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Simo Häyhä

The White Death - World's Greatest Sniper

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Articles Dealing With Simo Häyhä:

Meeting The White Death - An afternoon spent with Simo Häyhä. Simo Häyhä was one of the true heroes of Finland and one of the greatest sniper/warriors of all time.  His deeds on the field of battle are even to this day hard to imagine.   This article is not written to tell the complete story of  Simo Häyhä but is written to share some information on a man that to me symbolizes the story of Finland better than almost any other.  It is my hope that I can convey my feelings and experiences to you the reader in the proper manner, although I will openly admit this is a bit difficult to do as it is not every day that one meets a legend.

Saying Goodbye To The White Death - A tribute to the passing of the greatest sniper the world has ever known.  A great Finn has passed and a part of history has left this earth.

Mosin-Nagant Dot Net's Sniper Section Presents

Meeting A Legend:

Simo Häyhä

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An Afternoon With The White Death

From Tuco Of Mosin-Nagant Dot Net


As a collector of Finnish military weapons my interest has always been the history behind the weapon.  While some collect for a weapons good looks, accuracy, and like reasons the history of the weapon has always been the main lure to me.  One of the main reasons that I became so interested in the weapons of Finland was the almost unbelievable story of the Winter War.  The idea of a nation of 3 million holding out against a nation of 171 million is hard to imagine and one can not help but gain a healthy respect for the nation, its defenders, and the weapons they made use of.

When Finnbear International, MHC, and this site (Mosin-Nagant Dot Net) went about arraigning a trip to Finland for September of 2000, it is hard to put into words just how excited I was.   To have the chance to see areas that I had to that point only read about was quite exhilarating.  While I learned much about Finland on this trip and in general had a great time at every event, there was one section of this trip that stands above all others.  This was meeting one of the true national treasures of Finland, Mr. Simo Häyhä.  

Simo Häyhä was one of the true heroes of Finland and one of the greatest sniper/warriors of all time.  His deeds on the field of battle are even to this day hard to imagine.  This article is not written to tell the complete story of  Simo Häyhä but is written to share some information on a man that to me symbolizes the story of Finland better than almost any other.  It is my hope that I can convey my feelings and experiences to you the reader in the proper manner, although I will openly admit this is a bit difficult to do as it is not every day that one meets a legend.


Brief Background On Simo Häyhä

Simo Häyhä was born in 1906 or 1905 (there seems to be two dates of his birth depending on the reference materials) in Rautajärvi, Finland.  The town was in the shadow of the Soviet Union and as was the case with many border areas, the home of Mr. Häyhä  was lost to the Soviets in the spoils of the Winter War.  Like many of the towns and villages of this region the area was rural,and Mr. Häyhä was what people here in the US would call an outdoorsman spending much of his time outside letting his skills sharpen.

In 1925 Mr. Häyhä joined the Finnish Army for his one year of mandatory service.  He must have been suited well for the Army in some regards as when he left he had achieved the rank of corporal.  Later Simo Häyhä  joined the Suojelskunta (Finnish Civil Guard) serving in his home district.  The Civil Guard is a difficult organization to explain to those in America but putting the Civil Guard in US terms it is much like a very well trained National Guard Unit.   Even this description is far from perfect but should suffice for the purposes of this article. 

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Simo Häyhä During The Winter War

Simo Häyhä was called into action during the Winter War with his service under the 6th Company of JR 34 on the Kollaa River.  The Finnish stand at Kollaa is often referred to as "The miracle of Kollaa,"  as the Finnish action here was most heroic.   The Finnish forces in the region were under the command of Major General Uiluo Tuompo and they faced the 9th and 14th Soviet Armies.  At one point the Finns at Kollaa were facing 12 divisions, some 160,000 men.  The Red Army losses in this arena were staggering as the brave Finns took their toll on the communist invaders.  There have been those that called the Finnish defense of this key region "fanatical", and it was in the Kollaa area were the famous battle of "Killer Hill"  took place with 32 Finns battling 4,000 Soviet soldiers.   These were the hunting grounds of Simo Häyhä and it should be noted that even against massive odds the Kollaa positions were still in Finnish hands at the end of the war (March 1940).

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Many remember Simo Häyhä only as using the Mosin Nagant M28 or M28/30 rifle with open sights and only credit his high kill total to his role as a sniper; however, this is not entirely correct as Häyhä was also an expert with the Suomi K31 SMG and a large number of the Soviets that he felled were from his K31.  Above are examples of the tools of Simo Häyhä in his hunts in Kollaa.

Mr. Häyhä was credited with over 500 kills in his service during the Winter War with his service cut short as he was wounded on 3-6-40 by a Soviet sniper.   Simo was shot in the face with what turned out to be an exploding bullet and he was taken out of action due to these wounds.  The total time that Simo Häyhä served in the Winter War was 100 days with about 500 kills credited to him. His record is truly remarkable and is long since remembered in the nation of Finland.


Meeting At The Salpa Line

The Salpa Line in Southern Finland is a massive area of bunkers and defense systems the Finns erected in preparation for a Soviet invasion after the Winter War.  Our group of 34 American and Finnish collectors were treated to a fantastic tour of this area as we were able to see an intact Finnish defense line from the early 1940's (Note:  I am working on an article that will cover the Salpa Line Tour in depth).  We were able first hand to see Maxim and artillery positions as well as the interlocking trench and bunker systems.  The guides on this tour were outstanding and very well versed in the history of the Salpa Line, weapons/weapons systems, and the Finnish wars from 1939-40 and 1941-45.  This tour would have been a full and complete day on its own but we all knew the real treat was soon to follow.  As we wandered to the museum of the Salpa Line there was a buzz in the air.  Part of this was the simple fact we knew this would be the last good meal we would have before heading into Russia but in reality it was the electricity in the air of our upcoming meeting with Simo Häyhä that we all were feeling.

When I first saw Mr. Häyhä at the main table, I was reminded of a famous photo taken of him during the war.  When looking at the photo I was struck with just how much life seemed to spring off this man even in the bitter times of war, and this life is still very much in evidence even though Mr. Häyhä is well into his 90's.  Even with all the hardships he had undergone, the life and spring was still there.  He was a quiet yet engaging man and it was hard to imagine the horror he had seen.  After a nice lunch Mr. Häyhä consented to answer a few questions, sign autographs for the group, and allow us to take a few photos.   Needless to say we were thrilled to have such a unique chance at speaking to a true historical legend, as this is an honor that few Finns have even been afforded much less a mixed group mainly made up of Americans.

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Mr. Simo Häyhä: Finnish hero and warrior.

There were a number of interesting facts that we passed on to the group in a short question and answer period. Mr. Häyhä stated that he used the Mosin Nagant M28 rifle as his "sniping" rifle; however, as there are photos showing Häyhä with a M28/30 rifle it is possible his memory of the model was incorrect.  It is also possible he had a M28 that was upgraded to a M28/30 but that is just a guess not known as fact.. His rifle was a standard issue with iron sights, which is somewhat amazing as many of his targets were engaged at 400 yards or more.  He had been given a Swedish Mauser equipped with a scope but he preferred the M28 or M28/30 to the scoped rifle .  Häyhä noted the Swedish "sniper" rifle was given to him by a wealthy a Swedish buisnessman but the details of this rifle are not clear.  The Swedes did not produce a scoped sniper rifle in 1939 so it is possible what was given to him was a Husqvarna made hunting rifle.   Simo Häyhä told us there were many reasons he liked his Mosin Nagant over the scoped Mauser.  One was that the Mosin was more suited to his size of 160cm.  He also stated that the scoped rifle forced him to raise his head a bit more than he liked, and this added profile might have given a Red Army sharpshooter too good of a target.  He also made the point that he had always used iron sights and was used to them.  Lastly iron sights were not prone to breakage or fogging which was a real worry in the snow and ice of Finland during the Winter War.    One of the lighter segments of this came when we were asked how many in our group owned M28 rifles and almost every hand in the group was raised.  Mr. Häyhä seemed quite surprised at this fact but it was also obvious he had a smile on his face.   He knew he was in a room with a group that understood these weapons and had a deep respect for them. Mr. Häyhä told the group that his rifle was lost after he was wounded and that he never saw it again.  There are some post war photos showing Simo with a M28-30 rifle and the photos claim the rifle in the photo was his during the War - however this goes against what he stated on the matter. 

As we sat in awe of the facts coming from this man he stated that many of his targets were indeed taken at over 400 yards and that he preferred sniping from a seated position.  This last fact of being seated surprised most of us but he then explained he was small and could get really low in a hole in this manner.  Mr. Häyhä stated that using the seated position made a very stable shooting platform even quickly showing us his "stance" while seated at the lunch table.   I asked him what were the keys to his success and he said that practice with your weapon was important but that clear days made things much easier on him (and much harder on the Russians).

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I was struck with the personable nature of this man as I was not sure what to expect.  It became very clear to me that Simo Häyhä was what many had stated in the past, a man who spoke with his deeds and actions.   Even with the lack of language skills of our group (only the Finns in the group spoke Finnish) Mr. Häyhä was talkative and friendly.  He was also quite good at getting his point across to our group.

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Col. Marttinen (Finnish Army), Vic Thomas, Finnbear, Tuco with Simo Häyhä

Summary

To sum up this time spent with a living legend is a bit hard to do, as it is not often that one gets to sit down and speak to someone they have only read about in history books.   The Finns hold this man as a real national treasure, as well they should, so to explain what it was like to someone not there is almost impossible.  To use words like honor or privilege just do not give the moment justice as it was far beyond that. 

The Finnish word Sisu roughly translates to guts in English, and this man was the embodiment of the word.  The true sprit of Finland and the Finnish people lives in this quiet man.  A perfect example of this was that Simo Häyhä told us that after he was shot in the face (this was a wound that took years to recover from) he still found his rifle and killed the Soviet that had wounded him.   If there was ever a doubt about just how tough this man is/was, I think this story leaves little doubt in one's mind.

Maybe the best way to sum it up is a quote from a good friend of mine.  While we were eating lunch he told me, " Thirty years from now people will want to interview us about this meeting.  They will have a hard time believing it even happened."   I do not think any truer words have been spoken.     It was something that I will always recall with the fondest of memories and will never forget.   Personal heartfelt thanks to this brave man for spending his afternoon with us, as he will never know just how much it meant to us all. 

In this day and age where we are loosing WW2 Vets at an alarming pace, it was wonderful to sit down and spend time with this brave man.   To see and hear his stories first hand are experiences that will always be with me.   What we learned from him will not be forgotten.

I hope this article gives the reader a bit of insight into both Finland and the story of Simo Häyhä.  While this article was not written to give a complete history of the events of the Winter War, Finnish snipers, or Mr. Häyhä I do hope it answered some questions the reader might have had.  There are far too few here in the US that know the deeds and name of Simo Häyhä. If this article reaches just one reader that did not know the story of this brave man, I would deem the article a great success.

All information in this article regarding weapons their use came directly from the mouth of Simo Häyhä himself.  The author understands that the Winter War was many years ago and that not all weapons information reported can be counted on to be 100% correct.  Still I do not feel it is my place to change or alter the words that were spoken to our group by the man himself.  We were also quite honored in that Simo Häyhä met with another such group we took back to Finland in May 2001 of 36 Americans and several Finnish nationals.  Much of the same information reported in the above article was once again repeated to us from firsthand conversations with Simo Häyhä.  A great man and a great Finn.  My thanks to Simo Häyhä, to his people, to Finnbear, to our Finnish military guides, as well as to the Finns that still man the Salpa Line.

Thanks

Tuco - Mosin-Nagant Dot Net Updated 06/09/03

Saying Goodbye To The World's Greatest Sniper 

Simo Häyhä -The Passing Of The White Death

Tuco - Mosin-Nagant Dot Net & Gunboards.Com

In times of trouble it is often the quiet men that rise to greatness. This was indeed the case of the Finnish hero Simo Häyhä, who served on the horrendous Kollaa front in the Winter War of 1939-1940. The Finnish exploits on this front are known widely today as "The Miracle Of Kollaa" where the Finnish Army Infantry 34th Regiment’s  6th company overcame colossal odds against their survival. They did not just endure as they gave the Red Army invaders a fight that will forever be remembered. The Finnish lines continued to exist till the end of the War, being a true testament to the nation of Finland and the Finns that held the area. Simo Häyhä was a symbol of this front and he represents the true meaning of the word sisu - loosely translates to "Guts" in English.

Simo Häyhä was born in Karelia, Rautjärvi - now a part of Russia - and at 17 he joined the Finnish Civil Guard with his rank in the bicycle battalion being that of corporal. After his initial service he was content to join the rest of the population for a peaceful existence; however, the USSR under the dictator Stalin was to forever change the life of Mr. Häyhä and all of Finland with the Soviet invasion at the end of November 1939. This invasion was slated to be the end of Finland but in reality was just the opening of the Winter War, a war in which against all odds Finland remained free. While known before the war as a skilled marksman, Simo Häyhä was known more for his quiet disposition and good nature. While an expert marksman he was not a man of war but a man of peace that enjoyed the simple life around him

The accomplishments of this man in battle are such that he deserves the title of warrior. While he was not a man given to hostility, Simo Häyhä was indeed one the Soviet soldiers came to fear and tell stories of. Häyhä was to many Red Army soldiers’ their nightmare, their ghost, their shadow, and for over 500 he was their "The White Death". His skillful hunting in the Winter War ranks as the all time highest kill total for a sniper, although many of his adversaries fell to the K31 Suomi-Konepistooli he operated with imposing proficiency. The most astounding fact of Häyhä’s deeds is the time frame of these events was only 90 days. The total number of "kills" by this man is truly remarkable and an accurate description of his talent as a stalker and a marksman. The conduct of Simo Häyhä and his results during the Winter War will never be matched by any other. Simo Häyhä was in a warrior class of which only a select few heroes can claim membership in.

I was quite fortunate in being able to meet Simo Häyhä twice while traveling in Finland. These meetings were set up with friends and family members of Simo Häyhä with both meetings taking place at the Salpa Line in the southern area of Finland. These meeting were quite unique as Mr. Häyhä was a quiet and soft-spoken man, not widely available for such encounters. He was not one that would seek out such proceedings but did graciously accept both of our invitations. While most of the details of these meeting can be located in the Sniper Section of this site, I do feel that I must make some personal comments and observations here as well. Since I learned of his death I have recollected much on these events, went back to read over notes that I took, and also reviewed videotape of the time spent with this distinguished man.

While we were awaiting Häyhä’s arrival for the first meeting, I can recall that I was quite nervous about the event. It was hard not to be anxious as I was about to meet someone that one reads about in history books, not someone that I actually felt that I might meet one day. Our group of about 40 Americans and Finns all had this same nervous energy about them, as one could see it in their faces and in their motions. We all knew that this group was about to be introduced to a living legend and true hero of Finland. Deep in our hearts we knew we were going to be a part of something extraordinary, something that we would tell our children and even our children's children. When Mr. Häyhä arrived one could see he was also unsure of how things would go, as such a meeting had never taken place before. A Finnish hero sitting in front of a group largely made up of Americans was an original experience for him as well. I was glad to see how quickly the mood was changed when Mr. Häyhä asked how many in the group owned Finnish Mosin Nagant rifles, as he laughed when all hands in the group went up. I believe this put him at ease with the group and he became much more talkative and engaging after this question. The first meeting with this man was educational and entertaining as the time spent with him was most enjoyable. I am pleased to report the second meeting that took place in May of 2001 was even more pleasant, as Simo Häyhä was at ease with us from the start. He commented that he was glad to see us again and he was honored that we had taken the time to spend with him. This was quite humbling to us, as Mr. Häyhä could have never understood just how much we appreciated his time. To have someone such as this celebrated man honor us in such a manner is impossible to explain.

I came away from our meetings with Simo Häyhä with a respect for the stately humility of the man. He did not look at himself as a great man but just as a Finn that was called to duty preserving the freedom of his nation. In his notice of death carried in a number of Finnish papers a quote from Simo Häyhä is used, and I feel it is a quote that sums up the man nicely and brings back strong memories of his visits with us. When he was asked about his service he simply stated, "I only did what was ordered, and did it as well as I could", this translation from the Finnish paper Helsingin Sanomat. This sentiment is exactly what he tried to convey to us in our group's meetings. He did tell us a number of stories of his actions but he always seemed to downplay the heroic nature of his deeds. While we all thought of him as a hero, it is not clear to me if Simo Häyhä thought of himself in the same manner. My feeling is he did not as Mr. Häyhä was modest about his actions, feeling he only did his duty. His modestly and soft-spoken nature are the two attributes that I will always remember when thinking of him.

Finland is a young nation but this youthful nation has produced two icons worthy of worldwide respect. One being the great Marshall Mannerheim, whose leadership kept Finland free, and the great sniper Simo Häyhä, whose labors in the struggle of the Winter War was a key element to the Finnish achievements. While he was in his mid 90’s when I met him, Simo Häyhä still had an intensity that came from his eyes. He was a man dreadfully wounded by an exploding bullet that virtually destroyed his jaw and segment of his face but still he was able to survive. He spoke to us of his wounding and it was clear this event still was with him, as it seemed to be as clear in his mind as it was the day it happened. He recounted to the entire group  the events leading up to the wounding including the events he recalled recovering in the hospital. These accounts were chilling and I was pleased he was comfortable enough to discuss these events with all of us. These accounts deepened the already healthy respect I had for the man sharing his time with us..

While Simo Häyhä has left this earth to pass into the next part of life, his energy will forever be here. It is not only present in his homeland of Finland but a sprit he produced worldwide. The respect of this man is immense in all sectors of the world, as the world always respects a true hero. That is just what Simo Häyhä was, a hero the world can always look up to. He will be missed but this brave man of Finland will never be forgotten. He will live forever in those that knew him,  read of his exploits, as well as in the hearts of those that love - respect freedom.  God Speed to Simo Häyhä who passed to the next life on April 1, 2002.

Tuco - Mosin-Nagant Dot Net

April 7, 2002

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