Simo Häyhä, “White Death”, Sniped Over 542 Soviet Soldiers in WWII

Daven Hiskey 15
Simo SniperToday I found out Simo Häyhä, arguably the greatest sniper to ever live, sniped over 542 invading Soviet soldiers in World War II using nothing but a bolt action rifle that had no scope.  He also has the distinction of having recorded the highest known number of confirmed kills by any sniper in any major war; with the runner up being Soviet Ivan Sidorenko with 500 in WWII.  In addition to his 542 confirmed sniper kills, he also managed another couple hundred kills with a Suomi 9mm machine gun bringing his total for the “Winter War” to just under 800 kills.  Even more amazing is that he did all of this in under 100 days with his personal best sniping 25 Soviet soldiers in one day.

The “Winter War” was a conflict between Russia and Finland beginning on November 30, 1939, three months after the start of WWII, with the Russians invading Finland.   The Winter War officially ended on March 13, 1940 with the Soviets having captured most of Finland.

Simo Häyhä was a member of a group very similar to the old American “Minute Men”.  He served his required one year with the military in Finland and went home, back to farming and hunting.  When the Soviets invaded he grabbed his standard issue M/28 rifle and gear and reported for duty.  He preferred his rifle, which only had an iron site rather than a scope, over Swedish sniper rifles as it allowed him to keep a slightly lower profile over a scoped rifle; the scopes made you raise your head an extra inch or two making a nice target for other snipers.  In addition to this, scopes on sniper rifles tended to reflect the sunlight which is how he says he was able to kill so many of the Soviet snipers who were sent to specifically take him out.  The really amazing thing about just using the iron sites was that many of his kills were shot at people over 400 yards away.

Simo was assigned to the Kollaa battlefield where an estimated 32 Fins held off over 4000 Soviet Troops at one point and indeed even by the end of the war which the Soviets won, never conceded that particular ground.  Temperatures there typically ranged from around -40 F to -4 F.  As such, Simo would go out by himself to snipe dressed in white camouflage with nothing but a few clips of ammo and food provisions for a day.

Tired of getting their heads blown off all the time by Simo, the Soviets eventually dispatched a group of snipers and a series of artillery strikes to try to get rid of “Belaya Smert” (“White Death”) as they nicknamed him.  He managed to get the best of the snipers sent against him and apparently wasn’t where they thought during the artillery strikes.

Simo SniperHe was however finally shot in the jaw with an exploding bullet in a pitched battle against a large group of Russian soldiers.   Some of his fellow Finish soldiers pulled him from the battle and he survived even though, as they said, “half his head was missing”.  He was then in a coma for nine days, during which Finland lost the war (Coincidence?  I think not!).  He didn’t regain consciousness until March 13th, the day the war ended (presumably the Soviets heard he woke up and decided to stop trying to take any more of Finland and just ended the war right there).  It took Simo a few years to fully recuperate from his wounds, but he went on to live to the ripe old age of 96, dying April 1st, 2002.

During the war, the Soviet army lost close to one million soldiers, close to forty times the number of Finnish casualties.

Simo credited his incredible sniping ability to knowledge of the forests, patience, and practice.  He typically liked to snipe from a sitting position, normally not used by snipers due to giving a larger profile to be seen from.  However, he was very short (5 foot 3 inches), so he was able to sit and still make a very small profile and he felt it gave him a better platform to shoot from.  He would also pack the snow in front of him so that when he shot, none of the snow would waft up giving his position away.  In addition to this, to get around the problem of his breath potentially giving away his position in that frigid place, he would breath through his mouth but keep snow in there to keep his breath from showing up in the air.

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15 Comments »

  1. Mikhos February 4, 2010 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Too bad the winter war was completely unrelated to WWII – Finland was completely neutral to all other countries at the time.

  2. Mark February 5, 2010 at 10:08 am - Reply

    In Soviet Russia, Simo shoot YOU.

  3. Lawl February 5, 2010 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Soviet did not take over most of Finland. Only area where they really got land was around middle “waist” area of Finland, but finnish were able to cut that attack force to pieces and into small pockets and completely destroyed them. Perfect winter/forest tactics. Finland kept the Soviets at bay for the whole war, but if the Soviet would have kept going for extra months or even few weeks the lines would have broken simply coz there weren’t enough men or those who were there were so tired they started to fall asleep standing. Soviets never really got any standing inside Finnish territory, they got until the Mannerheim line and were stopped there. Sadly tho, we knew we couldn’t keep them at bay forever so we signed peace and gave them 10% of our land, including our second biggest city. We wish we could get it back too, Russia gave land they took in WW2 to other countries, but they are still keeping ours.

    Also, how was Winter War unrelated to WW2? If you think only the war between allies and axis was WW2 you are mistaken. Its as much related to WW2 as Polish and German war or the Chinese war with Japan. WW2 isn’t just one war, its timeline where whole world was pretty much fighting someone. And Winter War had some big part related in Soviets war machine, they realized how bad it was after the horrible war with Finns so when Germany came marching they weren’t completely ill-prepared.

    Finland had volunteers in SS-Viking so it was not completely neutral, and German had some dealings with them before, we did join them against Soviets in Operation Barbarossa. The Finnish in SS did some awesome stuff also. Finnish were seen as elite soldiers so they got lot of very difficult missions cause of that.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_Volunteer_Battalion_of_the_Waffen-SS
    Himmler – “Where a Finnish SS-man stood, enemy was always defeated.”

  4. Eagles fly singly February 8, 2010 at 5:36 am - Reply

    During the Winter War the russians were able to advance on the main front, The Karelian Istmus, up to Vipuri/Vyborg which they reached on March 12, 1940. However Finland lost some 10 -12% of its territory in the peace agreement, much more that the russians were able to conquer during the war.

    The volunteers in Waffen-SS Viking had nothing to do with the Winter War but the so called Continuation War that started on June 25, 1941 whith the russians once again attacking Finland.

  5. Anonymous July 2, 2010 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Iron SIGHTS, not iron sites, for crying out loud! Huge difference.

  6. Marco January 23, 2011 at 7:18 am - Reply

    After studying the military history of WW2 and finding some interesting chapters about condition of Red Army of 1943-44 i’m not so much surprised that the Finns could beat then very badly in their five latest battles in summer 1944: in Ihantala, Vuosalmi-Äyräpää, Bay of Vyborg (Viipuri), U-line (north of Lake Ladoga) and finally in Ilomantsi (north from U-line).

    While not very well armed, soldiers of Finnish Army were better trained, got used to fight especially deep forest terrain. Besides their arthillery got reputation of splendit fast and sharp fire. The defence was deep so the soviets couldn’t break it. Finnish pilots were excellent in dogfight, well organized and capable to execute modern type joint-fire operations with ground forces.

    One more thing – reconnaissance of signal corps (radio) was very important. As early as 1942 they had managed to open to code of Soviet radio traffic so they were ready to gave information for troops of coming major breakthrough operations of Soviet forces.

    Because the Finns could beat Soviet forces in Karelian Isthmus and Karelian Fronta and because Stalin and Stavka didn’t have enoug strategic reserve troops in that very import moment Finland was saved. Though Soviet Union never told the real numbers of their military losses their is were strong evidence that Leningrad Front lost about 130 000 – 140 000 soldiers dead, wounded, missing, captured during june-july 1944. Meretskov lost most likely some 80 000 soldiers.

    Interesting piece of data. The official figures of losses from 5th of July to 31st of July of Leningrad Front in 40 129. However even when you use official figures of each units the figure is 58 125. That’s one example how unrealiable those soviet casualty numbers really. BTW – the most bloodiest stage of that battle was from 10th June to 6th of July. So those numbers of Leningrad Front came from time when the biggest combats were almost over coz soviets were short of men and tanks.

  7. ManyHaveTried April 6, 2011 at 7:55 am - Reply

    i trained my cat to use the toilet…. but seriously, you gotta give this guy credit.

  8. Big J in PA August 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    And THIS , boys and girls, is why Hollywood continues to lose money

  9. cody December 5, 2013 at 12:40 am - Reply

    Dying is mispelled as dieing.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey December 5, 2013 at 1:16 am - Reply

      @Cody: Thanks for catching that. Fixed!

  10. For the record December 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    It’s wrong to say Russia Invaded Finland. Russia never invaded Finland, only tried to invade. Finland was never Invaded as the Russians were stopped before they got that far. Finland was one of the lucky countries that Russia failed to invade. The winter war was a lesson for Hitler, and showed how a small country of 3.5million (at that time) people could beat the hell out of a country run by a stupid dictator that thought Finland would be a danger to Russia. Hitler used this knowledge as a gateway to attack Russia. The Russians even today do not know how many of their soldiers died in the Winter War. Some estimated are close to 1 million. My father fought in that war. His war photo album is full of dead Russian soldiers. As soon as a soldier was hit, their body snap froze and some were still standing up in the position holding their guns, frozen. Temperatures were in the -20 to -40°C. The Russians charged in their hundreds only to be mowed down by well placed machine gun fire. Finns at the beginning of the war had only very little and very obsolete tanks and plains. The Molotov Cocktail became a new weapon and hundreds of Russian tanks were destroyed with that weapon. The winter war was only part one of the Finland v Russia war, as the continuation war was just as damaging to the Russians. The 10% of land that Russia forcefully took and still today has not returned it back to Finland (this should be treated as war crime) is now a holy land to the Russians as so many of their soldiers had died there. PUTIN, GIVE BACK ALL THE FINNISH TERRITORY that STALIN so criminally took from Finland.

  11. Joshua January 15, 2014 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    They should definitely make a movie out of this..

  12. For the record January 15, 2014 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    1939 Finlands population was about 3.5 million. USSR about 190 million. Leningrad, across Finnish border had population larger than whole of Finland. If anyone is interested, get a DVD called “Fire and Ice”,” The Winter War of Finland and Russia”. Available from http://www.masterworkmedia.com
    This is a factual documentary produced by Ben Strout a US made Documentary and it is in English/Finnish and some Russian.
    Russians don’t know even today how many of their troops were killed there. There were no Germans fighting in this Winter War and most people in Russia don’t know anything what happened there.
    The Continuation War little later was started against Finland by USSR because the Germans got the bright idea that if little Finland can beat the shit out of the Ruskies, Hitler will just march in. Finland fought back the lost lands but refused to go any further where as Hitler wanted to take whole of USSR.
    When the peace treaty was signed, one condition was that the Finns fight the Germans out of Finlands Lapland, which they did. Again Finland was not Invaded by neither USSR or Germany, the Germans were let in just to fight the Ruskies in Lapland. P.S. England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada declared war against Finland because Finland was on German side fighting the Commies. G.B even sank a Finnish Cargo Ship. Finns were not in war with anyone else but the Russians and there are many, many more war heroes who have killed almost as many Ruskies as Simo Häyhä. I solute these heroes.

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