It’s one of the most popular assault rifles in the world. Even after 70 years, it still poses a significant threat to anyone who crosses it. It has become a cultural icon, a symbol, and a source of pride. It is one of the most influential inventions to ever come out of the 20th century, and its design has stood the test of time. I am talking, of course, of the history of the AK-47.
It is a rifle that has its share of imitations, though many say none compare with the original. The Soviets put it on a coin, and other nations have had it on their coats of arms. The nation of Mozambique, as well as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, even went so far as to put it on their flags. It is a symbol of armed resistance and liberation.
Invention of AK-47
The Avtamat Kalashnikov model of 1947 – more commonly known as the AK-47, the Kalashnikov, or simply the Kalash – is a weapon which all combat soldiers love. It was developed in secrecy by the Soviet Union during the beginning of the Cold War. To paraphrase Nicholas Cage in Lord of War, it shoots whether it is covered in sand, mud, rain, or blood. It doesn’t overheat, it doesn’t break, and it doesn’t jam. It is the most profitable export to come out of the USSR. “One thing’s for sure,” says Cage, “no-one was lining up to buy their cars.”
The AK-47 is the invention of a Russian tank mechanic. Its origins harken back to the Second World War, and to the different tactics used by infantry soldiers at the time. It’s amazing how wars change the world we live in.
The German Blitzkriegs of 1939 and 1940 forced the opposing nations to re-think their tactics, as well as the place of the rifleman in battle. The famed trenches of World War I were all but obsolete. This was a new time, a new era of combat, where firing a well-aimed and well-timed shot from a fixed position had become a thing of the past.
The distances between a soldier and his enemy were growing shorter, so there was no longer a real need for a battle rifle which could fire large caliber bullets at long range targets. That philosophy may still hold true for snipers and marksmen, but not for the common foot soldier. This was a new kind of battlefield, a much smaller one (in infantry terms), and the rifleman was now a lot more mobile, and a lot closer to his enemies.
A new kind of weapon was necessary to facilitate this dramatic shift in war doctrine. Wanted: a deadly weapon, as lethal as the battle rifle, but that was designed for short- to mid-range targets. True, there were different kinds of submachine guns available at the time, but they had relatively small calibers and were not accurate enough. Furthermore, it wasn’t practical for every single infantry soldier to carry a submachine gun, spare ammo, accompanying equipment, and personal gear.
Providing the individual soldier with a new kind of rifle, with lethal short- to mid-range firepower, was something the Germans saw as a top priority. They were the first to recognize the need for such a weapon, and they went to work on developing it.
Nothing beats quality Germen engineering, eh? The outcome of their efforts was the German 7.92 X 33mm cartridge. This cartridge was one which began a revolution in small arms. It enabled the German infantry to use a more compact rifle, carry more ammo, concentrate firepower, and improve the controllability of the weapon during automatic fire.
In 1943, the German assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr (also known as StG 44), was introduced. It was the first of its kind, and it is considered the first modern assault rifle. It was safer, simpler, and easier to operate than any submachine gun that was being used at the time.
Two years later, the war was over. The StG 44 didn’t get to experience wide distribution, but it was sent to the Eastern front. The Soviets were very impressed and taken by the new weapon. One Soviet soldier in particular, a man by the name of Mikhail Kalashnikov, was especially interested in the StG 44.