Today, the 10th November, is the birthday of the world famous Russian inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov. He created the probably most popular gun in history, the AK-47. It is an automatic rifle first time produced in 1947 and still being made today.
Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in 1919 in Kurya in the Altai Krai. He grew up in a large family: “I had six brothers and two sisters. A big family is good because it means you don’t need nannies; children have to sort themselves out. I learned to read and write before school by looking at my big brother’s books.”
In 1938 he enlisted in the Russian Army, where he served in a tank unit. In 1941 he was wounded in a battle against the Germans. Forced to stay in the hospital bed and listening to complaints by wounded Red Army soldiers he started working on a design for an automatic rifle. One of the arms he developed should become world famous. The AK-47 – The gun’s initials stand for “Avtomat Kalashnikov,” or “automatic Kalashnikov”. His design was selected in a competition and put into production. According to estimations roughly 100 million Kalashnikovs have been produced since the gun’s initial release in 1947.
The AK-47 proved to be easy to use and maintain, reliable in a number of different environments from deserts to jungles and comparatively cheap to manufacture. It is used by military personnel as well as from terrorist all over the world. Kalashnikov later expressed his regrets over who has used his invention: “It is painful for me to see when criminal elements of all kinds fire from my weapon”.
Kalashnikov is considered a national Russian treasure. The gun remains one of Russia’s most recognizable brands and its designer was decorated with numerous honors, including the Hero of Socialist Labour and Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize. In military he earned the rank of general. Though revered in Russia, he received little financial compensation for his guns which were never patented: “People say I would have been a billionaire if I was to live elsewhere, in the West”, he said, adding: “I don’t like luxury. I am after a simple decent life”.
Despite his advancing age, Kalashnikov worked as a consultant to promote arms deals and wrote several books, including an autobiography. Mikhail Kalashnikov died on December 23, 2013 in Izhevsk at the age of 94. He always emphasized that the gun was made for defence. However, shortly before his death he wrote a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church saying he “feared he was to blame” for the millions of people it had been used against.
Matthias Thoeny, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz in St. Petersburg