Gun designer: 'Blame Nazis' for creation of the AK-47
Moscow • Mikhail Kalashnikov started out wanting to make farm equipment, but the harvest he reaped was one of blood as the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, the world's most popular firearm.
It was the carnage of World War II, when Nazi Germany overran much of the Soviet Union, which altered his course and made his name as well-known for bloodshed as Smith & Wesson and Colt. The distinctive shape of the gun, often called "a Kalashnikov," appeared on revolutionary flags and adorns memorabilia.
Kalashnikov died Monday at age 94 in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived, said Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic's president. He did not give a cause of death. Kalashnikov had been hospitalized during the past month with unspecified health problems.
Kalashnikov often said he felt personally untroubled by his contribution to bloodshed.
"I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence," he told The Associated Press in 2007.
The AK-47 "Avtomat Kalashnikov" and the year it went into production is the world's most popular firearm, favored by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. An estimated 100 million guns are spread worldwide.
Though it isn't especially accurate, its ruggedness and simplicity are exemplary: it performs in sandy or wet conditions which jam more sophisticated 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," Kalashnikov said in July 2007 at a ceremony marking the rifle's 60th anniversary.
The weapon's 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 30 other countries.
The rifle's status among revolutionaries and national-liberation struggles is enshrined on the flag of Mozambique.
Kalashnikov, born into a peasant family in Siberia, began his working life as a railroad clerk. The moment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 battle of Bryansk against Nazi forces when a shell hit his tank. Recovering from wounds in the hospital, Kalashnikov brooded about the superior automatic rifles he had seen the Nazis deploy; his rough ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.
"Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer," said Kalashnikov. "I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery."
But because his invention was never patented, he didn't get rich off royalties.
"At that time in our country patenting inventions wasn't an issue. We worked for Socialist society, for the good of the people, which I never regret," he said.