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Russian gun-maker and patriot, Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, dies aged 94

23 December 2013

Siberian-born national hero worked well into his 80s as the planet's most famous weapons designer.

In Siberia is a bronze bust of its most famous son. Newlyweds bring flowers to the bust. 'They whisper `Uncle Misha, wish us happiness and healthy kids', he said proudly. 'What other gun designer can boast of that?' Picture: Nashi Novosti TV Barnaul

He was in his 20s when he designed the AK-47 after being wounded as a tank commander in the Second World War. He created his first guns after listening to complaints by wounded Red Army soldiers. An estimated 100 million Kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured.

He hails from the village of Kurya, in the Altai region of Siberia, one of 19 children born to his peasant parents two years after the Russian Revolution. 

Though he is normally associated with Izhevsk, which became his home city and is the location of the main plant manufacturing his weapons, a museum located in the wooden school house in Kurya is a sign that his origins were here. 

He once said: 'I am often asked, 'how do you sleep knowing how many people were killed from your machine gun? I always say back 'I sleep very well, thank you. It should be politicians that start wars that suffer from sleeping problems. My machine gun was made for defence. 

'If it wasn't for war, I would have been doing machines to help agriculture - so it was Germans who forced me to invent it'.

Though revered in Russia, he received little financial compensation for his guns which were never patented. He would have been better off inventing a lawnmower, and his earliest dreams were designing agricultural machinery, he claimed. 

'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'.

Siberian-born national hero worked well into his 80s as the planet's most famous weapons designer. 

'My brightest childhood memory is of my brother presenting me with wooden skates. It was like a fairytale! Even though I nearly sank in them when the ice cracked and I got into the water - I still remember them as the happiest thing happened in childhood'. Picture: Altayskaya Pravda newspaper

Kalashnikov worked well into his 80s and died in hospital in Izhevsk. The AK-47 was famed for its ruggedness and simplicity compared with weapons such as the U.S. M-16.

'During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers',  he said in 2007 at a ceremony marking the rifle's 60th anniversary. The same year Russian President Vladimir Putin praised him, saying: 'The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people'.

His weapons' suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in some 30 other countries. The gun's status among revolutionaries and national-liberation struggles is enshrined on the flag of Mozambique.

Over his career, he was decorated with numerous honours, including the Hero of Socialist Labor and Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize. In Kurya is a bronze bust of its most famous son. Newlyweds bring flowers to the bust. 'They whisper `Uncle Misha, wish us happiness and healthy kids', he said proudly.

'What other gun designer can boast of that?'

Russian gun-maker and patriot, Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, dies aged 94

'I am often asked, 'how do you sleep knowing how many people were killed from your machine gun? I always say back 'I sleep very well, thank you'. Picture: Nashi Novosti TV Barnaul

Kalashnikov was one of 19 children of Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov (1883-1930) and Aleksandra Frolovna Kalashnikova (Kaverina) (1884-1957). Many died in infancy. In tsarist times the family heard about the prospect of a better life in Siberia and moved from their native Cossack village in the Northern Caucasus, a distance of some 4,000 km.

By all accounts the peasant farming family were initially fairly prosperous with the eight surviving children helping run their small farm. 

'Misha Kalashnikov, one of the youngsters, wasn't an exception either - in pre-school years he looked after cattle and poultry, and then he grew older he helped in the field,' says an account of this period. 

In a 2007 interview with Altaiskaya Pravda, he said: '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. 

'My brightest childhood memory is of my brother presenting me with wooden skates. It was like a fairytale! Even though I nearly sank in them when the ice cracked and I got into the water - I still remember them as the happiest thing happened in childhood. 

'I was lucky then because there were other kids around, they started to shout, and because I was dressed in my big brother's coat, you know how the younger ones usually finish up with the elder ones clothes. 

'That coat acted like a kind of a float for several moments, that was enough for a man from our village to hear cries and drag me out. I am still very scared of water after that, I never go deeper than three meters, whether it is a river or a sea.' 

Russian gun-maker and patriot, Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, dies aged 94


Russian gun-maker and patriot, Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, dies aged 94


Russian gun-maker and patriot, Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, dies aged 94


Russian gun-maker and patriot, Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, dies aged 94

Top to bottom, Mikhail Kalashnikov, interiors and exterior of museum in Siberia in his honour. Pictures: Nashi Novosti TV Barnaul

In Soviet times, however, the family were split, with some deported to Tomsk region, also in Siberia, punished for being a wealthy peasant. His father died, and his mother remarried to support her family. From Tomsk region, the young Mikhail hitchhiked back almost 1000 km to Kurya, working at a tractor station and developing a passion for weaponry. 

His conscription into the Red Army came in 1938. He rose to become a tank commander. Wounded during the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941, he heard soldiers complaining about Soviet weaponry and began his designs of various types of guns. 

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. His design of the AK-47 - for which his name is known around the world - came in 1947. 

Comments (1)

My deepest and sincerest condolences to the Michail Kalashinov Family. Another legend that will add history to the past russian archives .
May I add an unreserved apology for the cowardly false statements made by a sitting Coalition Member , J Hockey.this Australian Minister has always been a stranger to the truth but to sink this low is insidious,
A cowardly statement made by a coward seeking publicity at any cost who now knew Michail Kalashinov couldn't anymore defend himself.
Michail early life was a challenge for survival , he had seen fellow compatriots dying on the battlefield ,defending their homeland with heavy bulky arms that often broke down, causing many deaths of his fellow soldiers .
A man who invented the AK-47 did it to stop this tragedy and always hoped it would be used as a defensive weapon only,
He was always proud of his invention for this reason alone and not the false misleading tripe tweeted by this Australian Government Minister , J Hockey ,
Note : This Minister omitted the Australian Invention where an electronic trigger can fire more than 5000 rounds in less than a sec ,

Patrick .
Patrick Travers, Perth Australia
24/12/2013 21:09
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