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
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
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.