Simo Häyhä, also known as “The White Death,” was a Finnish soldier who currently holds the record of most confirmed kills of any sniper ever.
In 1939, at the dawn of World War 2, Josef Stalin made bold a move to invade Finland. He sent half a million men across Russia’s western’s border.
Tens of thousands of lives were lost. Among all the chaos, Simo’s grim legend began.
Here are 12 things you need to know about the world’s deadliest sniper.
1. Häyhä has 505 confirmed kills to his name.
And it is even suggested that he has more.
The Winter War only lasted for roughly 100 days. Yet in such a short time span, it is believed The White Death killed between 500 and 542 Russian soldiers.
Here’s the kicker:
He did so while using an antiquated rifle. His comrades, on the other hand, used state-of-the-art telescopic lenses to zoom in on their targets.
In extreme winter conditions, Häyhä used only iron sight. He didn’t mind. He even felt it added to his precision.
2. He was a mere 5 feet tall.
Häyhä stood just 5 feet tall. He was mild-mannered and unassuming. He wasn’t what you would call intimidating.
But it all worked in his favor. He was quite easily overlooked, which perhaps contributed to his superb sniping skills.
3. He lived a quiet life as a farmer before the war.
As many citizens did at the age of 20, Häyhä completed his mandatory year of military service.
Afterward, he resumed a quiet life as a farmer in the small town of Rautjärvi, a short distance away from the Russian border.
He enjoyed hobbies most Finnish men would: skiing, shooting, and hunting.
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4. His sniping skills were bred from youth, albeit unintentionally.
In Rautjärvi, he was noted for his excellent shooting skills. He spent most of his life prior to the war hunting birds in clearings or pine forests.
Couple that with rigorous farm work, and hunting wildlife in extreme winter conditions, it’s not really a shock how his sniping skills turned deadly as it did.
Later, he would credit his sniping skills to his experience hunting, noting that when a hunter shoots a target, he must be able to observe both surroundings and the impact of each shot. This experience taught him how to read and use the terrain to his advantage, which he was an expert.
His father also taught him a valuable lesson: how to estimate distances. In most cases, his estimates were perfect. He also knew how to estimate the effects of rain and wind on shooting his targets.
5. An able soldier.
Häyhä might have been born to be a soldier. At least he had a knack for it.
While one year of military service is not much, Häyhä seemed to have made the most of it.
By the time he was honorably discharged, he had been promoted to “Upseerioppilas Officerselev” (corporal.)
6. The White Death’s MO.
How exactly did Häyhä kill over 500 soldiers in the span of 100 days?
His methods were almost superhuman.
Häyhä would dress in his white winter camouflage, gather a day’s worth of supplies and ammunition, and set out to do his part in the Winter War.
Armed with his Mosin-Nagant M91 rifle, he would pick a spot in the snow and kill any Russian soldier in his line of vision.
He preferred using iron sights instead of scopes because scopes would glare in the sunshine and reveal his position.
Häyhä would even put snow in his mouth so that his breath wouldn’t be seen in the cold air. He used snow banks as padding for his rifle, preventing the force of his shots from stirring up snow.
He did all of this in such a harsh terrain environment. The days were short. And when daylight was over, temperatures were freezing.
7. The Soviets feared him.
His legend soon took over. In no time, the Soviets knew his name. Naturally, they feared him.
So much so, that they mounted several counter sniper and artillery attacks on him, which obviously failed miserably.
Häyhä was so good at hiding his position, that he remained completely undetected.
Once, after killing an enemy with a single shot, the Russians responded by mortar bombardment and indirect fire. They were close. But not close enough.
Häyhä wasn’t even wounded. He made it out without a scratch.
Another time, an artillery shell landed near his position. He survived with a mere scratch on his back and a ruined greatcoat.
8. He was very meticulous.
Häyhä’s preparation method was so meticulous, he might have had OCD.
During nights, he would often pick and visit the firing positions he preferred, meticulously making necessary preparations.
Unlike other soldiers, he’d go out of his way to make sure everything was well-prepared. He would perform both before-and-after maintenance operations in every mission.
It’s also crucial to do proper gun maintenance in the -20°C temperature to avoid jamming. Häyhä would clean his gun more often than his comrades.
9. He knew how to detach his emotions from his job.
Tapio Saarelainen, the author of The White Sniper, had the privilege of interviewing Simo Häyhä numerous times between 1997 and 2002.
In his article, The world’s deadliest sniper: Simo Häyhä, he wrote:
“…his personality was ideally suited to sniping, with his willingness to be alone and ability to avoid the emotions which many would attach to such a job. ”
The author provides a much closer look into Simo Häyhä’s life. During one of the interviews, the war veteran said:
“War is not a pleasant experience. But who else would protect this land unless we are willing to do it ourselves.”
Häyhä was also asked if he ever regretted killing so many people. He simply replied:
“I only did what I was told to do, as well as I could.”
10. He had a sense of humor.
After the war, Häyhä was very private, preferring to live a quiet life away from fame. Not much is known about his personality.
However, an astonishing hidden notebook of his was later found. In it, he wrote about his experience of the Winter War.
It seems the sniper had a sense of humor. He wrote of one particular antic:
“After Christmas we caught a Ruskie, blindfolded him, spun him dizzy and took him to a party in the tent of The Terror of Morocco (Finnish army captain Aarne Edward Juutilainen.) The Ruskie was joyed by the carousing and was disgusted when he was sent back.”
11. He was shot only once, a mere few days before the Winter War ended.
Häyhä was hit by a Russian bullet mere days before the Winter War ended, on March 6, 1940.
He was hit in his lower left jaw. According to the soldiers who picked him up, “half his face was missing.”
Häyhä was in a coma for a week. He woke up on March 13, the same day that peace was declared.
The bullet crushed his jaw and most of his left cheek was removed. He underwent 26 surgical operations after the war. But he recovered fully, and the injury did not affect his shooting skills in the slightest.
12. He lived a quiet life after the war.
Häyhä’s contribution to the Winter War was highly recognized. His nickname, The White Death, was even a subject of Finnish propaganda.
However, Häyhä didn’t want any part of being famous and preferred to be left alone. He returned to life on the farm. His friend, Kalevi Ikonen, said:
“Simo spoke more with animals in the forest than with other people.”
But a hunter is always a hunter.
He continued to use his sniping skills, becoming a successful moose hunter. He even attended regular hunting trips with then Finnish president Urho Kekkonen.
In his old age, Häyhä moved into the Kymi Institute for Disabled Veterans in 2001, where he lived alone.
He passed away at the ripe old age of 96 in 2002.