History of the AK47
Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov is the most famous living gun designer in the world, and his machine gun, the AK-47, is the most famous gun in the world. He was born on November 10, 1919, in the village of Kurya, in Alma-Ata, in Kazakhstan, to a large peasant family. Mikhail was the seventeenth child of Timofel and Alexandra Kalashnikov. When seven years old he entered the normal Soviet 'Ten Year School.' After finishing school, young Mikhail became an apprentice and soon after a technical secretary in the Turkistan-Siberian railway department. In 1938 He was drafted to serve his country in the Red Army. He began his military service in Kiev in the tank corp.
Kalashnikov was a natural born tinkerer and inventor. During his early months in the army, he became interested in small arms. His commanding officer recognized an eager and inventive intelligence, and recommended Kalashnikov for a technical course that would qualify him as an armorer once he had completed his basic training. As a result, Kalashnikov attended the training school for tank drivers. While he was there, he designed and built a device to measure the tank's fuel consumption. He also designed an improved track assembly for tanks, and an inertia revolution counter to register the number of shots from a tank gun, as well as other tank related inventions. Kalashnikov was promoted to sergeant in 1939, and sent to Leningrad by his commander-in-chief General G.K. Zhukov to oversee production of his fuel gauge and track assemblies.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 he became a Red Army Senior Sergeant, and went to the front lines, where he served as a tank commander. In September, during the battle for Bryansk, his vehicle was struck by an explosive round, and Kalashnikov was badly wounded in the shoulder, and was hospitalized. During World War II, the Germans had developed the assault rifle, based upon research that showed that most fire-fights happened within a range of less than 300 yards. The rifle cartridges in use at the time were larger and heavier that what was really needed for most battles. As a result, armies sought a cartridge and rifle combining high capacity magazines, automatic fire and an intermediate-power cartridge.
The resultant rifle, the German Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was not the first with these features; its predecessors were the Italian Cei-Rigotti and the Russian Fedorov Avtomat design rifles. The Germans, however, were the first to produce and field sufficient numbers of this assault rifle to properly evaluate its combat utility. While in the hospital, recovering, Kalashnikov began to dream of a new Soviet firearm, which would match or even improve on the German weapons. In the hospital library he found V.G. Fedorov's basic weapons textbook, Evolution of Small Arms. Kalashnikov later wrote: "That was my lucky day. The book by Vladimir Federov proved to be invaluable. It gave me my first insight into the principles of developing automatic firearms, and put me straight on the positive and negative aspects of each class of firearms."
Mikhail Kalashnikov says his rifle was not based on the German StG44 assault rifle. But the AK-47 represents a combination of previous rifle innovations: the double locking lugs and unlocking raceway of the M1 Garand/M1 carbine; the trigger and safety mechanism of the Browning Remington Model 8 rifle; and the gas system and layout of the German StG44. The main advantages of the Kalashnikov rifle are simple design and adaptation to mass production. It is a melding of the best the Garand, Browning, and StG44 features. Kalashnikov had ready access to the StG44, and he experimented with similar concepts, but he threw out many details of the StG44: The two-part receiver (something that the M16 has), the clumsy return mechanism (, another something the M16 shares with the StG44), the tilting bolt, the gas piston, the left-side safety lever and charging handle, the tight part fittings. The StG44 had the right concept, but Kalashnikov found out in his development that many of the details were wrong.
Granted a six month rest leave, Kalashnikov went home to Alma-Ata, which was also the new location of the Moscow Aviation Institute. There he visited friends in the railway technical section, and convinced one of them, Zhenya Kravchenko to let him use the depot's machine tools to continue his design work. After three months, Kalashnikov produced a working design. He then went out to find a Communist party official to sponsor his work.
After many interviews, Kalashnikov met the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. While the Secretary was not a firearms expert, he believed that there might be some merit to the design. As a result, he arranged for Kalashnikov to continue development of his sub-machine gun at the near-by Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI). Kalashnikov continued to refine his design, and it was eventually sent to the Dzerzhinskiy Artillery Academy for testing and evaluation.
Kalashnikov's firearm came to the attention of General Anatoly Arkadaevich Blagonravov, the Chairman of Infantry Weapons at the Dzerzhinskiy Artillery Academy. He decided to provide Kalashnikov with a formal engineering education. Kalashnikov never rejoined the military, but became a technician at the proving ground at Ensk. While at Ensk Kalashnikov attracted further attention through his work on modifications to Goryunov machineguns. These modifications brought him two 'author's certificates', the closest thing the Soviet Union had to patents. It was also at Ensk that Kalashnikov first came into contact with leading firearm designers Degtyarev, Simonov, and Sudayev.
Kalashnikov changed his design in 1944 to match the newer 7.62 x 39 mm cartridges. He developed a selective fire carbine that used a rotating bolt operated by a cam lug moving in a groove in the bolt carrier. It had a fixed magazine, like the SKS, but it used many features which would later re-appear in the AK47. Kalashnikov's project died when the SKS was adopted by the Soviet Army as their semi-automatic battle rifle.
Kalashnikov's competitor, A.I. Sudayev, submitted a very different 7.62 x 39 mm automatic rifle in early 1944. It was a blowback operated gun using a massive bolt. Tests indicated that the gun would quickly shoot itself to pieces, and that further development was needed. Sudayev then submitted a second design that incorporated a rotating bolt mechanism (like Kalashnikov's design) and a folding butt. Tests indicated that the gun was still too heavy, and the Artillery Committee of the Main Artillery Commission issued requirements for decreasing the weight.
Kalashnikov was studying the weapons of the other designers while developing his own weapon. Kalashnikov produced his 'Mikhtim' (derived from his first name and patronymic). He settled on the use of a gas operated mechanism, and in the Spring of 1946 he submitted his latest rifle for evaluation by the Main Artillery Commission, and won acceptance after it was dragged through mud, sand, and dust and was still able to fire without jamming. Moscow authorities accepted his design for development as an experimental weapon. Kalashnikov created a design team which included A.A. Zaytsev, Engineer-Colonel V.S. Demin, V.V. Krupin, V.A. Kharkov, A.D. Kryakushkin, N.N. Afanasyev, and V.N. Punshin, and tests continued.
By 1949 the 'Avtomat Kalashnikova' had been accepted as the standard carbine of the Soviet Army, capping four years of design, engineering work and testing. Production of the AK47 began late in 1949. When released from military service in 1949, Kalashnikov was assigned to the Izhevsk Machine Factory as a civilian engineer, where he quickly became a senior manager, overseeing production engineering and design operations. Kalishnikov and his team then perfected a new and lighter stamped receiver for the AK.
There were many setbacks during early production. The first models had stamped sheet metal receivers. Difficulties were encountered in welding the guide and ejector rails, causing high rejection rates. Instead of halting production, a heavy machined receiver was substituted for the sheet metal receiver. This was a more costly process, but the use of machined receivers accelerated production as tooling and labor for the earlier Mosin-Nagant rifle's machined receiver were easily adapted. Partly because of these problems, the Soviets were not able to distribute large numbers of the new rifle to soldiers until 1956. During this time, production of the interim SKS rifle continued.
Once manufacturing difficulties had been overcome, a redesigned version designated the AKM (Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy) was introduced in 1959. This new model reverted to an improved stamped sheet metal receiver, and featured a slanted muzzle brake on the end of the barrel to compensate for muzzle rise under recoil. In addition, a hammer retarder was added to prevent the weapon from firing out of battery (without the bolt being fully closed), during rapid or automatic fire. This is also sometimes referred to as a 'cyclic rate reducer', or simply 'rate reducer', as it also has the effect of reducing the number of rounds fired per minute during automatic fire. It was also lighter than the previous model, at roughly one-third lighter.
Between 1950 and 1970, a series of unified small arms weapons developed by Kalashnikov: AKM, AKMS, AK-74, AKS-74, AK-74U, RPK, RPRS, RPK-74, RPKS-74, PK, PKS, PKM, PKSM, PKT, PKTM, PKB, PKMB-were adopted.
In the 1974, Soviet Army officially adopted the 5.45mm ammunition and the appropriately chambered AK-74 assault rifle as its new standard shoulder arm. The AKM, however, was never officially removed from service, and is still in Russian army stocks. many non-infantry units of the Russian Army are still armed with 1960s vintage AKM assault rifles. There's also an increasing interest in the 7.62mm weapons since many troops were disappointed by the effectiveness of the 5.45mm ammo during the local conflicts in the 1990s. Some Russian special forces troops (mostly police and Internal Affairs Ministry), currently operating in Chechnya, are using the venerable 7.62mm AKM rifles.
The AK and AKM rifles also were widely exported to the pro-Soviet countries and regimes all around the world. Manufacturing licenses along with all necessary technical data packages were transferred to many Warsaw Pact countries (Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia) and to some other Communist countries, like China and North Korea. Some non-communist, but friendly countries, like the Egypt, Finland and Iraq, also received these licenses. The AK is the only firearm ever that was depicted on the national flag - the Mozambique flag features a distinctive silhouette of the Kalashnikov rifle.
At the present time almost all manufacturers of the AK-type weapons ceased the production of the 7.62mm assault rifles for the military use (except probably for the newest AK-103, made in limited numbers by the IZHMASH in Russia). On the other hand, production of the semi-automatic only civilian AK derivatives is continued in many countries, including Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, China and some others.
Technical description of the AKM assault rifle
The AKM is a gas operated, selective fire assault rifle.
The gas operated action has a massive bolt carrier with a permanently attached long stroke gas piston. The gas chamber is located above the barrel. The bolt carrier rides on the two rails, machined in the receiver, with the significant clearances between the moving and stationary parts, which allows the gun to operate even when its interior is severely fouled with sand or mud. The rotating bolt has two massive lugs that lock into the receiver. Bolt is so designed that on the unlocking rotation it also makes a primary extraction movement to the fired case.
This results in very positive and reliable extraction even with dirty chamber and cases. The rotation of the bolt is ensured by the curved cam track, machined in the bolt carrier, and by the appropriate stud on the bolt itself. The return spring and a spring guide are located behind the gas piston and are partially hidden in its hollow rear part when bolt is in battery. The return spring base also serves as a receiver cover lock. The cocking handle is permanently attached to the bolt carrier (in fact, it forms a single machined steel unit with carrier), and does reciprocate when gun is fired.
The receiver of the AKM is made from the stamped sheet steel, with machined steel inserts riveted into the place where required. Earliest AK-47 receivers were also made from the stamped and machined parts, riveted together, but this soon proved to be unsatisfactory, and most of the AK (pre-1959) rifles were made with completely machined receivers. The receiver cover is a stamped sheet metal part, with stamped strengthening ribs found on the AKM covers.
The relatively simple trigger/hammer mechanism is loosely based on the 1900's period Browning designs (much like the most other modern assault rifles), and features a hammer with two sears - one main, mounted on the trigger extension, and one for the semi-automatic fire, that intercepts the hammer in the cocking position after the shot is fired and until the trigger is released. Additional auto sear is used to release the hammer in full auto mode. The AKM trigger unit also featured a hammer release delay device, which is served to delay the hammer release in the full auto fire by few microseconds.
This does not affects the cyclic rate of fire, but allows the bolt group to settle in the forwardmost position after returning into the battery. The combined safety - fire selector switch of distinctive shape is located on the right side of the receiver. In the 'Safe' position (topmost) it locks the bolt group and the trigger, and also served as a dust cover. The middle position is for automatic fire, and the bottom position is for single shots. The safety / fire selector switch is considered by many as the main drawback of the whole AK design, which is not cured in the most of derivatives until now. It is slow, uncomfortable and sometimes stiff to operate (especially when wearing gloves or mittens), and, when actuated, produces a loud and distinctive click. There's no bolt stop device, and the bolt always goes forward when the last shot from the magazine is fired.
AKM is fed from the 30 rounds, stamped steel magazines of heavy, but robust design. Early AK magazines were of slab-sided design, but the more common AKM magazines featured additional stamped ribs on the sides. Positive magazine catch is located just ahead of the trigger guard and solidly locks the magazine into the place. Insertion and the removal of the magazine requires slight rotation of the magazine around its front top corner, that has a solid locking lug. If available and required, a 40 round box magazines of similar design, or the 75 rounds drums (both from the RPK light machine gun) can be used. Late in production plastic magazines of the distinctive reddish color were introduced.
AKM rifles were issued with wooden stocks and pistol handles. Late production AKM rifles had a plastic pistol grip instead of wooden one. The wooden buttstock has a steel buttplate with mousetrap cover, that covers the accessory container in the butt. The AK buttstock are more swept-down than the AKM ones. The folding stock version had been developed for the airborne troops and its had an underfolding steel shoulder stock. These modifications of the AK and AKM were designated the AKS and AKMS, respectively. AK were issued with the detachable knife-bayonets, and the AKM introduced a new pattern of the shorter, multipurpose knife-bayonet, which can be used in conjunction with its sheath to form a wire-cutter. All AK and AKM rifles were issued with the canvas carrying slings.
The sights of the AKM consist of the hooded front post and the U-notch open rear. Sights are graduated from 100 to 1000 (800 on AK) meters, with an additional 'fixed' battle setting that can be used for all ranges up to 300 meters.
AKM rifles also can be fitted with the 40mm GP-25 grenade launchers, that are mounted under the forend and the barrel. Grenade launchers had its own sights on the left side of the unit.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, Communist China and the United States supplied arms and technical knowledge to numerous client-state countries and rebel forces. While the United States used the relatively expensive M-14 battle rifle and M16 assault rifle during this time, it generally supplied older surplus weapons to its allies. The low production and materials costs of the AK-47 meant that the USSR could produce and supply client states with this rifle instead of sending surplus munitions. As a result, the Cold War saw the mass export, sometimes free of charge, of AK-47s by the Soviet Union and Communist China to pro-communist countries and groups such as the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and Vietcong. The AK design was spread to over 55 national armies and dozens of paramilitary groups.
The proliferation of this weapon is reflected by more than just numbers. The AK is included in the flag of Mozambique and its coat of arms, an acknowledgement that the country's rulers gained power in large part through the effective use of their AK-47's. It is also found in the coat of arms of Zimbabwe and East Timor, the revolution era coat of arms of Burkina Faso, the flag of Hezbollah, and the logo of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. 'Kalash', a shortened form of 'Kalashnikov', is used as a name for boys in some African countries.
Western cultures, especially the United States, have seen the AK-47 most often in the hands of nations and groups the United States condemns; first the Soviet Army, then its Communist allies during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During the '80s, the Soviet Union became the principal arms dealer to countries embargoed by the United States, including many Middle Eastern nations such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iran, who were willing to ally with the USSR against U.S. interests.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, AK-47s were sold both openly and on the black market to any group with cash, including drug cartels and dictatorial states, and most recently they have been seen in the hands of terrorist factions such as the Taliban and Al-Quaida in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The AK-47 has thus garnered a reputation in Western nations as a symbol of anti-Americanism, and has gained a stereotypical role as the weapon of the enemy. In the United States, movie makers often arm criminals, gang members and terrorist characters with AKs.
In 2006, Colombian musician and peace activist César López devised the escopetarra, an AK converted into a guitar. One sold for US $17,000 in a fundraiser held to benefit the victims of anti-personnel mines, while another was exhibited at the United Nations' Conference on Disarmament.
The Kalashnikov Museum (also called the AK-47 Museum) opened on 4 November 2004 in Izhevsk, a city in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The museum has focused backward in time. It chronicles the official biography of General Kalashnikov, from his childhood to proletarian hero. The Museum Complex of Small Arms of M. T. Kalashnikov, a series of halls and multimedia exhibitions devoted to the AK-47 assault rifle and its offspring. The museum complex has been drawing on average 10,000 visitors a month. The museum serves as Russia's monument to an infantry weapon and to the workers who have made it for almost 60 years.
It presents the guns and their history with civic pride and a revived sense of national confidence. Think of Izhesvk as the Detroit of Slavic small arms. The exhibitions, ranging from static displays of weapons to plasma-screen video presentations showing the guns' use in recent decades, reflect a laborer's affection for what has long flowed from nearby foundries and assembly lines. Much of the material is also viewed through the life of Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the man credited with designing the weapon in secret trials in 1947, and who still lives a few blocks away. Were you to substitute automobiles for firearms and add a bit of military décor, this might be a museum celebrating Henry Ford.
We emphasize the peaceful side of this story, said Nadezhda Vechtomova, the museum director. We are trying to separate the weapon as a weapon of murder from the people who are producing it and to tell its history in our country.
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