Monday, 23 December 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov Died Aged 94

Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the assault rifle that has killed more people than any other firearm in the world, has died in hospital at the age of 94.
The creator of the AK-47 more than 60 years ago died in hospital his home city of Izhevsk, near the Ural Mountains - where his gun is still made, he had been ill for some time and had been in intensive care since November 17.
Kalashnikov, a Russian peasant with little formal education, designed the eponymous rifle in 1947 - with the letters AK-47 referring to 'Kalashnikov's Automatic' (Avtomat Kalashnikova) and the year of its release.
But the rifle and its variants soon became the weapons of choice for dozens of armies and guerrilla groups around the world. Specifically engineered to work in the harsh conditions in which Soviet troops operated, it became one of the most successful weapons ever produced and turned its inventor into one of the most lauded men in the Soviet Union. Cheap, efficient and easily mass-produced, the gun soon became synonymous with killing on a sometimes indiscriminate scale.
It was taken up by militants as far afield as Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Liberia, Sudan, Zaire and Gaza, to name a few. 
There are an estimated 100 million Kalashnikovs, one for every 70 people in the world. The gun is in official service in 55 countries and adorns the flag of Mozambique. Its vast popularity was partly down to the fact its design was never patented, so it was widely ripped off. It also became prized for its sturdy reliability in difficult conditions. During the Vietnam war American soldiers reportedly threw away their M-16s in the harsh jungle and took every AK-47 they could find.

Born in a Siberian village as the 17th child of his family on November 10, 1919, Mikhail Kalashnikov had a tragic childhood during which his father was deported under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1930. In October 1941 he was heavily wounded and shell-shocked in a Soviet defeat by the Germans. He reportedly first conceived of the weapon while recovering in hospital.

Despite the lethal legacy of his weapon, Russia lavished Kalashnikov with honours including the prestigious Hero of Russia prize, the nation's highest honour, for designing the iconic rifle. In 2007, president Vladimir Putin praised him, saying 'The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people.'
The inventor had said he had never intended for it to become the world's most popular weapon, and he fell into making it by accident. Instead he had wanted to design farm equipment 'such as a lawnmower', he claimed.
Yet he carried on working as the chief designer at Izmash well into his 80s. He reportedly profited little from his gun, at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Because of the lack of patent laws he was, like the inventors of more innocuous global successes like Tetris, merely a state employee.
Kalashnikov has been quoted as saying 'I created a weapon to defend the  motherland's borders,' during an award ceremony at the Kremlin to mark his 90th birthday, as well as 'It's not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn't have been. This is the fault of politicians.'

There is a bronze bust of him in his native village of Kurya in the Siberian region of Altai - and it is a local tradition for newlyweds to lay flowers there. 'They whisper "Uncle Misha, wish us happiness and healthy kids,". He once said. "What other gun designer can boast of that?"

1 comment:

  1. One in 70 people world wide is phenomenal, that must rate it as perhaps the single most produced item ever. A interesting read. Much food for thought.