- How did you become such a great sharpshooter?
Born December 17th 1906, died April 1st 2002. Farmer, Second Lieutenant of the Finnish Army, and a legendary sniper.
Late December, 1939. The Winter War has raged for nearly a month. It's the 21st, Stalin's birthday, and the Red Army soldiers have been celebrating with a great many shots of vodka. They get careless, and Corporal Häyhä makes a new record: 25 kills in one day, 51 kills over three days. A Christmas present for his unit.
Simo Häyhä is the embodiment of the legend of the Finnish winter warrior: a quiet farmer, just doing what has to be done, and doing it well. Wearing the standard white camoflauge suit sewn together out of bed sheets, he became known as the White Death. He is the man behind the phrase "One Finn equals ten Russians".
Born in a little hamlet near the Russian border to parents Juho and Katriina, Häyhä was a small man, only 160 cm tall. A small target. He went to a public school and even though he had the smarts for further education, he decided to become a farmer like his father. He joined the local civil guard when he was 17, and served his mandatory 15 months in the army in 1925.
In the end of the 1920's he found himself placed fifth in a sharpshooting competition. That prompted him to start seriously practicing the art. His friends decided to see what he can do: he placed 16 shots in a small target 150 meters away in one minute. Word started to spread of the farmer boy and his phenomenal ability.
In autumn 1939, as tension between Finland and the Soviet Union grew, Finnish reservists were called up for an extra period of training. This was when Häyhä was introduced to his main weapon, an originally Russian Mosin-Nagant M28. He was also an accurate shot with submachine guns.
After Christmas 1939, as the number of confirmed kills started to mount, the company Häyhä served in started to lose its squad leaders at an alarming rate. A Russian sniper was taking them out, concluded the commander of the company, and ordered Häyhä to take him out. So started Häyhä's first sniper duel. His preference of a scopeless rifle and his small frame were his advantages - a scope forced the sniper to lift his head up too much, providing a good target, and Häyhä was more than happy with his good old Spitz.
Come morning Häyhä, accompanied by a Second Lieutenant, went out to hunt the sniper. He stood by, waited and waited. He was warmly clothed, the freeze was no problem. The sun started to set behind him, and its light reflected off the scope of the Russian sniper. Another confirmed kill - at a distance of 450 meters.
In February 1940 a Swedish businessman decided to donate to the Finnish army a special edition of the SAKO infantry rifle M/28-30, nicknamed Pystykorva, the Spitz, after the shape of its iron sight. It was to be given to the best sniper of the IV Army Corps, and the freshly promoted Sergeant Major Häyhä, with 216 kills, was awarded the weapon.
In early March Häyhä was assigned to a partisan unit that was to take back an important position at Ulismaajärvi from the enemy. The enemy refused to withdraw and suddenly received large reinforcements, driving the Finnish offensive to a bloody retreat. While covering his fleeing fellow soldiers, after 40 kills by his own count, Häyhä was shot square in the jaw and lost consciousness. He was evacuated from the area by a Finnish patrol.
March 13th the war was over. Nobody had heard from Häyhä until a notice that Simo Häyhä had died from his injuries.
One of his relatives, Aarre Häyhä, was fetching the post, when he met a friend who condolenced him over the loss. Aarre replied: "Nonsense, I just got a letter from him from the hospital. There he is, growing fat."
"That can't be, I read it in the paper!"
"So did Simo, that's why he wrote me. 'Call off the funeral, there's no corpse!'"
In April a medal of honour was conceived, one that would be awarded to the most achieved people who had served on the front, the Kollaa Cross. The first cross was given to Marshal Mannerheim, the second to President Kallio, the third to a Colonel Antero Svensson. The fourth went to Simo Häyhä.
In August 28th 1940 Häyhä was, by an order of the Commander in Chief, promoted from Sergeant Major to Second Lieutenant in a jump unheard of before or after in Finnish military history.
In 1941 he wanted to join in on the Continuation War, but his injury was deemed too serious to allow him to fight. His head count would never increase from the over 500 confirmed ones he had scored over those three winter months.
It's the largest count recorded in military history, and even the runner-ups with over 400 kills scored theirs over a much longer period than three months. For all intents and purposes, Simo Häyhä is the greatest sniper to have ever lived.