The Winter War was in its third month of fighting. Still, the million Soviet soldiers, along with their thousands of airplanes, tanks, and cannons, had yet to advance more than a mile. They were ill-equipped, unprepared for the massive snowfalls, and suffering from a lack of capable officers since Stalin’s latest purge. It was especially slow-going in the southeast corner of the country where the Kollaa River provided a natural barrier to their progress.
Added to their predicament was what the Russians called Belaya Smert. For ninety days, every movement was made through the hellishness of a nightmare. They knew he was out there; a faceless killer. A phantom. But they could do nothing except hide themselves as best they could and move quickly when they had to.
On March 6, 1940, Belaya Smert peered down from a ridge 30 feet above and a thousand feet distant from a Soviet supply line. His real name was Simo Häyhä. He was a farmer by trade and until this new calling, his only previous military experience consisted of the bicycle brigade.
Perfectly camouflaged in a suit of white, he packed his mouth with snow and scanned for a target through the iron sights of his M/28. His eyes rested upon a figure at the base of a burned-out tank. As he focused in, he suddenly realized that he was looking right into the sights of another rifle. Simo was slow to move; the sniper squeezed the trigger and the left side of Simo’s face landed on the ledge behind him. But before he lost consciousness, Simo managed to take aim and turn the lucky shooter into victim number five-hundred and forty-two.
Like Simo, his beloved Finland would survive the war, disfigured, but free of communism and fascism and still a sovereign nation.