The Man Who Invented The World’s Favourite War Weapon – the AK-47.
Above Photo: North Vietnamese Army soldiers fire AK-47s during the Vietnam War. (© unknown)
Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, a weapon that has killed more people than any other gun in the world. He died aged 94 in 2013, in his home city of Izhevsk, near the Ural Mountains, where his gun is still made.
He was in his 20s when he created the gun just after World War Two, and an estimated 100 million of his easy to use and assemble deadly weapon are now thought to be spread worldwide. It was the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army’s rifle of choice during the Vietnam War, and both China and Russia imported them to Vietnam in the hundreds of thousands.
The self-taught peasant turned tank mechanic who never finished school, achieved a remarkable and lasting feat of engineering. As his rifles became synonymous with terrorists and rebel armies he was asked if he regretted engineering the weapon that probably killed more than any other.
“I invented it for the protection of the Motherland. I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it,” he told them.
“I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.”
At his museum in Izhevsk, where he spent most of his life working at the factory that was eventually named after him, there is an mechanical lawnmower Kalashnikov invented to more easily take care of the lawn at his country house.
Born in 1919, Mikhail was the seventeenth child of well-off peasants. When he was eleven, during Joseph Stalin’s purges his parents had their land confiscated, and the whole family was exiled to Siberia.
As the country began to prepare for World War Two Kalashnikov chose to go into a tank brigade.
There he was allowed to create several modifications – a tank shot counter, a running time meter – that were to be adopted for the whole Red Army, and made him famous.
Kalashnikov’s own career as a tank commander was cut short in the first few months of the conflict on the Eastern Front, when he was injured in the shoulder by a shell.
Kalashnikov says the idea for the AK47 came to him as he recuperated in hospital, although the invention of the AK-47 was not a Eureka moment, but a trial-and-error process of modifications and improvements undertaken by a team over six years.
His design was based on several principles that had already been seen in British, Russian and Italian weapons to which he had easy access as he drew up his blueprints. He wanted to make it a simple to use and function as possible so it could be used in harsh Russian conditions and maintained easily by soldiers in the field.
His idea for the AK-47 was that it would not be a weapon designed for accuracy but to be used for close quarter fighting, and which was easy for a novice to fire and strip down to clean. These specifications led to its enduring legacy over 60 years on. It was also viewed as a more reliable weapon by US troops during the Vietnam War for its durability over the M-16.
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
Peter Alan Lloyd
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