Simo Hayha - The Deadliest Sniper Of World War II
Simo Hayha - World's Deadliest Sniper
Hayha in his youth
Hayha with his Mosin-Nagant rifle
Simo Hayha was born most probably in 1905 (some say 1906) in the municipal town of Rautjärvi in Finland. He had four brothers and three sisters and Simo was the second youngest of them. His hometown was near the present-day border of Finland and Russia and was in close proximity to the Soviet Union of Russia.
Being a border area with Russia, the home of Simo Häyhä was lost to the Soviets when they invaded Finland in the early course of the Winter War. Simo Häyhä was a sharp and steady man, being a farmer and a hunter, he had to be out in the fields with good eyesight and patience. This would later become his strength.
When Simo was 17 years of age, he joined the Rautjärvi Civil Guard (Suojelskunta). He was the best shooter of his shooting team and won many trophies. He used to shoot with a Mosin-Nagant Model 1891 and English Westinghouse 7,62x53R.
In 1925, at the age of 20, Häyhä joined the Finnish Army (Suojeluskunta) for a year of mandatory service. He impressed his superiors with his highly accurate marksman skills in shooting sports. His home was full of trophies won in Sniping competitions.
When he left his service, he had achieved the rank of a corporal. While being an expert shooter, he was not a warmonger but a man of peace who wanted a simple lifestyle. Simo Hayha was a fox hunter before the Winter War and had got his special sniper training at Utti in 1938, a year before the War started.
Soviet invasion of Finland, 1939
Norwegian Winter War Volunteers Fighting For Finland
A Finnish Officer Inspecting A Captured Russian Rifle
Russians with a captured Finnish Flag
The Winter War
The Winter War (Talvisota in Finnish) was a conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland (1939–1940).
In November 1939, the USSR under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin invaded Finland on 30 November 1939 (about three months after the start of the Second World War). The Soviet feared that Finland was becoming close to Hitler's Germany and may attack them. The League of Nations tagged the attack as "illegal" and expelled the Soviet Union from the League on 14 December 1939.
The USSR had claimed parts of Finnish territory. They demanded Finland to cede a large border territory in exchange for land elsewhere for security reasons, mainly to protect the important city of Leningrad which was only 32 km from the Finnish-Soviet border. Finland refused to do so and the USSR invaded their country.
Many sources hint that the USSR wanted to conquer all of Finland and establishment a puppet Communist government in Finland as the USSR intended to do in other Baltic countries. The Molotov - Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocols are also a proof of this theory. Other sources however, argue against this idea of a full Soviet conquest of Finland.
Stalin surely wanted to capture the port of Murmansk in the border area of Russia and Finland. This port was very important because it remained ice-free throughout the year. It was believed that Finland would lose quite easily against the Soviets but that did not happen.
When the Winter War started, the Soviets largely outnumbered the Finns in manpower and Armour. The Red Army had more than 3:1 soldiers than the Finns, 30:1 as many aircraft and about 100:1 tanks. The Soviets however had many inexperienced officers due to Stalin's Great Purge (30,000 officers were killed). Finland were successful in repelling the Soviet attacks for several months due to high morale in their forces, longer than the Soviets expected.
However, after reorganizing their Army, the planned Soviet offensive swept over the Finnish defenses at the borders. The Winter War ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940.
Result of the War -
1. Finland agreed to give more territories than originally demanded by the Soviet Union in 1939. Finland ceded 11 percent land of its area and 30 percent of its economy to the USSR.
2. The Soviets conquered the areas they demanded from Finland, but at a huge price. They lost much more troops than they thought and they had lost international reputation and prestige as a small country had caused them huge casualties.
3. The USSR gained a substantial territory along Lake Ladoga which gave them a buffer land for Leningrad and some territory in northern Finland. Finland retained its sovereignty and increased its international reputation.
Simo Hayha during the Winter War
Simo Häyhä - The "White Death"
Simo Häyhä joined the Winter War under the 6th Company of JR 34 on the Kollaa River. The Finnish base at Kollaa is called "The miracle of Kollaa," as the Finnish soldiers had achieved something impossible!. The Finnish army in the region were under the able command of Major General Uiluo Tuompo. General Tuompo was up against the the deadly 9th and 14th Soviet Armies. Often, the Finnish soldiers at Kollaa were facing twelve divisions of the Red Army (1,60,000 soldiers).
The Red Army lost huge number of soldiers in front of determined Finnish resistance. Some Red Army personnel later called the Finnish defense of Kollaa as "fanatical" and in this Kollaa region, there was the famous battle of "Killer Hill" (infamous for the Soviets). There was about 32 Finns facing about 4,000 USSR soldiers. Simo Häyhä killed about 500 odd USSR soldiers from this hill. The Red Army soldiers understood that there was some sniper activity in that area.
They were so terrified that they first sent a few counter snipers. Hayha killed them. Then a team of Soviet snipers were sent. They too were killed. Then the Soviets started to randomly shoot in the hill. Simo was shot in the jaw on 3rd May, 1940 near lake Ulismainen by an exploding bullet and he was taken out of action due to these wounds.
Hayha was in coma for seven days and woke up on 13th March, the same day when peace was declared. The legendary Simo Hayha had to go through twenty-six surgeries as he had lost half his face and a new jaw was crafted by the doctors by taking a piece of bone from his hip. He was awarded a Kollaa Cross number 4 and seven silver medals. When the "Continuation War" started in 1941, Simo wanted to fight for his motherland, but was denied due to his physical injury.
Reasons For Simo Häyhä's Brilliant Sniping
1. Häyhä used an M/28-30 rifle with serial number 60974 as it suited with his short height (Simo was 5 foot 3 inches). This rifle was a shorter Finnish variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle generally called the "Pystykorva".
2. He preferred to use iron sights over telescopic sights. This was a very clever thing to do because of the following reasons -
- A sniper has to raise his head higher while using a telescopic sight for shooting accurately. This may prove fatal.
- The glass of the telescope gets fogged up constantly in cold weather. It would be a problem to clean the glass continuously.
- Sunlight reflections in telescopic sight lenses may reveal a sniper's position to the enemy soldiers (It was shown in the movie "Enemy At The Gates").
- Simo Hayha used to collect and pack lots of snow in front of his sniping position to conceal himself and he used to prepare a special padding beneath his rifle to reduce the characteristic "puff of snow" stirred up by the muzzle blast after a shot.
- Interestingly, he used to keep snow in his mouth when he shot. This was to prevent hot exhaling vapors or steamy breaths which comes out of our mouth during cold season.
3. According to Hayha, he always kept his rifle clean. He used to check his rifle everyday before and after a mission and it never had a jam.
4. Hayha always targeted the "mass-center point" of his target and used to take a very quick shot, this is because the aiming image was sharp only a little moment. He also used to camouflage his shot with the rattling noise of the enemy machines so as to mask the shooting sound.
Hayha with his fractured left jaw
The Legend Of Simo Hayha
- The Winter war lasted for 105 days. Simo Hayha was sniping out enemy soldiers for 98 days He had 505 confirmed kills (542 according to a researcher Saarelainen).
- His had a record 25 confirmed kills in single day (21st December, 1939) and 51 confirmed kills in a streak of 3 days.
- Apart from sniping, he had 200 kills with a Sub machine gun (Suomi KP/-31). He used to shoot with a light machine gun sometimes. (705 kills unconfirmed)
- In1998, Simo Hayha was asked how he had become such a brilliant shooter, Mr. Häyhä replied "Practice."
- Asked about killing so many people in the War, he sanswered, "I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could."
- Simo Hayha is a Finnish National Hero and a legend. He is greatly loved and respected in Finland. He has been portrayed in films, documentaries. His name has been used in songs, video games, etc.
- There is a sniper compitition named after him called the "Simo Hayha Sniper Compitition".
- A famous quote of Simo Hayha - "I did not feel anything towards the enemy. I just fired, loaded and continued as long as there were Soviet enemies"