The AK-47 is a 7.62 mm assault rifle developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov in two versions: the fixed stock AK-47 and the AKS-47 (S—So skladnym prikladom) variant equipped with an underfolding metal shoulder stock. Design work on the AK began in 1944. In 1946 the rifle was presented for official military trials, a year later the fixed stock version was introduced into service with select units of the Red Army (the folding stock model was developed later). The AK-47 was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces in 1949. It is also used by the majority of the member states of the former Warsaw Pact. The AK-47 was also used as a basis for the development of countless many other types of individual and crew-served firearms. It was one of the first true assault rifles and, due to its durability and ease of use, remains the most widely used assault rifle in the world. More AK-type rifles have been produced than any other assault rifle.
Design and History
During World War II, the Germans developed the assault rifle concept, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen at close range, within 300 meters. The power and range of contemporary rifle cartridges was excessive for most small arms firefights. As a result, armies sought a cartridge and rifle combining submachine gun features (large-capacity magazine, selective-fire) with an intermediate-power cartridge effective to 300 meters. To reduce manufacturing costs, the 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge case was shortened, the result of which was the lighter 7.92x33mm Kurz.
The resultant rifle, the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was not the first with these features; its predecessors were the Italian Cei-Rigotti and the Russian Fedorov Avtomat design rifles. The Germans, however, were the first to produce and field sufficient numbers of this assault rifle to properly evaluate its combat utility. Towards the end of the war, they fielded the weapon against the Soviets; the experience deeply influenced Soviet military doctrine in the post-war years.
Mikhail Kalashnikov began his career as a weapon designer while in a hospital after being wounded during the Battle of Bryansk. After tinkering with a submachinegun design, he entered a competition for a new weapon that would chamber the 7.62x41mm cartridge developed by Elisarov and Semin in 1943 (the 7.62x41mm cartridge predated the current 7.62x39mm M1943). A particular requirement of the competition was the reliability of the firearm in the muddy, wet, and frozen conditions of the Soviet frontline. Kalashnikov designed a carbine, strongly influenced by the American M1 Garand, that lost out to the Simonov design that would later become the SKS battle rifle. At the same time, the Soviet Army was interested in developing a true assault rifle employing a shortened M1943 round. The first such weapon was presented by Sudayev in 1944; however in trials it was found to be too heavy. A new design competition was held two years later where Kalashnikov and his design team submitted an entry. It was a gas-operated rifle which had breech-block mechanism similar to his 1944 carbine and curved 30-round magazine.
Kalashnikov's rifles (codenamed AK-1 and -2) proved to be reliable and the gun was accepted to second round of competition along with designs by A.A Demetev and F. Bulkin. In late 1946, as the guns were being tested, one of Kalashnikov's assistants, Aleksandr Zaytsev, suggested a major redesign of AK-1, particularly to improve reliability. At first, Kalashnikov was reluctant given that their rifle had already fared better than its competitors; however eventually Zaytsev managed to persuade Kalashnikov and the new rifle was produced for second round of firing tests and field trials. There, Kalashnikov assault rifle model 1947 proved to be simple, reliable under a wide range of conditions with convenient handling characteristics. In 1949 it was therefore adopted by Soviet Army as '7.62mm Kalashnikov assault rifle (AK)'.