1. Education

Cold War: AK-47 Assault Rifle

By

Cold War: AK-47 Assault Rifle

AK-47 Assault Rifle

Photograph Courtesy of the United States Army Heritage and Education Center

AK-47 Specifications:

  • Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm
  • Capacity: 10-75 rounds depending on magazine used
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,346 ft./sec.
  • Effective Range: 330-440 yds.
  • Weight: approx. 9.5 lbs.
  • Length: 34.3 in.
  • Barrel Length: 16.3 in.
  • Sights: Adjustable iron sights,
  • Action: Gas-operated, rotating bolt
  • Number Built: approx. 75 million, 100 million AK-47-style weapons

AK-47 - Development:

The evolution of the modern assault rifle began during World War II with the German development of the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44). Entering service in 1944, the StG44 provided German soldiers with the firepower of a submachine gun, but with better range and accuracy. Encountering the StG44 on the Eastern Front, Soviet forces began looking for a similar weapon. Utilizing the 7.62 x 39mm M1943 cartridge, Alexey Sudayev designed the AS-44 assault rifle. Tested in 1944, it was found to be too heavy for widespread use. With the failure of this design, the Red Army temporarily halted its search for an assault rifle.

In 1946, it returned to the issue and opened a new design competition. Among those who entered was Mikhail Kalashnikov. Wounded at the 1941 Battle of Bryansk, he had begun designing weapons during the war and had previously entered a design for a semi-automatic carbine. Though he lost this competition to Sergei Simonov's SKS, he pushed forward with an assault weapon design that drew inspiration from the StG44 and the American M1 Garand. Intended to be a reliable and rugged weapon, Kalashnikov's design (AK-1 & AK-2) sufficiently impressed the judges to advance to the second round.

Encouraged by his assistant, Aleksandr Zaytsev, Kalashnikov tinkered with the design to increase reliability across a wider range of conditions. These alterations advanced his 1947 model to the front of the pack. Testing progressed over the next two years with the Kalashnikov design winning the competition. As a result of this success, it moved to production under the designation AK-47.

AK-47 - Design:

A gas-operated weapon, the AK-47 utilizes a breech-block mechanism similar to Kalashnikov's failed carbine. Employing a curved 30-round magazine, the design is visually similar to the earlier StG44. Created for use in the severe climates of the Soviet Union, the AK-47 possesses relatively loose tolerances and is able to function even if its components are fouled by debris. Though this element of its design enhances reliability, the looser tolerances decrease the weapon's accuracy. Capable of both semi- and fully-automatic fire, the AK-47 is aimed with adjustable iron sights.

To enhance the AK-47's lifespan, the bore, chamber, gas piston, and the interior of the gas cylinder are chromium-plated to prevent corrosion. The AK-47's receiver was initially made from stamped sheet metal (Type 1), but these caused difficulties in assembling the rifles. As a result, the receiver was switched to one made from machined steel (Types 2 & 3). This issue was finally resolved in the late 1950s when a new stamped sheet metal receiver was introduced. This model, dubbed the AK-47 Type 4 or AKM, entered service in 1959 and became the definitive model of the weapon.

AK-47 - Operational History:

Initially used by the Red Army, the AK-47 and its variants were exported widely to other Warsaw Pact nations during the Cold War. Due to its relatively simple design and compact size, the AK-47 became the favored weapon of many of the world's militaries. Easy to produce, it was built under license in many nations as well as served as the basis for numerous derivative weapons such as the Finnish Rk 62, Israeli Galil, and Chinese Norinco Type 86S. Though the Red Army elected to move to the AK-74 during the 1970s, the AK-47 family of weapons remains in widespread military use with other nations.

In addition to professional militaries, the AK-47 has been utilized by a variety of resistance and revolutionary groups including the Viet Cong, Sandinistas, and Afghani mujahedeen. As the weapon is easy to learn, operate, and repair, it has proven an effective tool for non-professional soldiers and militia groups. During the Vietnam War, American forces were initially stunned by the volume of fire that AK-47-equipped Viet Cong forces were able to bring to against them. As one of the most common and reliable assault rifles in the world, the AK-47 has also been utilized by organized crime and terrorist organizations.

During the course of its production, over 75 million AK-47s and licensed variants have been built.

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Arms & Equipment
  5. Small Arms
  6. AK-47 - Kalashnikov AK-47

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.