Posted in Knitting
January 29, 2010

Mittens saved Finland from communism?

This is amazing! Quoted from a discussion about Simo Häyhä, one of the deadliest snipers in history (he took down 542 Soviet soldiers during the Finnish Winter War and was nicknamed “The White Death”!):

I have a fun story about Simo Häyhä! I have no sources for this; it was an anecdote told to me by Nancy Bush, who is one of the world’s greatest living authorities on the textiles of the Baltic states and Scandinavia, during a two-day workshop about mittens and gloves.

One of the reasons Häyhä was so successful, believe it or not, was because of his mitten ensemble. They consisted of three layers: the bottom layer was an incredibly finely knitted tight-fitting glove made of handspun yarn, finer than commercial woolen knits could be found at that time. The second layer was a fingerless mitt that stopped short of the base of his fingers, while covering his wrist and the first joint of his thumb. The outer layer was made of heavy, thick wool, in a technique unique to Scandinavia called nålbinding, which was looped rather than knitted. This nålbinded mitten, in addition to being virtually impervious to cold, also had a split in it for his trigger finger, so he could fire his rifle without taking them off.

The underglove was fine enough that he could reload his rifle without taking THAT off, drastically reducing the amount of time that his hands had to be exposed to the cold. And if he did have to do maintenance on his rifle that required the underglove to come off, he could put the wrist-covering mitt back on; because that covered the pulse point in his wrist, it kept his blood warmer longer and kept feeling in his fingers.

The Russians, by contrast, had thick, bulky gloves or mittens in a single layer. The gloves had to be taken off to reload, which caused a lot of wasted time due to numb fingers. And the mittens had to be taken off even to FIRE the gun! Numb, frostbitten hands were the cause of many poor shots and lost ammunition, or even parts of the rifle if field maintenance had to be done.

Wow. Everyone, hug your handknit mittens today! You never know when you might need them to save your country.

Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, there were plenty of ultra-deadly female snipers running around, too — my favorite is Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Not for the sniping, but because when she was sent to Canada and the US for a publicity visit (becoming the first Soviet citizen to be received by a U.S. President), she did not blow the heads off some Washington reporters. She said: “One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides, my uniform made me look fat.”

Seriously? This is a woman who’s got over 300 confirmed kills and you’re going to tell her she looks fat? What was wrong with that guy?

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  • Virginia

    Wow. That is an amazing story!

    And one of my coworkers is named Lyudmila. Believe me, if somebody ever called her fat, she would blow their fool head off.

    Reply to Virginia
  • jonquil

    great stories! wish i could find a bio about lyudmila.

    Reply to jonquil
  • Heather

    Maybe he felt threatened by her, maybe he wasn’t clear on who she was, or maybe he was a complete idiot. Or all three. Either or.

    Reply to Heather
  • Mel

    An old girlfriend of mine was apparently the 2nd female sharp shooter in the Canadian army when she was in the service.

    I have been told that women often make better sharp shooters than men, there was a biological/physical explanation given but I’m at a loss for what it was.

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