollaa Battle
Simo "Simuna" Häyhä (Finnish: [ˈsimo ˈhæy̯hæ] (listen); 17 December 1905 – 1 April 2002) was a Finnish military sniper in the Second World War during the 1939–1940 Winter War against the Soviet Union. 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 Winter War, the highest number of sniper kills in any major war.
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 for decades.
Early life and youth
Simo Häyhä was born in the Kiiskinen hamlet of the Rautjärvi municipality 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; Simo's father, Juho Häyhä was the owner of the Mattila farm while Simo's mother, Katriina (née Vilkko) was a loving and hard-working farmer's wife. 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 −40 °C (−40 °F) and −20 °C (−4 °F). 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.
Finnish sources describe that Häyhä was nicknamed "The White Death" by the Red Army (Russian: Белая смерть, Belaja smert; Finnish: valkoinen kuolema; Swedish: den vita döden). 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.
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 days
- 26 January 1940: 199 sniper kills (61 in 35 days)
- 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 bodies. 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 the early stage of the war.
According to Soviet Army medical data, the Soviet 56th Rifle Division lost 678 killed in December 1939. According to this, Simo Häyhä had to have killed 25% of the dead soldiers of the division and been responsible for 100% of his battalion's achievements (2nd Battalion of the 34th Regiment). Historian Oleg Kiselev claimed Häyhä could not have killed so many, crediting him with the total number of "one company" (100 men) sniper kills.[dubious ]
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" (lit. 'The Spitz' 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.
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.
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.
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 was given his own farm in Valkjärvi ("Whitelake"), 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 rarely 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. Häyhä never married and had no children.
In popular culture
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.
Simo Häyhä has been made into a manga called The White Witch (Japanese: 白い魔女, Shiroi Majo) by Nagakawa Naruki, where the main character's gender has changed to a woman. Häyhä also appears in the manga Record of Ragnarok (Japanese: 終末のワルキューレ, Shūmatsu no Warukyūre) by Shinya Umemura and Takumi Fukui, where Häyhä is planned to be a fighter for humanity's side.
- Lappalainen, Jukka-Pekka (6 December 2001). "Kollaa kesti, niin myös Simo Häyhä" [The Kollaa held out, so did Simo Häyhä]. Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Helsinki. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- Rayment, Sean (30 April 2006). "The long view". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
- Saarelainen, Taipo (15 November 2016). "The White Death: History's Deadliest Sniper". Forces Network. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
- Tapio A.M. Saarelainen: Sankarikorpraali Simo Häyhä (2006)
- Kivimäki, Petri (14 March 2018). "Tutkijan kädet alkoivat vapista – maailmankuulun sotalegendan Simo Häyhän muistelmat löytyivät sattumalta". Yle.fi. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
- Kauppinen, Kari (18 July 2017). "Sotasankari Simo Häyhän ennennäkemätön päiväkirja löytyi - "Tässä on minun syntilistani"". Iltalehti (in Finnish). Helsinki. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
- Saarelainen, Tapio (31 October 2016). The White Sniper. Casemate. ISBN 9781612004297. Retrieved 12 March 2019 – via Google Books.
- "Simo Häyhä". Geni.com. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
- Gilbert, Adrian (1996). Sniper: The Skills, the Weapons, and the Experiences. St. Martin's Press. pp. 88. ISBN 0-312-95766-1.
- Silvander, Lauri (14 October 2017). "Simo Häyhän muistikirja paljastaa tarkka-ampujan huumorintajun – "Valkoinen kuolema" esittää näkemyksensä ammuttujen vihollisten lukumäärästä". Iltasanomat. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
- Kivimäki, Petri (29 March 2017). "Sotalegenda Simo Häyhän ampumistaidot edelleen mallina nykypäivän tarkka-ampujakoulutuksessa". Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 25 July 2020.
- Stahl, Michael (9 January 2020). "The Deadliest Marksman's Cold, Brave Stand". Narratively. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
- [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]
- 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.
- "Suuret Suomalaiset - 100 Suurinta suomalaista". 22 February 2011. Archived from the original on 22 February 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
- Jowett, Philip S. (2006). Finland at War, 1939–45. Osprey Publishing. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-84176-969-1.
- Pegler, Martin (2006). Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper. Osprey Publishing. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-84603-140-3.
- Farey, Pat; Spicer, Mark (5 May 2009). Sniping: An Illustrated History. Zenith Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 978-0-7603-3717-2.
- Myllyniemi, Timo; Manninen, Tuomas (25 December 2014). "Tarkka-ampuja Simo Häyhä ei koskaan saanut Mannerheim-ristiä - "Harkitaan"". Ilta-Sanomat. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
- "Simo Häyhä - legenda ja syystä". Sotaveteraanit.fi (in Finnish). 20 February 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
- Simple History (15 February 2018), Simo Häyhä 'The White Death' (World's Deadliest Sniper), retrieved 8 April 2019
- JR34:n toimintakertomus 30.11.39-1.12.40. SPK 1327. Finnish National Archive Sörnäinen; Alikersantista vänrikiksi. Hurtti Ukko 1/1941
- Rantamaa, A. J. 1942. Parlamentin palkeilta Kollaanjoen kaltahille. WSOY, Porvoo. Pg. 84, 206
- Marjomaa, Risto. "Häyhä, Simo (1905 - 2002)". Kansallisbiografia.
- Marjomaa, Risto (2004). "Simo Häyhä". Suomen kansallisbiografia 4 - Hirviluoto-Karjalainen. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
- Симо Хяюхя: человек-легенда или человек-миф?
- Stirling, Robert (20 December 2012). Special Forces Sniper Skills. Osprey Publishing. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-1-78096-003-6.
- Saarelainen, Tapio (31 October 2016). The White Sniper: Simo Häyhä. Casemate. ISBN 9781612004297.
- "Tappouhkaukset ja pelko varjostivat sotalegenda Simo Häyhän elämää". Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). 18 June 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
- "Talvisodan legendaarisen tarkka-ampujan Simo Häyhän kivääri ja varusteet pelastettiin". Ilta-Sanomat (in Finnish). 30 October 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
- 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.
- Hurmerinta, Ilmari (1994). Suomen puolesta: Mannerheim-ristin ritarit 1941–1945. Helsinki, Finland: Ajatus. ISBN 951-9440-28-3. OCLC 42290307.
- "Ei ne osumat, vaan se asenne". Yle.fi. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
- Heldebro, Johanna. "Swedish artist Johanna Heldebro on her work "White Death"". artterritory. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- Arna Bontemps Hemenway (2019). "Wolves of Karelia". The Atlantic. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
- Sabaton – White Death (YouTube). 19 March 2019 . Retrieved 13 July 2020.
- Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman Simo Häyhän seurassa rintamalka HBO-draamassa Hemingway & Gellhorn (in Finnish)
- "Shiroi Majo (The White Witch)". MyAnimeList.net. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
- "Shiroi Majo". Baka-Updates Manga. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
- "Shuumatsu no Valkyrie: Record of Ragnarok Anime coming in 2021". Anime Troop. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
- The White Death - IMDb
- 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)
- P. Sarjanen, Valkoinen kuolema. ISBN 952-5170-05-5.
- Tapio A. M. Saarelainen, Sankarikorpraali Simo Häyhä. ISBN 952-5026-52-3.
- Tapio A. M. Saarelainen, The Sniper: Simo Häyhä. ISBN 978-952-5026-74-0.
- William R. Trotter, Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939/40, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000. ISBN 978-0-945575-22-1.
- Adrian Gilbert, Tom C. McKenney, Dan Mills, Roger Moorhouse, Charles Sasser, Tim Newark, The Sniper Anthology: Snipers of the Second World War, Pelican Publishing Company, 2012. ISBN 978-1-455616-82-4.
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