Simo Häyhä, also known by his nickname “The white death” is probably the most skilled and successful sniper in the history of warfare, with more than 500 killed in only 100 days during World War II.
Häyhä was born on December 17, 1905, in Rautjarvi near the present-day border of Finland and Russia, and started his military service in 1925. Before entering combat, Häyhä was a farmer and hunter.
In November 1939 over 400,000 Soviet Red Army troops invaded tiny Finland, whose own Army of some 80,000 was grossly outnumbered in what was later known as the Winter War. Häyhä was selected to be a sniper. He was so successful in this role that his opponents (The Soviets) gave him the nickname “Belaya Smert” (“White Death”)
Häyhä used a M/28-30, and it’s interesting because he didn’t use a magnifying scope, but the weapon’s iron sight. With his rifle, Simo was able to hit a target 150 meters (492 feet) away 16 times in a minute.
During the “Winter War,” the temperature was between −40 °C (−40 °F) and −20 °C (−4 °F). But apparently not cold enough to make Häyhä stay at home.
He was a master of camouflage and would disappear after each shot. He would dress completely in white, so it was hard to be spotted by the Soviet Army. He was known to be very patient, and he was able to sit in one place whole day waiting for his target to show up.
He even kept snow in his mouth to prevent steamy breaths giving away his position in the cold air.
Simo was part of the epic Battle of Kollaa, where an estimated 32 Fins in a heroic battle held off over 4000 Soviet troops. The Soviets, in the end, won the war, but they never conceded that particular area.
Simo was a true nightmare for Soviet Troops. They were tired of getting their heads blown away, so they dispatched a group of snipers to get Häyhä. This group of elite Soviet snipers was easily killed by Simo. The “White Death” was everywhere, yet nowhere to be found. He would make a kill and disappear in the snow.
The next thing the Soviets did was target possible sniper nests with artillery strikes, but of course, Simo remained unscathed.
His luck finally changed as he was 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.”
Simo was comatose for few days. He awoke with a shattered jaw only hours after the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty, which officially ended the Winter War. The Soviets won the war and annexed a large swath of Finland territory, but as one Soviet general said, “We have won enough ground to bury our dead.”
Häyhä is reported as having killed 505 men, the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills in any major war. So he earned his nickname. When asked the secret of his success, he replied, “Practice.”
Simo Häyhä “The White Death” died of natural causes in 2002.