5 popular misconceptions about the Kalashnikov assault rifle

November 28, 2016 Russkaya Semyorka
The Kalashnikov is one of the most popular small arms models in the world, a symbol of simplicity and reliability. While the “Kalash” is practically a household name, however, many misconceptions about it continue to circulate. Here are five myths about the iconic rifle.
Mikhail Kalashnikov shows a model of his world-famous AK-47 assault rifle
Mikhail Kalashnikov shows a model of his world-famous AK-47 assault rifle at home in the Ural Mountain city of Izhevsk, 1000 km (625 miles) east of Moscow. Source: AP

1. The AK-47 is a copy of the Sturmgewehr

Sometimes people say that the basis for the creation of this assault rifle was the German G-44 assault rifle (Sturmgewehr). However, this is far from the truth. The question of the creation of a series of small arms (assault rifle, carbine, submachine gun) using an intermediate cartridge was first raised in the Soviet Union as early as July 1943, after the capture of a trophy sample of the German carbine Mkb-42(H).

Later, Soviet designers were assigned the task of creating automatic weapons using the intermediate cartridge of 1943. As a result, the competition held in 1944 was won by the assault rifle (AS-44) designed by Alexei Sudayev. However, in view of the feedback and suggestions, it was decided to refine and adopt the gun.

However, in 1946, Sudayev suddenly died at the age of 34, and unfortunately, as it turned out, there was no one available to finish his work. The question of creating an assault rifle was left open – and so a new competition was announced, in which the technical specifications were primarily based on the characteristics of Sudayev’s already tested weapon, rather than on the German Sturmgewehr Stg-44 (which, however, was used in comparative firing tests).

Later, after a series of complex and lengthy competitive tests, they decided to go with the 7.62-mm Kalashnikov assault rifle (AK) or AK-47.

2. The AK-47 appeared in 1947

There is a long-running belief that the Kalashnikov assault rifle appeared in the army in 1947. However, it usually takes a long time to pass from the adoption of a model to the beginning of mass production and its actual introduction into the armed forces. This is the story of the PPSh-41, SKS-45 and many other models of small arms.

The Kalashnikov was no exception. Despite its designation as the “Kalashnikov assault rifle, 1947 model,” it went into mass production and, accordingly, was introduced into the armed forces, only in 1949.

The AK-47 was first used in combat in the operation codenamed Vikhr (Whirlwind), in which Soviet troops intervened to crush an anti-communist uprising in Hungary in November 1956. The general public had seen the Kalashnikov for the first time a year earlier, in the Soviet comedy Maxim Perepelitsa.

3. The ‘Kalash’ was popular because it was easy to assemble

Often, when talking about the merits of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, people mention the simplicity and reliability of this weapon – and this is true. However, it took a long time to achieve. The actual and final sample was adopted only in 1959, as the Kalashnikov AKM, the “M” standing for “modernized.”

The problem lay in the fact that the AK-47 was extremely difficult and expensive to produce, since from the stamping process they had to go back to more complex manufacturing, milling the receiver.

The first model of the AK-47 assault rifle is on display at the conference marking the 60th anniversary of the Soviet AK-47 Kalashnikov automatic rifle at the Rosoboronexport State Corporation.  Source: Grigory Sysoyev/TASSThe first model of the AK-47 assault rifle is on display at the conference marking the 60th anniversary of the Soviet AK-47 Kalashnikov automatic rifle at the Rosoboronexport State Corporation. Source: Grigory Sysoyev/TASS

The production of the assault rifle became intermittent, and the shortage of small arms in the army was made up by using Simonov’s carbine. It became necessary to simplify the manufacturing of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, for which purpose new varieties of steel and production technologies were used.

A number of changes were made to the weapon. The weight of the assault rifle was reduced by 600 grams and the knife bayonet was introduced for the first time, replacing the standard bayonet. One of the main advantages of the new version, in comparison with the AK-47, was the highly mechanized and relatively low-cost production process of this weapon.

Fyodor Tokarev, the well-known Soviet designer of the TT pistol and SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle, gave the following description of the AKM: “This model is reliable in operation, ensures high accuracy and precision shooting, and is relatively light.”

Produced in the years 1960-1976, the AKM was probably the most mass-produced model of the Kalashnikov assault rifle in the Soviet army. To this day, the AKM remains in service with Russia’s airborne troops as a silent weapon (with a snap-on silencer, the installation of which on the AK-74 was problematic).

4. The ‘Kalash’ is unique

Were there examples in other countries of small arms like the Kalashnikov, but that were not copies of the original? Such a model was created in post-war Czechoslovakia.

The fact is that sometimes Warsaw Pact countries used weapons designed not only in the USSR, but models that they themselves created. In this sense, Czechoslovakia, which had a rich tradition of the development and production of small arms, was no exception. In 1958 the Czechoslovak Army adopted the Čermak CZ SA Vz.58 assault rifle, which looks very similar to the Kalashnikov, but differs significantly in its design. This assault rifle is characterized by the high quality of its production, although when it comes to reliability it is still inferior to the Kalashnikov.

5. The AKS74U is an assault weapon

Often they say that AKS74U, with its shorter half-barrel and collapsible stock, was intended for airborne troops. However, this is not true. Initially, this model was designed as a weapon for combat vehicle crews, artillery and communications units – that is, those soldiers, who because of the specificity of their tasks, did not have to spend a long time on the front line.

In this sense, a more compact model was fully justified. However, it so happened that to test this new assault rifle in a combat situation, in 1982-83, the AKS74U was sent to assault troops that were fighting in Afghanistan.

All the unflattering and rather unpleasant nicknames that were given to this model are connected with the attempt to use this assault rifle in units that were engaged in intense fighting.

Here they revealed the chief disadvantages of this truncated model – its low accuracy, shorter sighting range and quickly overheating barrel. After the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the AKS74U was withdrawn from service, sent for storage to warehouses, and later, in connection with the aggravated criminal situation in the country, it was issued to Interior Ministry personnel, where it is still being used to this day.

This was the only version of the Kalashnikov assault rifle that was manufactured in Tula, while the manufacturing of other models was concentrated in Izhevsk.

First published in Russian by Russkaya Semyorka

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