A Machine Without Error—The Evolution of the AK

By Lynndon Schooler

The bloodiest conflict in human history brought unthinkable hardships and suffering to the Soviet peoples. The Eastern front of World War II, forever known as “The Great Patriotic War,” instilled a horrific lesson. Victory can be won with tragic heroism and sacrifice, but ultimately without technical and tactical innovation, it is a cruel waste of life. This lesson was already being learned partly through WWII and in command style and tactical abilities—the Red Army in 1945 was a far cry from the Red Army of 1941. Nonetheless, the war’s atrocities and the shock and awe of fighting a technologically and tactically superior force still haunt the region to this day. New developments were still needed in every aspect of modern warfighting, including small arms design, to offset loss of life in future conflicts and to prepare the Soviet Union for emerging threats in the new atomic age.

When Hitler’s fascist forces invaded the USSR in June 1941, the largest invasion in history, patriots came from all walks of life to do their part in answering the call to defend their motherland. One such patriot was a peasant from Kurya, in the Altai Krai region of Western Siberia. Born on November 10, 1919, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov had a particular mechanical aptitude and was conscripted as a tanker into the Red Army in 1938. With the peace broken in 1941, Kalashnikov’s direct action was limited as a tank mechanic, but he was quickly elevated to command a T-34 tank in the following months.

In October 1941, Kalashnikov’s company came in contact with the flank of a German line near the Bryansk, a small town, as part of a greater Soviet counter offensive to slow the charge of the German Army Group Center’s blitz toward Moscow. Suddenly, his tank was struck with a loud blast, and a ringing echo shrieked in his ears paired with a dizzying flash of bright light. He fell unconscious, shell shocked and with lacerations from shrapnel across his body. His body was recovered from the knocked-out tank and transported east toward...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N10 (December 2018)
and was posted online on October 26, 2018


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