Osprey author Leigh Neville continues his series examining the small arms used by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War. This week he looks at the world famous Kalashnikov or AK47 assault rifle.
The AK47 was pioneering for two reasons. It was the first mass produced assault rifle- that being a selective fire weapon chambered for a rifle calibre- and it was the first to widely employ a so-called ‘intermediate’ c...alibre round- the 7.62x39mm. Although far from a copy, Mikhail Kalashnikov, the rifle’s designer, was certainly aware of German experiments during the Second World War with assault rifles firing intermediate calibres.
The Russians had come to the same conclusions as the Germans and several Allied armies- operational research was showing that the majority of infantry firefights were occurring at ranges of 300 metres or less. Full power rifle calibres simply weren’t required. Intermediate calibres were both less punishing in terms of recoil and were lighter than their full-power cousins.
The AK47 was an instant success. Reliable, if not particularly accurate, it could continue to operate with almost zero maintenance in the most rugged environments. It was also simple to operate like its predecessor the SKS, meaning it was ideal for Soviet conscripts and guerrillas and insurgents the world over.
Large numbers of AK47s and Chinese copies- the Type 56- were supplied to North Vietnam and it proved popular amongst both Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army regulars. By the late 1960s, it had all but replaced the SKS and a myriad of elderly French and US sub-machine guns and rifles eve in the hands of Local Force cadres.