Principal designer of the most influential firearm in modern warfare, the AK-47.
Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov was born on November 10 1919 in the village of Kurya, Northern Russia. He was one of 18 children of whom only six survived. After leaving secondary school, Kalashnikov worked for the Turkestan-Siberian Railway as a technical clerk.
In 1938, he was conscripted to the Red Army. With some engineering knowledge, the diminutive Kalashnikov was assigned to tank design. Over the next three years he developed an inertia counter to register the number of shots fired from a tank, and a meter to log engine running time. The latter device brought Kalashnikov to the front line in 1941, so that he could oversee its installation.
After being heavily wounded and shell-shocked in a tank battle, Kalashnikov was hospitalised. Having seen the horrors of infantry battle and obsessed with the well-armed German forces, Mikhail spent his hours in recovery mentally designing small arms. On a six month leave, he returned to his railway workshop near Kurya. With the help of his engineering colleagues, he designed a prototype for the machine gun later to be known as the Avtomat Kalashnikova, or AK.
With the design in hand, Mikhail was sent to the Moscow Aviation Institute where he ironed out a few bugs in the original. He was then recommended to small arms specialist A. A. Blagonravov at the Dzerzhinsky Ordnance Academy. Under the guidance of Blagonravov, Mikhail's device was put to rigorous testing and the design finalised in 1947. The AK-47 was born.
In 1949, the weapon was adopted by the Soviet Army. Senior Sergeant Kalashnikov was awarded the Stalin Prize First Class. Kalashnikov continued to personally guide the development of the AK series of guns, and was awarded a veritable treasure trove of medals and honorary doctorates.
On his 75th birthday, President Boris Yeltsin personally promoted Kalashnikov to Major-General for "Distinguished services to the Motherland". Kalashnikov's fame or perhaps, infamy cannot be underestimated. By some estimates, 70 million AK-47s have been sold. It features on the national flag of Mozambique and the Lebanese Hezbollah have included the AK-47 on their banner — the assault rifle forms the "l" of "Allah". The firearm has been used in every war since it was designed, and given its legendary reliability it may well see the end of the 21st Century.