Besides Häyhä's own diary there are other recorded words straight from him. Which range from often repeated Simo Häyhä quotes to interviews from the past decades given by him. Häyhä has been quoted even for things he probably didn't say. For example the famous recoil quote.
His real, truly recorded words and thoughts are more illuminating than the fabrication so the focus here is on what was important for him. For what he did fight for in the Winter War.
You will learn what were his feelings over war. Of what did he dream of even beyond death.
Others also had their say on Häyhä. How he was a person or a friend. Or as a hunter or a sharpshooter.
The wartime photographs are mostly from the Finnish SA-kuva army archives. Most of the photos are from the Continuation War era when Häyhä returned to Kollaa with war reverand Rantamaa.
In this famous picture a Swedish volunteer poses for a war photographer, not Simo Häyhä.
So the Legend of the White has also a good amount of internet-age fabrication. False claims are easily spread. Yet the truth often paints a more humane image.
The German tabloid Der Spiegel for example might be behind the now often repeated Häyhä quote of being asked what he felt when shooting Russian soldiers. "The recoil." The Der Spiegel story begins with a fictionalized battle account so other liberties might have been also taken since the Finnish sources on the internet do not credit any source for the quote which was not even known in Finnish before the story's publification.
Luckily Häyhä's nephew also asked whether Häyhä felt any hate towards his former enemy. "No. The shot that wounded me came in honest man-to-man combat."
The nickname of Belaja Smert, the White Death, has usually been attributed to have been given to Häyhä by his Soviet enemies. This probably ain't accurate as the term White Death, during the Winter War and Continuation War era Finnish leaflets, that were spread to the enemy in Russian, referred to the cold temperature.
White Death. You can not fight against this enemy - frost. You do not see him and he is around you.
In the Winter War era stories written of Häyhä in Finnish there is no mention of the White Death being his nickname at that time already. The moniker of White Death when referring to Häyhä is believed to have originated in 1980s Finnish Winter War literature.
The image of the frozen Karelian night sky was taken at Käppäselkä at a temperature of minus 30 Celsius, -22 Fahrenheit.
In this photo from the Continuation War in 1942 Häyhä was demonstrating one of his shooting positions behind rocks on Kollaa.
During most of winter Finland has only a few hours of daylight until darkness sets. Häyhä would set on his post well before daybreak and leave only after sunset.
The winter of the Winter war was one of the coldest in memory. Häyhä would wear multiple layers of clothing under his white snow suit to bear with the many cold hours of laying on snow. He would also wear thick, warm mittens and shoes.
Häyhä would prevent his breath from revealing his location during aiming by placing snow in his mouth and otherwise breathing towards the ground. He poured water on the sides of his positions to freeze the snow so any movement of snow wouldn't betray his location after shooting.
As Häyhä was using a rifle without a scope, it did not reflect sunlight, which would have revealed him to enemy snipers and artillery. Operating without a scope allowed the 160 cm (5"2 feet) tall Häyhä to keep a low profile, as he was not raising his head as high as the enemy snipers. Häyhä said that "You wouldn't actually with the naked eye spot him at all" when he was in his position.
Häyhä's other nickname was Taika-ampuja, the Magic Shooter. Of his kill count Häyhä remarked that the Winter War wasn't a competition but a struggle.
Another heralded Finnish sharpshooter of the Winter War is Kalle Moilanen. Who is almost forgotten in Finland and elsewhere as there is little written about him on the internet. Or even any photographs so here is an image of a Finnish sharpshooter on Syväri.
The recipient of the widely publicized Swedish rifle recognition was selected among the regiments of the 12th division of Häyhä while Moilanen with similar feats was on the 13th division. Moilanen was still heralded during the war as a soldier even if eternal renown similar to the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae has evaded him. Despite going through a warpath with many similarities to Simo Häyhä, even on Laatokan Karjala, in a neighboring division. If not on Kollaa.
Reserve vänrikki Kalle Moilanen, participated with KrhK/JR 37 in battles at Uuksu, Syskyjärvi, Ruhtinaanmäki and on "motti" encirclements. Wounded in the shoulder in Lemetti on 26/2, leaving him an invalid. Promoted on 1/2/40 to reserve kersantti. Awarded the Gold Grand Champion Mark for the best man in the Division by the 13th Division Commander, local commander Nuora.
A few achievements:
As a master class marksman, he has marked over 200 Russians on his record with a rifle. This figure is considerably higher if one includes uncertain instances.
During the battle of Juttuselkä, he shot 12 Russians behind one machine gun nest, with a range of about 500 meters. More similar occurrences could be listed in the "Department Moilanen" account. As an excellent marksman, a brave and skillful soldier, 'Department Moilanen' was known by both his own and by the neighbors' side.
On the 28th of December 1939 Häyhä got the news that his friend, neighbor and fellow sharpshooter Toivo Varis had fallen. Both were part of the local volunteer White Guard and had numerous times bicycled alongside the village road to the training sessions at the local white guard house. Carrying their own personal rifles on their backs.
An enemy sniper had given a quick death to Varis who was on his post.
The leader of the company, the Dread of Morocco, Aarne Juutilainen right away brought the shooting of Varis up in his command tent. Häyhä replied: "That man will be taken out of his days."
At night Häyhä went to the other soldiers. "I asked at which spot might the enemy sniper be. The boys said that they will show the exact location where the sniper was.
The next day Häyhä was early as usual at his position. The night was already fast falling when the Russian sniper began to leave his position.
"The poor boy climbed on the edge of the pit. I then raised the sight a little. It was well over 200 meters. I had the good luck to hit with the first snap."
While wounded at the Red Cross hospital Häyhä gave an interview with the Hurtti Ukko magazine. Hurttiukko means a reserve soldier whose eligibility for service can be questioned. Häyhä's interview was in the number 1/1941, 'the hero tales of Finland's war 1939-1940'.
"Yes, the neighbor's shots touched near the verge of ear lobes every day but it didn't result in any worse than this.
It began already in the first days of the war. At Pyhäjoki, at the bend of Hyrsylä, I got the first across-the-border-person in my sight. And this my first 'point', wasn't exactly a raw infantryman but a company leader carrying marks of the enemy who with his scoped rifle tried to end my war right there and then.
This star-carrying company leader shot reasonably well. I got sand on my eyes a couple of times and a few shots went right by my ear. Then came my turn and so I got to mark my first hit with time and care.
Besides being a front-line man I had some special assignments as well. They called me kyttäilijä, a stalker. I moved always where only enemy movement could be seen. I silenced the men of the enemy's machine gun nests whenever the occasion arose. Occasionally I was on patrol and preying trips. On those I usually used the Suomi submachine gun although the pystykorva was my regular weapon."
Newspapers told of you falling. Where that rumor came from?
"I suppose it seemed to those at present that the son of Häyhä is not anymore fit for war. Couple of minutes I was out of my mind, the world was spinning and tilting in my eyes. I think the stars were also showing. Then a rush of blood blinded my eyesight and when the medics came on the scene, I guess they thought I was hit so bad that they can in advance declare the death. So it happened.
I had the whole war had such good luck that I was already wondering. It did create a mean mark, as you can still see."
The self-taught Finnish weapons designer Aimo Lahti created one of the most efficient submachine guns of the World War Two era. Suomi is the name for Finland in Finnish. And suomi means the Finnish language as well...
Häyhä and his company would utilize submachine guns and grenades when counter-attacking and storming enemy positions at Kollaa.
The most adored user of the Suomi submachine gun is the soldier and Karelian farmer Viljam Pylkäs who in the Winter War served at the river Taipale on the Karelian isthmus which was one of the first defensive victories of the Winter War where the Finns halted the Soviet onslaught.
Pylkäs would be adapted as unruly Antero Rokka by the Finnish national author Väinö Linna in his Unknown Soldier. A famous scene, from maybe the most beloved Finnish book, was inspired by Pylkäs facing an attacking Soviet patrol in Pertjärvi in 1942.
A call for help came from the front. Pylkäs then took a Suomi submachine gun and ran with his magazine switcher, private Kärkkäinen, to wait for the Soviet patrol of at least 100 men that was advancing in deep snow up the hill. They crawled the last meters to the pit where the sole defending Finnish rifleman had already fallen. When the Soviet patrol was 20 meters away from the two, Pylkäs opened fire.
The surprised Soviets fiercely continued their attack up the hill shouting 'Uraa, uraa!' As the fight went on Pylkäs was hit by a Soviet shot, leaving a scar for life on his head.
His ammo switcher Kärkkäinen was already beginning to retreat as Pylkäs had lied unconscious for a while but as Pylkäs woke up he asked Kärkkäinen to keep changing the magazines. For as long as they would have ammo they would be safe.
Pylkäs used 17 magazines with 680 cartridges as other Finnish soldiers brought more magazines to them as the fight continued. The submachine gun had also overheated, melting the snow around and requiring a barrel switch while the Soviets were already retreating.
After the fight 83 ribbons decorated with stars, sickles and hammers were picked up from the spot.
Häyhä's Rautjärvi home farm was left on the Russian side of the border after the Winter War peace. Where it was turned by the Soviet army into a fortified position with an underground passage leading into a machine gun nest.
Russians had transported two large buildings next to the original farm on the left. Another of those was already destroyed by Finnish artillery when the photo was taken.
The farm was liberated in the Continuation War and Häyhä returned to farm it in 1942 until the Soviet offensive led to evacuation in the summer of 1944 forcing Häyhä and his relatives to leave their home again. The Häyhä farm was later disassembled.
Unknown Soldier is both the most beloved Finnish book and movie. The various humanized characters of the machine gun company can also be found in the recent modern movie adaptation of the Väinö Linna classic novel. If you ever want to truly surprise a Finn, try quoting lines from Unknown Soldier out of the blue.Unknown Soldier
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In the picture Häyhä and his dog Kille are hunting moose with the long-time president of Finland Urho Kekkonen. They did not say who snapped the moose.
As the school in Ruokolahti was looking for a stuffed beaver they asked Häyhä to hunt one. Häyhä wrote back "When you get the stuffed beaver to your school I would ask you to write back and tell you how like it."
Once he captured a live beaver that was to be relocated to Northern Finland. Häyhä demanded that it has to be transported with good water on the side as a beaver becomes blind if it cannot regularly rinse its eyes.
Häyhä on a rocking chair with his pystykorva dog Kille. Häyhä's post-war hobbies included breeding and training hunting dogs.
Besides being in photographs Häyhä also took them. As he had a Zeiss-Ikon folding camera that he used to capture life at the home front during the Continuation War. The family members of Häyhä have photos taken by him at their homes. Unfortunately, none of the photos taken by him have been released online.
Prior to the war when others went on for a nap after lunch Häyhä had the habit of opening a window on their home farm and began sighting the targets he had placed prior with his rifle. While others slept, he would do sighting practice without ammo until they would return to hay work.
Häyhä was also particularly diligent in maintaining his weapon.
Evacuated cows in Rautjärvi.
Tuomas Nuutinpoika Häyhä or Tuomas the son of Nuutti, was born in 1690 in Hiitola at the Karelian isthmus next to Rautjärvi. The son of his son, Kustaa Tuomaanpoika Häyhä's son, Matti Kustaanpoika Häyhä would be born at the home village of Simo Häyhä in Miettilä, Rautjärvi in 1754.
This is as far as Finnish ancestral records go back in time.
At Kollaa 98 men of Rautjärvi fell while many more were wounded.
The commander-in-chief of Finnish defense forces in World War Two was Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. Mannerheim had been trained and served as an officer for the Russian empire and fought in the Russo-Japanese war and the World War One before the Russian revolution. He was the commander, Valkoinen kenraali, of the victorious valkoiset, White Guard, of the 1918 Finnish civil war against the Red Guard, punakaarti.
Simo Häyhä joined the local Rautjärvi White Guard in 1922, as a 17-year-old. Häyhä used to take part in the Viipuri White Guard district shooting competitions. Häyhä placed in shared fifth position for example in 1939 among the 7287 competitors.
Only tripwire now decorates the razed Häyhä home farm left on what is now the Russian border zone. The gravel road that Häyhä used to take to the White Guard house for training still remains.
While he was recovering in the war hospital Häyhä became visibly elated when he was visited by Mannerheim.
The Mannerheim road goes through central Helsinki, ahead of the Finnish parliament, with ratsastajapatsas, the rider statue of Mannerheim on the other side, at the heart of Helsinki.
In the photo a sister and a father are giving their goodbyes to a brother and a son ahead of their evacuation journey from their hometown in Karelia's Suistamo in 1944.
The graves are called sankarihauta in Finnish, hero grave, found and maintained in every Finnish town and parish.
In his testament regarding the new farm given to him after World War 2 as a Karelian resettler Häyhä wrote:
"The farm must be taken care of a as jointly held forest. This is because if someday the great neighbor would give back the ceded land to Finland and its previous owners. Then that my current farm of Kummunlahti 3 could be given to the state and take the former family farm to my own family's control, use and ownership."
Instead of living at his new farm, the seventh child of his family, Häyhä would prefer to live with his older brother's Juho farm near their parents. He moved to the nearby town of Ruokolahti in the 1970s. He would only reside on the new farm when there was farming or forestry work. Or hunting.
His nurse at the Mehiläinen war hospital remembered Häyhä as a lively man who always had tricks in his mind and was quick to laugh and keep the humor up among the wounded.
When his younger relative went on a trip to Soviet Union Häyhä wrote in a letter: "First of all I am interested in that last name of ours Häyhä. Was it to any harm or hindrance to you? Maybe that name of ours is still remembered from 1939-1940 and in how that guide or would I say overseer of yours gave meaning to it when you said that he was a bad man."
A Ruokolahti local described Häyhä being always a very considerate and kind person who always acknowledged others. Another local said he was always willing to join and aid in neighborly work but if it was he who asked others for aid and you were a minute late the door would stay shut. If he did not like someone, they never again spoke.
A reporter asked Häyhä just before his 96th birthday whether he felt any guilt that so many people died from a bullet shot by him. "I did what I was ordered to do and as well as I knew how to. Finland would not have survived if everyone had not done the same."
"You loved peace". Simo Häyhä 1905-2002.
A celebratory coin released by Moneta had on its other side the picture of Häyhä with his faithful dog Kille at his small Rautjärvi farm. Häyhä's relatives helped with the design.
The text recalls the words of the commander-in-chief of Finnish defense forces Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim to Finnish soldiers at the end of the Winter War.
The other side of the coin was of Häyhä in war with his other pystykorva.
"You did not want war".
Visualized and contextualized. Or just the original text. Your choice.The Diary of Simo HäyhäThe White Death in Letters and MemoriesThe Battle of Kollaa RememberedNon-Visualized Häyhä DiaryHäyhä Diary in Finnish
Learn how the diary was found and made into a website. Discover resources and media related to Simo Häyhä, Kollaa and the Winter War.Häyhä and The Winter War in Literature, Movies and MediaWinter War ResourcesHistory of the Diary
Major Tapio Saarelainen who interviewed Simo Häyhä dozens of times has written a book called the White Sniper about Simo Häyhä. Which is the most authentic long-form source available in English regarding Häyhä so I can recommend it if you want to learn more.The White Sniper
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If you are interested in free online courses FreeMOOCs.com can help. As our sister site highlights all the completely free university courses from Finland.FreeMOOCs.com