Simo Hayha, aka The White Death, is believed to have killed 500 Soviet Union soldiers during the 100-day Winter War. Hayha honed his shooting skills growing up in the Viipuri Province of Southern Finland. At age 17, Simo joined the Civil Guard, and two years later, he started his 15-month compulsory military service.
In 1939, Russia invaded Finland, assuming it would overwhelm Finnish forces. The Russians had numbers; Finland had Simo Hayha. Simo’s excellent marksmanship and knowledge of the terrain made him the Russian army’s worst nightmare. The Russians used artillery and counter snipers to flush him out, but Simo evaded the Soviets until 11 days before the war’s conclusion.
Simo Hayha passed away due to old age in a nursing home
Simo Hayha was shot in the jaw 11 days before the Winter War ended. He spent nearly two weeks in a coma.
Despite extensive surgery, Simo’s jaw remained disfigured. It didn’t affect his quality of life, however: Simo passed away due to old age at a war veteran’s nursing home in Hamina, aged 96. Simo never married or had children and was buried in his hometown of Ruokolahti.
Simo gained his reputation for his exploits in the war, but at home, people loved him because he had a heart of gold. The diminutive sniper was a role model in his hometown.
He was the first in the community to buy a colorful car – a Volkswagen Beetle – after the war. Hayha refused to teach the local boys to shoot, not even with a toy gun. Simo always appeared orderly and was always punctual.
“Hayha had his own special position among the men of the villages, which we little boys did not really understand,” a local told the Finnish Broadcasting Company. “Despite his shrunken face, Simo Hayha used to be kind and polite.”
Simo’s ingenuity helped him prevail over rival snipers
It was easy to ignore the mild-mannered, five-foot-tall farmer and hunter from rural Finland. However, Simo was the deadliest shot in the country, as the Russians ruefully learned.
Ironically, Simo used a Russian-made rifle to pick off Soviet soldiers. Finnish soldiers wore white suits, which helped them blend into the snowy surroundings.
Simo worked alone. He packed a day’s-worth of food and ammunition and concealed himself in a carefully chosen position. He would then wait, for hours at times, for Russian soldiers to appear.
Hayha’s ingenuity marked him out from other snipers. He used an iron sight rather than a telescopic lens because the iron sight gave him a more precise target. Telescopic lenses also fogged up and required the sniper to lift his head higher to shoot, potentially exposing them.
Furthermore, telescopic lenses produced a glare when struck by the sun. Simo killed a rival sniper after the scope’s glare gave away his rival’s location.
Simo built snowdrifts around his position to provide added camouflage. The banks also padded his rifle, preventing the gunshot from stirring up snow and exposing his location. To prevent steamy breath from giving him away, Hayha consumed snow pellets.
Russian soldiers eventually shot him, but he’d already killed more than 500 soldiers by then. Simo became a legend in Finland, primarily due to propaganda spread by the country’s leaders. He won numerous awards, and despite all the adoration, Simo remained humble till his death.