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Kalashnikov — A Man, a Weapon, a Legend

The display was opened in November 2004 commemorating the 85th anniversary of Mikhail Kalashnikov and is dedicated to the life and activities of the prominent designer­-armorist who created and applied a whole complex of unified samples of assault rifles in the Russian army that have no analogues in the world.

7.62-mm modernized Kalashnikov assault rifle with the night vision device 

Careful work started in the early 1960’s to add to the Museum collections samples of arms designed by Kalashnikov, both experimental ones and those included in the armory. Documents about his life and activities were gathered as well. Lately, the collection has been considerably supplemented, primarily due to objects handed over personally by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 2003. The Military­-Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps now holds the most significant collection of his arms, personal belongings, documents and photos. Many samples of arms, especially experimental ones were designed and have been kept in a single copy. These are relics, rarities, and any museum would be proud of at least just this part of the collection.

Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in the settlement of Kuria, Altai Territory on November 10, 1919. After finishing courses at a tank school for mechanics­-drivers in the Kiev special military district, senior sergeant Kalashnikov, tank commander of the 108th Tank Division, appeared at the front from the outset of World War II. In September 1941 he was seriously wounded in a violent battle near Briansk.

While in hospital, Kalashnikov conceived the idea of the automatic weapon, an arm which soldiers of the Red Army badly needed for defending the homeland.

Kalashnikov devised his first 7.62‑mm submachine gun in 1942. Unfortunately, this first designer’s elaboration was not kept. But soon after, he designed a second modified submachine gun in training workshops at the Moscow Aviation Institute, while he was evacuated to the city of Alma-­Ata. An experimental specimen, the only one in the world, is on display. In spite of the fact that this submachine gun was not recommended for service, the talent of the young self-­taught designer was highly appreciated. By recommendation of General-Major of Artillery A. A. Blagonravov, an outstanding Soviet ballistics and small-­arms specialist, Mikhail Kalashnikov was assigned to the Central Research Small Arms Range at the Main Artillery Administration. From that time onwards, design activities became a profession and a business for all of Kalashnikov’s life.

The exhibition also displays the unique experimental specimen of a 7.62 self-­loading carbine designed by Kalashnikov in 1944. The design of its main elements was used as a basis for the submachine gun which showed high reliability and firing efficiency during arduous competitive tests and was found to be the best in 1947. Kalashnikov’s assault rifle, the now famous AK­47 became operational in the Soviet Army in 1949, and Kalashnikov received the Stalin Prize. AK­47 №1, the only specimen in the world, occupies a special place of honour in the exhibition. Displayed also are unique documents and reports about tests at firing grounds, which give evidence of the uneasy path the gun had to overcome before being added to the armory. These documents were kept with the signature stamp "Top secret" for more than 50 years.

A whole complex of unified samples of automatic small­-arms were designed under the guidance of Mikhail Kalashnikov on the basis of the AK­47 design. The complex includes assault rifles with folding stock, a silencer, an under-­barrel grenade launcher, a night-­vision device, shorty ones, light machine guns, armored personnel carrier machine guns, tank machine guns, and general-­purpose machine guns. All of these specimens are on display.

The collective of designers headed by M. Kalashnikov was charged with working out a complex of automatic arms with a reduced caliber and increased combat characteristics. As before, Kalashnikov arms were recognized as the best after a very serious competitive selection, including tests at firing grounds and troop tests. The AK­74, AKS­74 (with a folding stock), and later AKS 74U (shorty) assault rifles, as well RPK 74 and RPKS 74 machine guns were added to the armory of the Soviet army. Visitors can see these samples, as well as assault rifles from "the 100 series" along with various kinds of ammunition.

It is mistaken to think that Kalashnikov always had success and that all his elaborations were realized. Many experimental specimens which did not become serial ones are evidence of this. Among them are a 9‑mm automatic pistol (1951), a 7.62‑mm self­-loading sniper rifle (1959), a 5.45‑mm assault rifle (early 1970’s) and some others. A 7.62‑mm curved barrel machine gun on the basis of the RPK light machine gun (1960’s) was intended for secret placing in fortified areas. The angle of its barrel curvature is 90º! Only looking at a great number of experimental specimens is it possible to understand what a titanic work is necessary to create a masterpiece.

Since the late 1950’s, serial production of not less than 60–65 various foreign patterns of combat small-­arms worked out on the basis of Kalashnikov’s machine and submachine guns began in many countries of the world. Some of them are on display. These are a 7.62‑mm assault rifle (China) with a folding un­-detachable bayonet, 7.62‑mm MISR assault rifle (Egypt), 7.62‑mm AMR­69 assault rifle/grenade launcher (Hungary), 5.56‑mm Galil SAR (Israel), 7.62‑mm RKm62 assault rifle (Finland), 5.56‑mm NSAS automatic (assault) rifle (India), and others.

Kalashnikov assault rifles and machine guns became a fixture for sporting, hunting and service arms. Some of them, for example Vepr and Saiga hunting carbines, as well as a unique hunting knife designed by Kalashnikov, are of particular interest.

Mikhail Kalashnikov and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Part of the exhibition is dedicated to literary activities of the legendary designer. He wrote four books of memoirs, two of them — Zapiski konstruktora­oruzheinika [Notes of the Designer-­Armorist] and Ot chuzhogo poroga do Spasskikh Vorot [From the Stranger’s Doorstep to the Kremlin Gates] were awarded with the Stalingrad Literature Prize.

In the early 1990’s, the most famous designer-­armorist of the 20th century  finally had the possibility to go outside of Russia and to meet with his colleagues in different countries. At that time, a lot of foreign publications appeared about Mikhail Kalashnikov and his arms. Visitors can see some of the most interesting of them.

Memorial things which tell much more about Kalashnikov as a human being are of a special interest. These are his personal belongings, the uniform of a General-­Lieutenant of the Russian Army, various gifts, souvenirs, copies of awards and documents. Kalashnikov’s study room is reconstructed as well.

Hunting UAZ¬3151 car, the tarpaulin tent and the camp¬fire set which belonged to Mikhail Kalashnikov 

In addition, visitors may observe more than 100 photos depicting different events in the life of the prominent designer, up to the present time.

Mikhail Kalashnikov is not only the designer­-armorist, but the person who is very fond of nature, fishing, hunting, and adventure holidays. That is why the display shows the UAZ­3151 car, camp­fire set designed by M. Kalashnikov, and a tarpaulin tent handed over to the Museum in 2006.

Video and multimedia programs are also worth noticing. Anyone wishing to can try to assemble and disassemble the legendary AK assault rifle under the guidance of an experienced instructor and can verify that the simplicity of the design is a guarantee of its reliability which became a standard one, irreproachable for its combat characteristics. According to military specialists from all over the world, the arms designed by M. Kalashnikov will have no equal until 2025.

Military oath with the Kalashnikov assault rifle

General-­Lieutenant M. Kalashnikov, chief designer of small­-arms, President of the Russian Armorists Union, Doctor of Technical Sciences continues his work on developing combat and civil arms, faithfully representing the achievements of Russian armorists at Russian and foreign arms exhibitions.

The name of the exhibition: «Kalashnikov — A Man, a Weapon, a Legend» is not casual, since the weapons and the surname of its designer merged together into a united concept. This has become a legendary mark of quality and reliability characteristic for Russian small arms. All Russians feel pride for the high authority of the Russian arms­-production school and the prominent successor of its traditions, Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov. The display is therefore dedicated to this legendary designer of legendary arms; the Man, Citizen, and Patriot.