This is the real story of Simo Hayha, beyond his sniper record, which has no equal. Unlike most of World War II, in the theater of Finland’s “Winter War”, the Russians were bad guys. The battle was fought from 1939 to 1940 against overwhelming numbers of Soviet invaders, representing to the Finns their indomitable spirit, as does a single soldier they honor as the hero of the struggle… Simo Hayha.
The Soviets invaded at the end of 1939, pitting a nation of one hundred and seventy million against Finland, whose population was merely three million. Simo Häyhä served in the Finnish army for only one hundred days, before he was critically wounded. In that time he set a record for the highest number of confirmed kills by a sniper, 542, a record still standing. Today he is called the “White Sniper”. To the Soviets of the 9th and 14th Armies, he was known as the “White Death”.
Although Joe Stalin claimed to listen to his generals, prior to World War II he purged military experts from the Red Army. Soviet troops were not issued with white camouflage for most of the war, making them easily visible against the snow. This is how thirty-two Finns were able to hold off four thousand enemy soldiers, in defense of “Killer Hill”.
Simo’s weapon was the Mosin Nagant M28, made in Finland. The rifle model was originally manufactured in Russia. It was during the Russian Revolution that Finland gained its independence as a country. In expelling the communists, they captured a good number of these rifles… nearly two hundred thousand. They refurbished the firearms with better stocks, barrels and sights. The result was the Finnish Mosin Nagant, with improved accuracy most suitable for superior marksmen.
Imagine the Nordic country under severe winter conditions in wartime. Snow depths of six feet are average, and temperatures will fall to forty degrees below zero. A special unit of Soviet troops was formed with the exclusive mission of taking him out, but Simo had the advantage of being a seasoned hunter, as well as familiarity with his homeland terrain. His uniform was white, his headgear was white, and he wore a white mask.
Simo Hayha would pack a dense mound of snow in front of his post for concealment, and to reduce the size of the puff of snow raised by a muzzle blast. While sniping he also kept snow in his mouth, to prevent the steam of his breath from betraying his location. He seldom fired from the prone position, in which one lies flat on the ground. Like many other hunters of game, he preferred to fire from a sitting position.
He had a scope but he never used it. He preferred cold iron sights. A scope in frigid weather was prone to fogging over, and may have revealed his position, should the glass in front happen to reflect the sun. Also a scope would have required him to raise his head a little higher, in order to acquire his target. He did not wish to present a higher profile to the enemy.
The Russian squad assigned to eliminate Simo was issued special ammunition. One of their explosive bullets struck him on the left side of his face. Having passed out from his injury, he lost his weapon, which he had carried for years, even throughout his previous service in the Finland “National Guard”. He awoke in the hospital, on the same day that peace was declared.
Unfortunately in another theater of war, the Soviets had captured the village where Simo Häyhä was born, and it remains part of Russia to this day. But the soft-spoken man retained his humility. When questioned if he regretted killing so many, he said, “I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could.” He died in the year 2002, at the age of 96.
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