[image from AP]
He was a jovial man, fond of literature and poetry. He was a peaceful man by nature, but became forever associated with war. He was a natural tinkerer who as a child obsessively disassembled and reassembled anything mechanical. Born Nov 10, 1919 to a middle-wealth "Kulak" agricultural family (a group specifically targeted by Stalin as "enemies of the people") he would be deported to Siberia with his family and see his father worked to an early death. And yet this experience never soured him to either Soviet Communism or to Comrade Stalin.
He served in the Great Patriotic War (WW2) as a tank maintainer and later commander, but his real passion was firearms and while recuperating from a battlefield injury he overheard the constant complaints the soldiers had for their weapons.
After the war he set out to create the perfect weapon for the Russian soldier: simple, reliable, and powerful, and he suceeded beyond anyone's expectations. The construction was simple, easy to assemble (and copy), and infinitely durable. Loose machinery tollerances cost it some accuracy, but made it capable of continued operations despite fouling by dirt, mud, sand, or ice. You could literally toss it out the back of an airplane into a swamp and expect it to still function after a simple wipedown. Its 7.62x54R mm ammunition was the perfect tactical middle ground between long rifle rounds and shorter pistol/SMG rounds. While not the first "assault rifle" (the German Sturmgewehr 44 preceeded it by a few years and may have helped influence its design) it is perhaps the most famous.
[image from wikimedia]
To steal a line from The Economist, "[t]he weapon is so simple that even a child can use it. Alas, many do".
The perfect weapon for guerilla warriors, the elegantly simple and reliable weapon proved to be a force multiplier in even untrained hands. Even the smallest and most isolated political or ethnic group could mount a serious challange to even first rate armies. In postcolonial Africa and Asia it would become the weapon of revolution, redrawing borders around the world in blood and lead. It continues to do so even today.
Kalashnikov grew to experience regret for the amount of carnage his weapon set loose on the world, living to see even his own Soviet brothers fall victim to its deadly simplicity in Afghanistan. Yet he never lost his love for the weapon itself nor ever lost his sense of pride at the accomplishment.
Kalashnikov died on Dec 23rd, age 94.