By October of 1941, Operation Barbarossa was in full swing. From Latvia to Crimea, the entire western boundary of the Soviet Union was crumbling beneath the feet of 4 million Axis troops. As the Panzers rumbled eastward, the heart of Soviet industrial production collapsed and the soldiers of the Red Army began to increasingly run short of arms and ammunition. Under Stalin’s direction, there was no retreat and no surrender.
In Bryansk, less than 400 kilometers from Moscow, 50,000 Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner in a week, making it over 3 million captured since the invasion began. Only 150 tanks narrowly escaped encirclement during the onslaught. Even worse were the casualty figures: 80,000 dead or wounded. Only 90,000 men were left in service to defend Moscow.
One of the casualties of the Battle of Bryansk, a tank commander, lay convalescing in a hospital bed a few weeks later. As he replayed the sorry events over and over in his mind, he listened to the cries and complaints of his fellow countrymen and he found a common theme: The Germans seemed armed to the teeth while the Soviets were merely fortunate to equip themselves with whatever their comrade dropped when he fell dead. Upon recovery, he dove headlong into creating a selective-fire rifle that would ensure his countrymen would never face this nightmare again.
Since 1947, more than 100 million “Avtomat Kalashnikova” Model 1947s have been produced. The distinctive sound still heard in every corner of the world signifies it as the most widely produced rifle ever made.
When asked about the legacy of his AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov responded, “I'm proud of my invention, but I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work … for example, a lawn mower.”