I think it is time to set the record straight. Some of you might think they own an AK47, unfortunately you do not. Unless of course, you are the Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk, Russia. The AK47 has for many many years been the most prolific terminological mistakes made. It has grown to become an urban legend that anything that has Kalashnikov written on it has to be an AK47. You could not be further from the truth. Some might say: But it is an Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947 isn’t it? Well there were only 4 guns ever made that could be actually called that. What came into serial production in 1949 was something different than what was called the AK47. And calling any of the more modern variants an AK47 is just outright wrong as these guns have their own designations.
This part will be about a little bit of history. After World War 2 the Soviet Union began the development of the new assault rifle to replace the various models of the Mosin Nagan rifle and the PPSh and PPS submachineguns. Several contests were announced for a new assault rifle. Mikhail Kalashnikov was assigned to a team led by Alexei Sudaev which developed the AS-44 automatic rifle that successfully completed field testing in early 1946. However with Sudaev’s death due to leukaemia the gun was never accepted into service. In the same year another contest was announced and this time M. T. Kalashnikov joined with his design based on the AS-44 which was labelled “Michtim”. Kalashnikov was distinguished and allowed to produce a prototype. And the gun received an official designation for trials as AK-46 number 1.
AK-46 (disassembled and assembled)
Two prototypes were created, one with a milled receiver (AK-1) and one with a stamped receiver (AK-2). AK-2 was to be an end product while AK-1 was to be used during field testing. In June of 1947 field testing found all submitted prototypes as unsuitable for the Red Army. Sensing an inevitable disqualification from further work Kalashnikov’s partner Alexander Zaycev broke the rules of the contest and convinced MK to follow. For the next tests they have submitted a completely redesigned weapon. The new gun was labelled AK-47 number 1. Later three prototypes were made the AK-47 number 2 and 3 with a fixed wooden stock and AK-47 number 4 with an under-folding metal stock.
AK-47 number 1
AK-47 number 2 (note a compensator on the end of the barrel)
The changes were made thanks to a change in the M43 round that was to be used in the new weapon. Originally the M43 round was a 7.62×41 which proved to be very difficult in manufacture and faulty with a lot of issues with split casings and broken off rims. The redesigned round that we currently know as the 7.62×39 M43 gave a go-ahead to all constructors to adopt their rifles to the new cartridge. Kalashnikov and Zaycev however took this privilege way further than others and developed what turned out to be a completely different design to the earlier AK-46 number 1.
The new prototypes were submitted for testing in late 1947. Thanks to the redesign the new rifle superseded all other designs in the spring of the following year. A trial batch was ordered for testing in the military and those have provided extra information that led to yet another pre-production version of the AK, the AK-48. Number 1 with a fixed stock and number 2 with a folding stock. These were supposed to have better accuracy but inevitably the gain was not substantial enough for the guns to be accepted for serial production.
In 1949 the prototype AK-47 number 2 and number 4 were accepted into the Red Army and their official designations became AK (fixed stock) and AKS (under-folding stock). This is notable as the name AK-47 was never used again do describe any variant of the gun.
AK type I
So you could technically call the early milled receiver AK’s as AK-47 can you not? Actually, no. Both the AK-47 number 2 and number 4 had a specific receiver that was deep stamped. These were called AK type I. The Izhevsk factory that was tasked with the production of the AK did not have the capacity for a mass production using this method. A change had to be made before the gun went into production. AK type II receivers milled. The receiver was identical for both guns and mounting of a fixed stock was done by the addition of a rear mount. This part however proved to be a weak spot on the receiver. In 1953 AK type III receivers were introduced, made exactly as the Type II but in two variants one for a folding stock and one for a fixed stock. This model went into production and is known as the first true AK. This is also the model that was widely exported together with production licenses.
AK type II (note the fixed stock mount)
AK type III. Final production model of the AK
Although the final production model is based on the AK47 prototype it is not correct to call all guns of this family of firearms an AK-47 as this designation only refers to 4 guns that were but a few of a broader line of prototypes that eventually became the AK and AKS assault rifles.