A surprise Red Air Force attack on Helsinki, Finland ignited the Winter War, a bitter conflict between Russia and Finland. Fearful of Nazi aggression into Russia, Stalin embarked on a campaign to tighten the Soviet Union’s grip on the countries of northeastern Europe. The Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia were the first to give into the demands of Stalin and accept a Red Army, the Soviet Union’s military, garrison in their country. Finland was the next country on Stalin’s list. Stalin demanded that the Finnish government cede part of southern Finland to the Soviets as well as allow the Red Army to set up bases on various parts of the country. Finland refused. What followed was a bitterly cold war fought in temperatures sometimes as low as -50° Fahrenheit.
Stalin, paranoid that his military and political officers and officials were plotting against him, instigated a purge of his officers in the mid 1930''s. This left his military command staff crippled and devoid of effective leadership. The Winter War, as a result, was very poorly managed with rudimentary tactics. The Soviet Union relied almost exclusively on their overwhelming numbers in order to achieve victory. The result was the death of approximately 200,000 Soviet troops compared to 26,000 Finnish (not including wounded for either party).
An invasion force of over a million men poured into southern Finland following the air attack on Helsinki. Finnish armies held the Soviets at various points along the front, relying on pre-made defenses of the Mannerheim line and guerrilla warfare to combat the enormous Soviet armies. Many Finnish commando units used skis to mount lightning fast hit and run strikes against Soviet
forces. One man, however, decided to use a slightly different approach.
Enter Simo Häyhä. Living in an obscure Finnish village near the front, Hayha was called up to fight. He took his Mosin Nagant rifle to the Kollaa River and proceeded to terrify the 160,000 Russian soldiers set against him and his company. Using no scope to better hide himself, Häyhä racked up an incredible 550 kills over the course of several months. Becoming known as “The White Death” to those who faced him due to his white camouflaged outfit, Häyhä ground the Soviet advance to a halt. The Soviets bombed his position, sent forces of men out to find him and deployed counter snipers. The bombs failed to kill him and the task forces and counter snipers simply added to his kill count. Over the course of his defensive stand he also used a Suomi K31 SMG to collect a further 150 kills bringing his final total somewhere in the 700 range. All this in only 100 days!
Simo Häyhä in Kollaa 17 February 1940
He eventually got shot by an exploding bullet in the jaw which proceeded to blow off half his face. When some fellow soldiers found him and took him back to their base, however, he was still alive, albeit unconscious. He regained consciousness on March 13, 1940, the day peace was declared between Finland and the Soviet Union. The Soviets had thrown another 500,000 men into the war and finally overwhelmed the Finish defenses, forcing Finland to settle for peace. Simo Häyhä recovered from his wounds and eventually died on April 1, 2002 as a hero and symbol of Finland.
by Alex Smith, MRL staff writer