Mikhail Kalashnikov, aspiring poet and inventor of the prolific AK-47, has died at the age of 94. In a world of brand management where people follow brands such as Apple, Ferrari, and Gucci, Mikhail Kalashnikov created a brand of weapon that became the first choice for many combatants around the world.
Kalashnikov has a life story for the movies. Born in Kurya, southern Siberia in 1919, he was relocated when his parents were stripped of their land during one of Stalin’s purges. He later returned to his hometown and found work as a railway clerk and wrote a little poetry on the side.
In 1938 he joined a tank brigade in the Red Army and his natural mechanical aptitude came to the forefront. It became obvious to his superiors after he designed numerous modifications for their tanks that he had a design element about him.
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 he was called on to serve as a tank commander. It was during that command and the battle of Bryansk that he was injured by a shell blast that put him in the hospital. While recuperating, he heard stories from infantrymen of how the German weapons were much superior. Those stories and his own experience in the field spurred him in the direction of designing and making a superior weapon that could be used to guard the homeland.
His first attempt was labeled too complicated, but it gave him recognition as a designer. His second attempt lost out to Sergei Simonov’s automatic carbine design. He may have lost the contest, but the poet turned inventor had been noted by the army and was invited to supply another version for consideration as they were commissioning the design of a new assault rifle. Mikhail Kalashnikov’s design won handily and was brought into service in 1947.
It was known as the Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947…the AK-47.
Due to fundamental decisions made by Kalashnikov in the design phase, the assault rifle has stood the test of time. Because of extreme weather conditions in the Soviet Union, he kept the design as simple as possible, with only eight moving parts; it is stone simple. It is that simplicity that allows it to be stripped and reassembled in less then a minute. With few moving parts, it can operate in the cold, the wet, and the desert with minimum fuss. For those reasons, the AK-47’s popularity quickly spread beyond the Soviet Union.
To date there have been over a million AK-47s made, half of which have been copies. The brand Kalashnikov has been used by combatants around the world for over 60 years, its outline has adorned flags and coats of arms. It has become so popular that it’s estimated that one in five weapons in circulation today is an AK-47.
The fact that the AK-47 became so popular is not a surprise, as it reflects the qualities of Mikhail Kalashnikov himself. A simple man born from a peasant family who followed the path presented him, with a little poetry on the side. A man that died today at the age of 94.
By Scott Wilson