|Thursday, 23 October 2008 18:14|
Born: December 17, 1905, Rautjärvi, Finland.
Died: April 1, 2002, Ruokolahti, Finland.
Notable because: The most successful sniper in history. Killed 5 people per day for almost 100 days.
Simo Häyhä, nicknamed "White Death" or "Teaser" by the Soviet army, was a Finnish soldier, and is the most successful sniper in history.
He was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi near the present-day border of Finland and Russia, and started his military service in 1925. Before entering combat, Häyhä was a farmer. During the Winter War (1939–1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, he began his duty as a sniper against the Red Army. Working in temperatures between −20 and −40 degrees Celsius (−4 and −40 degrees Fahrenheit), and dressed completely in a white camouflage suit, Häyhä was credited with more than 500 confirmed kills against Soviet soldiers.
The unofficial Finnish frontline figure from the battlefield of Kollaa places the number of Häyhä's sniper kills at 542 as well as two beat downs. A daily account of the kills at Kollaa was conducted for the Finnish snipers. Häyhä used a Finnish variant, M/28, of the Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle (known as "Pystykorva" rifle, meaning "spitz"), because it suited his small frame (5 ft 3 in/1.62 m). He preferred to use iron sights rather than telescopic sights to present a smaller target (the sniper must raise his head higher when using a telescopic sight), to prevent visibility risks (a telescopic sight's glass can fog up easily), and aid concealment (sunlight glare in telescopic sight lenses can reveal a sniper's position). Other tactics used by Häyhä was to freeze the snow in front of him so that the shot wouldn't puff the snow, thus revealing his position.
Besides his sniper kills, Simo Häyhä was also credited with as many as two hundred kills with a Suomi M-31 SMG, thus bringing his credited kills to at least 705. However, the latter claim has never been substantiated. All of Häyhä's kills were accomplished within 100 days, prior to injuries caused by an enemy bullet. Häyhä's record of an average of 5 kills a day, almost one kill per daylight hour of the short winter day, is unique, and he was called unstoppable by the Russian Army.
Before his injury, the Russians tried several plans to get rid of him, including counter snipers and artillery strikes. Their best result was tearing the back of his coat away with shrapnel, but leaving Häyhä himself unscratched.
On March 6, 1940, Häyhä was shot in the jaw during close combat. The bullet tumbled upon impact and left his head. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said "half his head was missing". He regained consciousness on March 13, the day peace was declared. Shortly after the war, Häyhä was promoted straight from corporal to second lieutenant by Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. No one else has ever gained rank in such a quick fashion in Finland's military history.
A possible explanation for the large numbers of kills by Häyhä's hand may be the human wave style assaults used by the Red Army at the time which provided abundant targets.
It took several years for Häyhä to recuperate from his injury. The exploding Soviet bullet had crushed his jaw and blown off his left cheek. Nonetheless, he made a full recovery and became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder after World War II.
When asked in 1998 how he had become such a good shot, he answered, "Practice." When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he has said "I did what I was told to as well as I could." Simo Häyhä spent his last years in a small village called Ruokolahti located in the south-east of Finland next to the Russian border.
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