In his own way Mikhail Kalashnikov was as great a gun designer as John Browning or Eugene Stoner.
The simplicity of the AK47 and its many variants is its strength. Its ease of manufacture has made it an equalizer in the many conflicts poorer nations have found themselves in.
The New York Times: Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Dies at 94
By C. J. CHIVERS
Published: December 23, 2013
Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the arms designer credited by the Soviet Union with creating the AK-47, the first in a series of rifles and machine guns that would indelibly associate his name with modern war and become the most abundant firearms ever made, died on Monday in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic, where he lived. He was 94.
Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic’s president, confirmed the death, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Born a peasant on the southern Siberian steppe, General Kalashnikov had little formal education and claimed to be a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weapons to conceive of a rifle that achieved battlefield ubiquity.
His role in the rifle’s creation, and the attention showered on him by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, carried him from conscription in the Red Army to senior positions in the Soviet arms-manufacturing bureaucracy and ultimately to six terms on the Supreme Soviet.
Tens of millions of Kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured. Their short barrels, steep front-sight posts and curved magazines made them a marker of conflict that has endured for decades. The weapons also became both Soviet and revolutionary symbols and widespread instruments of terrorism, child-soldiering and crime.
The general, who sometimes lamented the weapons’ unchecked distribution but took pride in having invented them and in their reputation for reliability, weathered the collapse of the Soviet Union to assume a public role as a folk hero and unequivocal Russian patriot.
Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, who has died aged 94, was the Russian designer of the world-famous firearm to which he gave his name. The Kalashnikov rifle, and derivatives of it, have seen service with both regular and irregular forces all over the world. In the hands of the latter, it has become so ubiquitous as to achieve symbolic status. The rifle was ahead of its time when it first appeared in 1947, and continued modifications and redesigns have maintained its potency to the present day.
The weapon is most notable for its reliability in even the most extreme conditions, and its supreme ease of maintenance in the field. These attributes made it equally suitable for the vast conscript army of the USSR and for guerrilla forces of all types and political persuasions. Until relatively recent times little was known of the man who designed this remarkable weapon, but that changed with the era of glasnost.
Kalashnikov was twice made a Hero of Socialist Labour and in many ways he was the very apotheosis of this breed. Self-taught, he produced designs that may be considered the very best of their type. With little formal training he rose to a position of unrivalled pre-eminence in his field – a notable feat given that Soviet weapons development was based on fierce competition among rival designers.
One of a large peasant family, Kalashnikov was born in Kuriya, in the Altai Krai district of southern Siberia. In later life he maintained that, even during his earliest childhood, he felt that he was destined to become a designer. While still a youth, he was forced to flee to avoid questioning by the police over the illegal possession of a pistol. He took work as a railway clerk at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.
Guns and Ammo: Mikhail Kalashnikov Passes Away, Leaves AK-47 Legacy
by Chris Hendrix
December 23rd, 2013
Mikhail Kalashnikov has passed away today in Izhevsk, Russia. While the official cause of death has yet to be released, the 94 year old firearm designer had been hospitalized for the past month with various health ailments. Considered a national hero in his home country of Russia, Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 rifle for a national competition, and notably never profited from its production.
Kalashnikov is survived by three children, and perhaps the finest legacy any inventor can dream of. His first successful firearm design was the iconic AK-47 rifle—a true gun of the people for its ease of use. By 2009, various sources estimated over 100 million copies of the design had been manufactured worldwide. The rifle remains in widespread use and dozens of variants are in manufacture today.
Kalashnikov suffered from health problems early on in life, but still conscripted into the Red Army at the age of nineteen. He showed an aptitude for mechanical tasks, and was assigned work as a tank engineer. It was during his career in the Red Army that Mikhail Kalashnikov began developing firearms. Kalashnikov suffered a bullet wound in to the shoulder in battle, and began designing firearms while spending time in the hospital.
By 1944, Kalashnikov had a design for a semi-automatic, gas-driven rifle, which he submitted to a national competition in Russia to design the military’s next weapon. His design lost out to the SKS. By 1946, the Red Army was already looking to replace the SKS.
A new competition was opened up, and Kalashnikov submitted a new design, his “Avtomat Kalashnikov”, or “AK” for short. This design won the national competition and went into immediate manufacture, with the first models rolling out of the factory in 1947. The AK-47 was born.
While Mikhail Kalashnikov continued to design firearms up until his death, none have had the impact on the world that the AK-47 has. It is considered to be the single most prolific firearm in all of history. Instantly recognizable, the AK-47 is the gun of both freedom fighters and dictators alike, and its reliability and ease of use means nearly any person in any situation can operate it.
The AK-47 and its variants have been used by various militaries worldwide for over half a century and production continues today.