Mikhail Kalashnikov

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Mikhail Kalashnikov
Michael Kalashikov.jpg
Kalashnikov at the Kremlin,
December 2009
Native name
Михаил Тимофеевич Калашников
Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov

(1919-11-10)November 10, 1919
DiedDecember 23, 2013(2013-12-23) (aged 94)
Izhevsk, Udmurtia, Russia
Cause of deathGastric hemorrhage
  • Small arms designer
  • Russian lieutenant general
Known forDesigner of the AK-47, AK-74 and RPK
Spouse(s)Ekaterina Viktorovna Kalashnikova (née Moiseyeva; 1921–1977; her death)
  • Victor (son; 1942–2018)
  • Nelli (daughter; b. 1942)
  • Elena (daughter; b. 1948)
  • Natalya (daughter; 1953–83)
  • Aleksandra Frolovna Kalashnikova (née Kaverina)
  • Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov

Lieutenant-General Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (Russian :Михаи́л Тимофе́евич Кала́шников,IPA:  [kɐˈlaʂnʲɪkəf] ; 10 November 1919 – 23 December 2013) was a Russian general, inventor, military engineer, writer and small arms designer. He is most famous for developing the AK-47 assault rifle and its improvements, the AKM and AK-74, as well as the PK machine gun and RPK light machine gun. [1]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although, nowadays, nearly three decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia, the rise of state-specific varieties of this language tends to be strongly denied in Russia, in line with the Russian World ideology.

AK-47 1940s assault rifle of Soviet origin

The AK-47, officially known as the Avtomat Kalashnikova, is a gas-operated, 7.62×39mm assault rifle, developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov. It is the originating firearm of the Kalashnikov rifle family.

Assault rifle type of selective fire rifle

An assault rifle is a selective-fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. Assault rifles were first used during World War II. Though Western nations were slow to accept the assault rifle concept, by the end of the 20th century they had become the standard weapon in most of the world's armies, replacing full-powered rifles and sub-machine guns in most roles. Examples include the StG 44, AK-47 and the M16 rifle.


Kalashnikov was, according to himself, a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weaponry to design arms that achieved battlefield ubiquity. [4] Even though Kalashnikov felt sorrow at the weapons' uncontrolled distribution, he took pride in his inventions and in their reputation for reliability, emphasizing that his rifle is "a weapon of defense" and "not a weapon for offense". [4]

Early life

Kalashnikov was born in Kurya, Altai Governorate, Russian SFSR, [1] now Altai Krai, Russia, as the seventeenth child of the 19 children [5] of Aleksandra Frolovna Kalashnikova (née Kaverina) and Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov, who were peasants. [5] In 1930, his father and most of his family were deprived of property and deported to the village of Nizhnyaya Mokhovaya, Tomsk Oblast. [6] [7] In his youth, Mikhail suffered from various illnesses and was on the verge of death at age six. [3] He was attracted to all kinds of machinery, [6] but also wrote poetry, dreaming of becoming a poet. [8] He went on to write six books and continued to write poetry all of his life. [7] [9] Kalashnikov's parents were peasants, but, after deportation to Tomsk Oblast, had to combine farming with hunting, and thus Mikhail frequently used his father's rifle in his teens. Kalashnikov continued hunting into his 90s. [3]

Kurya, Kuryinsky District, Altai Krai Selo in Altai Krai, Russia

Kurya is a rural locality and the administrative center of Kuryinsky District of Altai Krai, Russia. Population: 3,835 (2010 Census); 4,292 (2002 Census); 4,394 (1989 Census).

Altai Krai First-level administrative division of Russia

Altai Krai is a federal subject of Russia. It borders with, clockwise from the west, Kazakhstan, Novosibirsk and Kemerovo Oblasts, and the Altai Republic. The krai's administrative center is the city of Barnaul. As of the 2010 Census, the population of the krai was 2,419,755.

Dekulakization Soviet campaign of political repressions, including arrests, deportations, and executions of millions of the affluent kulaks (peasants) and their families between 1929–1932

Dekulakization was the Soviet campaign of political repressions, including arrests, deportations, and executions of millions of prosperous peasants and their families in the 1929–1932 period of the First five-year plan. To facilitate the expropriations of farmland, the Soviet government portrayed kulaks as class enemies of the USSR.

After completing seventh grade, Mikhail, with his stepfather's permission, left his family and returned to Kurya, hitchhiking for nearly 1,000 km. In Kurya he found a job in mechanics at a tractor station and developed a passion for weaponry. In 1938, he was conscripted into the Red Army. Because of his small size [10] and engineering skills he was assigned as a tank mechanic, and later became a tank commander. While training, he made his first inventions, which concerned not only tanks, but also small weapons, and was personally awarded a wrist watch by Georgy Zhukov. [3] Kalashnikov served on the T-34s of the 24th Tank Regiment, 108th Tank Division [2] stationed in Stryi [3] before the regiment retreated after the Battle of Brody in June 1941. He was wounded in combat in the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941 [3] and hospitalised until April 1942. [2] In the last few months of being in hospital, he overheard some fellow soldiers complaining about the Soviet rifles at the time and this is when he came up with the idea of making a new rifle which later became the AK47. [11]

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

Georgy Zhukov Marshal of the Soviet Union

Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was a Soviet Red Army General who became Chief of General Staff, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Minister of Defence and a member of the Politburo. During World War II he participated in multiple battles, ultimately commanding the 1st Belorussian Front in the Battle of Berlin, which resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the end of the War in Europe.

T-34 medium tank, highly influential design widely used during and after World War II

The T-34 is a Soviet medium tank that had a profound and lasting effect on the field of tank design. At its introduction in 1940, the T-34 possessed an unprecedented combination of firepower, mobility, protection and ruggedness. Its 76.2 mm (3 in) high-velocity tank gun provided a substantial increase in firepower over any of its contemporaries; its well-sloped armour was difficult to penetrate by most contemporary anti-tank weapons. When it was first encountered in 1941, German general Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist called it "the finest tank in the world" and Heinz Guderian affirmed the T-34's "vast superiority" over existing German armour of the period. Although its armour and armament were surpassed later in the war, it has often been credited as the most effective, efficient and influential tank design of the Second World War.

Kalashnikov's first submachine gun AK-SMG-1942.jpg
Kalashnikov's first submachine gun

Seeing the drawbacks of the standard infantry weapons at the time, he decided to construct a new rifle for the Soviet military. During this time Kalashnikov began designing a submachine gun. [12] Although his first submachine gun design was not accepted into service, his talent as a designer was noticed. [3] From 1942 onwards Kalashnikov was assigned to the Central Scientific-developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Artillery Directorate of the Red Army. [13]

Submachine gun class of automatic firearms

A submachine gun (SMG) is a magazine-fed, automatic carbine designed to fire pistol cartridges. The term "submachine gun" was coined by John T. Thompson, the inventor of the Thompson submachine gun.

In 1944, he designed a gas-operated carbine for the new 7.62×39mm cartridge. This weapon, influenced by the M1 Garand rifle, lost out to the new Simonov carbine which would be eventually adopted as the SKS; but it became a basis for his entry in an assault rifle competition in 1946. [14]

7.62×39mm cartridge

The 7.62×39mm round is a rimless bottlenecked intermediate cartridge of Soviet origin that was designed during World War II. Due to the worldwide proliferation of the Soviet SKS and AK-47 pattern rifles, as well as RPD and RPK light machine guns, the cartridge is used by both militaries and civilians alike. 7.62×39mm ammunition is purportedly tested to function well in temperatures ranging from −50 to 50 °C cementing its usefulness in cold polar or hot desert conditions.

M1 Garand Semi-automatic rifle

The M1 Garand is a .30 caliber semi-automatic rifle that was the standard U.S. service rifle during World War II and the Korean War and also saw limited service during the Vietnam War. Most M1 rifles were issued to U.S. forces, though many hundreds of thousands were also provided as foreign aid to American allies. The Garand is still used by drill teams and military honor guards. It is also widely used by civilians for hunting, target shooting, and as a military collectible.

Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov was a Russian weapons designer; he is one of the fathers of the modern assault rifle.

A Type 2 AK-47, the first machined receiver variation AK-47 type II Part DM-ST-89-01131.jpg
A Type 2 AK-47, the first machined receiver variation

His winning entry, the "Mikhtim" (so named by taking the first letters of his name and patronymic, Mikhail Timofeyevich) became the prototype for the development of a family of prototype rifles. [15] The submachine bore an uncanny resemblance to the German WWII-era StG 44 This process culminated in 1947, when he designed the AK-47 (standing for Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947). In 1949, the AK-47 became the standard issue assault rifle of the Soviet Army and went on to become Kalashnikov's most famous invention. [16] While developing his first assault rifles, Kalashnikov competed with two much more experienced weapon designers, Vasily Degtyaryov and Georgy Shpagin, who both accepted the superiority of the AK-47. Kalashnikov named Alexandr Zaitsev and Vladimir Deikin as his major collaborators during those years. [3]

Later career

From 1949, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived and worked in Izhevsk, Udmurtia. He held a degree of Doctor of Technical Sciences (1971) [1] [2] and was a member of 16 academies. [17]

Over the course of his career, he evolved the basic design into a weapons family. The AKM (Russian : Автомат Кала́шникова Модернизированный, lit.  'Kalashnikov modernized assault rifle') first appeared in 1963, was lighter and cheaper to manufacture owing to the use of a stamped steel receiver (in place of the AK-47's milled steel receiver), and contained detail improvements such as a re-shaped stock and muzzle compensator. From the AKM he developed a squad automatic weapon variant, known as the RPK (Russian: Ручной пулемет Кала́шникова, lit. 'Kalashnikov light machine gun').

He also developed the general-purpose PK machine gun (Russian: Пулемет Кала́шникова, lit. 'Kalashnikov machine gun'), which used the more powerful 7.62×54R cartridge of the Mosin–Nagant rifle. It is cartridge belt-fed, not magazine-fed, as it is intended to provide heavy sustained fire from a tripod mount, or be used as a light, bipod-mounted weapon. The common characteristics of all these weapons are simple design, ruggedness and ease of maintenance in all operating conditions.

Approximately 100 million AK-47 assault rifles had been produced by 2009, [9] and about half of them are counterfeit, manufactured at a rate of about a million per year. [12] [18] Izhmash, the official manufacturer of AK-47 in Russia, did not patent the weapon until 1997, and in 2006 accounted for only 10% of the world's production. [8] This arm became famous due to its reliability in the most extreme climatic conditions, functioning perfectly in the desert as in the tundra. It is in official use by the militaries of 55 nations, and has been so influential in military struggle that it has been used on national flags. Prominent examples include the flags of Mozambique and Hezbollah, as well as the East Timorese and Zimbabwean coats of arms.

Kalashnikov himself claimed he was always motivated by service to his country rather than money, [7] and made no direct profit from weapon production. [19] He did however own 30% of a German company Marken Marketing International (MMI) run by his grandson Igor. [20] The company revamps trademarks and produces merchandise carrying the Kalashnikov name, such as vodka, [9] umbrellas and knives. [21] [22] One of the items is a knife named for the AK-74. [20]

During a visit to the United States in the early 2000s, Kalashnikov was invited to tour a Virginia holding site for the forthcoming American Wartime Museum. The former tanker Kalashnikov became visibly moved at the sight of his old tank in action, painted with his name in Cyrillic. [23]


After a prolonged illness Kalashnikov was hospitalized on 17 November 2013, in an Udmurtian medical facility in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia and where he lived. He died 23 December 2013, at age 94 from gastric hemorrhage. [24] [25] [26] [27] In January 2014 a letter that Kalashnikov wrote six months before his death to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, was published by the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia . [28] In the letter he stated that he was suffering "spiritual pain" about whether he was responsible for the deaths caused by the weapons he created. [29] Translated from the published letter he states, "I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people's lives, then can it be that I... a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?" [30] [28]

The patriarch wrote back, thanked Kalashnikov, and said that he "was an example of patriotism and a correct attitude toward the country". Kirill added about the design responsibility for the deaths by the rifle, "the church has a well-defined position when the weapon is defense of the Motherland, the Church supports its creators and the military, which use it." [28]

He became one of the first people buried in the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery.


Kalashnikov's father, Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov (1883–1930), was a peasant. He completed two grades of parochial school and could read and write. In 1901 he married Aleksandra Frolovna Kaverina (1884–1957), who was illiterate throughout her life. They had 19 children, but only eight survived to adult age; Kalashnikov was born 17th, [16] and was close to death at age six.

In 1930, the government labeled Timofey Aleksandrovich a kulak, confiscated his property, and deported him to Siberia, along with most of the family. The eldest three siblings, daughters Agasha (b. 1905) and Anna and son Victor, were already married by 1930, and remained in Kuriya. After her husband's death in 1930, Aleksandra Frolovna married Efrem Kosach, a widower who had three children of his own. [3] [6]

Mikhail Kalashnikov married twice, the first time to Ekaterina Danilovna Astakhova of Altai Krai. He married the second time to Ekaterina Viktorovna Moiseyeva (1921–1977). [4] [31] She was an engineer and did much technical drawing work for her husband. They had four children: daughters Nelli (b. 1942), Elena (b. 1948) and Natalya (1953–1983), and a son Victor (b. 1942). [3] [31] Victor also became a prominent small arms designer.

The title to the AK-47 trademark belonged to Mikhail Kalashnikov's family until 4 April 2016, when the Kalashnikov Concern won a lawsuit to invalidate the registration of the trademark. [32]

Weapon designs

The Russian Medal of Small Arms Maker was introduced in 2008 and named after Kalashnikov. MEDAL OF SMALL ARMS KONSTRUKTOR MT Kalashnikov.jpg
The Russian Medal of Small Arms Maker was introduced in 2008 and named after Kalashnikov.

During his career, Kalashnikov designed about 150 models of small weapons. [17] The most famous of them are:

Awards and tribute

Mikhail Kalashnikov on a 2014 stamp of the Russian Post. Stamp of Russia 2014 No 1883 Mikhail Kalashnikov.png
Mikhail Kalashnikov on a 2014 stamp of the Russian Post.

Incorporates information from the corresponding article in the Russian Wikipedia

Russian Federation

Honorary diplomas



Foreign decorations

Other honours


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Further reading