“I read in some book, maybe Holy Scripture that ‘all that is complex is not useful, and all that is useful is simple.’ This has been my whole life’s motto.” –Mikhail Kalashnikov
A genius self-taught Russian gun designer and inventor named Mikhail Kalashnikov put these words into actions when he recalled all the weapon failures his countrymen experienced during World War 2. The soldiers used overpower rifles and underpowered SMGs (submachine guns) in dirty and wet terrains which caused the weapons to constantly jam and malfunction. Kalashnikov wanted to make a battle rifle that would be durable, lethal, and simple enough so that anyone could operate it even without proper training. Although it took many different models to pass the Red Army’s firearm requirements, he eventually perfected his design which is now known as one of the most used and most iconic battle rifles in history, the AK47.
Mikhail Kalashnikov developed a passion for machinery at an early age and loved to pick, disassemble, and observe locks and how all the parts worked. Kalashnikov dreamed about inventing agricultural machinery, but was drafted to serve in the Red Army as a tank mechanic and later a tank commander. During the Battle of Bryansk, he was hit by shrapnel and was given six months of convalescent leave to recover. While in the hospital, Kalashnikov heard stories about how poorly armed the soldiers were compared to the Germans, who had far more superior firepower with their SMGs and stationary high rate of fire MGs (machine guns). After being discharged from the hospital, Kalashnikov, wanting to protect Russia’s borders and people, immediately sought to make a new gun that would be made of durable but cheap materials so it could be mass-produced. It would be simple enough so that it could be cleaned in a matter of seconds. Also, the rifle needed to take a mid-ranged rifle round, and operate even in the dirtiest and harshest conditions. Kalashnikov heard that the army was sponsoring a weapons contest for a new SMG. He submitted his is first model which was a SMG that he had built with the help of the local railroad machine shop, but lost the contest to another gun designer. Time after time, model after model, Kalashnikov lost the contests until coming up with a design that instead of having all the parts compacted and closely together, let them have plenty of space in between each part and letting them “hang with complete freedom”. This allowed the weapon to almost never jam and would be resistant to the elements. He designed the rifle to take a 30 round magazine and chambered the gun to take the 7.62×39 cartage. He also designed it to use a long-stroke gas piston that allowed the gun to use the gases following the fired bullet to blow back the bolt, cock the hammer, and chamber a new round. Kalashnikov used sheet metal to make a stamped receiver (body) and used wood to make the foregrip, pistol grip, and buttstock for the weapon. The end result was the very first prototype of the future AK47.
After creating first functioning prototype, Kalashnikov immediately submitted the rifle into the contest. The rifle went through many different “torture” tests that included the rifle being thrown in mud, sand, and water for long periods of time. The test was so agonizing to Kalashnikov that he couldn’t even bare to look at what was happening to his rifle with his own eyes. The rifle passed all the tests with flying colors and immediately caught the eye of the army. Although a few modifications had to be made to the rifle, like switching to a milled-out steal receiver because factories could not produce sheet metal receivers fast enough, and other little tweaks. None the less, the army was so impressed with its ruggedness and consistency that they wanted Kalashnikovs rifle to become the official rifle used in Russia’s military. The rifle was named AK47, short for “Avtomat Kalashnikov 1947”. This means “Automatic Kalashnikov” and the date stands for the year it was officially in production.
Kalashnikov’s invention was first used in the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 when a few selected Soviet units were ordered to eliminate nationalist rioting on the streets of Budapest. After that, an estimated guess of 55 million AK47s and other later models have been used or made in 55 different countries since 1949. Its first use in an official war was in Vietnam when China supplied thousands of AK47s to the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) that received them as a gift from Russia. Since the NVA was so unexperienced with firearms, most never learned to clean the rifle or check for barrel obstructions. One American soldier in Vietnam recalled taking an AK47 from a dead NVA soldier and stored it in his locker. Two months later when he decided to take it out and shoot it, noticed that the bolt was rusted shut and kicked it open with his boot, loaded it, and fired it continuously. Ever since Vietnam, the Ak47 has been used in almost every single conflict including modern wars like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
Although Kalashnikov’s invention has been modernized to fit the need of modern military, the concept and interior design stays the same. This weapon is used by good and bad alike, justly and unjustly. Someone once asked Kalashnikov, ”How do you feel about you design being used by terrorist organizations to cause millions of deaths around the world?” His reply was, “I only made the weapon to protect Russia’s boarders and interests, not to take part in innocent death.” Kalashnikov died at the age of 94 and is known as a hero in Russia for is selfless service in making the AK47. Although it is very hard to look at this weapon as a work of art or beautiful, the AK47 has shown its effectiveness because of its craftsmanship and beauty of simplicity. The AK47 has proven itself worthy of combat and will be used for many decades to come.