Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper who is widely regarded as the deadliest sniper in the history of war. He is credited with killing over 500 Soviet soldiers during the Winter War of 1939-1940, earning him the nickname “The White Death”. But how did he die, and what was his life like before and after the war? Here is a brief overview of his biography and his cause of death.
Early Life and Military Service
Simo Häyhä was born on December 17, 1905, in Rautjärvi, a rural municipality in southern Finland near the border with Russia. He was the seventh of eight children in a Lutheran family of farmers. He attended school in the village of Miettilä and cultivated his home farm together with his eldest brother. He was a farmer, hunter, and skier prior to his military service.
Häyhä joined the Finnish voluntary militia Civil Guard at the age of 17. He was successful in shooting competitions in the Viipuri Province; his home was reportedly full of trophies for marksmanship. He was not keen to hog the spotlight, and accordingly in group photos from his youth he usually stood at the back, until his later successes forced him to take centre stage.
In 1925, at the age of 19, Häyhä began his 15-month compulsory military service in the Bicycle Battalion 2 in Raivola, Viipuri Province. He completed his service with the rank of corporal and returned to his farm.
The Winter War and The White Death
The Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union broke out on November 30, 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded Finland, seeking to annex parts of its territory. Häyhä was called up for service and assigned to the 6th Company of Infantry Regiment 34, where he served as a sniper.
Häyhä used a Finnish-produced M/28-30 rifle, a variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle, and a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun. He preferred to use iron sights rather than telescopic sights, as they were more accurate, less likely to fog up or glare, and less conspicuous. He also wore a white camouflage suit that blended with the snowy terrain. He often operated alone, choosing his position carefully and patiently waiting for his targets. He also used snowdrifts to conceal himself and muffle his shots.
Häyhä’s skills and tactics made him a formidable adversary for the Soviet soldiers, who dubbed him “The White Death”. He is believed to have killed over 500 enemy soldiers during the Winter War, 259 with his sniper rifle and an equal number with his submachine gun. According to some sources, he killed 25 Soviet soldiers on December 21, 1939, which was dubbed “Simo Häyhä’s Christmas gift to Finland” by newspapers.
Häyhä’s exploits earned him fame and respect among his fellow soldiers and countrymen. He was also awarded several medals for his bravery and service, including the Medal of Liberty (1st and 2nd class), the Cross of Liberty (3rd and 4th class), and the Cross of Kollaa Battle.
The Injury and Recovery
Häyhä’s remarkable career as a sniper came to an abrupt end on March 6, 1940, when he was shot in the jaw by a Soviet soldier using an explosive bullet. The bullet shattered his lower jaw and left cheek, leaving him severely wounded and unconscious. He was taken to a field hospital, where he remained in a coma for several days.
Häyhä underwent several surgeries to reconstruct his face, but he was left permanently disfigured. He also lost most of his teeth and had difficulty speaking. Despite his injuries, he recovered well and regained consciousness on March 13, 1940, the day the Winter War ended with a peace treaty.
Häyhä was promoted from corporal to second lieutenant shortly after the war, which was a rare feat in the Finnish Army. He received an honorary rifle from President Kyösti Kallio as a recognition of his achievements.
Later Life and Death
After the war, Häyhä returned to his farm and resumed his peaceful life as a farmer. He also became a successful dog breeder and moose hunter. He hunted with Finnish President Urho Kekkonen several times. He never married or had children.
Häyhä lived a long and quiet life in Ruokolahti, where he was respected and admired by his local community. He died of natural causes on April 1, 2002, at the age of 96. He was buried in Ruokolahti Church graveyard.
Simo Häyhä cause of death was not related to his war injuries or any other violent incident. He died peacefully in a war veteran’s nursing home in Hamina, Finland. He is remembered as a national hero and a legend among snipers.