Simo Hayha was a unique sniper in more than one way, actually, in quiet a few ways. The first of which was probably his age. When the Russian’s invaded Finland in the winter of 1939, prior to the Soviets being at war with Germany, Simo was already 33 years old and turned 34 shortly after the invasion while he was on the front lines. This would put Simo squarely in the “old man” category for a soldier. Because Finland was such a small country that was being invaded by a much larger Soviet Union, everyone that was fit and able was willing to serve to defend their homeland regardless of their age and Simo was very fit and able. Simo was an avid hunter and farmer and was a member of their Civil Guard and already had his own issued M/28-30 bolt action rifle that he used through the entire Winter War conflict and no, it the rifle not have any optics. One of the common traits of a sniper is the ability to deliver long range precision fire, but in the very thick forests of eastern Finland, there were very few, if any, opportunities to engage targets beyond about 150 meters, which diminishes the effectiveness or requirement for optics on a rifle. Simo himself indicated that a vast majority of his kills were achieved between 100 and 150 meters.
Based off of the ranges he engaged the enemy at and the nature of the commando and guerilla style warfare he was involved in, some may question whether Simo was really a sniper or not. To us the question can be answered by what he did and how he did it on the battlefield, and the answer is yes, he was a sniper. Simo primarily operated alone on the front and he had free rein to go to and where he felt he would be the most effective. He was an outstanding marksmen having won several shooting competitions in the years leading up to the war and he used sound sniper fieldcraft to achieve remarkable results.
Simo used a Sako built M/28-30 rifle that weighed in at about 9.5 lbs (4.3 kg) and was very adamant that a sniper rifle never weigh more than that for portability and usefulness in the field. He would wrap his rifle in white medical gauze for camouflaging sake and was a firm believer in proper weapon maintenance at all times. Because the entire conflict he fought in was only 3 months long, it took place entirely during the brutal Finnish winter time and in the snow. Often times Simo would pour water on the snow in front of his muzzle to cause the snow to ice up to prevent a plume of snow from being created by the muzzleblast when firing.
Simo Hayha departed from the traditional sniper discipline of targeting key select targets or opportunity and he would engage the first enemy that presented himself. He was not selective and this could perhaps be attributed to the sheer overwhelming forces that the Finns faced from the Soviet army and the desire to try and stem back the tide. Because of these circumstances the Finns found themselves in, there were days when Simo would have huge numbers of kills. 23, 25 and 40 kills in a single day were his biggest tallies. It does need to be mentioned that the Finnish means of confirming a kill only involved the sniper visually seeing the enemy get hit, much like the Russians, and so the ‘confirmed’ kill count of 542 is very difficult to say for sure is entirely accurate. But with many additional witnesses of some of his exploits on the battlefield that verified his proficiency, there is no reason to doubt his kill tallies. There is even a higher kill number above 700 floating around that includes kills while Simo was operating in roles other than a sniper, but those would be even more difficult to verify. The 542 “official” kills happened in only a 98 day span of Simo fighting on the front, giving him an average of about 5.5 kills per day. A decent number of those kills were Soviet snipers as well, some specifically sent to target Simo, though that was likely not a primary mission of the Soviet snipers.
The M/28-30 that Simo used was built by Sako, whom had the same stellar reputation of building high quality rifles back then that they do now. Years before the war, as a part of the Civil Guard, Simo had the option to purchase his own M/28-30 that he could keep at home and use, which he did. Because of this arrangement he became intimately familiar with his rifle which is likely a contributing factor towards his proficiency with it during the war. When Simo took aim on an enemy target, he would aim for center mass hits on the largest exposed portion of the target. He did not go for fancy shots but rather the aiming point that gave him the highest probability of a hit… apparently it worked well for him. The sights were high quality open sights, but not a peep sight arrangement and Simo would zero his rifle for 150 meters and hold high or low from there. The rifle fired a D166 200 grain bullet.
In the end, Simo was shot in the jaw while leading a raiding force attacking a Soviet trench, the sad part is that this happened just days before the cease fire was signed ending the Winter War. Simo survived and had many surgeries to get him back to living a normal life, but his combat time was over. The small unassuming sniper lived until 2002 when he died at the age of 96. Simo is considered a Hero in his home country of Finland and there is an annual sniper competition named in his honor. Simo sits on top the list of the snipers who served and fought in the various wars throughout history and he personifies the quiet and unassuming means by which the best of the snipers achieved their mission.
If you would like to learn and read more about Simo Hayha, read the book “The White Sniper” by Tapio A.M. Saarelainen.
Sniper Central 2017