Letters to SAR: December 1998

By Dan Shea

Dear SAR

First I would like to thank you and your fellow staff at SAR on producing an excellent publication. Well done and I look forward to years yet of reading.

Next, I would like to assure you that normally I do not write in to criticize the creative products of others (not even when Peter Kokalis bagged one of my favorite toys, the L-2A1, in ‘FULL AUTO’) on the grounds that no one is perfect and all of us are entitled to their opinions. Even me.

However, ‘BIRTH OF A ASSAULT RIFLE’ (SAR Vol. 1 No. 12) by Robert A. Cortese prompts me to break this habit and thus this letter results.

I do not choose to quibble with his outline of the genesis of Western & Soviet assault rifle designs. However the last three pages of the article and it’s wholly unjustified chauvinism in favour of the AK series can not go unchallenged.

To state that the mere possession of AK rifles confers a massive combat advantage to the user over all other infantry small arms (with particular mention of FAL, AR-15 & M-14) is patently ludicrous and the authors attempts to prove so are verging on dishonest. I’ll deal with his examples.

El Jiradi: I’ve read a few accounts of the actions around El Arish & El Jiradi during the Six Day War- they range from Moshe Dayan’s ‘STORY OF MY LIFE’ who describes it as “...a battle lasting more than an hour.” To round-by-round accounts by some of the IDF participants. Given that most Egyptian infantry in the campaign were armed with AK variants, it is a bit of an insult to those at El Jiradi (and other places) who got their act together to subscribe their success to the rifles they carried. Leadership, initiative & courage deserve more credit.

Incidentally, the decision to adopt the Galil is most often quoted as May 1972 and was the result of a trial process that began in the early Sixties for a replacement for the FAL. First bulk issue to the IDF was May 1973. As these events were prior to the Yom Kippur War, I doubt the war played much of a role in the decision to equip the IDF with Galil ARM & AR. Note also that the IDF still uses substantial quantities of M-16A1, M-16A2 & various carbine variants to this day

Somalia: The author provides details of casualties inflicted (presumably by AK- the Somalis used just about everything) on one only of the US units involved in the mess that occurred in October 1993 but provides no other information- would anyone care to give an estimate of how many AK toting Somali bit the pavement having stopped (or briefly entertained) an M-855 or M-856 pill?

Vietnam: I think that the Editor (Dan) handled Ia Drang (and by extension, Vietnam as a whole) quite nicely. I would rather suspect that the loss rate among SF, SOG or Ranger teams had less to do with the small arms they carried (including, as the author points out, AK) than the adverse combat environment they worked in. I’d also like to point out “...no known NVA losses.” does not mean no NVA losses.

Using isolated instances or reporting the casualties on one side only to provide an “...example of the AK’s dominance on the modern battlefield...” can be played both ways. How would the author explain the following examples?

The Battle of Long Tan (18AUG1966, Phuoc Tuy Province, RVN) pitted D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (108 men) against estimated force of 2000+ NVA & VC troops. Initially ambushed as isolated platoons by the opposition, D Company formed a perimeter and beat off the enemy assaults. D Company was predominantly equipped with L-1A1, the NVA/VC units were primarily armed with AK as personal weapons- the first D Company had encountered. Australian casualties were 18 KIA & 24 WIA. The enemy left over 245 dead on the battlefield, having withdrawn in good order in the darkness.

Southern Africa: While the Rhodesian & South African SF (at least till the introduction of R-4/5/6) often used AK & RPD, the bulk of the work done by the infantry of those two nations was performed with FAL (mostly metric) against an enemy armed in the main with AK variants. Who dominated the battlefield?

Gulf War: Is the author seriously suggesting that the Syrian and other minor partners in the Coalition forces who carried AK’s ‘dominated the battlefield’ to a greater degree than those US units that carried the M-16A2? I might hazard a statement that while the Iraqi ground forces predominantly carried AK variants as personal weapons, the outcome of the war would not have changed if each and every single member of the Coalition had been carrying (say) an FAL or even an M-1 Garand.

Lest anyone at this point accuse me of being a dinosaur, I’ll state openly here that despite the above examples, I’m of the opinion that the ‘major calibre’ (eg 7.62x51mm) and intermediate calibres (eg 7.62x39mm) have seen their day as far as individual weapons go.

In conclusion, I would like to state that while the AK series are outstanding rifles within their limitations, they are not a super-weapon and their carriage does not confer an overwhelming advantage on the modern battlefield. If they did, the World would be a very different place to the one we know today.

The Army in which I serve has a saying: “It’s the nut behind the butt that counts.” and I’m sure that those Croatians who stood up to the AK armed Federal Army of Yugoslavia with little more than a sporterized K-98 would agree, as would those Muj who ‘harvested’ AKM & AK-74 for their mates with assorted Lee-Enfield. While we all have our favorite small arms (due to familiarity, nostalgia, media exposure, sheer bloody perverseness or otherwise), we should always keep this in mind.

To end this letter, I would like to leave you and SAR’s readers with an always relevant quote from one of my favorite authors:

“What are the facts? Again and again and again- what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretold,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”- what are the facts and to how many decimal places?” Robert Anson Heinlein

Faithfully yours,
Peter Lindsay

Dear Peter,

Always a pleasure to hear from our Australian contingent, Peter. SAR has a policy of letting the writers have some “Elbow room”. Mr. Cortese wrote what was in my opinion a fine article on the Kalashnikov’s, and we stand by it. However, not wishing to catch TOO much shrapnel, your letter has been forwarded to Mr. Cortese for his response... which we anticipate will be in an upcoming issue. The readers are invited to weigh in on this subject as well. Well thought out positions are being solicited..... are the Kalashnikov’s the ultimate assault rifle?

For the moment, I am staying out of the fray. Since I am still an M60 man, I have been told that my opinion is not relevant to mature discussions. Perhaps Peter K will weigh in on this, and SAR looks forward to Mr. Cortese’s response.


This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N3 (December 1998)
and was posted online on October 7, 2016


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