Simo Häyhä “White Death” was a Finnish sniper. Using a modified Mosin–Nagant in the Winter War, he has the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills – 505 – in any major war. Furthermore, he has a total confirmed kill record of at least 705, as he is credited for at least 200 more kills with a Suomi 9mm submachine gun. All of these kills occurred within 100 days.
During the Winter War (1939–1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, Häyhä served as a sniper for the Finnish Army against the Red Army in the 6th Company of JR 34 on the Kollaa River. In temperatures between −40 °C (−40 °F) and −20 °C (−4 °F), dressed completely in white camouflage, Häyhä was credited with 705 confirmed kills of Soviet soldiers. A daily account of the kills at Kollaa was made for the Finnish snipers. Remarkably, all of Häyhä’s kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – in other words, an average of at least seven kills per day – at a time of year with very few hours of daylight.
Häyhä used a Finnish militia variant of the Russian-made Mosin-Nagant rifle, the White Guard M/28-30 “Pystykorva” (literally Spitz, due to the sight’s resemblance) chambered in 7.62x54R, the Finnish Mosin-Nagant cartridge, because it suited his small frame (5 ft 3 in/1.60 m). He preferred to use iron sights rather than telescopic sights to present a smaller target for the enemy (a sniper must raise his head higher when using a telescopic sight), to increase accuracy (a telescopic sight’s glass can fog up easily in cold weather), and to aid in concealment (sunlight glare in telescopic sight lenses can reveal a sniper’s position).
The Soviets tried several ploys to get rid of Häyhä, including counter-snipers and artillery strikes. On March 6, 1940, Häyhä was shot in his lower left jaw by a Russian soldier during combat. The bullet had an explosive charge which blew off his lower left cheek. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said “half his cheek was missing”, but he was not dead: he regained consciousness on March 13, the day peace was declared. Shortly after the war, Häyhä was promoted from Alikersantti (Corporal) to Vänrikki (Second Lieutenant) by Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. No one else has gained rank so quickly in Finland’s military history.