Simo Hayha: The White Death


(Photo: Finnish Military Archive)

Aidan Herklotz

The Winter War was a disaster for the Soviet Union, but it was still a loss for Finland. War broke out in 1939, when Finland refused the Soviet Union’s ultimatum for Finland to cede Karelia (pictured below). You see, Stalin was really paranoid that Hitler would invade the USSR through Finland, so he wanted a buffer zone between Finland and Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg), one of their largest cities. Anyway, the Soviets faced a lot of setbacks during the Finnish invasion, including inadequate winter-gear, incompetent military leadership, and Finnish guerilla forces. The latter example is the one we’re talking about today; for today’s subject is the Finnish sniper Simo Hayha, who killed an estimated 500 Red Army soldiers during the four month duration of the Winter War.

Simo “Simuna” Hayha was born December 17, 1905, in Finland, although at this time Finland was under the dominion of the Russian Empire. Before his military service, Hayha was a farmer and a fisher, but he joined the “White Guard” (a finnish voluntary militia) at the age of twenty. He also participated in multiple shooting contests before the war, with his home reportedly “full of trophies.” Although, it was his service in the Winter War where his sniping abilities truly shined.

Simo Hayha was a camouflage genius. During his service in the snowy tundras of eastern Finland, he wore all white when camping out from a kill. He also kept snow in his mouth, when stalking Red Army soldiers, because he wanted to prevent his breath fogging in the negative four degree air. Lastly, he avoided using a scope when sniping, because it could sometimes glare in the sun and it would easily fog in the freezing air. He basically no-scoped 500 or so Russians in four months. Luckily for Hayha, the incompetent Soviet leadership didn’t issue white camouflage to their soldiers, so spotting the Soviets wasn’t as difficult as it would seem. As I previously stated, his recorded kills amounted to 500, but only about 219 of these were actually by a sniper rifle. The rest of his kills were by a machine gun or other implements. These numbers were confirmed by himself (obviously), as well as his commanders and comrades.

(Photo: Finnish Military Archives – Tapio A.M. Saarelainen)

On March 6, 1940, Hayha was hit in the jaw by an explosive bullet, which caused massive facial damage. Even his comrades who picked him up after he was shot said that his face was “half missing.” Only a few days later, on March 13th, the peace of Moscow was signed and the Winter War was over. It took Hayha several years to recuperate from his injuries, but he made a full recovery and went on to be a moose-hunter and Finnish celebrity after the war. He even hunted with the then Finnish President, Urho Kekkonen.

Even after he sustained massive injuries during the war, Simo Hayha lived until the ripe old age of ninety-eight. He died on April 1, 2002, in a war veteran’s hospital in Hamina, Finland. The Winter War was widely regarded as a massive Soviet blunder, and it ended the lives of over 160,000 Red Army soldiers, compared to about 26,000 Finnish Army soldiers. Even though Stalin eventually won in the end, Finland only had to cede a very small portion of its territory. “We have won just enough ground to bury our dead,” said a Soviet General upon looking at a map of the conquered territories. This quote exemplifies the consequences and outcome of the Winter War as a whole.