Canon de 47 antichar SA mie 1937

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The 47mm SA 39 TAZ was a more involved development of the mie 1937 47-mm (1.85-in) anti-tank gun, which had a conventional wheeled carriage. The mie 1939 used a complex all-round-traverse carriage, although some were produced with normal wheeled carriages.

The best of the French anti-tank guns was the Canon de 46 antichar SA mie 1937, a design that originated with the Atelier de Puteaux, It was developed in a great hurry and introduced into service once the French army had been provided with indications of the armour thickness of the German PzKpfw IV tank, Considering the rush with which the mie 1937 was developed it was an excellent anti-tank weapon and one of the best in service anywhere in 1939. The main trouble for the French army was that there were not enough of them to hand during the events of May 1940.

The mie 1937 was introduced into limited service in 1938, but the main production run was in 1939. The type was issued to French artillery batteries operating in support of army divisions and brigades, and was operated in batteries, each battery having six guns. The equipments were usually towed into action behind Somua halftracks, and in action their low outlines made them easy to conceal. They were capable of penetrating the armour of any tank likely to be put into action against them. In appearance the mie 1937 looked powerful and low. The gun had a barrel nearly 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) long, and the carriage used pressed steel wheels with solid rubber rims, On top of the shield there was the fashionable corrugated outline to break up the shape.

Along with production of the towed anti-tank model of the mie 1937 went production of a very similar gun intended for use in the permanent fortifications of the Maginot Line. This version lacked the carriage of the towed version and instead was swung into its firing position (through specially constructed firing slits) suspended from overhead rails. In 1939 there appeared a slightly revised version of the mie 1937 known as the Canon de 47 antichar SA mie 1937/39, but the detailed differences between these two guns were slight. In 1940 there appeared the Canon de 47 antichar SA mie 1939 and this was a quite different weapon. It used the gun of the mie 1937, but mounted on a new tripod carriage so arranged that once it was emplaced the gun could be swung through 360° to fire against targets appearing from any point of the compass, To emplace the gun a forward leg of the tripod was swung down, the trail legs were spread and the wheels were then raised to positions on each side of the shield. This futuristic concept was doomed never to see service, for the events of May 1940 intervened before production could start.

May and June 1940 saw the bulk of the French mie 1937s pass into German hands, The Germans regarded the mie 1937 very highly, for many of their tanks had suffered from the striking power of the gun, and after 1940 they used the mie 1937 widely as the 4.7-cm Pak 141(f); the gun was still in service when the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944. Before that the Germans had also used the mie 1937 to arm many of their early Panzerjäger (tank hunter) conversions produced by removing the turrets from captured French tanks and replacing them with anti-tank guns on open mountings.

Specification Canon de 47 antichar SA mie 1937 Calibre: 47 mm (1.85 in) Length of barrel: 2.49 m (8 ft 2 in) Weight: travelling 1090 kg (2,403 lb) and in action 1050 kg (2,315 lb) Traverse: 68° Elevation:-13° to+ 16.5° Muzzle velocity: 855 m (2,805 ft) per second Maximum range: 6500 m (7,110 yards) Projectile weight: 1.725 kg (3.8 lb) Armour penetration: 80 mm (3.15 in) at 200 m (220 yards)

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Battle of Pavia, (February 23-24, 1525).

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Despite improvements in the punching power of missile weapons and the increasing tactical prevalence of pike-and-firearms infantry, knights continued to wear armor. They increased its body coverage and thickness and remodeled it, adding crenelations and deflective surfaces. The full suit of body armor was thus a product of the end of the age of armor, and still in use into the 16th century. But personal plate became ineffective and obsolete with introduction of more powerful firearms capable of using corned gunpowder, which gave far greater penetrating power to handguns and cannon. At that point, the weight of ever-thickening plate became too great a burden: a fully articulated suit of 16th-century plate weighed 60 pounds. Though fully encased in metal, a fit warrior was capable of supple movement in suit armor. At least one case was reported of a knight able to turn and leap onto his horse unaided. Still, this was the exception rather than the rule: most armor restricted movement and interfered with sight and hearing to the point that dismounted knights would often fight in pairs, guarding each other’s back. A number of older knights died of heart attacks, and younger ones died from dehydration or heat stroke after a hot summer’s day spent in suffocating heat inside a full suit of plate. Discomfort was magnified by stuffing armor suits with shock-absorbent cloth, horsehair, or straw. Added to the problems of weight and discomfort was sharp limitation on sight, hearing, and a knight’s defensive and offensive movements. These negatives came to outweigh suit armor’s protective quality, and it was discarded along with the heavier horses needed to bear up a fully armored knight. Instead, cloth or leather garments were worn and smaller, fleeter steeds were newly desired: the fully armed knight and the destrier retired from war together, into romantic memory and imagination.

PAVIA piqueteros de los  tercios

PAVIA soldados del tercio

At Pavia (1525), tercios destroyed the French under Francis I. For two generations after that most opponents declined battle against the tercios whenever possible, and they became the most feared infantry in Europe. They remained dominant for nearly a hundred years. Their demise came during the Thirty Years’ War when more flexible Dutch and Swedish armies broke into more flexible, smaller regiments. These units smashed the tercios with combined arms tactics that also employed field artillery and a return to cavalry shock.

PAVIA DESPLIEGUE

The climactic battle of the opening half of the Italian Wars (1494-1559), and one confusing and obscured to historians by the dense fog in which it was fought. In January 1525 Francis I led a combined force of 24,000 French and 4,000 Swiss into northern Italy and laid siege to Pavia. The local militia of 6,000 held out until an Imperial army of 23,000 arrived to relieve it, led personally by Charles V. The Imperials failed in an initial effort to break through the French trenches. They dug lines of circumvallation around the French lines and each side deployed artillery. Francis had about 50 cannon of various types and calibers; Charles had fewer than twenty. Neither bombardment had much effect on dug-in positions. In a daring night attack, partly concealed by wild weather and a fresh bombardment, Imperial troops crossed a small river and caught the left of the French position by complete surprise. Three thousand Spanish under the Marchese di Pescara, victor of La Bicocca, used their “Spanish muskets” to great effect. Maneuvering independently of pike protection but sheltering behind trees and hedges, they poured fire into the French flank, joined by 1,500 Basque crossbowmen. The garrison in Pavia saw its chance and attacked the few French left in the siege trenches, showing no mercy. In an action that took less than two hours, musketeers and archers killed 8,000 French.

French cannon proved of little use since their rate of fire was too slow to turn the tide of the assault. Francis I was captured, and held in Spain until he agreed to end his claims in Italy and Burgundy (a promise he renounced immediately upon his release). It is often written that Pavia ended the era of armored lancers on heavy horses. That is not so. Noble cavalry units remained active all through the French Civil Wars (1562-1629), for instance. Pavia shook their reputation for effectiveness, but it did not eliminate them from battle. What Pavia decided was the fate of Italy for several generations, ensuring that it remained an Imperial protectorate to be exploited for decades as a source of revenue and a recruiting ground for Habsburg tercios thrown against the enemies of Spain and the Empire. Although the long and mutually impoverishing Italian Wars continued for another three decades, there was almost no change in territorial holdings or in the regional balance of power after the French defeat at Pavia, nor was there another major set-piece battle for nearly a generation. This was because opponents of Charles V, an excellent cavalry soldier who showed his mettle at Pavia, were unwilling to meet the deadly tercios on the field of battle. Instead, they cleaved to cautious campaigns of maneuver or hunkered down inside stout fortifications defended by artillery towers and skilled musketeers.

PAVIA francisco I y carlos I

Francis I of France and Emperor Charles V

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500–1558).

Charles V’s European holdings encircled France on three sides. Although this was the product of serial accidents of birth, death, and inheritance rather than intention, France was implicitly threatened. And Charles inherited the ongoing Italian Wars with young Francis I determined to secure Milan. To fight him, Charles relied on the Spanish way of war and military system of heavy infantry squares, or tercios. The apex came early, when Charles personally won a great victory at Pavia (1525), capturing Francis I and holding him in Spain until he agreed to a peace, which he immediately renounced upon his release. Charles thus remained committed in Italy against France continuously, with brief respites in 1526, 1529, 1538, and 1544. In 1527, angry with Pope Clement VII’s involvement in the League of Cognac, Charles sent an army to occupy Rome. While there, unpaid mercenaries mutinied and sacked the city, raping nuns and murdering civilians. They also took Clement prisoner. The pious Charles was shocked (some historians date his later, paralyzing melancholia to this incident). He restored Clement both from principle and in order to obtain his assistance dealing with the religious revolt then in full-throated roar in Germany.

Francis I (1494-1547). King of France, 1515-1547.

He inherited an army fundamentally reshaped after defeating England in the Hundred Years’ War. It no longer relied on feudal levies commanded by barons. It was still strong in heavy cavalry but it also led the way in gunpowder artillery and expanded infantry. In 1515, Francis took this army back into Italy, where it performed well in a new round of the Italian Wars (1494-1559), defeating the pike squares of the Swiss Confederation over two days at Marignano (September 13-14, 1515) and taking Milan. But the next foe Francis faced was the most powerful monarch in Europe since Charlemagne: Charles V. Altogether, his Habsburg territories encircled France on three sides. It was a strategic dilemma that dogged Francis his entire reign. Francis won at La Bicocca (April 27, 1522), but then the war in Italy turned against him. There followed an invasion of southern France by Charles de Bourbon. The climax came at Pavia (February 23- 24, 1525), where Francis was defeated, captured, taken to Madrid, and held until he surrendered all claims in Italy and Burgundy, a false promise he renounced immediately upon his release in 1526. Francis spent the next 20 years conspiring against the Habsburgs, but achieved few successes in the continuing Italian Wars despite signing a formal alliance with the Ottoman Empire in 1536. In 1534 he ordered formation of seven “legions” of 6,000 men, each raised within France, to reduce his dependence on the Swiss for infantry and in mimicry of the Spanish tercio. These were to be all pike, halberd, and arquebus units. They never challenged the tercio effectively, however, since they were badly officered and ill-trained.

Suggested Reading: Angus Konstam, Pavia 1525: Climax of the Italian Wars (1996); Catherine Whistler, The Battle of Pavia (2003).

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marquis de Louvois, (1641-1691)

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Né François Le Tellier. Successor to his father, Michel Le Tellier, as principal military and strategic adviser to Louis XIV. He was the main transformer of the French Army into an instrument of royal authority and foreign policy. In part, he accomplished this by helping his father and Louis establish the Régiment du Roi in 1663 as a model for all French infantry regiments. He also founded the Royal-Artillerie in 1673 as a professional and concentrated artillery arm. These reforms had influence on military developments far beyond France.

Following a pattern set by his father, with whom he understudied from 1662 to 1670, Louvois lobbied hard for bullying wars as the main basis of French foreign policy. He did so not least as a means of creating opportunities to concentrate more power and wealth in his own hands. He was centrally involved in reorganization of the French Army away from private regiments and mercenaries to a more professional officer corps and to regular units raised from the king’s subjects. He exercised such strict control over officers, however, that tactical and operational mediocrity was often the result. In logistics he found a calling, notably fully developing the magazine system left in rudimentary form by his father. Among Louvois’ more important innovations was to introduce portable ovens to bake bread during halt days while a French army was on the move. At the onset of the Dutch War (1672-1678), Louvois accumulated in forward magazines enough grain to provide the advancing armies with 200,000 rations per day for up to six months-an unheard of achievement in European warfare since the fall of Rome. This effort is widely regarded by historians as his finest. It ensured Louis XIV early military success that would not be replicated in later, longer wars fought without Louvois at his side. For this material accomplishment, regardless of Louvois’ many and deep moral flaws, he is properly regarded by historians as the first great civilian “minister of war.”

In 1663 Louvois set out to curtail military corruption mainly by centralizing military administration. He also introduced stricter disciplines against common soldiers. He announced an official policy of flogging for any discovered passe volant, and the infamous lieutenant-colonel Jean Martinet set about enforcing it. Two years later, Louvois added branding as a punishment for taking the king’s coin without bearing the king’s arms beyond the parade ground. When war broke out, the problem of missing rankers not only continued, but deepened. As late as 1676, Louvois ordered the traditional punishment of having one’s nose cut off for this crime against the royal purse. The practice of passe volant continued mainly because it was lucrative for captains and colonels, who also did not take the risk of disfigurement. Louvois therefore ordered execution of passe volants and established a rewards scale for any French soldier denouncing a corrupt captain or other officer. The offending officer was not to be flogged, but was fined and might even lose his commission. This set of draconian orders attacking both ends of the problem finally discouraged most military impersonators.

As for his moral failings, they were many and great. For instance, during Turenne’s march through the Palatinate in 1674, Louvois demanded that the harshest methods be used against German villagers who resisted by any means, or who refused to pay contributions. During the War of the Reunions (1683-1684), he again displayed a penchant for personal cruelty and brutality in punishing villagers. He once ordered fully 20 villages be bombarded and burned in retaliation for the loss of two French barns. Although he was patron to Vauban, the two disagreed about whether to use bombardment as an alternative to siege warfare. John A. Lynn, the leading modern historian of the French Army, maintains that Louvois took a savage approach to war and that, for him, bombardment of towns with mortars during the 1680s “became something of a blood lust.” Nor did his none-too-gentle master in Versailles voice any objection. In 1688 Louvois began to raise new provincial militia to supplement the regular regiments. These were gainfully employed when Louis started the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) that fall. Louvois planned the 1688-1689 devastation of the Palatinate (1688-1689) on a map, reveling yet again in the destruction of German towns and cities, and even individual chateaux. His death on July 16, 1691, removed from inner policy circles a baleful and brutish influence on Louis XIV, a monarch who needed little encouragement to indulge his own vices and a pronounced preference for war over diplomacy.

Sivaji Bhonsle (1627-1680)

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“Shivaji.” Maratha general and leader. Sivaji was a lifelong opponent of Muslim power in Western India in general, and a military and political opponent of the Mughal Empire, specifically. He saw his first fighting at age 19. Sivaji developed sophisticated concepts of the style of warfare that from the early 19th century would be called “guerrilla warfare,” but such tactics were better known in this era as guerre guerroyante, or raids and ambushes. As the leader of a small group of Hindu rebels, he conducted several guerrilla campaigns against the Muslim sultanate of Bijapur, slowly expanding Maratha territory with repeated local victories. This provoked the sultan to send over 20,000 troops against Sivaji and his Maratha band in 1657. Sivaji retreated into the highlands of the Deccan while pretending to offer to negotiate with the Bijapur general, Afzal Khan, who had been sent to rout him out. When Khan agreed to parley, Sivaji sprang a trap and had him assassinated. Leaderless, the Bijapuri army was quickly defeated by Marathas and thousands of new recruits who poured out of the mountains to fight for Shivaji at Pratapgarh (November 30, 1659), and again at Kolhapur (December 28, 1659).

In the wake of these sharp victories, Sivaji’s cavalry overran additional territories. In 1664, he sacked the Mughal port city of Surat, which provoked a powerful Mughal assault on his home territories the next year. Emperor Aurangzeb began to pay more attention to events in the Deccan. He sent several armies against the charismatic Sivaji, whose movement was threatening to provoke a more general Hindu revolt against Mughal overlordship. Failure to combine approaching Mughal forces into a single strike was a major operational mistake that allowed Sivaji to defeat each detached army in detail.

For several years, Shivaji fought losing defensive campaigns against the Mughals; Aurangzeb had sent a concentrated Mughal force at least 100,000 strong to deal with the Marathas. This was too much force even for Sivaji, who finally submitted to Mughal force majeure. Brought before Aurangzeb’s peripatetic court, Sivaji was compelled to bend the knee in a humiliating act of submission- which saved his life. While under house arrest in Agra, in 1666, Sivaji plotted escape and vengeance. He accomplished the first feat by sending out basins of sweets as alms for the poor, and then disguising himself as a bearer and leaving with the last delivery. Another version of what became a legendary tale of a Hindu hero is that Sivaji was smuggled out inside one of the basins of sweets. In either case, he spent the next years seeking a diplomatic settlement with Aurangzeb, rather than continuing to fight against overwhelming Muslim power. Lulled into a false sense of military superiority, the Mughal court agreed to recognize Sivaji as a local leader in a much-reduced Maratha state, and turned its attention elsewhere. That was another mistake.

Early in 1670, Sivaji, who had been secretly gathering strength, suddenly attacked several isolated Mughal garrisons in Maharashtra. By the end of the year, he retook virtually all territory he held previously. As Hindus rallied to his banner, the Maratha army grew by many tens of thousands, though its main strength remained its cavalry arm. For the next four years, Sivaji harassed Mughal garrisons, cut off forts, captured new territories, and drove back the frontier at Aurangzeb’s expense, and to his lasting humiliation. In 1674, Shivaji proclaimed himself king of an independent Maratha state. This was no idle boast: the warrior state Shivaji constructed in the highly defensible highlands of the arid Deccan, along with a careful regional alliance system set up with smaller Muslim states that also feared domination by the Mughals, enabled Maharashtra to be the dominant power in central India for the next 100 years.

Cataphracti

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The Frankish caballarii or protoknights had been modeled directly on the klibanarioi of the Byzantine Empire in southern Italy, who themselves were derived directly from the cataphracti of the later Roman armies, and indirectly from the heavy cavalry of the Parthians and ultimately of the Sarmatians of the third century B. C. The early caballarii resembled their Roman and Byzantine precursors in being nothing more than cavalry soldiers who were provided with the best available armor, arms, mounts, equipment, and training, and who fought in units whose principal purpose was to overwhelm and terrify their enemies through a combination of weight, momentum, and virtual invulnerability. The true knights of the period between 1050 and about 1550 continued to function in the same way, using a greatly improved version of the traditional shock tactics made possible by technical improvements in their equipment, and the core definition of the knight always included an ability to fight in this way.

The cataphract is a latecomer to the Hellenistic battle line. Cavalry of this type, where both horse and rider were covered as completely as possible in armour, developed first among the Iranian peoples. Antiochus III seems to have been the first Hellenistic monarch to employ cataphracts. They would be a significant military development later on, as horses of increasing strength were bred to carry the heavy burden.

Alexander’s Companions were heavy lancers armed with the xyston, and these lances were so effective against the shorter weapons of the Persian horse that Darius apparently re-equipped some of his own cavalry with similar arms. Hellenistic heavy cavalry continued to consist largely of such xystophoroi, and the marriage of the lance with the heavy armour long worn by Scythian nobles and their mounts gave rise to the cataphract lancers fielded by the Parthians and the Seleucids. Old ideas that the lack of stirrups made ancient cavalry incapable of effective shock action have long ago been exploded by practical experimentation, and the very prevalence of such armoured lancers shows how ridiculous the supposition was.

It is probable that from the second century AD the Romans began to use relatively heavily armoured cavalry, whose entire role was to intimidate the enemy by the expected shock of their charge. Under Trajan appears the First Ulpian thousand-man ala of lance-carriers (ala I Ulpia contariorum milliaria). This must have been equipped with a long lance (kontos), which was held in two hands along one side of the horse’s neck. In the reign of Hadrian an ala cataphracta first appeared in which both rider and horse may have been armoured. The value of armoured cavalry was probably in the visual shock of their slow and steady advance (it would be tiring for the horses to move at more than a trot) and their ability to wound from a distance with their long lances. However, there is only limited flexibility in the deployment of this kind of cavalry because horses and riders tire quickly, especially in a warm climate, if clad in heavy armour.

The most conspicuous Roman cavalry units were the heavily armoured cataphracti and clibanarii, but there were never large numbers of these, and it would be a misconception to view the late Roman period as one of unilinear `progress’ towards heavier cavalry. Nevertheless, they were a potentially decisive force in Roman battle tactics. While the precise differences, if any, between cataphracti and clibanarii are disputed, there appears to have been no significant distinction in their combat roles. Their chief weapon was a cavalry lance or contus, usually wielded two-handed, although across the empire there was probably greater variety in equipment than is often assumed. Both cataphracti and clibanarii enjoyed extensive protection against missiles that would otherwise disconcert the cohesion of closeorder cavalry formations. There is some evidence that maces or clubs were regarded as the most effective close-quarters weapons against cataphracti, though their character is unclear. The literary and sculptural evidence for horse armour is ambiguous, perhaps reflecting regional variations; certainly the mounts of the front ranks were armoured, though their flanks, bellies and legs remained vulnerable. These `shock’ units aimed to overwhelm the enemy’s morale rather than clash directly at close quarters, and contemporary descriptions attest their imposing spectacle on the battlefield. 51 They could drive off opposing cavalry, but were particularly effective against infantry already revealing signs of disorder or weakness. Seasoned Roman infantry usually possessed the discipline, morale and armament to withstand such onslaughts by Persian or Sarmatian cataphracti, but few of the empire’s enemies regularly fielded infantry of comparable quality. If the prospect of their approach failed to break the enemy, Roman cataphracti usually drew rein and continued to menace, while accompanying bow- or javelin-armed cavalry further disrupted the enemy line.

There is plenty of evidence throughout this period and well after Adrianople that Roman infantry were able to hold off and defeat barbarian cavalry, and that the proportion of cavalry to infantry units remained approximately the same for the next century: roughly 1:3 in numbers of units, but far fewer in absolute numbers of men, since the unit sizes in the cavalry were smaller. 4 Within the Roman cavalry there was an increase from the late third to the early fifth century in the numbers of very heavily armoured units, and it has been calculated that by the time of the Notitia Dignitatum, a late fourth/ early fifth century document giving the order of battle of the eastern and western armies, heavy armoured cavalry (cataphracti and clibanarii) made up some 15 per cent of the comitatenses cavalry, in comparison with lancers and other heavy cavalry (61 per cent) and light cavalry (24 per cent). Yet there were in turn more of these cavalry units assigned to the limitanei than to the field armies, which suggests strongly that cavalry were still regarded throughout the fourth and fifth centuries as most valuable in scouting and patrolling, or covering the wings and flanks of a mainly infantry army.

While Procopius’ `ideal’ warrior marks a stage in the development of the late Roman `composite archer-lancer’, this type appears as the standard Roman cavalryman only at the very end of this period. In the Strategicon all cavalrymen are expected to be proficient with both lance and bow, switching easily from one to the other (1.1). Cavalry units were trained to deploy as cursores – in open order, harrying enemies with archery – and defensores – in a well-ordered close array which could support the cursores if these failed to break the opposing formation and had to retire to regroup. While cursores and defensores have their origins in the respective roles of Roman shock and missile cavalry of an earlier period, Maurice expects every cavalry unit to be able to perform both roles (3.5.63-76, 86-109). Indeed, `despecialization’ in armament, training and tactics is a defining characteristic of later sixth century cavalry, perhaps reflected in the apparent disappearance of specialist unit designations like sagittarii or cataphracti. A significant influence may be identified in the empire’s eastern enemies, who had for long effectively combined the tactics of horse-archers and cataphracti. The equipment of some sixth-century Persian cavalry, and certainly the panoply required by the reforms of Khusro I (531-79), suggests that they were expected to fulfil both roles (Tabari i. 1.964,5:262-3, Yarshater).

The elite units of the imperial tagmata, and later the heavy cavalry soldiers who made up the small cataphract corps recruited by Nikephros Phocas in particular were much more heavily armoured; indeed, it is likely that the tagmata, equipped and outfitted directly by the central government, had been from the beginning much more heavily armed than the thematic forces, and may have been issued with horse armour as well. The mid-tenth-century heavy cavalryman is described in several sources, and was protected by a lamellar klibanion with splinted arm-guards, sleeves and gauntlets, the latter from coarse silk or quilted cotton. From the waist to the knee they wore thick felt coverings reinforced with mail; over the klibanion was worn a sleeveless quilted or padded coat (the epilorikon); and to protect the head and neck an iron helmet with mail or quilting attached and wrapped around the face. The lower leg was protected by splinted greaves of bronze. Offensive weapons included iron maces with a three-, four-or six-flanged head, the paramerion, and the standard sword or spathion. The mace was a particularly favoured weapon for the heavy cavalry and heavy infantry, and indeed acquired such a degree of notoriety that enemy soldiers were reported to have fled at the sight of mace-bearing Byzantine troops. The horses were also armoured, with felt quilting, or boiled leather lamellar or scale armour, or hides-the head, neck and front, flanks and rear of the animal should be thus protected. Their hooves appear also to have been protected against caltrops by metal plates. In addition to this information, the so-called Sylloge tacticorum gives some details on the bow used by Byzantine soldiers, which together with descriptions and illustrations of the curved Byzantine bows suggests that the basic model remained that of the Hunnic bow, adopted in the fifth and sixth centuries, measuring from 114 cm to 122 cm (45″ to 48″) in length, with arrows of 68 cm (27″).

The Battlefield Changer – AK series Part I

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Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov was born on November 10, 1919, into a world that had just seen the end of World War I—“The War to End All Wars”—and hoped for a lasting peace. His family had been exiled to the cold, desolate Altai village of Kurya during political purges, something that the sickly boy did not comprehend. In this harsh environment, only eight of the family’s nineteen children survived.

Always one to tinker—Mikhail had taken apart every lock in his village—he and his friend obtained a U.S.-made Browning pistol. Mikhail cleaned it, shined it, took it apart and reassembled it over and over again. He burned with desire to fire it, to watch it work. He was frightened yet fascinated by the firearm and hid it in a pile of junk from the authorities, because it was illegal to possess such a weapon.

Somehow, the militia learned of the gun, and the teen was arrested but later released. He had vehemently insisted he did not own a pistol, and the authorities were unable to find it.

Fearing that he would be found out eventually, Kalashnikov and his friend fled, scattering pieces of the Browning in the snow along the way. He later wrote of this prophetic experience, “That was it. The perpetrator of my hardships, my first acquaintance with arms.”

After making his way to Kazakhstan and finding a job with the railroad, Kalashnikov was drafted in 1938. Because of his mechanical acumen, he was assigned to a tank company, where he invented several improvements to gauges that checked engine operating hours. He was never able to fully test his inventions, however, because Germany attacked in June 1941, and he was sent to the front. Before he left, he heard stories of the Germans’ superior tactics and savagery, but he had no idea he would be a victim or how it would change his life.

Only a few weeks after shipping out, Sergeant Kalashnikov was out of the war for good. His injuries were substantial enough to keep him from serving again. Convalescing in the hospital, he naively promised himself to build a weapon that would drive the Germans out of his homeland. This promise turned into obsession. “I thought about it when I woke up at night, and tried to imagine what kind of submachine gun I would make. In the morning, I took a notebook from the night table and made various drawings. Later, I redid them many times.”

In an effort to keep his mind diverted from pain, he read everything he could find at the hospital library about submachine guns—which many military planners saw as the ultimate infantry weapon and the key to winning land battles. Combatant nations had quickly put into production their own submachine guns, but the Soviet Union was late to the game and few soldiers had access to these rapid-fire weapons.

What frightened Kalashnikov and other Soviet soldiers was the German Maschinenpistole (MP40), also known as the Schmeisser after weapons designer Hugo Schmeisser. Hugo Schmeisser did not actually design the MP40, but he worked on the MP41, which was an MP40 outfitted with an old-fashioned wooden rifle stock. Like all submachine guns, it fired pistol-sized bullets—nine millimeters in diameter, the familiar 9mm of many contemporary pistols—instead of the larger, more powerful ammunition used in rifles. (Sometimes the distinctions between pistol and rifle rounds are not always clear cut because pistols can use large-sized rounds and rifles sometimes can use small-sized rounds. With some exceptions, however, rifle rounds are generally longer and heavier and contain more propellant, thus offering more “killing power.”) This necessitated firing at close range to be effective, but the MP40 made up for this drawback by being lightweight, easy to handle, and able to stream bullets at an astonishing rate of 500 rounds per minute. The magazine, a device that automatically feeds ammunition into the gun, carried thirty-two bullets, or rounds in military parlance. The MP40 (with most small weapons, the number designates the year it was introduced or produced, 1940 in this case) also was shorter than a rifle and could be easily carried by airborne and tank soldiers. It was the first firearm of its kind to be made entirely of metal, with no wooden stock or handle grips, which made it almost indestructible. By 1945, the Germans had produced over a million of these, and it became so popular that even Allied soldiers preferred using these captured weapons instead of their own submachine guns, which were variations of the Thompson submachine gun, or “Tommy Gun,” of 1920s gangster fame.

Indeed, the Soviet Union had a submachine gun, the PPD34/38, but it was poorly designed. Although it fired 800 rounds per minute, it was heavy and unreliable in combat. It was also too difficult to mass-produce. A much simpler weapon followed, the PPSh41, which was put into limited production in 1941 but not approved until the following year. The gun was popular with troops. However, it was not as well made as its German counterpart, because the Soviet Union’s riveting and welding technology lagged far behind that of the Germans.

Upon his release from the hospital, Kalashnikov convinced friends at the railroad to allow him to work in their metal shop. With his left arm stiff and not fully recovered, he set about improving his motherland’s submachine gun, because the war on the eastern front was still raging with no end in sight.

Hitler had made a strategic error that offered the Soviets some breathing room to develop weapons. Instead of sending all his troops directly to Moscow, an overconfident Führer rejected the advice of his generals and diverted one of his three armies south to occupy the Ukraine, which was rich in oil and gas resources. After more than a month on this distraction, Hitler was running out of time; the harsh Soviet winter was coming fast. Mud roads were becoming frozen slabs and his troops were not prepared for the frigid weather. By November, the Germans had reached within seventeen miles of the Kremlin, but could advance no further due to a Soviet counterattack aided by temperatures dropping to minus twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit. German soldiers were not acclimated or dressed for the cold; many froze to death, and the survivors were exhausted. The Germans found themselves on the defensive for the first time.

With neither side able to extract a clear victory, the war continued, and so did Kalashnikov’s work. Along with several others, he toiled for several months in the railroad shop, producing a submachine gun that he hoped would level the battlefield. His single goal was to protect the motherland. With the prototype under his arm, he made his way to Alma-Ata, where he attracted the attention of Communist Party and military officials who saw promise in this self-taught designer. Although they rejected his submachine gun, Kalashnikov garnered some important lessons. He learned that his weapon was too complex to perform under rigorous combat conditions. For example, the firing mechanism employed too many moving parts. The gun overall had many small parts, increasing the chance that if any single piece were to fail, the gun would be rendered inoperable. However, seeing a spark of genius in this young man, the authorities offered Kalashnikov the opportunity to hone his skills at a technical school, where he invented a carbine, a weapon that was popular because of its versatility.

A carbine is similar to an ordinary rifle but with a shorter barrel and stock. It was originally developed for cavalry soldiers because they could not fire a full-sized rifle from horseback. Later, carbines were the logical choice for paratroopers and tank soldiers, because they were light and fit in tight quarters. Unlike submachine guns, which use pistol-sized rounds, carbines employ larger, rifle-type ammunition.

Many regular rifles, like the M1 Garand, the mainstay of U.S. troops during World War II, came in both full-length and carbine versions. In fact, Kalashnikov borrowed and modified for his own carbine the M1’s method of feeding bullets from the magazine into the chamber for firing as well as the spent cartridge ejection system.

By this time, however, it was becoming clear to the German military, the Wehrmacht, that warfare was changing again and neither the submachine gun nor the carbine were the best infantry weapons. Submachine-gun ranges were too short and their bullets too light for combat that was now being fought at ranges between three hundred and one thousand feet, the result of battles taking place mainly in urban environments. Machine guns had the range and the killing power of larger bullets but were too heavy to carry in fast-moving combat situations. In addition, the massive recoil from machine guns jerked the weapon around, which made them difficult to keep on target. A new kind of weapon was needed that combined the light weight of the submachine gun with the range and killing power of a machine gun.

Unbeknownst to Kalashnikov and Soviet arms designers, the Germans were already working on just such a weapon, and the key to its success was not the gun but a new kind of ammunition.

In many instances, the arcane and minute design elements of ammunition are much more complex and controversial among ballistic engineers than the weapons that fire them. Changing a bullet’s weight by a few grams, altering its shape from sharp-pointed to blunt, or using a few grains more or less of powder in the cartridge case can offer a soldier a vastly different fighting tool irrespective of the gun.

Ammunition is composed of several parts. The first is the bullet, the actual projectile. Bullets are usually made from a mixture of lead and tin, and most military bullets are jacketed with copper or steel to make them harder, the so-called full metal jacket round.

The bullet sits atop and within the cartridge case, held tightly in place by a crimp in the case. Brass is the metal of choice for the case because it is soft enough to crimp yet hard enough to keep its shape during the rapid firing and ejection process. The case actually stretches slightly as soon as it is subjected to pressure, sealing the breech, a process known as obturation. It retracts as soon as the pressure drops. Brass is also lightweight for its strength. Inside the case sits powder that ignites when the firing pin in the gun strikes the primer bottom at the center of the case—much like hitting an old-style match head—which then lights the powder. When the powder ignites, it propels the bullet out of the cartridge and through the barrel at supersonic speed.

German armament engineers in the 1930s began experimenting with an intermediate cartridge (often the word “cartridge” is used to signify the entire round—bullet plus cartridge case), sized between a pistol round and a rifle round, and they came up with a compromise in the PP Kurz (kurz means “short”), which was “7.92 × 33”—the bullet was 7.92 millimeters in diameter and the case holding it was 33 millimeters long.

Sometimes, ammunition is measured in America and Britain (which continue to resist the metric system) in inches instead of millimeters, and referred to as calibers. A caliber is one inch or 25.4 millimeters. To further complicate the nomenclature, caliber sizes are not always exact; a so-called .38 Police Special bullet is actually .357 inches, and a .44 Magnum of Dirty Harry fame is really .429 inches in diameter.

The new German round, thinner than a rifle round and thicker than a pistol round, was a vast departure from previous submachine-gun ammunition and opened up a world of new possibilities in rapid-firing guns that were light enough for an infantryman to carry, along with a large amount of ammunition, and easy to keep on target. As a bonus to designers, the less powerful rounds offered decreased wear and tear on rifle barrels and other components.

While the Soviets were still working on perfecting a submachine gun, German designers Hugo Schmeisser and Carl Walther, whose company produced James Bond’s pistol of choice, the Walther PPK, were busy building competing prototype rifles employing the intermediate Kurz round. By 1942, they were testing the Maschinenkarabiner, or Mkb for short. As the name implied, it was a hybrid of a machine gun and a carbine, but Hitler did not like this idea at all. He was wedded to submachine guns despite their shortcomings, so in an effort to circumvent him the designers and their military supporters decided to rename it Maschinenpistole (MP), or submachine gun, which was on the Führer’s “approved list” of weapons.

The Mkb42, or MP42, was field-tested against Soviet troops in the battle of Cholm in 1942. Cut off from conventional supply routes, a German army corps found itself encircled by the Soviets in Cholm on the Lovat River south of Leningrad. From February to April, German troops died daily from malnutrition and cold, until a cache of prototype Mkbs was airdropped. Using these new weapons, the Germans were able to blast their way through the Soviet lines and escape.

It is not recorded if the Soviets were able to capture one of these breakthrough weapons, but they were impressed by its performance, and so was Hitler, who finally admitted that these rifles outperformed submachine guns. Two years later, in 1944, in a face-saving move, he dramatically renamed the Mkb the Sturmgewehr, or assault rifle, offering the world a new class of automatic weapon and a name that endured. Had World War II continued, all German soldiers would have received this weapon as regular issue.

While this was transpiring, the Soviets had been working on their own medium-sized cartridge, the 7.62 × 39, also known as the M43 for the year it was approved by Josef Stalin, who, unlike Hitler, saw the need for a new type of ammunition and weapon to fire it. In the quest for a rifle to fire the new round, the government established a contest among designers. A who’s who of venerable Soviet designers entered, including Alexei Sudayev and Sergei Simonov, people virtually unknown in the West but who were household names among Soviets, on a par with legends Samuel Colt and Smith & Wesson. There was also an unknown designer who humbly threw his hat in the ring, Mikhail Kalashnikov, now only in his twenties.

By the time Kalashnikov began work on a rifle to use the new cartridge, the war was winding down and his dream of being the one to produce a weapon to drive out the Germans was dashed. In addition, Sudayev, who won the contest, designed an automatic rifle with too many production shortcomings to be considered practical.

Many military historians miss the cruel irony of the automatic rifle story, in which the Soviets were their own worst enemy. Although the German Sturmgewehr was considered the world’s first assault rifle, the concept had inadvertently been invented in Russia in 1916 by Vladimir Federov, an arms maker for the tsar. Federov’s Avtomat (“automatic”) employed an intermediate round favored by Japanese soldiers, whose smaller frames preferred the recoil of the less powerful ammunition. Federov’s genius was to place the 6.5 × 50.5mm Arisaka round in his automatic rifle, but he did so because the commonly used larger rounds were too hard on the Avtomats and required heavier bolts, pistons, and other components. He and his contemporaries knew little of the battlefield imperatives that would later necessitate the intermediate round. He was simply trying to make his guns last longer.

Federov’s brilliance was lost with the Russian Revolution of 1917, when his political beliefs landed him on the wrong side of the changing government. He even spent time in prison. More importantly, the officers in the field did not understand that this new weapon and round combination was the wave of the future. They still clung to the idea of a more powerful, longer-range ammunition and the mistaken belief that soldiers would always fight battles at long range. As the new regime cleaned house, it swept his work away and the Soviets went back to the old, larger round, which remained standard until 1943. Indeed, some arms historians argue that the Germans were familiar with Federov’s early work and built their Kurz cartridge on his experience. Whatever the true story, the Soviets were now playing technological catch-up. But the ending of the war afforded them the luxury of more time. With the Third Reich beaten by the Allies and the U.S. military showing no interest in assault rifles, the postwar Soviets had a clear road ahead.

The Battlefield Changer – AK series Part II

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The U.S. military was oblivious to the weapons revolution playing out in Europe. As World War II was winding down, American ordnance experts sent back samples of the German Sturmgewehr for study by the Springfield Armory that produced the M1 Garand semiautomatic rifle, considered one of the finest weapons of its type. Unlike an automatic, which sprays bullets with one continuous pull of the trigger, the semiautomatic requires one trigger squeeze per round. Although U.S. forces had heard about the power of Germany’s light automatic weapon, and now had them under the microscope, the upper echelon refused to acknowledge the innovation. Like the early Soviets, they believed in the higher-powered round shot long distances by a soldier/marksman. They continued to believe that the key to war was strategy, training, and high-tech weaponry. When they studied the Sturmgewehr, they could not get past the fact that these weapons were machine-stamped and welded, which in the United States was considered a second-class production method compared to machine milling and forging. They did not understand that Germany had taken stamping and welding to a high art, and that the weapons were lighter and just as rugged as guns with machined and forged parts. Armory personnel dismissed the weapons as flimsy and cheap-looking.

Although Kalashnikov had great natural instincts about weaponry, his lack of formal education put him at a disadvantage, so authorities teamed him with a small “collective” to help refine his ideas. In addition, he believed in what we would call today a “focus” group, listening to soldiers who actually fired the weapons and then offered their opinions. Using soldiers’ feedback, the weapon was changed and refined.

The young man’s success also lay in his ability to take the best ideas available from other gun makers, then combine and refine them. For example, submachine guns of the day relied on a “blow-back” system that used the power of gases shooting backward from the bullet to push back a bolt that ejected the spent cartridge and allowed a fresh one from the magazine to emerge into the chamber for firing. This system worked fine for pistol-sized bullets but not for the intermediate bullet. These new rounds were too powerful, requiring a massive bolt to control them, making for a much heavier gun. Kalashnikov realized this and opted for a gas-activated automatic weapon that used a “short stroke” piston to push back the bolt and eject and load another round. The piston offered the extra power necessary to move the heavier bolt. Although it may sound complicated, the system was actually simple in the world of arms makers.

When a cartridge’s primer is struck with a firing pin, the exploding powder creates gases that propel the bullet out at speeds greater than twenty-three hundred feet per second. As the bullet travels through the barrel, gases build up behind it but cannot escape because the spent cartridge is sealing one end and the bullet, traveling tight against the barrel walls, is blocking the other end.

The M1, or Garand, as it was known for its designer, John Garand, performed flawlessly during World War II, prompting General George Patton to call it “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” It was simple and reliable and the first self-loading rifle to be adopted by any army as standard issue. Unfortunately, the rifle was heavy, clunky, and only held eight rounds in its magazine. While Germany and the Soviet Union were moving toward automatic weapons, U.S. military planners clung to old ideas that put GIs in greater jeopardy with their outmoded rifles. U.S. Department of Defense

As the bullet nears the mouth of the barrel, a vent in the barrel diverts some of these gases into a tube that sits parallel above or below it. The gases hit a piston inside the tube, which pushes a connecting rod into the bolt carrier, forcing it backward. The bolt carrier extracts the spent cartridge from the breech and ejects it, allowing the next round to enter the chamber from the magazine, where ammunition is pushed upward by constant pressure from a spring. The signature banana-shaped magazine is a function of how the cartridges lie when placed side by side. Because they are narrower at one end, the natural and most economical shape of a thirty-round stack of 7.92mm rounds is a curve.

Every time the trigger is pulled, the firing pin strikes the primer in the center of a cartridge, firing a bullet, and the cycle continues. This happens at a rate of more than 600 rounds per minute when the selector lever is in the automatic position.

Because their fast-moving parts are confined in such a small space, automatic rifles have a tendency to jam. All it takes is a speck of dirt to clog the various movements or keep a round from being positioned properly in the firing chamber. This is where Kalashnikov shined. The bolt rotated widely, making it easy for the round to find its proper place in the chamber. Think of trying to poke a pencil into a hole drilled in a piece of wood. It would be much easier if, when you got the pencil tip near the hole, even slightly askew, you rotated it. This turning action would slide the pencil in much easier than if you just poked it straight. This is one of the best parts of Kalashnikov’s design.

In addition, rather than build components that fit tightly into each other, often a signature of professional gun makers, Kalashnikov went the other way, designing components with looser tolerances, more space between parts. Instead of dirt or sand clogging the gun, debris was thrown off in the firing process. During one test, soldiers dragged the gun through what was called the “sand baths.” Each rifle groove and slot was clogged with sand. “I began to doubt that further shooting would proceed without failures,” Kalashnikov recalled. An engineer watching the test voiced similar concerns. But the gun fired flawlessly. “The sand is flying in all directions, like a dog shaking off water,” a team member shouted.

AK prototypes were constantly honed and field-tested, each part altered based on soldier feedback. Unlike with many inventions, there were no Aha! moments in Kalashnikov’s work, only constant incremental improvement until it was soldier-proof. For example, the safety switch, which prevented the gun from accidentally firing, was combined into a single lever that also acts as a dust cover for the ejection port. In other words, a soldier who put his weapon on “safe” to slog through mud without inadvertently firing the weapon, did not also have to remember to close an additional latch to keep dirt out. Again, this was not a new idea—it existed on the Remington Model 8, one of the earliest American semiautomatic rifles, first produced in 1906—but it was Kalashnikov’s cleverness and humbleness that allowed it to be employed in a Soviet weapon. Kalashnikov did not subscribe to the “it wasn’t invented here” syndrome that plagued many other gun makers, and he wasn’t interested in producing a unique or profound piece of machinery. His only goal was to build a weapon that would work every time. He cared even less how it looked. While other designers sought to make their guns sleek and contemporary-looking, Kalashnikov dismissed this as window dressing and very anti-Soviet, which promoted utility over style.

During these testing years, Kalashnikov often found himself guided by the words of arms designer Georgy Shpagin, who developed the successful PPSh41 submachine gun: “Complexity is easy; simplicity is difficult.”

Kalashnikov’s gun also had to be easy and inexpensive to manufacture with current technology and capabilities. Again, he learned from the mistakes of Federov’s Avtomat, which could not be built rapidly or easily, drawbacks that sank it. Although milled or forged components were generally stronger, they were also more time-consuming and expensive to make. Kalashnikov’s prototype weapon would have a stamped receiver, the gun’s main frame.

After scores of modifications and adjustments, the new weapon was approved for production in 1947 with the name AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947), but work continued for several more years to improve the weapon before it would be officially issued to the Soviet army.

The AK-47 underwent more than a hundred modifications between 1947 and 1949. During that time, Kalashnikov had moved to Izhevsk Motor Plant 524, partially to get out of the shadow of more prominent designers who looked down upon the lowly sergeant who had moved up too fast and had not paid his dues with the obligatory decades of work. Izhevsk Motor Plant 524 was not an automotive plant but a front for an arms factory, the name designed to keep away Western spies now that the Communist satellite countries were established. Stalin’s blockade of Berlin had begun and the cold war was in full swing.

By the end of 1949, arms plants had turned out about eighty thousand AK-47s, but one major modification was necessary before it could be issued to all Soviet troops and their allies. Soviet metals technology still lagged and assembly plants could not manufacture stamped receivers in large numbers. Because Kalashnikov was not versed in production techniques, the job fell to other engineers, who changed the AK assembly lines to produce forged receivers. This made the gun heavier and more expensive to produce, but there was no choice. In gearing up for the cold war, these weapons had to be made quickly.

The AK was the ideal weapon for the Soviet Union, and the nation’s leaders built military and political doctrine around it. In the early days of the cold war, Soviet military planners believed that large land battles would take place between East and West on Russia’s western border similar to those of World War II. Soviet authorities envisioned the so-called encounter battle in which Soviet troops would meet the enemy head-on at various pinch points. Believing that they had the more maneuverable tanks and armored vehicles, the Soviets would attack the oncoming columns from the flanks, with infantrymen delivering thousands of rounds per minute. They would penetrate into enemy lines and overwhelm them similar to the blitzkrieg strategy. This type of close-quarter, massive infantry assault was the AK’s forte, especially in the hands of a typical Soviet soldier.

This AKM (“AK Modernized”) introduced in the 1950s is a simplified, lighter version of the original AK-47, the world’s most devastating weapon. Its banana-shaped magazine gives this gun a familiar silhouette that makes it the symbol of what an assault weapon should look like. It is the undisputed firearm of choice for at least 50 legitimate standing armies, along with untold numbers of disenfranchised fighting forces ranging from international insurgents and terrorists to domestic drug dealers and street gangs. Between 75 and 100 million have been produced. The vast majority of AK-47s in service around the world are actually AKM models. U.S. Department of Defense.

The Soviet Union had a huge conscript army of poorly trained soldiers, many of whom could not read or write, and those that could often spoke diverse languages from the various Soviet states. This made standardized training difficult. Again, the AK suited the Soviet army because it was easy to fire, did not require a written manual or training, and rarely broke down.

In contrast to the U.S. military, which prided itself on having a pool of well-trained troops taught to make every shot count through intensive training and practice, the AK allowed the Soviets to put thousands of men into service quickly and with a respectable chance of killing the enemy. Because the AK employed an intermediate round, with less recoil than larger rounds, it allowed even inexperienced soldiers to control its accuracy during multiple bursts.

The Soviet military worked hard to keep the existence of the AK hidden from the West. Soldiers issued AKs carried them in special pouches that hid their shape. They were also instructed to pick up spent cartridges after maneuvers to keep the new ammunition secret.

Military and other official accounts differ on when the West learned of this deadly new weapon. Although the Soviets supplied arms to North Korea during the Korean conflict, it is not clear if they offered any AKs. U.S. Army historians make no mention of GIs seeing the weapon, and many Soviet records from the time are unavailable. Certainly, the Chinese, who supported the North Koreans with weapons and funds, would have welcomed the gun. Stalin was pleased to see China turn Communist in 1949 under Mao Tse-tung, and Mao’s brutal vision of war was eerily made to order for the AK. The Maoist strategy called for massive numbers of citizen soldiers armed with simple weapons to engage a technologically superior army in guerrilla and large-scale attacks. Sheer numbers, Mao believed, could win against any army no matter how sophisticated its weaponry. Even though the Soviet Union and Communist China chose different military tactics, they both benefited from the AK’s characteristics. China’s tactics were put into practice in Korea when U.S. and UN-sanctioned forces faced hordes of Chinese soldiers in many battles, leaving both sides with massive casualties. In 1953, after three years of brutal fighting and millions of dead, the hostilities ceased with a shaky armistice on the 38th parallel that continues today.

In 1956, events in Eastern Europe forced the Soviet Union to unveil the AK in public. The tumult began on October 23 with a peaceful demonstration by students in Budapest, Hungary, who demanded an end to Soviet occupation and the implementation of “true socialism.” The police made some arrests and tried to disperse the demonstrators with tear gas, but the crowds grew larger and more vocal. When the students attempted to free people who had been arrested, the police opened fire on the crowd. Within days, soldiers, government workers, and even police officials had joined the students.

Nikita Khrushchev, now leader of the Soviet Union, grew increasingly concerned about the situation and dispatched the Red Army to Hungary. They rode in tanks and in trucks, carrying their AKs. The demonstrators fought with whatever weaponry they could find, including Russian submachine guns, carbines, single-shot rifles, and grenades, much of it taken from liberated military depots. This was the Soviets’ first large-scale use of the AK, and it performed flawlessly in an urban environment where tanks became bogged down in narrow streets against crowds wielding Molotov cocktails. The revolt was squelched, with as many as fifty thousand Hungarians and about seven thousand Soviet soldiers killed.

According to U.S. Army archives, American intelligence officers took note of the AK but appeared not to be concerned. When the Springfield Armory, the U.S. military’s weapons maker since 1794, tested the Soviet weapon that year, they too appeared indifferent. It would not be until a decade later during the Vietnam War that American GIs would face the AK in action for the first time. These soldiers would pay dearly for their government’s abject failure to recognize the far-reaching significance of Kalashnikov’s simple weapon.