Monday, January 27, 2014

White Death: Simo Häyhä

        Deemed one of the greatest snipers of all time, Simo Häyhä represents the resilience of the Finns against their Soviet adversaries during the Winter War coinciding with World War II. Born in the small town of Rautajärvi in 1905, Simo tasted Soviet oppression at an early age due to the close proximity to the Russian border. Häyhä enjoyed the rugged landscape of rural Finland and swiftly developed as a farmer and skilled hunter known for his marksmanship. This solitary lifestyle enhanced his prowess with weaponry, an aptitude proven vital during the oncoming Winter War.
In 1925, a seventeen year old Häyhä joined the Finnish Army for a year of mandatory service and achieved the rank of corporal. Eventually Simo Häyhä joined the Suojelskunta (Finnish Civil Guard) similar to the National Guard of the United States prior to being entangled in the Winter War under the 6th Company’s banner. Simo responded to the aid of his country when the USSR invaded in November, three months after the eruption of WWII in 1939. While drifting through the tundra, Simo concealed himself by wearing white camouflage and refused to use a scope for he noted that the sun would reflect off the glass and give his position away. Another innovation he utilized was to put snow in his mouth in order to deny a foggy exhalation from escaping his lips. He took every precaution to avoid tipping off Russian counter-snipers of his location; soldiers bent on deposing their most feared adversary whom they dubbed “White Death.” Such a title was legitimized by his impressive five hundred and five head count. Using a Mosin-Nagant rifle which suited his short stature, Häyhä achieved the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills in any major war.
(An account of Simo Häyhä's background & military experience)

       A tactical professional, Simo’s credited with two hundred deaths by way of a sub-machine gun in addition to his aforementioned glory. During the most brutal days of the Winter War, Simo’s company secured the demise of Soviet expansion. Defending the Kollaa region was nothing short of a miracle as exposed by the massive loss the Soviet Army suffered at the hands of Finns refusing to comply with communist invaders. "The Miracle of Kollaa" proved to be the epitome of the Finnish chant “sisu” which translates to “guts” or “fortitude” in which the Simo’s 34th Regiment, nobly clashed against twelve Soviet divisions which equated 160,000 men as opposed to the single Finnish unit. Striking fear into the hearts of the advancing Red Army, Simo took solace in the closely shrouded timber while forced to deflect artillery units specifically deployed to exterminate their lone, elusive threat. Despite invisibly stalking Soviets in temperatures as low as –40 °C, a Russian soldier struck his mark on March 6, 1940. The bullet exploded into Häyhä’s jaw, blowing away half of his face and yet survived. Although successfully retrieved from the battlefield, Simo slipped into a coma until he regained consciousness March 13, the very day the war ended.
After his recovery, Simo advanced to the rank of second lieutenant, a rapid promotional feat nonexistent in the Finnish military. Offering a transfixing quote, Simo explained his regret by stating that “I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could.” Permanently disfigured, the humble man soared as a national hero. In his later years, the outdoors man occupied his retirement by hunting moose, breeding dogs and responding to interviews related to his wartime exploits. Häyhä embodies the spirit of Finland; having played a pivotal role through which his accomplishments contributed to preserving Finnish sovereignty. The great sniper and Finnish warrior encapsulated the strength of a nation reflected by his valiant service and calm resolve.


Suggested Reading:
"Simo Häyhä The White Death - World's Greatest Sniper." (accessed January 27, 2014).

"The Incredible Story of Finnish Sniper Simo Hayha.” (accessed January 27, 2014).

“Finland at War, 1939-45 Volume 141 of Elite series” (accessed January 27, 2014).

“Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939/40.”, William R. Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939/40.&pg=PP1 (accessed January 27, 2014)

“The Sniper Simo Hayha,” (accessed January 27, 2014).