Last weekend, I took the major arguments of Kalashnikov conspiracy theorists head on, and one of those – which I hear rather frequently – is why he did not design any other weapons besides the AK-47.
The reason is… He did. Kalashnikov was a skilled and fairly prolific designer who by the mid-1960s had a near-monopoly on the designs of platoon-level small arms (excluding the Makarov handgun and short-lived Stetchkin machine pistol). This was of course partly due to the universality of his AK assault rifle design, but also because of his excellent PK machine gun – a weapon that borrowed many of the AK’s mechanical features but married them to an extremely well-designed and reliable belt-feed mechanism.
Kalashnikov’s career as a designer spanned several decades, beginning in 1942 as he was recovering from a shoulder wound he received the previous year when the T-34 tank he was commanding was hit. His first firearm design was the submachine gun chambered for the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round, shown below:
Kalashnikov’s submachine gun did not get far; it was not judged competitive with Sudaev’s already-adopted PPS-43 submachine gun. However, the design brought Kalashnikov recognition as an extremely creative and dedicated designer. In 1944, Kalashnikov was given samples of the new 7.62x41mm round, and set to designing a selfloading rifle for it, resulting in the rifle below:
By late 1944, the focus had shifted from selfloading rifles, to assault rifles – avtomats – and Kalashnikov accordingly began work on his first prototypes in this class. The rifles below are often collectively called “AK-46”, although they are properly two different designs. Both use the same rotating bolt design as his selfloading rifle above, something he adapted from John Garand’s M1, and which – along with his robust and reliable magazine design, also present in these early prototypes – would form the heart of his world-famous AK-47:
These weapons, however, were short-stroke, and sported left-hand charging handles as well as left-side switch-type controls. In trials, Kalashnikov’s initial prototypes suffer problems, and so he went back to the drawing board, creating the substantially simpler and more robust AK-47, the first version of which is shown below:
Mechanically, AK-47 No. 1 is 100% Kalashnikov as we recognize it today; only secondary features would change on the road to adoption.
Once Mikhail’s AK-47 was accepted by the Russian military, he set out to design a new submachine gun, once again, this time in the brand-new 9x18mm Makarov caliber. This rifle was an open-bolt, select-fire weapon sporting a collapsible stock. It also featured an invention that many probably believe came much later with Marc Krebs: A bolt-hold open notch on the Kalashnikov-style safety.
On modern closed-bolt AK-47 rifles, this notch is a convenience, but on this open-bolt submachine gun, it’s a major safety feature. Its inclusion means that this weapon could be cocked, and then the safety engaged to absolutely prevent any possibility of the bolt slipping the sear and firing a round unintentionally. This mechanism was typical of the simplicity and effectiveness of Kalashnikov’s inventions.