The Deadliest Sniper In History, Simo Hayha

October 11, 2021

The Deadliest Sniper In History, Simo Hayha
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Simo Häyhä was a Finnish farmer born in the 1900's, known around his village for his wickedly sharp aim with a hunting rifle.

In 1939, his life was turned upside down when Stalin and The Red Army invaded Finland.

Rushed to the front, his kill-count quickly rose.

His fellow Finns nicknamed him The Magic Sniper, but to the Russians he was Belaya Smert, The White Death.

In the freezing darkness, with a mouthful of snow to conceal his breath, The White Death lay waiting. Entire Russian platoons would come to a standstill, none wanting to be the next to fall into the crosshairs...

Tune in for the story of Finland's national hero, Simo Häyhä.

Special Mentions:

Alexander Gates, Edward Gates and Matt Tankard for the great voice overs!


Additional Reading / Sources:

  • The White Sniper - Tapio A.M. Saarelanien
  • The Black Book of Communism by Stéphane Courtois 
  • Frozen Hell by William Trotter


Lonely Pulse from - Royalty Free

The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Checkout The History Of Asia with Kristoff here.




It's winter, 1939. In the frigid dark of northern Europe a battle raged between David

and Goliath. Finland, a tiny, brand new nation, stood toe-to-toe with the USSR, the big red

dog of the east. The freezing, bitter snow whips across the kollaa tundra as two Russian

officers huddle round together, trying to light a cigarette. A sniper lays prone on

the ridge nearby, keeping watch across the silent, icy wasteland ahead of him.

It's been quiet today, remarked the tallest soldier. The shorter man nodded, absentmindedly,

still trying to get his match to light. The Finnish winter was known for its ferocity

and even for the Russians who were used to this temperature, the constant darkness was

unnerving. Finally the match catches and the two officers quickly cup their hands around

the flame and light the cigarettes.

What are we, the third replacement this week? That damn sniper has trapped us in this wasteland.

The men have started calling him the White Death, said the smaller man, taking a drag.

It is not good for morale. Comrade Stalin does not like the days.

Well, if Comrade Stalin would send us a few more tanks we could blast our way through

and be having lunch in Helsinki by the end of this week, the other man said, grinning,

taking a deep drag just as the cigarette went out.

Suka blyat! This damn weather! Have you got another match? That was my last.

The shorter one turned to the sniper. Vasili, Do you have a match?

The sniper turned his head but didn't respond. Come on, man, the match. It's near sunset.

There's no one there. Reluctantly, the sniper turned around, reached

into his jacket pocket and rose to his feet. Buy your own da-

A shot rang out, echoing against the cliffs ahead. Immediately, both officers ducked down

and saw the sniper fall lifelessly on the ground in front of them.

The bullet had gone right through his cheek, a near-perfect shot.

On the other side of the icy tundra, a Finnish sharpshooter watched the man fall. He instinctively

reloaded, but there was no need. Even from this distance, he knew it was a clean kill.

He had waited hours for the shot, lying motionless in the negative 40 degrees Celsius winter,

barely breathing, until suddenly a glint of reflection from the other man's sniper scope

had given him away. He silently packed up his kit and made his

way back to the barracks, wondering about his kill count. 150 Russians? 200? More?

You're listening to Anthology of Heroes, the podcast that takes you through the life of

national heroes from every country of the world. And this is the story of the deadliest

sniper in the history of warfare, a man who gave all he could in the defense of his nation

and asked nothing in return. In his home country of Finland, he's called Simo Häyhä, but to

the Russians, he was Belaya Smert, the White Death.

There's a particular song by one of my favorite bands, Sabaton. They've got a bit that goes

like this, quote, Russians on the route to ruin, Kremlin's more than certain to win,

sent away an army to the west, blizzard rained, the ground were chosen, snow is deep and hell

is frozen, Stalin were too eager to invade. It's a song called Talvisota, which in Finnish

means winter war. The winter war of the 1940s is one that always

seems to be pushed to the back pages of history, overshadowed by World War II, which started

soon after. But it's a story that deserves to be told. It's full of tales of true heroism,

the coming together of a very new nation for a common goal, to preserve their freedom and

way of life against an antagonistic and warmongering neighbor. Without these men and women, perhaps

there would be no Finland today. While our focus for this episode will be on one man,

the mateship and camaraderie could just as easily be applied to any of the other Finns

who fought desperately outnumbered with virtually no air support or anti-tank guns, all on their

own. These are their stories. As the dusky medieval period gave way to the

enlightened era, the country we now call Finland was pulled back and forth between the Swedish

empire in the west and the Russian empire in the east. But whichever empire they belonged

to, there was always a separate Finnish identity that persisted. The huge dark forests and

tons of lakes meant people could live undisturbed despite whatever was happening in the outside

world. In 1917, the newly installed communist government

of Russia issued a decree that said all peoples living in the Russian empire were free to

self-govern if they wished. The Finns didn't need to be told twice, and by late 1917, the

nation of Finland was born. A nasty civil war followed soon afterwards. At this point

in history, the world was kind of in a bit of communist fever and Finland was no exception.

So after this short but very nasty civil war, the communists lost out and Finland emerged

as a wobbly democratic republic, much to the disappointment of Russia.

Over the next few decades, the government and its people began to repair the rift that

had grown between the two factions of the civil war. Whether you were a communist or

a republican in the past, it was irrelevant, now you are just Finnish. And it was into

this new and healing nation that Simo Häyhä was born.

Simo was born in the rather rural part of southeast Finland, east of the capital of

Helsinki, an area that's now part of Russia. He grew up as one of eight children and spent

the majority of his life tending to chores around the farm. Simo's recollection of

his childhood was a happy one. During the day, boys tended to the animals and the girls

knitted clothes or prepared the meals. By night, Simo's mother would sing songs to

the kids around an open fire. Around the farm, there was always something

that needed to be done, and this suited Simo fine. He was the type of kid that liked to

be busy, doing things, mending things, teaching other things. And between all this, he didn't

really have that much spare time. But with the spare time he did have, he really loved

hunting. Simo was a natural shooter. Trained by his

father, he was taught to try and think and act like the animal he was hunting, imagining

he was the fox or the moose. As he grew, Simo, like most of his countrymen, became used to

the extreme weather patterns of his country, going from around 18 hours of sunlight in

the summer to 5 in winter. Not only that, but the winters were cold. In Simo's village,

minus 35 degrees Celsius days were not uncommon. Growing up in this kind of place meant you

had to be pretty hardy, and Simo himself said that his greatest advantage he had was a sound

body and mind. You could say that he was very at peace with himself and in tune with the

raw beauty of his country. As he grew into his teens, Simo developed

into a modest and friendly young guy. Nicknamed Simuna by his mates, he was fairly short with

a friendly grin and a clean cut of dark brown hair. His shooting too, which was already

wickedly accurate, improved even further. In his first shooting competition that he

entered on a whim, he won easily, scoring 93 out of 100 points, and after this he easily

blitzed through tournament after tournament, always taking first prize. But he never let

it get to his head. Despite being the local legend, he never liked to draw attention to

himself. In the photos from his rifle club, Simo was always at the back, tucking himself

away, never wanting to hog the limelight. Simo had decided early in his life that a

career in academia wasn't for him. At 19 years old, he started his mandatory military

service, but chances are he probably would have gone down this path anyway. He served

in the bicycle battalion, and yes, that's a real thing, and stunned his commanding officer

by hitting a target at 150 meters away, 16 times in a minute, demonstrating not only

a wickedly accurate eye for aim, but also very fast fingers when it came to reloading

a bolt-action rifle. On that note, it's worth talking about the gun that was favored

by Simo. He felt most comfortable with a Moysen-Nagant M28-30, a Russian-made bolt-action rifle.

This was kind of standard issue for the civil guard that Simo served in, so it was the one

he would have had the most practice with. Each gun has its own quirks, advantages and

drawbacks, and as Simo himself said, it's vital for the weapon owner to understand these

if he wishes to use it at his maximum effectiveness. Even guns of the same model could behave differently

from each other depending on how it was cared for, cleaned, or if any modifications had

been done to it. To this end, for a person like Simo, his weapon was very much his own.

He cleaned it before and after every mission. He knew every bump, nick or scratch across

its sleek birchwood body. It might surprise you to know that he didn't use a scope of

any kind, preferring or I suppose becoming comfortable using the iron sights instead.

An iron sight is the metal alignment that marks the top of the gun barrel. Almost every

gun from pistol to RPG will have something similar to assist with aiming. But these are

quite rudimentary things, there's no magnification lenses whatsoever. Glass lenses were harder

to acquire at this point in history. Not to mention they took longer to set up, were prone

to breakage and frosting over in the freezing Finnish winters. For Simo, this really wasn't

worth the trade-off. So fun fact, the most famous sniper of all time didn't use a scope

of any kind. Simo's life on the farm in his small town

with his friends and family was to what many of us would consider idyllic living, but you

could not say the same for the rest of the world. Just east of Simo's town lay the borders

of the Soviet Union, the big red dog of the east. From a global standing, Finland like

other countries of Scandinavia had declared themselves neutral in the upcoming conflict

that seemed to be drawing every other country in. World War I, the so-called war to end

all wars, had only just recently wrapped up. But with the harsh conditions that had been

imposed on Germany, there was widespread unhappiness among the population. Battle lines were drawn

all across Europe for an upcoming conflict. After agreeing to release Finland as his own

country, the Soviet Union had put together a non-aggression pact with Finland. But since

the initial signing, the paranoid ruler of the Soviet Union had become nervous that Finland

could be used as a launching pad for an invasion into its capital, Leningrad, which was very,

very close to the Finnish border. The leader of the USSR, Joseph Stalin, was

a brutal and very paranoid man, and both of these traits worsened as he aged. I'm sure

most of you will know all about him, so I'll spare the introduction, but summarised, he

rose to power by assassinating his rivals. He's not actually Russian, but Georgian. Stalin

wasn't his real name. He picked it, and it means man of steel. His policies caused suffering

and deaths in the tens of millions, and he remains one of history's biggest mass murderers.

Oh, and there's also speculation he tried to create an army of half-men, half-monkey

hybrids. Anyway, despite the non-aggression pact he

had already signed, Stalin sent over a diplomat to try and strong-arm a few islands away from

Finland. The meeting went something along the lines of, hey, we're concerned that

Finland could be used by Western powers to invade the Soviet Union before our army of

monkey-man soldiers has been created. Finland assured the ambassadors that the Finns would

remain neutral. No one would be using its land for anything except for them. The Russian

ambassadors suggested that maybe Finland could just toss them a couple of islands, you know,

as a sign of good faith. The Finnish ambassadors, probably looking at a map of the globe and

noticing that Russia already owned about a quarter of it, told them that wasn't going

to happen. The two ambassadors left the meeting cordially, but both seemed to understand conflict

was now inevitable. Finland's military was a very rudimentary

thing, and the government wasn't ignorant to this. But with little money and an unreliable

supply line, the training for troops was stripped back to the core fundamentals, basic survival

techniques, shooting, and crucially, skiing. From all over the icy archipelago, conscripts

drifted into service. Very few of them had proper uniforms and instead arrived in warm,

insulated civilian clothes. If they had a rifle, they bought it with them, otherwise

they were at the mercy of whatever was floating around in the armory. Veterans of their recent

civil war were quickly pushed into officer roles as the government scrambled to mobilize

the population. Communists found themselves in the training yard hammering out push-ups

alongside republicans, putting their differences aside for a common goal to defend their fledgling

country. Add in a sprinkling of foreign volunteers and a small group of German-trained elite

forces, and that was the army of Finland. On an interesting side note, Christopher Lee,

perhaps the most interesting man of the world who played Saruman in Lord of the Rings, was

actually one of these volunteers but never ended up seeing combat.

Over in Russia, Stalin was in a foul mood. He was not used to being told no, and usually

before someone had the gall to dare defy him, his secret police had them killed before the

thought even entered their mind. This tiny country, no, this territory, dared to defy

him? Stalin needed a castor's belly, a reason to put these arrogant Finns in their place,

but due to the regrettable non-aggression pact he himself had signed, he had to get

creative. On the 26th of November, 1993, a false flag

attack took place. A false flag attack, for anyone unsure, is a military move designed

to hide or cast doubt on the real instigator of the attack. In this case, Stalin had a

small Soviet military outpost shelled. A few Russian soldiers were killed, and Finland

was blamed. Finland, of course, denied responsibility and suggested the idea of a joint investigation.

Together, the two neighbors could come together and find out who had orchestrated such a horrid

act. Interestingly, the non-aggression pact had

a clause to cover an event like this, which was exactly what the Finns had suggested,

a joint investigation. But Stalin didn't want to hear it. He had his reason, however

flimsy. The Reds were a-coming. But first, a quick note from one of our friends

of the show. Hi there. Sorry to interrupt, but I have a funny feeling

that you might want to know about history podcasts. It just so happens, I host a show

called History of Asia. It gives you a broad overview, focusing on the stuff that still

matters. I think it's hard to understand why any historical event remains relevant,

unless you know what happens after. Therefore, History of Asia starts off in the present.

Then I explain how it got to that point by delving ever deeper into the past. If you'd

like to join me on this journey, check out History of Asia by Christoph Arts.

Stalin went into the war with a very in-and-out, 20-minute adventure kind of view. He did not

think the war would be hard or long. He was confident that the Red Army would steamroll

through Finland. He was so sure of this victory that he double-checked his offices were clear

about the borders between Finland and Sweden, as he didn't want them to accidentally push

all the way into Stockholm after they had finished off Finland.

So why the overconfidence? Simply put, it was because his offices never disagreed with

them. They knew Stalin didn't like to be questioned. In fact, he had just wrapped up a two-year-long

purge of anyone who could possibly be a threat to him. All dictators are paranoid, but Stalin

was something else. The estimates for this purge sit around one million people. Yes,

one million. From the lowliest peasant to the most decorated military general, none

was safe from the creeping claws of the Man of Steel and his secret police. There were

no trials, no charges, just rumors, whispers, or sideways glances.

French historian Stephanie Coteois states that during the Great Terror, the following

army ranks were decimated by Stalin. Three of five four-star generals, thirteen of fifteen

army commanders, eight of nine admirals, fifty of fifty-seven army corps commanders, and

many, many more rank-and-file troops. The complete gutting of some of Russia's best

military minds left Stalin with a bunch of groveling flatterers with minimal military

skill. Even those that perhaps had a sound military mind knew better than to disagree

or question the worth of an order from Stalin, lest they and their families disappear one

night. On paper, it's very easy to see why Stalin

would assume a quick victory. The sheer number of the men the USSR could call upon dwarfed

that of Finland, and that's saying nothing of the advantages they held in air, support,

and artillery. But the plucky Finnish defenders had something that wasn't easily quantifiable,

something that the Soviets lacked from the onset – spirit, or, said differently, morale.

You see, the Soviet troops were poorly trained, poorly led, poorly supplied, poorly organized

– oh, and poorly dressed. The Russian horde lurched across the border in olive-colored

khaki uniforms. Khaki. During the harshest winter on record, in one of the coldest places

on earth, the Finns were waiting for them. Warm and camouflaged in their white-painted

civilian clothing, they were almost invisible, and when they were sighted they quickly chucked

on a pair of skis and disappeared into the forest.

As the winter war began, Simo started off as a machine gunner. He and a small team were

tasked with defending a region called Kola, not all that far from where Simo's home

village was. The Russian advance was initially slow. This

part of Finland had virtually no roads, just patchy forests, and the snow could be deeper

than a man was tall. Simo and a few men were given the task of disrupting Russian communications

by cutting telephone lines. Despite being under heavy fire, Simo recalls that he was

calm the entire time. This kind of fatalistic approach to danger seemed to be natural for

Simo, but probably really helped calm other jittery soldiers who were stationed with him.

The overall Finnish strategy for the war was one of defense in depth. Slow withdrawal back

to a defensive line that was named the Mannerheim Line, after Baron Mannerheim, an esteemed

Finnish military commander. Once they were pushed all the way back to the line, hopefully

some of the western powers would come to their aid, and not allow their burgeoning democracy

to be swallowed up by communism which the west despised so much.

As more and more Russians poured across the border, the fighting began to heat up. Many

of the Finnish divisions were mainly left to their own devices. With no centralized

support they had to make do with whatever they could find. Many groups began to rely

on the ammunition they'd nabbed from the Russians they had killed.

One of the groups was led by a man named Aarne Juutilainen, who had seen military action before

fighting in the French Foreign Legion. Juutilainen was a stone cold badass. This guy had returned

from the French Foreign Legion which was already no picnic, and had spent the last few years

battling the Berber tribes of Morocco, apparently giving them such a shellacking that his boys

began to call him the Terror of Morocco, which ended up sticking.

Jutlallien was known to keep a cool head in battle, even under extreme circumstances.

A story I found online but couldn't confirm says that to calm the nerves of his men he

took a chair and sat on it in the line of fire, turning to his men behind him and asking

what were you worried about. Whether or not this particular story is true, the Finnish

officer corps was brimming with these talented foreign train leaders who had returned from

home with the express mission of defending their country. Juutilainen was the first to

notice that Simo had a wickedly sharp aim and that the man of this quality was wasted

as a machine gunner. As Simo and his friends scrambled to defend the borders, the rest

of the world looked on with disdain at Stalin's invasion.

The League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations of today, called the war illegal

and actually booted the USSR out of the organization. Many countries pledged to support Finland

but apart from a few volunteers from Sweden, none came forth with any real numbers. Inside

the USSR, propaganda bled through the radio waves, educating its civilian population that

the bombing runs they were subjecting Finland to were actually just food drops and humanitarian

aid. The fascist leaning Finns were starving their population. Yeah, okay.


The Finns seemed to enjoy this type of story and nicknamed the bombs Molotov Bread Baskets.

After the Russian ambassador Vyacheslav Molotov and continuing the joke in an act of the typical

bone dry sense of humor that's well known to the Scandinavian countries, the Finnish

army named their new incendiary weapon the Molotov cocktail, an appropriate drink to

go with the food that their dear friend Mr Molotov had sent them.

The Molotov cocktail was easy to make, a glass bottle, a rag, gasoline and a match. And once

a local alcohol producer began to send Molotov kits to the front line, the men had finally

something to throw back at the red tanks. It was crude but it worked. The tanks of this

era were not sealed like the ones of today. Once the bottle shattered on the outside of

the tank, the fiery liquid could leak into any number of ventilation or exhaust holes,

burning the crew inside or damaging the equipment. This new weapon, the Molotov cocktail, was

to be one of the first of many ingenious low-tech inventions that the Finns would come up with

over the course of the war.

Not long after being pulled off machine gun duty, Simo was selected for his first assignment

by the terror of Morocco. He was to take out a Russian sniper that had killed three platoon

leaders and one courier. The enemy sniper had proved himself a crack shot and his presence

was a continual danger to the troops, not to mention slowing down communication. Simo

told his commander simply, I will do my best, and made his way out to the general area where

the Russian were thought to be. Completely covered in snow white camouflage with four

or five layers of clothing to keep warm, with a white bandage even covering the wooden stock

of his rifle, Simo would have been near invisible, but he didn't want to take any chances. Simo

would usually pad out the area around his rifle stock to avoid the snow being disturbed

and attracting attention. He was even known to keep a mouthful of snow so his breath would

not be noticed by the enemy. As the meagre hours of daylight began to draw to a close,

Simo had been laying in the same position for hours, staring intently through his tiny

iron sight, scanning the forest for any disturbances. Then, out of nowhere, he saw it. A tiny flicker

of reflection from a rifle scope. Lining up his sights, Simo took a deep breath, and as

the Russian rose from his hiding place, Simo took a shot. One bullet was all it took. Yutlanyan

was impressed with Simo's shot, but perhaps he had just got lucky. Soon after, Simo and

his commander spoke about another troubling enemy sniper. Hidden somewhere in the treeline,

this man had been taking out troops from their front lines. He must have been quite a shot

as well because the forest was around 400 meters away. Yutlanyan had some experience

with a sniper and was frustrated that he couldn't manage to take out the man himself. Simo suggested

that maybe he would have better luck. With his own unscoped rifle, Simo's trained eyes

meticulously scanned the treelines with the help of a spotter. A few hours later he saw

him, a tiny mound of snow above a boulder, looking slightly out of place. Simo pulled

the trigger. 400 meters away, the Russian sniper fell dead. Once again, a single shot

was all that was required. As Simo's special missions carried on, his reputation grew.

The Russians, furious at this one sniper sapping morale and slowing their advancement, began

to refer to him as Balaya Smirt, or the White Death in English. Simo began to kill many,

many Russians per day. He usually packed around 50 or 60 shots of ammunition when heading

out for the morning. And try as they might, the Red's snipers just couldn't manage to

find him. Though his reputation had grown, his ego didn't. He never got careless and

always took the same preparations to conceal himself. One fateful day after losing tens

of men to the White Death, the Russian officers furiously called down an artillery strike

on the surrounding forest, going with the spray and pray approach where precision had

failed them. Mortars and bombs rained from the sky as Simo kept his head down. Once the

shelling was over, he noticed a bit of his outer cloak was smouldering, but apart from

that, he was uninjured. While the Magic Sniper, as other Finnish troops had dubbed him, escaped

a lucky break, things were getting harder and harder for his friends on the front lines.

Thousands upon thousands of Russian troops had now stamped down the powdery snow, creating

highways for their tanks to come into the front line. Men like Jutlanien and others

were thinking on their feet and a common strategy that they came together and championed was

moti. The word moti in Finnish terms means something like a small chunk of wood, one

that has been split apart from the main tree, so this should give you a pretty clear idea

about what was involved. Once the tanks and their escorts began snaking through the dark

forests over a single lane road of packed snow, Finnish troops would break isolated

chunks away from the column. Once they had the moti surrounded, the tanks were taken

out with whatever was available. Molotov cocktails were preferred, but something as rudimentary

as a wooden log could be jammed in the treads of the tank if the men could get close enough.

By the time reinforcements had arrived for the isolated Russian moti, the Finns would

have jumped on their skis and disappeared, and the wrecked tank would take hours to clear away.

All down the snaking Russian front, scenes like this unfolded. Little micro chasms that

are hard to be classified into X or Y battle, but collectively make up the defiant struggle

from everyday people. Office workers, bankers, street sweepers, these men were not full-time

soldiers. And for those listening with no military training like myself, if your government

told you to report to the harshest terrain in your country and hold off an army that

literally dwarfed yours, what would you say? Honestly, these Finns were made of hard stuff.

Even so, the Russians were making headway. Slowly but surely, they were being pushed

towards their last line of defense, the Mannerheim Line. Stahl's propaganda built up this as

another Maginot Line, the famous French defenses that were designed to hold back Germany. But

by Finnish soldiers' own admission, the Mannerheim Line was not much more than a dugout trench

and a few hastily built bunkers. With a grim sense of realism, the terror of Morocco was

questioned by its commander, Kestarko Kola? Will Kola hold? Without missing a beat, the

same Finnish sense of humor, the commander replied coolly, Kola will hold before adding

dryly unless the order is to run away, in reference to an order that they'd previously

been given and disregarded. The phrase Kola Kesta would become a rallying cry for men

like Simo, and in a way embodied the spirit of the Winter War. Some might even say the

birth of Finnish nationalism. No longer was the man serving beside you a communist or

a republican, he was a Finn like you and all others. At the end of an exhausting day, back

in the mess hall of the barracks, one of the Finns joked to his friends through a grin,

they are so many and our country is so small, where will we bury them all? With his fame

growing, soon the magic sniper was nominated for an award. For the first time in months

he was allowed a kind of holiday from the front lines. Transported to the Finnish military

HQ, Simo Haya was presented with an honorary rifle gifted by a Swedish businessman. The

white death, shy but undeniably proud, was presented with the gun during a ceremony.

Quote, 219 enemies shot dead with a rifle and the same number with a submachine gun

shows what a determined Finnish man with sharp eyes and a steady hand can do. End quote.

That was a quote from the man giving him the rifle, not Simo himself. We've got a great

photo of this ceremony with Simo holding his fancy new rifle on our Instagram account.

Check it out. After the ceremony and for the first time in months, Simo slept inside in

a real bed. With a belly full of Finnish food and imported wine, he slept like a log. But

the peace and tranquility would not last long. By the time he was back at the front, things

had been cranked up to eleven. Like a human sea, the Russians poured across the borders

and the multi-tactics that had kept the Finns going were becoming less effective. Even when

they isolated a group, there were now so many Russians that what good did isolating them

do even if the group was still too big to take on? Simo's rifle was popping off nonstop.

Seriously, by this point this guy had almost taken down an entire battalion by himself.

To give you an idea of comparative strengths, the Russians were firing off around 35-40,000

shells a day. The Finns were firing off 1,000. Simo remembers the Christmas of that year

saying quote, The Russians did not give us peace, even during Christmas, but God was

close to us, we sang psalms. Desperate to clear out the white death, the Russians bring

in a periscope and put a price on Simo's head. Picture like a periscope for a submarine but

small enough to be used as a kind of handheld tool by the infantry. Needless to say these

weren't too easy to come by in the front. Well, Simo sees the periscope looking for

him and smashes it with a direct hit. As soon as he did, an artillery barrage rained down

his position. It's easy to see Simo at this time sprinting from one foxhole to the other

rifle in hand. But it wasn't over, somehow they bring in another, a more basic periscope,

which Simo with another shot shatters as well. But this kind of ferocity could not continue.

As Captain Jutlandian had promised, coal are still held, but for how long? By this point

in the war Finland was asking, begging more like, their closest ally, Sweden, a nation

that shared long running cultural ties to Finland for help. The Swedish public too was

in support. Finland was like their little brother and he was taking a hell of a beating.

Sweden allowed private citizens to enlist and allowed supplies to pass through its territory

but would not intervene officially. Meanwhile, Stalin wanted this whole embarrassing campaign

to come to an end. Since the beginning of the war he had more than adjusted his expectations

for the outcome. On the 6th of March, the magic sniper's luck ran out. Russians pored

over the border in record numbers. There was no need for accuracy in a battle like this.

Throwing his trusty M28-30 aside, Simo was given command of a squad. In the ensuing battle

he estimated he killed around 40 men but no matter how many fell, the ranks just seemed

to refill like magic. The Finnish lines too began to fracture but Simo held on as ordered

  1. And from out of nowhere he heard a sound, quote, I only heard a suppressing sound and

I knew immediately that I was hit. I started to get this bright tunnel vision that went

closer and further back and forth, end quote. Everything went black. Simo had been hit in

the jaw with an explosive bullet. An explosive bullet is similar to a normal round but packed

with an incendiary charge. When the bullet makes impact it's almost as if a small grenade

goes off. If you think this sounds nasty and that it probably shouldn't be allowed in

war, you'd be right. The 1868 St Petersburg declaration declared that this caused unnecessary

suffering and was henceforth banned in all forms of warfare. But this didn't matter

to Stalin. The man murdered scores of Russians before his morning coffee. What did he care

for international laws? Simo's face was destroyed by the impact. Delirious and in

shock he crawled a few meters to one of his friends who attempted to bandage his face.

The damage was so severe though that the man didn't even know where to start. He didn't

want to make it worse. Remember these are not NCOs, these are frontline troops and all

of them said that this was the worst thing they'd ever seen. Simo recalls, quote, after

some time I woke up as one of our boys were turning me around by my arm, twisting me into

a better position to give me first aid. I felt my mouth full of bone fragments and blood.

The bullet had entered through my upper lip and punctured my cheek, end quote. After this

moment Simo lost consciousness and fell into a coma. He woke up a little over a week later.

The war was over. When he woke up in the field hospital what

he didn't know was how he got back from the front. There's quite a few different variations

of the story for whoever you ask but the most common ones say that he was dragged back from

the front lines and put onto a dog sled and sent to a field hospital but once the medic

there saw the state of his face he declared that he was dead or as good as. He was placed

in a pile of dead Finnish soldiers that were waiting to be buried but when Simo's platoon

leader pulled back and began their strategic retreat he called out that they were not leaving

until they found Simo. A soldier or nurse depending on sources noticed a single foot

twitching in a pile of dead bodies. It was Simo's. Barely clinging onto life he was put

on another dog sled while his friends patted out his destroyed face with cotton and bandages.

Once he got to the main hospital he was barely alive. Doctors just managed to stabilize him

but made no guarantees he would live. As the magic sniper lay comatosed in a field

hospital the armistice was agreed. A treaty was signed. Stalin's terms were moderate considering

his gains. The main condition was that 8% of Finnish territory was ceded to Russia including

much of Finland's industrial heartland. The Finnish cabinet knew they had no options left

but still considered this unfair. The Prime Minister Kjosti Kaleo signed it bitterly.

As he did so he famously spat, may the hand wither which is forced to sign such a paper

end quote. A few months later he had a stroke and his writing hand was paralyzed.

The Russians too were not thrilled by the treaty. One of the generals said darkly quote

we have won just about enough ground to bury our dead end quote. The total casualty for

Stalin's winter hell was something around 350,000 for Russia and 70,000 for the Finns.

But the war didn't just cost Russia men and money. Russian diplomatic reputation suffered

all across the globe as they were labeled war mongers. Hitler observing how Russia struggled

against such a tiny nation famously quipped quote all one needs to do is kick in the door

and the whole rotten structure would fall in end quote. It seems like many of his expectations

for his later invasion of Russia were based on his observations of this war.

The White Death, the magic sniper of the winter war had 26 different surgeries. A good chunk

of bone was taken from his hip to replace what he lost to the explosion in his jaw.

He recovered gradually but would carry around the scars of cholera for the rest of his life.

I can try and describe it but I mean it looks like a guy who's been hit by an explosive

shell as that's what's happened. His family noted that he had two lives, one before the

war and one after. Already a quiet man, Simo afterwards became a little more withdrawn.

A shopkeeper who saw him regularly said he was polite and quiet and spoke with a bit

of a slur. But he didn't live a lonely life. He enjoyed the company of other war veterans

and many of the animals that he kept, particularly his favorite hunting dog, Kili. The honorary

rifle which the Swedish businessman had given him was put to good use moose hunting in his

free time. His famous M2830 lost forever somewhere on the collar front after his injury. 15 months

after the armistice was declared, Finland with the help of Germany and Italy invaded

Russia to try and regain some of the lost territory. Simo again volunteered for combat

duty but was unfit due to his injury. But instead he served his country however he could,

finding good horses that would be used as draft animals for the war. Simo Häyhä would

go on to lead a long and rich life. He started his own farm and enjoyed raising and rearing

animals until he was too old. Eventually moving into a support home for disabled war veterans.

And during his final years of life he had many visitors who came and saw him regularly.

All of them remarked that he kept his mind active on foreign affairs and always had a

good sense of humor. Stating one day that quote, collar held but my hip is giving up.

On the first of April 2002 at 96 years of age the white death closed his eyes for the

last time. In the safety of his own bed in a country that he had been pivotal in defending.

Simo's life and his legacy are inseparable from the winter war. In typical private modesty

that was part and parcel of Simo Häyhä his true kill count remained a mystery. But after

his death his personal diary revealed that number he estimated was around 500 men split

between bolt action rifle and machine gun. Considering the fairly short span of his career

barely over 100 days this averages out to be about 5 per day which is particularly impressive

considering how short the daylight hours were. During his lifetime he never really liked

to talk about the kills too much. Interestingly the personal diary also refers to the count

as his quote sin list. Which offers I suppose some rare insight into what this Christian

man really thought about what he had done. Or this could just be more dry Scandinavian

humor. Even though Simo is the most famous countless other war veterans would have stories

similar to his. Stories of bravery and companionship in incredibly desperate times. Even though

the war itself was lost the Finns held out for much much longer than anyone expected

them to. And they did it alone. The effect of this was helping to unify a brand new nation.

As usual nothing like a common enemy to bring people together. The collar front in particular

is still famous across Finland. And the old battle lines are littered with monuments with

the iconic phrase Kolla Kestää! , kollaa holds.


Today I'll end this episode with a quote

from Teppio Eam Saralanian, a biographer and military man who knew Simo personally. Whose

notes I've also drawn on heavily for this episode. Quote. Over 60 years have passed

since Finland experienced the horrors of war. Those Finns still living who experienced the

war generally do not like to speak about it. The younger generation cannot imagine the

harsh conditions and emotional stress that they endured. They ate, slept and breathed

it every day. Watching their comrades fight and die so that Finland could stay independent

against an enemy that was both materially and numerically superior. And in doing so

they formed an honored chapter in Finnish history. A chapter that will never be forgotten.

Thanks again for tuning into Anthology of Heroes. My name's Elliot and I'm the host

of the show. If you've enjoyed listening why not check us out on Instagram where you

can find all number of things related to history. Show notes, upcoming episodes and just historical

tidbits that I find interesting. Have a great day and see you on the next one.