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White Death

The story behind the most lethal sniper of all-time.






Simo Häyhä is the kind of war hero even Hollywood would have hard time coming up with. Arguably the sharpest sharp shooter of all time, Häyhä – a corporal in the Finnish army – took down 505 Soviet soldiers in the less than 100-day span of the 1939 Winter War. His performance earned him the ominous moniker, “The White Death” as well as a score of sniper and artillery attacks directed towards eliminating him and the immense threat he posed for his Soviet enemies.





Upon the Soviet invasion in an attempted grab for territory along the eastern border of Finland, the Finnish Army was at a great disadvantage. The Soviet army had three times as many soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks. The Finns’ indispensible advantage, however, was knowledge of the land and acclimation to the cold Finnish winter. Häyhä’s adeptness was largely aided by the time he spent outdoors – Häyhä was a farmer by trade and a hunting hobbyist.









When camouflaged in white and nestled into the snow in temperatures as low as -100 degrees Fahrenheit, Häyhä’s weapon of choice was (ironically) a Russian-made Mosin-Nagant rifle, mainly chosen to suit his small stature of 5-foot-3 inches. Häyhä opted for a weapon without telescopic sights, so as to present a smaller target to enemies, to avoid fog on the glass lens in cold weather, and to prevent the possibility of sunlight reflecting off the glass and making his position known. Häyhä was accurate without any visual aids. His set of keen tactics also included packing the snow below him to prevent his shot from disturbing the surrounding snow. He also kept snow in his mouth to keep his breath from giving him away.





Häyhä’s killing streak came to an end when the sniper took an exploding bullet to the jaw. Häyhä subsequently fell into an 11-day coma and woke up March 13, 1940, on the very day the war ended. Although the Finns didn’t win the Winter War, they were able to sustain their defense against the Soviet army for months longer than anyone had anticipated. The Soviet’s victory came at a great loss of Soviet soldiers’ lives, with estimated death tolls ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands dead. Häyhä’s story is legend, and his shooting record has remained unmatched since.





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