The Winter War
When WWII broke out, the Soviet Union decided to invade Finland and made their move in late 1939. Häyhä was still a member of the Civil Guard during that time and was soon called into service under the 6th Company of JR34, which was deployed on the Kollaa River. His commander was Major General Uiluo Toumpo, and they were up against the 9th and the 14th Soviet armies. The Finnish forces were up against extreme odds and were hugely outnumbered.
Being so outnumbered they should have lost the war quickly and decisively, but they put up an admirable fight and managed to cause severe losses to the Red Army. This was largely possible because the Soviets weren’t well organized. Many of them spoke different languages and were poorly trained. To make matters even worse for the Soviets and even out the odds for the Finnish, the winter of 1939-40 was exceptionally harsh, with snow falling every day, and temperatures plummeting to -40 degrees Celsius!
The Finns used smart tactics and took advantage of the harsh conditions to good effect. They used the famous “Motti” tactics, where they would hide in the wilderness surrounding the roads, which the Soviets had to use in order to invade the land. The Finns gave up ground and let the Soviets advance, and then sped around to attack them from behind, which gave them the upper hand.
However, after reorganization and adoption of different tactics, the renewed Soviet offensive overcame Finnish defenses at the borders. Finland then agreed to cede more territory than originally demanded by the Soviet Union in 1939.
The Man Known as “The White Death”
Many wars have seen great heroes, but Simo Häyhä is definitely regarded amongst the greatest war heroes of all time. His contribution to the Winter War was remarkable.
Häyhä would camouflage himself in white winter clothes, carrying his Mosin-Nagant M91 rifle, and only took a single day’s supply and ammunition.
He would then hide in the snow, and remain hidden for long periods of time in temperatures ranging from -20 degrees to -40 degrees! He would then kill any Soviets who made the mistake of entering the zone where he was camping. To made himself harder to detect he only used iron sights on his rifle, instead of the scopes. This was because scopes sometimes flashed if they were caught in the glare of the sun, which would reveal his position to the enemy.
His deadly accuracy as a sniper was definitely not ordinary since he hardly missed a single shot. He knew how to preserve his ammunition and in just over 100 days, Häyhä managed to kill over 500 enemy soldiers! His track record as a sniper can be ascertained by the fact that the Soviets gave nicknamed him “The White Death.” They were so afraid of Häyhä that they decided to send in their own counter snipers along with artillery attacks to kill him, but without success.
However, on 6th March 1940, when the Soviets were randomly directing artillery fire at the area where they thought Simo Häyhä was camping, they managed to get a lucky shot with an explosive round, which hit Häyhä in the jaw. The impact of the hit knocked Häyhä unconscious, and he fell into a coma for eleven days, waking up on the day the war ended. He went on to live until the age of 96.