The AK47 Avtomatic Kalashnikov 1947  is the worlds most common, popular and famous small arms weapon.  It is also the worlds most instantly recognizable weapon and can be found in every country in the world.

It was invented by Mikhail Kalashnikov and is believed to have been based on the Word War Two German  StG44 also called the MP44.

ENTER THE STURMGEWEHR 44

During the later stages of World War Two, the Germans realised that they needed a weapon to fill the gap between a submachine gun and a rifle.  The German engineers came up with the SturmGewehr 44...shown below.

It was the first automatic rifle (assault rifle) to equip the German troops and they were delighted with it. Some units even attached telescopic sights to the gun as shown below and fired it on semi-automatic mode (1 shot per trigger pull)

Lets not forget that this gun was the forerunner of most of today's assault rifles. Interesting to note that the British army's SA80 assault rifle has no open sights but is just fitted with a telescopic sight...was this idea derived from the STG44?

NOTE:

The term Sturmgewehr  or StG  translates as Storm Rifle  or Assault Rifle, and that is basically where we derive the name for the weapons category.  In effect it is a crossover, being half submachine gun and half rifle.

It is believed that the German engineers first named the gun as the MP44  meaning Machinenpistole  (sub machine gun)  to disguise the fact that it was an assault rifle, as Adolf Hitler was opposed to replacing the Mauser K98 bolt action rifle.  Below is another image of the StG44 that was equipped to German troops late in World War Two.

The StG44 became in instant success with the troops, it had a select fire mode giving single shot or full automatic fire depending on the battle situation.  The StG44 also fired the 7.92x33mm cartridge which offered great accuracy and enough stopping power up to 400 meters.

400 meters being proved as the average distance that nearly all shoot outs with the enemy occur, so basing the power ratio for this distance is scientifically and ballistically correct.

The StG44 seen below was a rugged and reliable weapon, it was also cheap to manufacture as it was constructed from a lot of pressed steel parts.

Unfortunately for the Germans, the StG44 appeared too late on the battlefield around August 1944 to make any noticeable difference.  However it was after the war that the StG44 made a difference...a big difference, as several assault rifles and especially the AK47 were thought to be influenced by its design.

ENTER MIKHAIL KALASHNIKOV

A Russian weapons designer by the name of Mikhail Kalashnikov liked to take foreign weapons apart and examine them for any ideas of improving on them.  It is believed that Kalashnikov got his hands on the StG44 and was impressed by its design and performance.

Although Kalashnikov later denied that the AK47 was influenced  by the StG44, we can see that the two guns look remarkably similar.  Just to clear any confusion...the StG44 is on the left and the AK47 is on the right.

  

Mikhail Kalashnikov actually designed several similar weapons before he perfected them to become the weapon we know today as the thoroughbred AK47.  Some of Mikhail Kalashnikov's designs included the SKS semi automatic carbine, the AK1 and AK2 but it was the AK47 that was the final product.  When the gun was shown to the Russian military they were quite delighted with its performance.

NOTE:

Mikhail Kalashnikov died on December 23rd 2013, he was 94 years old.  He passed away from problems resulting from a gastric haemorrhage whilst in hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurt where he lived and also invented the AK47.

It was not just the Russian military who were delighted with the AK47's performance, every able bodied man who could carry a gun was also delighted with it, and continues to be to this day.

Whenever you watch videos of soldiers, freedom fighters, insurgents, terrorists, armed protesters, rebels, robbers and ruffians, African and Eastern bloc armies in conflict...at least one of them will be toting an AK47 if not all of them. Usually they tote around a brand new AK47 too! They may be having clean drinking water issues, they may be starving and homeless but many do indeed have brand new thousands of dollars worth of AK's

The AK47 is more prolific in the middle east than in the west, as they are easier and cheaper to obtain. The AK47 is also very easy to load and easy to shoot, requiring little if any training.  It has a long selector switch on the receiver that allows for safety on, single shot or full automatic fire.

Below is a close up illustration of the selector, very obvious and very easy to use.

The gun is also easy to take down into is basic parts for cleaning and is even fitted with a detachable cleaning rod under the barrel.  Many of the later versions did away with this little feature.

Probably the most impressive feature of this gun is its ruggedness and durability to keep on firing under the most atrocious conditions.  It was torture tested in freezing blizzards, snow, ice, water, mud, grit, sand storms and from being dropped onto hard surfaces and kicked about in muddy puddles, after each test the gun still fired every time.

Suffice to say, the Russian military liked it and they officially adopted it into service in 1949.

AK47 FIREPOWER

The AK47 fires the 7.62x39mm cartridge at a reasonably controllable six hundred rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of around 2,250 feet per second. Usually fired from a thirty round box magazine, although 50 and 75 round drum magazines and even 100 round C-Mag  double drum magazines are available.

The 7.62mm bullet has reasonable penetration properties and can go clean through car doors at one hundred meters.  The 7.62mm round also has adequate knock down properties and produces a big wound on exit, consequently it is more powerful than the common 9mm submachine gun that is also highly prolific with countries at war.

The new Iraqi army, guided under U.S administration were very quick to adopt the AK47 as its main assault rifle as the ammunition and spares for this weapon are in abundance in middle east countries.

NOTE:

An actual size AK47 cartridge is shown below and for those not too familiar with bullet dimensions, the diameter of the bullet is 7.62mm and the length of the bullet is 39mm, the entire length of the cartridge including bullet is 54mm. Hence the round is known as 7.62x54mm

Several billion of these cartridges have be manufactured since the advent of the AK47. More 7.62x54mm bullets than there are people on the planet!

The AK47 is not very accurate though, and is renown for it, which is why its users like to get close for a shoot out. The words "spray and prey" do tend to focus with clarity!

However, it is extremely reliable and quite light to carry around, weighing in at 9½ lbs empty. So whether you are a big and tough, 280 lb U.S Marine or a frail 90 lb Vietcong Guerrilla, the gun is easy to tote around all day.  This is probably another reason why so many people actually do tote one around all day.

AK47 OPERATION

The AK47 is a gas blow back  operated weapon, and below is explained the basic operation.  When the gun is fired, gas behind the bullet goes up the barrel and into a port where it is directed to push the working mechanism back at the breach.  This then ejects the spent cartridge case and loads a new cartridge from the magazine to repeat the cycle...it does this ten times a second under automatic fire.

In the image below, the path of the gas is colored red and the moving parts are colored green, to better illustrate this principle.

MORE ABOUT MIKHAIL KALASHNIKOV

Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov: 1919 - 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov was asked if he loses any sleep over the fact that he is responsible for inventing a weapon that has killed people in their ten of millions since its advent in 1947.  Kalashnikov mused over the question and replied with a philosophical outlook saying "I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence "

 

Kalashnikov stated that where he did  lose sleep was whilst he was a soldier driving a tank in World War Two.  He said that he was concerned that the Nazis had superior weapons and were putting them to great effect against his people.  Kalashnikov saw this first hand during the battle of Bryansk in 1941 when his tank got knocked out by a German shell.  This was during Operation Barbarossa...Hitler's invasion of Russia.

It was while Kalashnikov was recuperating in hospital that he decided with determination and resolve to design an automatic carbine to help defeat the Germans.  Kalashnikov said he liked the American M1 Garand and the German StG44 and integrated some design features of them into his gun.

Kalashnikov further added "Blame the Nazis for making me become a gun designer, I always wanted to construct agriculture machinery."

The AK47 is still manufactured in the same factory since he first invented it, in the Ural mountains at 3 Derjabin Pr, Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic 426006 Russia.  It is also made under licence in many other countries.  However it must be noted that nearly a million AK47 assault rifles are made illegally without licence every year, especially in China.

 

The AK47 really put its name on the map during the Vietnam war 1963 -1975 when American GI's actually preferred them over their Colt Armalite M16's due to the fact that the AK47 hardly ever jammed if at all. Kalashnikov added "American soldiers would throw away their M16's and grab AK47's and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers.  I hear American soldiers in Iraq use my AK47 quite often" 

It was stated by the U.S military that the M16's had been issued with the wrong cartridges, in that the propellant was fouling up the guns mechanism, meaning it had to be cleaned after every thirty or so rounds.

The story goes that U.S Army replaced the originally specified DuPont IMR  powder with standard Ball  powder, as used in all of the larger 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition.  Worst of all though, was that the American GI's had not been issued with rifle cleaning kits. as the M16, seen below, was said to be maintenance free.

Recent tests have proved that the M16 would jam in severely dirty, muddy, sandy, wet and cold conditions, whereas the AK47 would keep on going.  Although not as accurate as the M16, it offered the firepower and reliability that is a must in warfare.

NOTE:

The AK47 will rattle when shaken, as all the parts are very loose fitting, this is why it doesn't jam up as the tolerances are not very high.  The Russians also designed their T-34 tanks the same way...with loose fitting parts and they did not freeze up in the Russian winter like the German tanks did.

Kalashnikov went on to say that the simplicity of the AK47's use alone made it a favorite, especially of poorly educated rebels worldwide.  A lesser known fact is that the Mozambique flag even features an AK47...a close up view is shown below.

This could emphasise the fact that many people in those countries put all their faith in the AK47 over anything else...this may be a sad sentiment indeed.

Even with the massive choice of high tech weaponry such as those made by Heckler & Kock, SIG and Colt Armalite it did not stop President Hugo Chavez ordering 100,000 AK47's for his army in 2005

At a ceremony in the Central Russian Army Museum, President of Russia Vladimir Putin praised Kalashnikov by saying "For another twenty years, the AK47 will remain unsurpassed by any other automatic rifle in the world! The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people"

OTHER BASIC AK47 VARIATIONS

Either in its standard format or in one of the many variations, the AK47 assault rifle has been made in numbers that now are estimated to exceed one hundred million units.  To say that the AK47 has a good reputation would be a bit of an understatement...its reputation is as solid as a diamond. Below is shown the very popular folding stock version of the AK47, originaly designed for paratroopers and also for being carried and fired from the inside of vehicles.

The continuing reputation of the AK47 is the main reason why it is also the most copied gun in the world.  The Chinese, being the worlds great replicators of practically everything...created a copy of the AK47 and called it The Chinese Type 56.  This gun is recognizable due to the inclusion of a folding bayonet that sits under the barrel as shown below.  The Chinese obviously thought that this was needed, in that the AK47 was missing something! Apart from that, its an exact copy.

The Chinese Type 56  is apparently quite a well constructed gun and is a faithful reproduction of the real thing.  There are several million of these AK47 copies in the world today.

NOTE:

Bayonets were usually fitted out with a rifle with the guarantee that if the rifle was to jam up at a critical moment then at least it could still be used to defend its owner.  Kalashnikov was under no illusions that his guns would ever jam up and hence never fitted a bayonet to any of them, however new AK47's do now come with a bayonet.

The AKS-74U is primarily a shortened version of the full sized AK47 and was initially issued to Russian Special Forces such as Spetsnaz parachutists.

The AKS-74U was light and highly manoeuvrable, along with its folding stock and very short barrel it was indeed ideal for paratroopers.  It still fired the same cartridge as the AK47 so there was no loss of power except a small drop in velocity due to the shorter barrel.

The AKM seen below is basically an upgraded AK47 and its main difference, along with some other slight improvements, is the muzzle flash hider that is attached to the muzzle.  The idea of this is so that the shooters position is not given away to the enemy so well in low lighting conditions.

Someone in the design department decided that a folding skeleton shoulder stock might be a good idea to replace the fixed wooden one as seen in the image below.  This obviously makes the gun a lot shorter and similar to the AKS, it can be carried a lot easier inside a car by bodyguards, it can also be concealed easier, under a long coat or in a suitcase.  Unlike the AKS, the weapon still affords maximum power as there is no alteration to the barrel or working mechanism.

Basically adding a folding skeleton stock to the AK47 makes the gun more transportable and also adds a certain covert operation ability to what was once a relatively bulky weapon.  This unfortunately is also appealing to terrorists and they will often choose a folding stock model over the fixed stock version.

Below is a Romanian manufactured AK47, easily distinguishable due to the large wooden front grip and different style skeleton folding shoulder stock.  The gun is also equipped with a 50 or 75 round drum magazine for extra firepower.

The RPK Ruchnoy Pulemyot Kalashnikova shown below is a light machinegun variant of the AK47 and has a much longer barrel, and bipod along with a seventy-five round drum magazine.  It has open sights that are graduated up to a range of one thousand meters and is used as a suppression weapon to assist infantry to cover ground quickly.

As a nice touch for the soldiers who use this gun, there is a full cleaning kit stored in the shoulder stock.  Similar to the AK47, this weapon is also used in almost every country in the world, primarily again because of its reliability.

Below (copied off my Spetsnaz webpage ) is the Russian military's sniper rifle version of the AK47 called the Dragunov SVD.  This rifle was a new variation, built from the ground up but utilizes the same gas operating principle as the AK47.  It is a very powerful and extremely accurate gun, especially as it is fitted with  telescopic sights and has a range exceeding one thousand yards.

 

NOTE:

With special armor piercing ammunition this sniper rifle can actually punch holes straight through 16mm of steel armor plate at one hundred yards.  The proverbial hot knife through butter was never so truly demonstrated.  Below is an image of the steel plate, the bullets passed straight through and you can see daylight through the holes!

The edges of the holes have what is called a petal effect  in that the copper jacket that surrounds the bullet is ripped away during impact and leaves a petal pattern in the steel.  The bullets passed through so cleanly that I would suggest that they would still have had enough energy to kill someone on the other side of this steel plate, had they been standing there.  The Dragunov SVD in the hands of an expert marksman would be a very formidable weapon.

The AK104 as seen below is a complete modernization of the AK47 and has several versions AK101 up to AK105.  The grips, stock and even the magazine are now made from a tough polymer.

The basic principle of how the AK47 looks and operates though, is basically the same except that the caliber of these AK variants are 5.56x45mm, being the standard NATO round.  This was presumably done for ammunition interchangeability on the battle field.

Below is shown one of the latest versions called the AK74M, this particular gun has a GP34-40mm grenade launcher fitted under the barrel. Even though this appears to be a new gun in the Russian armory it is still only an upgraded AK47 as the receiver block is still almost identical as are most of the internal working parts.

Despite what Vladimir Putin stated, the Russian military are now apparently contemplating an altogether new design as they are calling all these versions old designs  and of course they would be right.  It must be difficult to move along with the times when you have a gun that works perfectly well and has done for over 60 years.

The old adage "If it works why fix it or change it?" appears to be the biggest bugbear of any government who is contemplating an all new weapon, just to be stylish.

As far as I see it, they still have a superb gun design and I don't believe that one hundred million happy owners would disagree with that either!  A well tried and well tested weapon such as the AK47 that has been used in every war since 1949 is something that will be hard to beat.

I WANNA BE A CONTENDER...

However a new assault rifle designed in 1994 by Gennadiy Nikonov called the AN94 is offering fierce competition to the venerable old AK47 design and has already been adopted by several Russian special forces groups in replacement to the AK105.

Below is an image of the AN94 fitted with the now seemingly ubiquitous GP34-40mm grenade launcher

The AN94 is shifted pulse  gas operated and fires a 5.45x39mm cartridge (shown below) at a velocity of 2,950 feet per second.  The AN94 has an impressive rate of fire that is variable between 600 or 1800 rounds per minute.  The weapon also comprises of four selector modes: safe - single shot - two round burst or full automatic fire.

NOTE:

The two round burst capability is a great idea as the assault rifle in effect " double taps " every time it is fired in double shot mode.  Double tap  is a phrase that the British SAS coined which means to fire two shots in rapid succession every time, instead of just one.  This method of firing is to ensure that the target is dead or at least severely incapacitated.

NOTE:

Shifted Pulse  is a high tech system whereas the recoil is momentarily delayed by microseconds, so the shot is fired more accurately. This is a new technology developed in Russia and soon it is estimated that all automatic weapons will one day use this system.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUNS

Former President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was also a fan of the AK47.  So for his birthday, his sons presented him with a 24 carat gold plated one.  Below is shown this special AKS that was captured by the coalition forces during the Gulf war in 2001 onwards.  The spoils of war can sometimes be rather bright and shiny...I wonder where it resides today?

Apparently it wasn't the only one, Saddam also had a gold plated Dragunov SVD sniper rifle and several gold plated pistols as well.

A FINAL WORD

Kalashnikov and AK47 are two terms that are household names in every country in the world, just as Coca-Cola is.  I would state that as long as there is war and conflict on this planet,  then there will always be an AK47 in there somewhere.

Even a hundred years from now when soldiers might be firing sonic laser pulse rifles and EMP weapons, I bet that some desperado somewhere will get out an old AK47 and join the fight.  Love it or hate it, the AK47...is here to stay!

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Page created August 4th 2011  Updated December 27th 2013