Lieutenant-general Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (10 November 1919 – 23 December 2013) was a Russian general, inventor, military engineer, writer and small arms designer. He is most famous for developing the AK-47 assault rifle and its improvements, AKM and AK-74, as well as the PK machine gun.
Kalashnikov was, according to himself, a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weaponry to design arms that achieved battlefield ubiquity. Even though Kalashnikov felt sorrow at the weapons' uncontrolled distribution, he took pride in his inventions and in their reputation for reliability, emphasizing that his rifle is "a weapon of defense" and "not a weapon for offense".
Kalashnikov was born in Kurya, Altai Governorate, Russian SFSR, now Altai Krai, Russia, to Aleksandra Frolovna Kalashnikova and Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov. In his youth, Mikhail suffered from various illnesses and was on the verge of death at age six. He was attracted to all kinds of machinery, but also wrote poetry, dreaming of becoming a poet. He went on to write six books and continued to write poetry all of his life. Kalashnikov's parents were peasants, but, after deportation to Tomsk Oblast, had to combine farming with hunting, and thus Mikhail frequently used his father's rifle in his teens. Kalashnikov continued hunting into his 90s.
After completing seventh grade, Mikhail, left his family and returned to Kurya, hitchhiking for nearly 1,000 km. In Kurya he found a job in mechanics at a tractor station and developed a passion for weaponry. In 1938, he was conscripted into the Red Army. Because of his small size and engineering skills he was assigned as a tank mechanic, and later became a tank commander. While training, he made his first inventions, which concerned not only tanks, but also small weapons, and was personally awarded a wrist watch by Georgy Zhukov. He was wounded in combat in the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941 and hospitalised until April 1942. While in the hospital, he overheard some fellow soldiers complaining about the Soviet rifles of the time.
Seeing the drawbacks of the standard infantry weapons at the time, he decided to construct a new rifle for the Soviet military. During this time Kalashnikov began designing a submachine gun. Although his first submachine gun design was not accepted into service, his talent as a designer was noticed. From 1942 onwards Kalashnikov was assigned to the Central Scientific-developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Artillery Directorate of the Red Army.
In 1944, he designed a gas-operated carbine for the new 7.62x39 mm cartridge. This weapon, influenced by the M1 Garand rifle, lost out to the new Simonov carbine which would be eventually adopted as the SKS; but it became a basis for his entry in an assault rifle competition in 1946.
His winning entry, the "Mikhtim" became the prototype for the development of a family of prototype rifles. This process culminated in 1947, when he designed the AK-47 (standing for Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947).
In 1949, the AK-47 became the standard issue assault rifle of the Soviet Army and went on to become Kalashnikov's most famous invention. While developing his first assault rifles, Kalashnikov competed with two much more experienced weapon designers, Vasily Degtyaryov and Georgy Shpagin, who both accepted the superiority of the AK-47. Kalashnikov named Alexandr Zaitsev and Vladimir Deikin as his major collaborators during those years.