The Finnish/Soviet Winter War of 1939-1940 lasted barely 100 days, but in that time span, the Finnish Army, and especially one sniper, made a dramatic case for the advantages of having infantryman who were skilled riflemen and outdoorsmen. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland with an army of 1 million men backed by artillery and tanks. Against the Soviet might, the Finns could field an army of 300,000 conscripted infantrymen and reservists with little heavy equipment. The patriotic Finns were not daunted by the Soviet superiority, though they were certainly aware of it. Regarding the Soviet invaders, a common saying among the Finnish infantrymen was, “There are so many, and our country is so small, where will we find room to bury them all?”

The Finns’ greatest advantage was the heavily forested terrain of northern Finland, which contained many lakes and streams. In the winter, it was virtually impassible for motorized troops, but Finnish infantrymen—skilled skiers—could move quickly around the countryside. In fact, many of the Finns had hunted in the areas in which they were fighting and knew the terrain well.

The most famous Finnish soldier to emerge from the fighting was Simo Häyhä, who had grown up hunting and shooting on a farm. Häyhä had joined the Finnish Civil Guard when he was just 17, where he learned basic tactics and honed his marksmanship skills. Civil Guard members were known for their emphasis on shooting—the Civil Guard even owned the Sako rifle works—and Häyhä soon emerged as a crack shot, both in the Civil Guard and as a conscript in the Finnish Army, where he won various shooting competitions. However, in 1927, Häyhä completed his military service and returned to farming and hunting…

Up Next


The Finnish/Soviet Winter War of 1939-1940 lasted barely 100 days, but in that time…