In 1941, a German Panzer Division advanced toward Moscow, where the Battle of Bryansk was fought. Russian tank commander Mikhail Kalashnikov was wounded during the battle and spent the rest of the war recovering from his injuries. It was during his stay in the hospital that he obsessed with flashbacks of the bloody battle and the lightning bursts from the German submachine gun known as the Sturmgewehr 44. This fearsome weapon had outgunned every weapon in the Red arsenal, killing and wounding many of his comrades.
Up until the Nazi defeat and end of the war, Kalashnikov worked on the design of an assault rifle that could challenge enemy machine-gun fire. He finally settled on a design and entered a small-arms design competition in 1946, going up against the SKS semi-automatic carbine under extreme-weather testing conditions.
Kalashnikov’s rifle design proved reliable under all environmental extremes and offered the fire-power and handling characteristics needed by an infantryman. It was truly a weapon designed by a soldier for a soldier. Code-named the AK-1, the rifle underwent minor design changes followed by limited production in 1948. After a year of field tests, the Soviet Army adopted the Kalashnikov assault rifle in 1949.
Even after formal acceptance, the design continued to evolve. The stamped sheet-metal receiver morphed into a machined receiver. A muzzle brake followed. Changes were subsequently made in the fire selector, sights, magazine-cartridge characteristics and accessory devices, such as grenade-launching capability.
The big advantages of the AK-47 are its simplicity of design, compact size and adaptation to mass production. This weapon even allows a soldier wearing gloves to operate and repair the weapon in the field. The AK-47 also features a large gas piston and generous clearances between moving parts, allowing for continued firing where mud, dirt and debris factor into the firing equation. Loose tolerances diminish accuracy, but since most fire fights occur at relatively close ranges, cartridge cycling reliability was considered a fair trade-off.
Production and use of the AK-47 continues today across the globe. National militaries, guerrillas, insurgents and sport hunters all use this fearsome weapon. It’s interesting to think that the nightmarish flashbacks of a wounded soldier spawned the development of a weapon that has been in use for almost seven decades. Motivated to drive enemy invaders from his cherished Motherland, Kalashnikov created one of the most popular firearms ever invented.