The AK-47: The Weapon that shaped the Battlefields - History Key

The AK-47: The Weapon that shaped the Battlefields

In almost every movie you will see some bad guys armed with AK-47 assault rifles. No, it is not a trend, but more likely a wise choice, let us explain you why.

Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 – AK47

AK stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova, or more clearly “Automatic Kalashnikov”. It is a semi-automatic and automatic 7.62 x 39 mm assault rifle, developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov. The design work for the weapon started during 1945, so during the following year the AK-47 was introduced to official military tests and in the spring of 1949 the AK-47 was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces.

Mikhail Kalashnikov with his legendary rifle
Mikhail Kalashnikov with his legendary rifle © Image Source:

The story of the AK-47 began in 1941, when Mikhail Kalashnikov, initially member of a tank crew, was recovering from a wound he received in the Battle of Bryansk. While in hospital, Mikhail had the idea of a practical and easy use of a weapon, as he stated:

“I was in the hospital, and a soldier in the bed beside me asked: ‘Why do our soldiers have only one rifle for two or three of our men when the Germans have automatics?’ So I designed one. I was a soldier, and I created a machine gun for a soldier. It was called an Avtomat Kalashnikova, the automatic weapon of Kalashnikov AK and it carried the date of its first manufacture, 1947.” from An interview with Mikhail Kalashnikov, Robert Fisk, The Independent.

The AK-47 is strongly influenced by the American M1 and the German StG 44. In fact, Kalashnikov admitted that his intention was to take the best from them and design a new rifle. The Soviets had plenty of captured German equipment, and also the American M1 was at disposal, so Mikhail did not have to take everything from zero level, in fact, he had a vital advantage.

AK-47 © Image Source: The Specialists Ltd

‘‘One thing is clear: before attempting to create something new, it is vital to have a good appreciation of everything that already exists in this field. Myself have had many experiences confirming this to be so.” (Mikhail Kalashnikov, Bolotin 1995, pp. 123–124)

Mikhail Kalashnikov succeeded in his goal, producing a rifle that even today, after seven decades and many technological discoveries, is the most popular and used assault rifle in the world.

What makes it so good?

The secret lies in the rifle’s ability to properly function in very difficult conditions, very low production costs and mechanisms that can easily be repaired or replaced. Nowadays, the AK-47 (and its derivatives) are still in service with both armed forces and irregular forces worldwide.

It is estimated that of 500 million firearms deployed around the world, around 100 million are from the Kalashnikov production line, most of them AK-47’s. Here some technical facts related to the rifle:

  • The AK-47 is equipped with a long stroke gas system, a barrel with a chrome-lined bore and four-hand grooves at a 240 mm rifling twist rate.
  • It fires the 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge with a muzzle velocity of 715 m/s. The cartridge weight is 16.3 g, the projectile weight is 7.9 g.
  • On the AK-47, you will find a notched rear tangent iron sight, which is calibrated in 100 m, increasing from 100 to 800 m. Both vertical and horizontal sight adjustments are possible.
Saddam Hussein's Gold plated AK-47
Saddam Hussein’s Gold-plated AK-47 © Image Source:

The AK-47 accuracy is considered to be “good enough”, but not something to take as reference. Under testing, the rifle hit a target located at 300 m, but specialists reported difficulties to group more rounds in the same area, even if in bench or prone position. Loaded with magazines reporting a distinctive pronounced curve and coming with 30 rounds standard capacity, the rifle accepts also magazines of 10, 20 or 40 rounds, not to forget the 75-round drum magazine.

AK-47 with 75-rounds drum magazine
AK-47 with 75-rounds drum magazine © Image Source: Arundel Militaria

“People often ask me how I feel about my invention being used to kill people every day and the AK being a common weapon of ethnic conflicts. I want to make it clear that I created my assault rifle to protect my country. You can blame politicians for its spreading out of control on a global scale.” (Mikhail Kalashnikov)

Despite its simple design and function, the AK-47 has quite a few accessories to be attached. We have the 6H3 bayonet (387 mm / 15.2 in), a 40 mm under-barrel grenade launcher or a rarer cup-type grenade launcher. Various scopes and sighting accessories can be equipped, one of the most well-known is the PSO-1 Optical Sniper Sight.

Used in every armed conflict after WW2, the AK-47 has variants produced in dozens of countries. The rifle’s quality ranging from standard and correctly engineered weapons, to faulty and out of the standard products.

“Throughout the world, the AK and its variants are commonly used by governments, revolutionaries, terrorists, criminals, and civilians alike. In some countries, such as Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Congo and Tanzania, the prices for Black Market AKs are between $30 and $125 per weapon and prices have fallen in the last few decades due to mass counterfeiting”(The AK-47: The World’s Favorite Killing Machine. Control Arms Briefing Note, June 26, 2006)

Anyway, it should not be easy to live having in mind that your invention is related to millions of deaths, and that was an aspect that reached for sure Mikhail Kalashnikov. He stated few words about this matter: “I made it to protect the motherland.”

A young Kalashnikov at the design table
A young Kalashnikov at the design table © Image Source:

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