White Death: the Sniper Who Killed 700 Soviets in 100 Days

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Image: Photographer unknown

Ensconced in the snow, his white camouflage suit rendering him invisible to the invading Soviet soldiers he stalked, Simo Häyhä steadied himself to fire. During the 1939–1940 Winter War, in temperatures as low as –40 °C, the Finnish sniper undertook a killing spree that saw him single-handedly take the lives of at least 700 men in less than 100 days. Over 500 of these he shot using a standard, bolt-action rifle with non-telescopic sights. Is it any wonder he earned the nickname White Death among his enemies? Meet the man who would take Rambo to the cleaners.


Image: Photographer unknown

The sharpshooter who would later be credited with the highest number of confirmed kills in any war in history came from humble rural beginnings. Born near the present day Finnish-Russian border, Häyhä was a farmer and hunter before entering combat, though it’s no shock to learn he already had his share of marksman’s trophies. His skills sharpened by the sort of training only life can offer, this tough little outdoorsman was always going to be a handful, and when the Red Army invaded Finland three months after the outbreak of WWII, Häyhä heard the call of duty.

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Image: Finnish Military Archives

Little was the operative word. Häyhä stood just 5 ft 3 in (1.6 m) tall, which was one basis for his choice of weapon, an M/28 or M28/30 Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle that suited his small frame. He also rejected a scoped rifle in favour of basic iron sights for other reasons: it meant he presented less of target as he could keep his head lower; it negated the risk of his position being exposed by sun glare in a telescopic lens; and lastly open sights were not prone to fogging up or breaking, which was a concern in the snow and ice of the Winter War. Häyhä was a professional.

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