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A Picture from History: Simo Häyhä, Lethal Sniper

We look at one of the most deadly snipers in history…a small Finnish farmer who took on Soviet forces during The Winter War in 1939.

When you think about the most lethal sniper in world history, a teeny Finnish farmer probably isn’t the mental image that immediately springs to mind.

Yet, truth is stranger than fiction, and in this case, that adage proved true.

Simo Häyhä
Simo Häyhä

The setting was 1939, with World War II underway. Joseph Stalin sent over half a million soldiers, 6,000 tanks, and 3,000 aircraft to Finland in the hopes of turning the country into a communist state.

Things truly looked hopeless for the Finns. Their small army was less than half of the Soviets. Not to mention, they only had around 100 planes and a handful of tanks.

Finnish soliders during the Winter War
Finnish soliders during the Winter War

On paper, the Soviets should have won.

But one small-time farmer picked up his old rifle and helped even the odds.

This is the story of Simo Häyhä…

Table of Contents


A Small Finnish Farmer

Simo Häyhä wasn’t much to look at.

The good-tempered man barely stood over 5-feet-tall. However, put a bolt-action rifle in the man’s hands…and he proved to be a deadly enemy.

Simo Häyhä
Simo Häyhä

When Häyhä wasn’t farming, he was shooting, spending a great deal of time practicing with his Mosin-Nagant M28-30.

He enjoyed hunting, target practice and entered shooting competitions whenever time permitted.

Mosin Nagant
Mosin Nagant, though not the model Häyhä used.

Having only spent a year’s worth of time in compulsory military service at the age of 20, Haya wasn’t some top-shelf trained sniper – just a Finnish version of a redneck who liked guns.

Yet despite that, the enemy feared him.  

The Winter War

Upon the Russian invasion, the Finnish Civil Guard (akin to the U.S. National Guard) called upon Häyhä to fight in The Winter War.

Trench fighting during The Winter War
Trench fighting during The Winter War.

By the end of the war, 100 days later, Häyhä had a confirmed kill count of 542 Russians (unconfirmed kill count of 705). He also sported a new moniker — The White Death.

Fighting in winter temperatures that dropped to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, he devised a creative means of fighting against the Russians to stay hidden.

Finnish soldier with a reindeer
A Finnish soldier with a reindeer

The Finnish Civil Guard issued Häyhä all-white camouflage, which he would wear out into the field, but that was only the beginning. 

To better hide, he would often pile big snow mounds all around his position.

Finnish soldiers in machine gun nest
Finnish soldiers in machine gun nest

Not only did these mounds provide a source of concealment for him, but they also served as padding for his rifle to better keep puffs of snow from being generated every time he took a shot.

Furthermore, he’d put snow in his mouth to chill his exhaled air – limiting visible fog.

And to top it all off?

He used iron sights.

Häyhä spotted counter-snipers sent to kill him after sunlight reflected from their scopes. He didn’t want the same fate to befall him; thus, iron sights.

Finnish soldier in white camouflage
Finnish soldier in white camouflage

A further argument for his choice was the subzero temperatures of wintertime Finland. These temps would often leave scopes hazed over.

Plus, Häyhä felt like he presented a smaller target without a scope attached to his rifle.

Equipped with nothing more than one day’s worth of food and a pocketful of ammo, Häyhä would head out into the woods he’d spent so much time hunting moose in before. But this time, he had a different target…Soviets.

The Hammer Falls

The White Death posed such a serious problem that the Soviets conducted numerous artillery strikes on his suspected locations – in addition to sending multiple snipers to kill him.

For invaders, Häyhä proved a veritable enemy — one that justified a rather expensive solution.

But the end of the war for Häyhä wasn’t an incoming mortar round; it was an explosive bullet to the face.

Just days before the end of The Winter War, an explosive round virtually blow half of Häyhä’s face.

Simo Häyhä
Simo Häyhä

Dragged off the field by his buddies, he woke 11 days later to find his fight was over.

The facial wound took years to recover from – leaving him permanently disfigured. But Häyhä lived to tell the tale.

What did Häyhä attribute his lethality to? One word…“Practice.”

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures From History, click on over to our History Category.

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30 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Lawrence H Jackson

    Great article! Keep 'em coming.

    July 14, 2021 5:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tommy McManaway

    Love to see what happens when you get back to the basics of things and able to achieve such outstanding success. Practice, knowledge of the land, and a superior understanding of all variables (scope hazing over, warm breath, etc.) let him be a true legend.

    July 14, 2021 12:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Michael Touchman

    I think that in an age when we have such incredible technology available to us in order to accomplish any conceivable pursuit as shooters, his plight illustrates what drive and discipline can do. An incredible story and, I hope, an example to inspire us to quit the trash talk and get to the damn range.

    July 13, 2021 9:44 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jeff Huxley

    One man with a gun defending his homeland. A story of courage and cunning. Loved it!

    July 12, 2021 6:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    EssEff N8tive

    What an inspiring story! This is just what we need, a starch reminder of How Important World History can be and is! Especially these days when Yahoo’s want to erase and re-write our Nation’s history!
    How about a story on The Korean and Vietnam War snipers? Who where the best of those respective conflicts?

    July 12, 2021 12:19 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    ZA Mark

    Great story! Love stories of people and stuff that I have never heard of.

    July 11, 2021 11:36 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    jerry mayo

    enjoyed the story, ordinary men doing extraordinary things. Would enjoy more

    July 11, 2021 10:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      You got it!

      July 12, 2021 6:02 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tango Hotel Foxtrot

    During WWII, my father fought in Europe and the Pacific. Like many of veterans in his generation, he rarely talked about his experiences. Therefore, I'm grateful that Pew Pew Tactical hosts these Picture from History articles.
    I've read about military snipers and seen films about several of them. This story about Simo Häyhä is fascinating and it shines a light on a little known hero from WWII.
    Thanks Aden, and keep up the good work!

    July 11, 2021 7:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thank you! Glad you liked it!

      July 12, 2021 6:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Good...more stories like this, even longer ones

    July 11, 2021 7:00 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bill Frenette

    What a great story, about a great sniper. Keep stories like that coming.

    July 11, 2021 6:26 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    A good story about the sniper, but the very beginning is historically wrong. Stalin never intended to turn Finland into a communist state. Finland was a part of Russian Empire and Lenin gave it freedom to get away after Communist revolution. The thing was - Finland was expected to be occupied by Nazi Germany as was Poland and other European countries, and the border between Finland and the Soviet Union was extremely close to Leningrad - almost in suburbs. Stalin wanted to move the border further away from the city, and offered other land in Kola peninsula for exchange - to which the Finns did not agree. The war was to move the border away from Leningrad before the German strike on Russia - which was done, alas with much blood. Nevertheless, that war helped in saving the city during the Siege of Leningrad in 1941-1944, when the Nazi officially declared their intention to wipe the city off clean, including all inhabitants. That never happened partially because of that infamous Soviet-Finnish war in 1939, when much blood was shed on both sides. Hope that never happens again.

    July 11, 2021 6:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      The whole point of Stalin's ideology was world domination. It still is. It would have been impossible for him to invade Finland without having that in his mind.

      "The whole point is to retain power, to consolidate it, to make it invincible." - Stalin

      July 12, 2021 6:08 am
    • Commenter Avatar


      Russia and Nazi Germany divided Europe into spheres of influence in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Finland was inside Russian sphere. Poland was invaded by and divided between the allies Russia and Nazi Germany, Finland was to be swallowed up by Russia.

      Stalin’s “offer” was to move the border behind the permanent Finnish defensive positions and leave the capital extremely open to pressure and attack.

      In ‘40 there was zero probability of a German attack on Leningrad (St Petersburg). There were no German soldiers in Finland. This war, like the occupation of the Baltic states, was a Russian imperialistic move to expand Russian territory.

      July 14, 2021 5:27 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Len C

    Hate to say it but Pew Pew needs a like button for these articles so people like me who have little to say can just upvote the stories.

    July 11, 2021 6:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim Foreman

    great story. well written! I hope you continue to write more.

    July 11, 2021 4:33 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    AZ Logan

    Good article, now for one about Joseph R. Beyrle.

    July 10, 2021 1:48 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tiberux Black

    Thank you for the article. Really enjoy reading these. Keep up the great work!

    July 10, 2021 10:53 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    How about one on Alvin York next

    July 10, 2021 6:39 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Haha, read my mind.

      July 10, 2021 8:11 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article, really enjoyed it.

    July 10, 2021 6:38 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thanks man! I appreciate it!

      July 10, 2021 8:12 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joseph Smoak

    I really enjoy these off the beaten path historical articles. These are stories and photographs I don't think I'd have been exposed to otherwise. You guys do a great job, please keep it up.

    July 9, 2021 3:53 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Hey, I'm glad you enjoy it. I have a blast writing them.

      July 10, 2021 8:12 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Shane C Driggs MD

    I loved the article

    July 9, 2021 1:51 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thanks Shane! You rock!

      I thought about going to med school.
      I didn't have the patients though.

      *buh bum psssh*

      July 10, 2021 8:14 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Awesome! What a beast

    July 9, 2021 1:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    542 seems like allot until you consider it was Soviets and then it seems it wasn’t enough.

    July 9, 2021 12:47 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mark L

    Great story! Keep them coming!

    July 9, 2021 10:26 am
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