Mikhail Kalashnikov

Text Taken From Legends and Reality of the AK
BY VAL SHILIN and CHARLIE CUTSHAW

The Kalashnikov Phenomenon

The Russian author of this book is a close associate of Mikhail Timofeyvich Kalashnikov, and over the years Kalashnikov related how he came to be one of the world's premier small-arms designers. Legend has it that Kalashnikov was a tank sergeant who dreamed of seeing Soviet soldiers armed with a new type of submachine gun throwing back the invading Nazi hordes. The young Kalashnikov may indeed have dreamed of sending the invading Nazis either back to Germany or to Hades, but this legend is not quite in accord with the facts. Frankly, I see no controversy between his desires and the facts: he always says it was his strongest motivation to begin designing a fully automatic weapon.

Mikhail Kalashnikov was indeed a tank sergeant who was severely wounded in fighting at Brjansk. He was evacuated to a military hospital in Kazan, about 700 kilometers east of Moscow, to recuperate. While in the hospital Kalashnikov became restless and began to think about designing firearms. He obtained paper and pencil and began setting his thoughts to paper. He thought that he would quickly return to combat, but his wounds did not heal as fast as expected, and Kalashnikov was told to go home for convalescent leave. Once his wound had sufficiently healed for him to be released for limited duty, Kalashnikov was sent to Alma-Ata and put to work at a railroad depot. It was in the machine shop of that rail road depot that he created his first prototype submachine gun that authorities sent to the Ordzhonikidze Moscow Aviation Institute, which, like so many other industries west of the Urals, had been evacuated far to the east (in this case to Alma-Ata) to prevent their destruction or capture by the Nazis. The officials at the institute recognized Kalashnikov's innate talent, and although his weapon was not accepted into service, Kalashnikov was transferred from working for the railroad to the machine shops of the Ordzhonikidze Institute. It was there that he produced his second prototype firearm, which was sent to the Dzerzhinskii Ordnance Academy in Samarkand. Again, Kalashnikov's gun was rejected, but it gained national recognition for the budding weapons designer and he was transferred to Shurovo, near Moscow, to work at NIPSVMO, the Scientific Test Range for Small Arms and Mortars. This facility dated to 1906 and was an important center for test and evaluation of not only domestic but foreign weapons as well.

The young Kalashnikov not only received "hands on" training in recognition of his abilities, but was sent for formal engineering schooling as well. He worked on modifications to existing Soviet weapons, such as the Goryunov machine gun, which gained him further recognition as a true genius for weapons design. This genius gained Kalashnikov two "author's certificates," the Soviet equivalent of a patent. It was during this period that Kalashnikov met many of the "old school" of Soviet firearms design-among them Degtyarev, Simonov, and Sudayev.

Early in 1944, Kalashnikov was given some Ml 943 7.62x39mm cartridges and informed that there were several designers working on weapons for this new Soviet small-arms cartridge. It was suggested to him that this new weapon might well lead to greater things, and he undertook work on the new rifle. The rifle that Kalashnikov designed was in the same class as the familiar SKS-45 Simonov with fixed magazine and gas tube above the barrel.

Again, Kalashnikov's design was a loser, but with each passing rejection he was learning more about weapons design, and some of the features of his rifle that lost to Simonov would find their way into Kalashnikov's future designs. Moreover, he continued to get exposure as a premier firearms engineer and at age 25 was working with men such as Simonov who were approaching the end of their productive careers, while Kalashnikov was just beginning his.
The SKS was not quite what the Soviet army was seeking, and work continued on a true avtomat, or assault rifle. The desire for a true assault rifle was probably influenced by the success of the German MP43/44/StG44 assault rifle. As usual in the Soviet Union and Russia, a number of designers developed competing assault rifle designs, among them Kalashnikov, Simonov, and Sudayev. The favorite was Sudayev's design, which was already undergoing tests but which had some major shortcomings, such as being too heavy. Kalashnikov was a newcomer to this competition but began thinking about how to develop an operating system that could be used in an entire family of small arms-assault rifle, light machine gun, and machine gun. Kalashnikov sent his design off for consideration in early 1946 and very shortly thereafter was advised to proceed with development of a prototype assault rifle.

In response to Moscow's approval, Kalashnikov assembled a small "collective," called a team in Western vernacular, with individual special skills to help hasten the manufacture of the new weapon. The team worked feverishly to get the prototype finished on schedule, and according to Kalashnikov, his team was largely responsible for meeting the schedule. But a weapon that looks good on paper does not always perform on the range, and so it was with the first prototype of the assault rifle that eventually became the AK-47. There were several flaws, but none that caused any delay in the test program. Kalashnikov's assault rifle was produced in limited numbers and sent for troop trials. After passing the troop trials with virtually no difficulties, the rifle was recommended for adoption by the Soviet army.

One of those who worked with Kalashnikov at the time was Alexander Malimon, an officer who came to the Shurovo Test Range in 1943 and participated in virtually all design and experimentation phases of the AK-47 development. Some have disparaged Kalashnikov, essentially claiming that it was his design team that did the work, while Kalashnikov took the credit. In preparation for this book, we interviewed one of Kalashnikov's associates from those days at his home in lzhevsk, and he put the lie to any such claims. Kalashnikov's old friend, who requested anonymity, stated categorically that as far as he was concerned, Kalashnikov is a natural-born weapons designer. Further, the Chief Missile and Artillery Department (GRAU) saw to it that Kalashnikov received the technical support that he needed to get the job done. In addition, Kalashnikov was literally tireless: his friends sometimes referred to him as perpetuum mobile, perpetual motion. By combining genius and hard work, Kalashnikov met and overcame every challenge.


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