AK-47: The Weapon of the 20th Century Part II

December 9, 2009 0 Comments

A close-up of a stripped AK47. From top to bottom, the receiver cover, the return spring, the bolt mechanism and gas piston are all visible. Field stripping can be done in seconds by a trained user.

 

If you take all the individual elements of the AK47 in isolation, at first it seems a rather unremarkable, even derivative weapon (but NOT of the MP44!). Both the locking system and trigger group owe allegiance to the US Ml and M l 4 rifles.

 

The overall shape and configuration are strikingly similar to the German MP44. The gas-operation is conventional, with few distinguishing features. Yet it should be remembered that Kalashnikov was not designing a weapon to win design prizes, but to win battles. The nature of the design was secondary to the efficient application to its purpose, and Kalashnikov always acknowledged his borrowings from other people's firearms. Yet what is true genius behind the AK47 is the unique combination of elements. Everything about the AK47 contributes to its reliability and solid combat performance. Thus there may be more ingenious weapons, but ingenuity rarely matters to the soldier in battle. What matters to him is that the gun works and continues to work, even through the dust, mud, debris and abuse of combat. This the AK47 does to an exemplary degree.

 

BASIC DESIGN AND OPERATION

 

Simply described, the AK47 is a gas-operated rotating-bolt assault rifle. Its gas-piston is sited above the barrel, it is fed from a curved 30-round box magazine, and its selector allows it to fire both single shots and full automatic. By describing how the AK47 works upon firing we can gain a more substantial insight into why the gun is such a convincing weapon to take into combat.

 

Firing the AK47 is simplicity itself. A fresh magazine is loaded, the charging handle is drawn back and released - thus stripping off the topmost cartridge of the magazine and pushing it securely into the chamber ready for firing. The selector switch is then pushed from the safety position to either the semi-automatic or full-automatic setting and the gun is then ready to fire The AK47 - like most modern weapons - fires from a closed-bolt position. (This means that the bolt is locked up against the breech prior to firing. Guns which fire from an open bolt have the disadvantage that the bolt system lurches forward on pulling the trigger and thus disrupts the firer's hold on the weapon and the overall accuracy of the shooting. ) Being a rotating-bolt design, the AK47's bolt is locked into place for firing by two lugs which are rotated into seats machined into the receiver wall.

 

When the trigger is pulled, the trigger sear moves and releases the hammer. This drives forward onto the back of the firing pin which runs through the bolt. In turn, the firing pin strikes the primer of the cartridge and the round is fired. The bullet now begins its journey down the barrel, pushed by a wave of gas pressure from the propellant detonation and at a muzzle velocity of around 710mps (2329fps). At a point around 276mm (10. 8in) from the back of the barrel - some two thirds of the barrel length - a small vent is situated at a backwards-facing 45° angle. Once the bullet has passed it, this vent diverts some of the firing gas upwards into the gas-cylinder situated just above the barrel. There it impinges on the face of a spring-loaded gas-piston, driving the piston backwards before the gas is vented out of the weapon. The backward force of the gas on the piston is the motive power which cycles the gun for the next shot. The piston is linked to the bolt carrier, thus as both are pushed backwards the bolt moves with them. To do this, however, the bolt lugs must first be rotated out of their seatings to unlock the bolt. This is accomplished by a cam on the carrier engaging with a lug on the bolt which disengages the bolt lugs once backward motion is applied.

 

Once the bolt is unlocked the entire bolt assembly moves back against the pressure of the recoil spring, riding over the hammer, while at the other end the spent cartridge is withdrawn and ejected smartly to the right of the gun as the breech fully opens. The force of the recoil spring eventually overcomes the backward motion of the bolt group and at this point it starts the bolt, bolt carrier and piston on their return journey. As the bolt is pushed forward it catches the top rim of the next cartridge, strips it from the magazine and then drives it forward into the breech. Here the bolt stops against the breech, but the carrier and piston continue for enough distance to enable the bolt-carrier cam and the bolt lug to perform rotational locking and thus secure the bolt for the firing of the next round. Whether the next round is fired immediately or requires another pull of the trigger depends on whether full-automatic or semi-automatic modes are selected respectively. If semi-automatic, then a disconnector in the trigger group prohibits the hammer being released forward until the trigger is pulled for a second time, and if automatic the disconnector is disengaged by the selector switch until pressure on the trigger is released.

 

This fairly detailed description of the operation of the AK47 does little to convey the reasons why the AK47 has attained the legendary status it has. What needs to be added to the equation is the element of simplicity. As will become clear, the AK47 is well-made from good materials, and each part of the weapon's function has little about it to go wrong as long as the weapon is reasonably well maintained. Even if it is not, the weapon will often function consistently well (though there will be more long-term wear upon its parts). The rotation of the bolt in locking is taken much further than many other assault rifles, and this solidity of action means that even the ingress of dirt will not usually prohibit the rifle functioning as it should. The simplicity of the AK47 is its primary virtue. Over time the inherent simplicity of the weapon was improved and sustained leading to the advent of its replacement, the AK74.

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