21. Simo Hayha’s Years of Competitive Marksmanship Made Him a Lethal Sniper
Simo Hayha did his one-year mandatory service in the Finnish Army in 1925, and after his honorable discharge, he signed up for the Civil Guard – Finland’s equivalent of the National Guard in the US. There, his years as a huntsman and competitive shooter made him his unit’s best shot. So he was trained as a sniper, first with a Russian Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle, and later, with an improved Finnish variant. In due course, he was able to accurately hit sixteen targets in a minute, from a distance of about 200 yards. In the heavily forested Finnish landscape, there were few unobstructed lines of sight, and thus few targets at distances longer than that.
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 and kicked off the Winter War, Hayha was called up for active duty in the Finnish Army, and finally got the opportunity to put his years of marksmanship practice to lethal use. Although the invaders greatly outnumbered the Finns, the Red Army had not gotten over Stalin’s recent military purges, which removed many experienced officers and left the Soviet military in disarray. The Finns by contrast, while numerically inferior, were better trained and organized, and were more familiar with the local terrain. They were also highly motivated, since their own homes and families were in the invaders’ path.