Simo Häyhä - White Death

Updated: 27-02-2012

Simo Häyhä
was born in Rautjärvi ("Ironlake") December 17, 1905 and died at war veteran hospital in Hamina April 1, 2002

Finnish nicknames: Simuna, Magic Shooter ("Taika-ampuja")
Russian nickname: White Death (Belaya Smert)

Simo had four brothers and three sisters; Simo was the second youngest. His sisters were Mari, Katri and Hilja. His brother Antti died in the Finnish Civil War, Juhana was wounded, and Tuomas died of sunstroke. Matti was the oldest brother. His father was Juho Häyhä, mother Katriina Häyhä. Simo got better-than-average grades in school, but he was more interested in farming than studying. Shooting was his hobby from a young age; Civil Guard shooting range was only 5 km away from the farm.

He joined the Rautjärvi Civil Guard at the age of 17. He was the ace of his shooting team and won numerous trophies at marksmanship competitions. At this time he used Mosin-Nagant Model 1891 and English Westinghouse 7,62x53R as his practice rifles.

He started his military service in 1925 at Raivola, Bicycle Battallion 2. He served 15 months.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal (korpraali) in January 6, 1926.
During the Winter War he was promoted to Corporal (alikersantti).
After the war, Mannerheim promoted Häyhä straight to Second Lieutenant (vänrikki) in August 28,1940.

Between years 1931-1939 Simo was an avid fox hunter. He got his sniper training at Utti in 1938, a year before the war.

The Winter war started in November 30, 1939 and ended in March 13, 1940. It lasted 105 days. Simo was active 98 days (last seven days in a coma).

505 confirmed kills [or 542 according to a researcher in war museum, says Saarelainen's book.]
His record: 25 confirmed kills in one day (December 21) and 51 kills in three days.
200 kills with Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun. Sometimes he also used light machine gun, probably Lahti-Saloranta M/26.

Only those kills with other soldiers as witnesses were counted. It was estimated that about one third of the kills were unconfirmed, so that could be about 150-200 unconfirmed kills. Sometimes Häyhä was alone in flank at Petäjälampi and "had some strange adventures" (his own words).

His main weapon was his own hunting rifle Mosin-Nagant M/28-30 "Pystykorva". Rifle serial number: 60974.

He said he kept his rifle clean, checked it before and after a mission, and never had a jam. He always targeted the "mass-center point" of the target and shot very quickly because the aiming image tends to stay sharp only a brief moment. He used the noise of the enemy machines to mask his sound. He ate sugarcubes and crisp bread while waiting.

His unit was Infantry Regiment 34 (JR34), 6th company ("Moroccan company") under lieutenant Aarne "Terror of Morocco" Juutilainen at the Kollaa front. He slept in the same troop tent with commander Juutilainen, ate a good breakfast in the morning and then went to work. He had 50-60 bullets for his rifle, a knife and some hand grenades.

In February 17, 1940 Häyhä was given a honorary Sako rifle by a Swedish businessman Eugen Johansson, who wanted to give it as a present for the best sniper in the Finnish army. Häyhä became a wartime celebrity and newspapers wrote about his high kill count. Häyhä also got other presents, like a pocket watch and gloves.

He was shot in the jaw March 6, 1940 near lake Ulismainen, with an exploding bullet. St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 had banned dumdum bullets, but the Soviets used them anyway.

There are different versions of what happened after he was wounded. Some say he crawled to ahkio by himself, some say he was helped by his cousin Toivo. One story says he was in a pile of dead bodies and found to be alive later when his leg moved under the pile (probably this means that the wounded and the dead were transported back in the same ahkio). His rifle was left at the battlefield and never seen again.

He was in a coma for a week and woke up in March 13, the same day peace was declared. He had to go through 26 surgeries. A new jaw was crafted from a piece of bone taken from his hip.

Only after he left the hospital he heard that the Russians had put a bounty on his head during the war.

He was given a Kollaa Cross number 4, after Marshal Mannerheim, president Kallio and general Svensson. Only the first seven were made of pure silver. All in all, Simo got seven medals. He wore them in a wrong order, but no one complained. Later, a new marksmanship contest was named after him (Simo Häyhä Sniper Competition).

When the Continuation War (1941-1944) started, Simo wanted to join, but wasn't accepted because of his wound. He became a horse collector, checking and collecting horses for the army. He was also an active member of the Kollaa Warriors Brotherhood (Kollaan Taistelijoiden Veljeskunta, KTV). In 1941 they went to Syndehaven, Denmark, for a short vacation with other war veterans.

Between 1946-1960 he lived at his brothers farm and kept a low profile. Althought the war was over, Russian informants were everywhere.

The Finnish government gave Simo his own farm in 1961 at Valkjärvi ("Whitelake"), Ruokolahti.

He never married, preferring to live alone and work on his farm. It was said that he talked to animals more than to humans, but he went fishing and hunting with his friends, and later hunted with president Urho Kekkonen.

Simo got the Ruokolahti Hunting Society's Game Cup five times in a row between 1962-1966. He was also awarded as a dog breeder several times. His favourite hunting dog was named Kille.

In 1970's Häyhä bought a one-bedroom apartment at Rasila, Ruokolahti and lived there until 2001.

In 2001 he moved to war veteran hospital at Hamina. He died in 2002 and was buried at Ruokolahti.


QUOTES

"I didn't felt anything towards the enemy. I just fired and loaded and continued as long as there were enemies"


"I just shot every time I saw an enemy. I didn't care if he was a commander or not."

"I'm a lucky man, I never had dreams about the war. I've always slept well, during the war too."

"I did what I was told to as well as I could."

When asked how he became such a good shooter, he answered: "Practice."



Sources:
  • Tapio A.M. Saarelainen: Sankarikorpraali Simo Häyhä (2006)
  • Petri Sarjanen: Valkoinen kuolema (2005)
  • Erkki Palolampi: Kollaa kestää (1940)
  • Seppo Porvali: Minä, Marokon kauhu (2005)
I collected the information on this page for my own purposes in Finnish, but then I thought that someone else might be interested too and translated it quickly in English. Wikipedia article has most of the well-known details not mentioned here.

Simo Häyhä and Kollaa map

Simo Häyhä + Kollaa map



Not Simo
Oh, and this picture is not actually Häyhä. It's some Swedish volunteer during Winter War. A sharpshooter wouldn't put a bayonet on his rifle while shooting, though it might look cool in a movie...


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