Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

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Stiltzkin
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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Stiltzkin » 26 Dec 2018 01:20

By Simo Häyhä's own statements in 1990s interviews:

- His rifle sights had been calibrated for 150 meters;
- Checked as often as possible the calibration behind frontlines by shooting the top of a small tree at a measured distance;
- Shooting was done usually at short or very short ranges (for the frontline), the ranges where a hunter shoots his game. After patiently sneaking inch by inch as close as possible and slinking into position. Not at 400m, not even 300 or 200;
- Longest shot ever had been at 400-450m, a lucky shot on a Soviet who raised himself;
- Most of his sure hits were at ranges shorter than 150m;
- The day he got shot in the jaw, moving Soviets were approaching the Finns and fired from as close as possible, spitting range, 50-100m;
- Contrary to the popular legend, he did not shoot back the man who hit him. Dropped instantly to the ground, like hit by lightning. The legend is based on a different incident, weeks prior, when he caught the glint of a scope lens in the Sun and shot the man.
I would go even further and argue that this does not qualify to be defined as "modern sniping".
They froze easily - there was no specialized waterproof coating on the lenses. Magnification was 2x or 4x, rarely and only for the most expensive German scopes was 6x. Lenses were tiny 20mm diameter, focal length was short. Finnish arsenal in 1939 held a small number of Busch Visar 4.5x, Zeiss 2.25x, Busch 3x and Zeiss 1-4x scopes, all 1920s design
Yes and the magnification is not the only deceisive factor, its the translucency, precision (interchangeable, zeroed in sights, even adjustable to designated ammunition such as the Full Metal Jacket Boat Tail Ammo, sS Patrone with a low ballistic coefficient) and increased fov, which requires a high level of manufacturing. Coating technology advanced in the 30s.
1. Saucer-sized target at 175m, 1 shot out of 3 - hit from the first;
2. Standing-man sized target at 375m, rifle supported on a stump, 1 shot out of 3 - hit;
3. Standing-man sized target at 370m, rifle supported on a tree branch, 1 shot out of 3 - hit;
4. Standing-man sized target at 300m, prone, rifle supported on a log, 1 shot out of 3 - hit;
5. Standing-man sized target at 400m, foxhole, rifle supported on ground, 1 shot out of 3 - hit;
6. Standing-man sized target at 490m, standing in foxhole, rifle supported on earthmound, 1 shot out of 3 - hit
I still do not think that his lethality was 1100%+ above that of any other (talented) Finnish marksman of the Winter War. The differences between top sprinters are milliseconds. I do not question his skill and abilities with a rifle though.

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Nautilus » 26 Dec 2018 02:06

Stiltzkin wrote:
26 Dec 2018 01:20
By Simo Häyhä's own statements in 1990s interviews:

- His rifle sights had been calibrated for 150 meters;
- Checked as often as possible the calibration behind frontlines by shooting the top of a small tree at a measured distance;
- Shooting was done usually at short or very short ranges (for the frontline), the ranges where a hunter shoots his game. After patiently sneaking inch by inch as close as possible and slinking into position. Not at 400m, not even 300 or 200;
- Longest shot ever had been at 400-450m, a lucky shot on a Soviet who raised himself;
- Most of his sure hits were at ranges shorter than 150m;
- The day he got shot in the jaw, moving Soviets were approaching the Finns and fired from as close as possible, spitting range, 50-100m;
- Contrary to the popular legend, he did not shoot back the man who hit him. Dropped instantly to the ground, like hit by lightning. The legend is based on a different incident, weeks prior, when he caught the glint of a scope lens in the Sun and shot the man.
I would go even further and argue that this does not qualify to be defined as "modern sniping".
Neither did he :P

Häyhä, when asked how did he shoot, didn't answer "sniping" or "exquisite marksmanship", said as laconically as possible: "Practice".

People interpret the word as he was so great it was no effort for him. It actually was a cryptic message. It meant 3 things:

- He didn't like to brag (Every person who saw him face to face said the same thing, he was a very modest man. Plus there were rumors in the 1945-1975 period of Finnish Communist infiltration in most State departments. Being targeted for revenge in peacetime was a risk he didn't want to take);

- His practice as a hunter favored the kind of combat the Finns waged in the winter of 1939-1940 and nothing else, not the large scale battles on other fronts;

- The Soviet generalship's obvious incompetence brought too many enemies too close (no winter camouflage, no terrain scouting, poor preparation for winter with average -40°C in daylight, no tactics to conform to the swampy rough and forested ground in Kollaa, sticking to roads which turned to snowy quagmires). If hunted by equally competent marksmen led by a good tactician, which did exist on the Eastern Front a few years later, he would have fared much worse. When they didn't exist, combat was more like serial executions.

Exquisite tactics, not just precision shooting. It's not a great deal to keep in rifle sights a man-sized boulder at long range - in summer, good weather, lightly dressed, prone on an empty field, quiet around and nobody shoots back. Not quite the same as sneaking on your belly through snow at -40°C, slinking into position too slow to be seen, quiet as a stone for hours, sucking on a sugar cube to keep your metabolism active and not faint, which is death in sub-freezing temps. While the other guys could and would shoot back. No longer with rifles, as they saw it brought no profit, but with artillery.

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Stiltzkin » 26 Dec 2018 02:57

The Soviet generalship's obvious incompetence brought too many enemies too close (no winter camouflage, no terrain scouting, poor preparation for winter with average -40°C in daylight, no tactics to conform to the swampy rough and forested ground in Kollaa, sticking to roads which turned to snowy quagmires). If hunted by equally competent marksmen led by a good tactician, which did exist on the Eastern Front a few years later, he would have fared much worse. When they didn't exist, combat was more like serial executions.
Thats the big question. The Isthmus shielded the Finnish Army from Soviet numerical strength, but how big was the difference between the RKKA's performance of the Winter War and WW2? I have not quantified the battles of the Winter War yet, but I think some of the effects are transitory (and the Continuation War may serve as a good base). The vast steppes favoured the Soviet war machine, but their relative tactical performance vis a German soldier was not much different to the Finnish soldier in the Winter War.
Exquisite tactics, not just precision shooting. It's not a great deal to keep in rifle sights a man-sized boulder at long range - in summer, good weather, lightly dressed, prone on an empty field, quiet around and nobody shoots back. Not quite the same as sneaking on your belly through snow at -40°C, slinking into position too slow to be seen, quiet as a stone for hours, sucking on a sugar cube to keep your metabolism active and not faint, which is death in sub-freezing temps. While the other guys could and would shoot back. No longer with rifles, as they saw it brought no profit, but with artillery.
Sounds like a line straight out of a fantasy novel. :D Artillery is always going to inflict the highest casualties, even in the more "asymmetric" conflict of the Winter War. The weight is still going to be greater, even in the Jungle or Forested areas.

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Mangrove » 26 Dec 2018 18:06

Nautilus wrote:
26 Dec 2018 02:06
- The Soviet generalship's obvious incompetence brought too many enemies too close (no winter camouflage, no terrain scouting, poor preparation for winter with average -40°C in daylight, no tactics to conform to the swampy rough and forested ground in Kollaa, sticking to roads which turned to snowy quagmires).
The average daylight temperature at Kollaa was never -40°C during the Winter War. According to Jalkaväkirykmentti 34's diary, the minimum daily temperature ranged from -13°C to -39°C during January 1940.

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by JTV » 26 Dec 2018 23:56

Stiltzkin wrote:
26 Dec 2018 02:57
Sounds like a line straight out of a fantasy novel. :D Artillery is always going to inflict the highest casualties, even in the more "asymmetric" conflict of the Winter War. The weight is still going to be greater, even in the Jungle or Forested areas.
That would the case under normal circumstances. I already told you the last time that Finnish artillery was suffering from ammunition shortage, but apparently you did not consider that to be significant in any way. Maybe I can explain what that actually meant in real terms. Some basic things about Finnish use of artillery at that time:
- Standard fire unit: Artillery Battalion (Patteristo) normally containing twelve field guns or howitzers.
- Use of artillery support was based in use of forms of fire (tulimuodot), each of which was intended for particular or several uses. One example of these would be barrage fire (sulku) normally used to stop movement of enemy unit of battalion size or smaller and cause cause casualties to it in such extent that this would be effective to stop its attack. Barrage fire was normally fired to target area of 300 meters x 150 meters with 1/10 unit of fire landing on target as barrage lasting about 120 seconds.
- Unit of fire (tuliannos) refer to number of shells which according calculations was needed for type of field gun or howitzer to achieve the results. For example for 76 K/02 field guns - the gun type with which practically all Finnish field artillery units in Kollaa had been equipped with - the unit of fire was 100 shells per gun.
These were all based to mathematical calculations about how much shells were needed to target area of which size in what kind of duration for achieving the results that were needed.

So, if you would have been Finnish company commander in Kollaa in March of 1940 and would have spotted Soviet infantry battalion heading your way and would have asked field artillery forward observation team assigned to you to drop barrage fire on them - what would have happened? In theory field artillery battalion to which the FO-team belonged would have shot artillery barrage of 120 76-mm HE-shells on top of that enemy battalion. But due to ammunition shortage Finnish artillery had no real possibility of doing that. Hence early on the war you might be lucky and get half barrage fire with 60 shells landing on target with duration of 60 seconds - likely insufficient to stop it from attacking, but still quite useful. As ammunition shortage got worse and worse, by March you might on average get "barrage" of 6 shells total. To make things worse by February and March snow would be over half-a-meter deep. Practically all ammunition used by Finnish field artillery was high explosive (HE) variety and due to most commonly available fuses not being sensitive type (*), they would normally explode only after going through snow and hitting in frozen ground under it - which would impact projectile fragmentation pattern, reducing their efficiency. In addition on average about 1/4 - 1/3 of pre-war (old Russian production from WW1) artillery fuses would be duds. So instead of theoretical 120 shells you would probably get barrage of 6 shells, from which on average maybe 4 might actually explode. If you would be lucky 1 or 2 of the 4 shells might hit tree trunks in target area and explode before hitting ground, which would make them more effective.

(*) Artillery fuses were the worst bottle-neck of artillery ammunition production.

In case you are wondering about the number of shells actually used for average on each fire mission, here is one of the war journals belonging to 1st Artillery Battalion of Field Infantry Regiment 12, which was the Finnish field artillery to serve longest in Kollaa. The war journal contains daily lists for number of shells fired in barrage for each day:
http://digi.narc.fi/digi/view.ka?kuid=1532516

Anyway, after those 4 shells exploding the Soviet battalion slowly wading through half-a-meter of snow would attack against your entrenched rifle company, which would normally have MG-platoon with four heavy machineguns supporting it. In addition your company would have 8 light machine guns, 8 submachine guns and over hundred rifles.

BTW: Winter War is commonly considered to be part of World War 2. Only country which did not consider it to be part of World War 2 was Soviet Union, which for its own propaganda reasons preferred to keep politically inconvient events such as their part in invading Poland and Winter War outside of it and claim that World War 2 only started with start of "Great Patriotic War" in June of 1941.

Snow depths:
http://www.winterwar.com/other/weather/ ... snowdepths

Some info about HE-shell fragmentation:
http://www.winterwar.com/Weapons/artyinfo.htm

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Stiltzkin » 27 Dec 2018 06:47

That would the case under normal circumstances. I already told you the last time that Finnish artillery was suffering from ammunition shortage, but apparently you did not consider that to be significant in any way. Maybe I can explain what that actually meant in real terms. Some basic things about Finnish use of artillery at that time: [...]

Snow depths:
http://www.winterwar.com/other/weather/ ... snowdepths

Some info about HE-shell fragmentation:
http://www.winterwar.com/Weapons/artyinfo.htm
Thank you, I am familiar with most of these links (except the weather link, that one seems to require authorization). I am not arguing against the core thesis here, I merely point out that these stories seem a bit too "colorized".
I have also read several Finnish accounts on the Winter War and some (rather superficial) military studies on "Mottis" and artillery shelling in forested areas, but that I consider still insufficient to make any serious statements.
This does however not disprove my point. Are you suggesting that because of the bottleneck, Soviet casualties were exclusively (or at least overwhelmingly) inflicted by small arms fire? In how far does this project on Häyhäs lethality being above the charts, multiple times greater than that of other soldiers? I am speaking about the Division to full Army level here (from platoon to battalion this might be correct for various instances, but that is not the problem here).
Going through the medical files of various belligerents of WW2, it becomes clear that artillery dominated the field, the lowest value for jungle and woodland engagements was around 35-50%. Not to mention the dispersion of men per km² of the front and distribution for other weapon systems, grenade fragmentation, mines or MGs which dominate the small arms department.

This is not an argument against the effectiveness of Finnish Marksmen or small unit tactics per se. The issue I see here, is that Häyhä is considered a war hero, an icon of the Winter War. Touching his claims is perceived as a sacrilege.
An overview of overall munitions expenditure would be useful. I would have to punch it into my combat models, lethality, casualty infliction, possible targets, chance to hit, chance to kill.
BTW: Winter War is commonly considered to be part of World War 2. Only country which did not consider it to be part of World War 2 was Soviet Union, which for its own propaganda reasons preferred to keep politically inconvient events such as their part in invading Poland and Winter War outside of it and claim that World War 2 only started with start of "Great Patriotic War" in June of 1941.
I agree, but I work with the "official" designation, even academia tends to formulate it like that (without stirring up another hornets nest). There is no doubt that the Soviets were the aggressors here. They stepped from one conflict to the next, initially pacting with the Nazis. Expansionism was on their agenda. The war definitely started sooner for them, even before the Winter War. No need for an elaboration. Russian literature is still flawed in that regard. Most of them try to keep up the image of the "unprepared victim".

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by JTV » 28 Dec 2018 23:39

Stiltzkin wrote:
27 Dec 2018 06:47
This does however not disprove my point. Are you suggesting that because of the bottleneck, Soviet casualties were exclusively (or at least overwhelmingly) inflicted by small arms fire?
Your post #89: "That is substantial firepower in this sector, these guns were responsible for the killing."

What they tell is that Finnish artillery was substantially weaker than what one might expect. As the latest study about Finnish artillery tactics is titled - "Artillery fights with its fire". In other words artillery effects the enemy with its fire and by shooting to right place at the right time - not simply by having number of guns. If artillery cannot hit enemy with its fire, it does not cause casualties to it. Any calculations based on "usually soldiers killed by artillery are about this percentage of total losses" as indicated in your previous posts based on what artillery equipped with better guns and plenty of ammunition may have achieved are not valid when comes to Winter War era battles due to Finnish artillery having been small, poorly equipped (with old small caliber guns) and suffering severe ammunition shortage. There is a theory (still unsubstantiated, but quite possibly correct) that Winter War may have been the last war fought between industrialized nations in which majority of casualties on one side (Soviet) were still caused by small arms.

Also this might be good place to mention that it might be wise to take Soviet official numbers of any sort with a pinch of salt. I did a bit of digging on the matter year ago and one thing that I noticed is that Talvisodan taisteluja (Battles of Winter War) by Raunio and Kilin that usually contains info (based on Soviet archives) about Soviet losses does not contain such info about Battle of Kollaa. Could be that the Juri Kilin did not find the info in the archives or that there are other problems with it. Kilin apparently did later found that 9th Army had been "cooking the books" when it came to its losses, maybe there was something similar going on Soviet troops taking part of Kollaa Battle as well? What makes me suspect this is that the Soviet records that you listed suggest rather small casualty rate considering how much manpower the Soviets had in Kollaa by end of the war and still all their troops concentrated there failed to gain ground.
This is not an argument against the effectiveness of Finnish Marksmen or small unit tactics per se. The issue I see here, is that Häyhä is considered a war hero, an icon of the Winter War. Touching his claims is perceived as a sacrilege.
Your post #76: "Häyhä was not a sniper. Those 500 "claims" were never confirmed, most of them were also "achieved" with the SMG. They are most likely a product of propaganda."

No - I don't have any problem with anybody saying that he must have been overclaiming and in fact I think that he probably was. What I have a problem with is when people go claiming that he must have known that he was overclaiming and that he, Finnish Army & press were intentionally lying about his kill numbers, while not providing any actual evidence for such claim. If he overclaimed is one thing, but it is very different thing to claim that it was intentional from his part, since that would make him a liar. If anything his diary suggests otherwise - why would he lie to himself in his personal diary? Here in Finland claiming that a person is a liar without evidence is called slander and people tend to get sued for it. Unless of course the person being called a liar happens to be already deceased, in which case they obviously are not able to defend themselves with legal means anymore, but in that case doing such a thing is still considered to be extremely rude & poor behaviour.
An overview of overall munitions expenditure would be useful. I would have to punch it into my combat models, lethality, casualty infliction, possible targets, chance to hit, chance to kill.
Overall ammunition expenditure for the whole Winter War or just Kollaa front?

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Stiltzkin » 29 Dec 2018 04:38

What they tell is that Finnish artillery was substantially weaker than what one might expect. As the latest study about Finnish artillery tactics is titled - "Artillery fights with its fire". In other words artillery effects the enemy with its fire and by shooting to right place at the right time - not simply by having number of guns. If artillery cannot hit enemy with its fire, it does not cause casualties to it. Any calculations based on "usually soldiers killed by artillery are about this percentage of total losses" as indicated in your previous posts based on what artillery equipped with better guns and plenty of ammunition may have achieved are not valid when comes to Winter War era battles due to Finnish artillery having been small, poorly equipped (with old small caliber guns) and suffering severe ammunition shortage. There is a theory (still unsubstantiated, but quite possibly correct) that Winter War may have been the last war fought between industrialized nations in which majority of casualties on one side (Soviet) were still caused by small arms.
Small arms fire was a significant factor in the Winter War, there is absolutely no doubt about it, I am merely stating that the casualties which were inflicted by artillery must have been still ample and also that the "kills" would be shared amongst all Finnish frontline units. They may not have had the firepower of American, French or German Divisions, but even if so, warfare is characterized and dominated by the most effective weapon systems of a particular time. It depends on the respective era, thus it is very unlikely that the Winter War would stand out as a unique case. WW1, interwar (e.g. Spanish Civil War) and WW2 show similar constants. The last time the distribution was in favour of small arms, was after the introduction of bolt actions and repeaters. I have only data on wounded, from CSASA, file 34980, cat. 10, d. 1855, p. 93 which lists 68% gunshot and 32% artillery, but these are wounded and not the dead. There is no further information on weapon type, but most of them were probably injured by MG fire. Information on the dead is far more relevant. My assumption is that it is probably around 50/50. This is also in good accordance with Jungle warfare.
Also this might be good place to mention that it might be wise to take Soviet official numbers of any sort with a pinch of salt.
I always take them with a large grain of salt, but there is only so much we can work with. Casualty reports are never going to be 100% accurate, but corrected figures would not be groundbreakingly different. Anyway, this is not just a question of Soviet casualties, but the average casualty infliction of a Finnish Marksman under conditions of the setting. The Soviets also suffered greatly from environmental attrition (number of frostbites).
No - I don't have any problem with anybody saying that he must have been overclaiming and in fact I think that he probably was. What I have a problem with is when people go claiming that he must have known that he was overclaiming and that he, Finnish Army & press were intentionally lying about his kill numbers, while not providing any actual evidence for such claim. If he overclaimed is one thing, but it is very different thing to claim that it was intentional from his part, since that would make him a liar. If anything his diary suggests otherwise - why would he lie to himself in his personal diary? Here in Finland claiming that a person is a liar without evidence is called slander and people tend to get sued for it. Unless of course the person being called a liar happens to be already deceased, in which case they obviously are not able to defend themselves with legal means anymore, but in that case doing such a thing is still considered to be extremely rude & poor behaviour.
Then I do not know what we are arguing about. Even if Rifles inflicted 100% of the casualties, that would still make this story dubious. Claims remain claims, they can be a product of human error, but these numbers seem to be a bit detached from reality. The highest casualtiy infliction potential for a finnish soldier I can find is 1.119, multiplied with the duration of the winter war, factoring in posture and exposure to the front, this leaves us with 80 kills at best. Häyhä must have been at least 700% better than his counterparts. If I ignore the circumstantial factors this rises to 1200%. :roll:
Overall ammunition expenditure for the whole Winter War or just Kollaa front?
Does not matter, overall would be the best. It would be useful to list them in the ammunition threads in the forum. I am surprised that this has not been addressed before, at least I have not encountered any study featuring munitions consumption for the winter war yet. The most obvious explanation of course is, that Soviet literature generally avoided the Winter War.

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Re: Finnish snipers during the Winter & Continuation War

Post by Nautilus » 15 Jan 2019 11:14

JTV wrote:
26 Dec 2018 23:56
Hence early on the war you might be lucky and get half barrage fire with 60 shells landing on target with duration of 60 seconds - likely insufficient to stop it from attacking, but still quite useful. As ammunition shortage got worse and worse, by March you might on average get "barrage" of 6 shells total. To make things worse by February and March snow would be over half-a-meter deep. Practically all ammunition used by Finnish field artillery was high explosive (HE) variety and due to most commonly available fuses not being sensitive type (*), they would normally explode only after going through snow and hitting in frozen ground under it - which would impact projectile fragmentation pattern, reducing their efficiency. In addition on average about 1/4 - 1/3 of pre-war (old Russian production from WW1) artillery fuses would be duds. So instead of theoretical 120 shells you would probably get barrage of 6 shells, from which on average maybe 4 might actually explode. If you would be lucky 1 or 2 of the 4 shells might hit tree trunks in target area and explode before hitting ground, which would make them more effective.
As quoted in "The White Sniper" by Tapio A.M. Saarelainen, the difference between the Finnish and Soviet ammo expenditure was mind-blowing.

Putting together all rounds fired on the entire front length (straight line about 23 km measured on Google Maps, from Kivijärvi southwards, but the actual frontline on the ground was longer) Finnish artillery could barely achieve 1000 shells per day. The Red Army artillery could fire 35,000 or even 40,000 shells in a good day, an attempt to shatter everything in their way and steamroll their way through.

It didn't achieve too much in practice, as the Finns quickly understood digging in and resisting on the spot was pretty much useless. It would end up just like the French front in WWI, a massacre. They switched to an everchanging mobile warfare where attacks and counterattacks followed each other in a stream - one of the parties did everything possible to bull through, the other did everything possible and something more to harass them into exhaustion. Keep the encircled enemy under pressure while at the same time prevent them from being resupplied or relieved from outside.

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