The AK-47 & The Man In The Bowler Hat

Today marks the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. This was the first major armed conflict that featured the AK-47, and the first conflict in which it was used by both sides. The photo above shows a dapper young Hungarian revolutionary named József Tibor Fejes who captured an AK-47 and became the first of many revolutionary icons to be photographed with the rifle. C.J. Chivers writes in The Gun (Page. 224-225) …

In the quiet of a city exhaling, a quintessential sight of the past half-century appeared for the first time. Outside the shattered facades of the buildings, rebels roamed the streets, posing for news photographers. A few of them carried AK-47s. Which Hungarian rebel first captured an AK-47 and turned it against the army that created it cannot be said. Thousands of men fought in Budapest, and Soviet soldiers were repelled and forced to abandon equipment in many places, just as they left behind some of their dead. But the streets around the Corvin Theater were where the rebels’ images were made. The names of most of these men were not recorded. At least one had his back to the camera; his identity is anybody’s guess. But one man’s name was remembered: József Tibor Fejes, twenty-two years old, fresh-faced, sharp-eyed, purposeful, and seemingly unafraid.

On at least one day, Fejes dressed in a dark suit. On others, he was less formal. One picture showed him wearing trousers with their left knee torn. One item in his wardrobe was consistent: he wore a bowler, tilted to one side. Fejes was the worker who had been seen during the fighting wearing his hat. Keménykalapos, his colleagues called him; the man in the bowler hat. Fejes’s roguish confidence made him a darling of the photographers, including Michael Rougier of Life, who snapped a crisply focused frame of the rebel facing the lens. In it, Fejes stood with other insurgents, an AK-47 slung beside his left arm. The AK-47 was destined to become a symbol of resistance fighters almost everywhere, a weapon with innumerable spokesmen. Fejes had nonchalantly assumed the requisite pose and begun to flesh out this historical role. He did so before Fidel Castro, before Yasir Arafat, before Idi Amin. He was years ahead of the flag of Zimbabwe, which would expropriate the AK-47 as a symbol. He was ahead of Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden, who would convert the product of an atheist state into a sign of unsparing jihad. József Tibor Fejes was the first of the world’s Kalashnikov-toting characters, a member of a pantheon’s inaugural class.

Another photo of Fejes

Another photo of Fejes

There is no evidence the AK-47 was used in the Korean War which ended months before the Hungarian Revolution took place. The AK-47 is said to have been used by Soviet troops in very limited numbers during the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, but this uprising lasted just one day and consisted of protests and strikes (verses tanks and machine guns). It was not until 1962, six years after the Hungarian Revolution, that the first AK-47 was captured by Western troops when Dutch troops stumbled upon and surprised an Indonesian Special Forces team in Western New Guinea (The Gun, C.J. Chivers, page 258).


Hungarians examine a captured AK-47

Hungarians examine a captured SKS, also a relatively new gun in 1956

Thanks to Zoltan of  for the photos.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • fjkhoury01

    the last picture is an sks

    • wetcorps

      Seems like it still smells good 😀

    • Steve (TFB Editor)


      As wetcorps says, still smells good. Must be the cosmoline. I still remember being a young man and sniffing my first SKS.

      • gunslinger

        The SKS…was classified as C&R before it was designed, and came pre-cosmolined…NIB

      • neoconfection

        we all love cosmoline

  • schizuki

    That first pic looks like the world’s most anachronistic daguerreotype.

    You know what he’s carrying in that canister on his side? His giant brass balls.

  • George Kaar

    Not your mistake, but I think he meant Mozambique rather than Zimbabwe.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      I think you are right. I wondered about that. Zimbabwe did not exist until not so long ago.

  • Great photographs. Really highlights the longevity of the rifle

  • Azril @ Alex Vostox

    What is the thing hanging on József Tibor Fejes hip?
    From Opsrey Books say it was Molotov Cocktail or Anti-Tank Grenade while DK Publishing claims it was drinking thermos..

  • Azril @ Alex Vostox

    THE ORIGINAL HIPSTER REBEL ,before Che Guevara photo stole everything.

  • dansquad

    Wearing a hat like that is a mere matter of style. Look at this man defending Madrid in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War: The Hat matches pretty well with his Mauser…

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    What this article fails to mention is that the widely-publicized photographs of Jozsef Tibor Fejes by Michael Rougier would ultimately cost Fejes his life. When the 1956 Hungarian Uprising was crushed by Soviet occupation forces, the authorities started rounding up the rebels and prosecuting them. Many were sentenced to death for treason or similar crimes against the state ; for Fejes, there was no escape as the publicity surrounding his photographs inevitably branded him as a marked man who would be easily recognized. The photographs might have been iconic at the time, but it is said that Rougier later deeply regretted having exposed Fejes in such an obvious manner resulting in his execution. Becoming such a symbol of rebellion against totalitarianism was all very well, but it also meant that it behooved the authorities concerned to make an example out of Fejes for the very same reason in order to discourage further rebellion.

    It has always amazed me how so many political hacks, reporters, journalists, editors and others who claim to stand for the truth and the ultimate sanctity of human life simultaneously fail to exercise the sort of common-sense discretion that might help to preserve those very same truths and lives, and all in the name of supposed transparency. I am all for truth and transparency, because this is probably the most powerful single disincentive to those who would deceive and lie in exercising the will to power, but there is a point at which the boundaries of common sense are clearly exceeded. Case in point — the young Jozsef Fejes, who was quite obviously a vibrant and idealistic young man but nevertheless an ordinary citizen who had finally had enough, and took up arms to protest the oppression he and his fellow citizens were undergoing. It must have been entirely obvious that publicizing him like this under the existing circumstances would have posed an enormous risk for retaliation, yet Rougier, et al persisted with the incredibly naive and irresponsible notion of somehow thinking that Fejes would be too well-known to ever be persecuted like this, let alone executed out of hand after a distinctly kangaroo-court trial, or perhaps that he would somehow mystically contrive to escape and elude the secret police like a modern-day combination of Robin Hood and James Bond.

    It is one thing if an individual deliberately and knowingly exposes himself / herself to risk by choice in exchange for whatever publicity or other gain he / she wants to achieve for personal reasons, but altogether something else if a relatively unknown individual who is simply protesting against outright oppression is set up by others as a public model, with all its ramifications.

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