The Little-Known History of the Deadly AK-47

The Little-Known History of the Deadly AK-47

Richard Gunderman

Security, Eurasia

In 1949, the AK-47 became the assault rifle of the Soviet Army. Later adopted by other nations in the Warsaw Pact, the weapon quickly spread around the world, becoming a symbol of revolution in such far-flung lands as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Colombia and Mozambique, on whose flag it figures prominently.

What is the deadliest weapon of the 20th century?

Perhaps you think first of the atomic bomb, estimated to have killed as many as 200,000 people when the United States dropped two on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

But another weapon is responsible for far more deaths – numbering up into the millions. It’s the Kalashnikov assault rifle, commonly known as the AK-47.

Originally developed in secrecy for the Soviet military, an estimated 100 million AK-47s and its variants have been produced to date. This gun is now found throughout the world, including in the hands of many American civilians, who in 2012 bought as many AK-47s as the Russian police and military. As a physician, I have witnessed the destruction this weapon can wreak on human flesh.

Kalashnikov’s Invention

Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov invented the weapon that bears his name in the middle of the 20th century. Born on Nov. 10, 1919, Kalashnikov was a tank mechanic in the Soviet military during the Second World War. He was wounded during the German invasion of the USSR in 1941.

Having seen firsthand the combat advantage conferred by Germany’s superior firearms, Kalashnikov resolved to develop a better weapon. While still in the military, he produced several designs that lost out to competitors before eventually producing the first AK-47.

The name of Kalashnikov’s greatest invention stands for Automat Kalashnikova 1947, the year it was first produced.

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