Kalashnikov AK-47 Assault Rifle
Since 1949, the timeless Kalashnikov AK-47 Assault Rifle has found many operators worldwide - from organized national armies to bands of guerrilla fighters.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
Towards the end of World War 2, when the Red Army had effectively thrust Hitler's war machine back across Poland and into Germany itself, the Soviets were regularly coming face-to-face with the latest in German military developments. One such development was the StG44 (Sturmgewehr 44 = "Storm Rifle") which was, in essence, the first truly successful and quantitatively-deployed weapon of its kind - a weapon now categorized as an "assault rifle". The assault rifle breed was shorter in length the standard-issue service rifles found within many armies of the time and could fire a similar cartridge while possessing the automatic firepower capabilities of a machine gun. Such firepower allowed a soldier to provide suppression effects and heavy fire at range without the need for a dedicated, multi-person machine gun crew toting around its heavy weapons system.
StG44 (also known as the "MP43/MP44" for "Machinenpistole") engineers accomplished the feat by developing a shorter cartridge that, while less lethal at longer ranges, was perfect for the close ranges intended for a "storm", or "assault", rifle, allowing for controlled automatic fire to be achieved from a rather compact weapon. The initiative gave birth to the intermediate "7.92x33 Kurz" cartridge. The StG44 made use of a gas-operated, tilting bolt firing action and managed 30-rounds from a spring-loaded curved detachable box magazine. The gas cylinder was set along the top of the barrel while a fixed, solid shoulder stock provided recoil support. The forend served as a forward grip for a firm two-hand hold and complete three-point control (including support from the shoulder stock). The weapon could achieve a rate-of-fire equal to 600 rounds-per-minute and some 425,000 examples were produced before the end of the war - some even seeing service in the years after. The StG44 was filling the role of assault weapon rather successfully since its inception along the Eastern Front beginning in September of 1943 and went on to be studied heavily by the Allies after the end of the war.
Soviet Mikhail Kalashnikov was conscripted into the Red Army in 1938 and served as a tank driver when he was injured during the Battle of Bryansk in 1941. During his time at the hospital, he began work on a firearm design specifically to fulfill the requirements to a gun competition being held for the new 7.62x41mm cartridge. Despite losing the competition, Kalashnikov - now part of a team - sought to fulfill a new Soviet Red Army need for an assault weapon chambered to fire the new 7.62x39mm M1943 cartridge. While the war ended in 1945, developments of new automatic weapons continued. The Kalashnikov design (the prototype known as the "AK-46") was successfully tested in 1946 and a revised, more reliable form appeared in 1947 for additional testing. The Red Army liked the robust qualities of the new weapon and formally accepted the type as the "AK-47" in 1949 (AK = "Avtomat Kalashnikova").
Outwardly, it is easy to appreciate the AK-47 as a highly modified StG44 but it invariably takes on its own form thanks to the recognizable Kalashnikov styling. The AK-47 is, in fact, a very clean design and superbly functional for its unceremonious battlefield role. The original form sported much wooden furniture that made the series instantly recognizable to any observer. The weapon was fitted with a solid wooden buttstock as well as a wood-covered pistol grip and forend. The receiver was very much slab-sided and relatively featureless save for the large charging handle and ejection port along the right side of the body. The rear sight was actually set well-forward along the upper portion of the receiver, near the forend area at the gas cylinder. The forward sight was installed just aft of the muzzle. The pistol grip was unobstructed and integrated into the slim, curved trigger unit, the trigger itself sitting within a thin guard with a magazine catch noticeable just ahead. One of the most telling features of the AK-47 series was its metallic curved detachable box magazine which held 30 rounds of ammunition. Another telling feature was the over-barrel positioning of the gas cylinder which - combined with the wooden furniture and curved magazine - gave the AK-47 its highly identifiable appearance to even the most casual of observers. The forward end of the gas cylinder was clamped to the mid portion of the barrel. The AK-47 used a gas-operated, rotating polished steel bolt system in which the gas piston was permanently affixed to the bolt carrier itself. Chromium was used to line the barrel, firing chamber and gas cylinder and this served to combat general operational abuse. The AK-47 was further designed as a select-fire weapon meaning that, by default, it fired in semi-automatic fashion (one cartridge fired for every trigger pull). A full-automatic mode (continuous firing of available cartridges per a single trigger pull) was available through management of the included selector switch. All told, the weapon was a highly utilitarian though robust assault system that seemed to hold a certain mysterious beauty about her (just ask any AK-47 owner/user).