There are quite a few brands in the world of weapons that are recognizeable even to the outside observer. One of them is the legendary «Kalashnikov», the AK-47. The assault rifle found a place in popular culture, computer games, and even on flags and coats of arms. However, arguments about its creator still don't die. There are those tho suspect that only German designers could have made the AK, and their labour was appropriated by the Soviets.
Who was the one that came up with this great creation: Mikhail Kalashnikov, or the Germans? Some authors doubt that a young peasant with seven grades of education could come up with such a formidable rifle in a short amount of time. Usually, the theory presented is that the AK-47 is a conversion of the German Sturmgewehr 44 rifle, designed by Hugo Schmeisser. As evidence, the author claims that Kalashnikov and Schmeisser worked together in Izhevsk in 1946-52, and that the AK is visually similar to the Stg 44.
The root of these arguments dates back to the 1970s, when an article in German Weapons Journal (DWJ-Deutsches Waffen Journal) first compared the AK-47 and Sturmgewehr 44. Journalists and historians proposed various theories afterwards, from borrowing of individual components by Kalashnikov to Schmeisser being responsible for the invention of the AK entirely. Gordon Williamson, a Scottish historian, wrote «One look at this wonderful weapon is enough to understand its influence on the post-war AK family». This article is not going to try to establish whether or not the Germans had any effect on the AK, merely what Schmeisser worked on in Izhevsk. Thanks to the research by N. Mocharski, author of «Schmeisser: Between Taboo and Legend», we now have copies of documents from the Izhevsk design bureau where Schmeisser worked. There are no sources on his work in the USSR from the DDR, and Schmeisser did not leave any memoirs, so analysis must be performed using Soviet documents and eyewitness accounts.
WWII ended for Schmeisser on April 3rd, 1945, when American forces occupied the city of Suhl and prohibited manufacturing of arms. As an NSDAP member, he was interrogated, but no interest was shown in his inventions. Suhl fell into the Soviet occupation zone after the war. Technical commissions moved in to establish the scientific and technical achievements of the Nazis during the war and their possible use in new Soviet developments.
In 1946, it was decided to move specialists and their families to the closed design bureau in Izhevsk. The German design group was small (16 men). Kalashnikov's first model, the AK-46, had been presented before they had arrived. Clearly, the Germans had no hand in it. The first defense of Kalashnikov's authorship is that he worked on the AK-47 in Kovrov, not Izhevsk, and only moved to the latter in 1948.
Turns out that Schmeisser could not have been the creator of the AK project, but could he have been a consultant? Little is known about Schmeisser's work from 1946 to 1949, all we have to go on are memoirs of his contemporaries. According to Hugo's own complaints, his promised salary of 5000 rubles per month was cut to 2500 on February 27th, 1947. It's likely that it was initially expected that Schmeisser would perform important work, but it turned out that he was incapable of it, and he was transferred to a lesser post.
«To the director of factory #74, Mr. Sysoyev
On the subject of my salary
Respected Mister Director,
In December and January I was paid 3500 rubles per month, in total 7000 rubles, while I was told that this would be about 60-70% of my total salary. Based on this promise, I wrote to my family in Germany about the degree of support that they can count on.
Report #101 dated February 27th shows that I only received 2500 rubles. I assume that a mistake was made, and I ask you to review this decision, as it puts me in a difficult financial situation.
Such a small salary goes against numerous promises made by the Russians in Germany. Even before moving here, the Russian Major promised that not only will my salary allow me to support myself and my family, but will significantly improve my financial standing.
If the salary is caused by the fact that I do not have the necessary education, then I can state that I received all the knowledge of an inventor and designer through self-study. I often made reports on modernization of weapons on the orders of the German union of engineers.
I worked as a director of many organizations since 1905. In 1925, I became a co-owner and director of a company in Suhl.
Many patents of my invention were used by the German army and abroad. In the field of automatic pistols, the German army used my MP-18/1 (Bergmann) since 1918.
My designs have been widespread in print, both in Germany and abroad.
If you cannot find a better use for me, I ask you to consider my age and return me to Germany, where my sick wife and incurably ill son require my help.
I ask you again to review my statements and satisfy my request.
Respectfully, Hugo Schmeisser»
From the looks of it, Schmeisser did not direct any work on armaments, but was more likely offered small tasks when convenient. According to E.F. Dragunov, the creator of the SVD rifle, Schmeisser was a sick old man, who did not wish to participate in or get involved with anything serious.
Documents also point to sabotage from the German. Our hero's file has a note from September 1st, 1949: «Schmeisser, Hugo. Refuses to perform any design work, citing his lack of special education». However, in his complaint to the management, Schmeisser points out his high qualifications and experience. Perhaps this is due to the nature of his work. Perhaps he could not stomach the fact that he wasn't assigned any serious work. According to documents, he was tasked with modernizing the model 1891 Mosin rifle and PPSh, all while the AK was being produced. In other words, the German could not have created the AK, but perhaps could have been consulted about it, as is mentioned in his file from 1951. According to some sources, Schmeisser's contribution included cold stamping technologies, which he allegedly worked on in the USSR until 1952, which was then adopted for manufacturing the AKM in 1959.
«Characteristics of German specialist Schmeisser, Hugo
Schmeisser, Hugo, was born in 1884 in Jena, Thurginia. German by nationality. No special education.
Schmeisser worked at the Machinebuilding factory since November 5th, 1946. In this time, he performed the following work:
- Consultation on design of infantry small arms.
- Development of a box magazine for the model 1941 submachinegun (PPSh).
- Development of a magazine for the model 1891 rifle.
- Development of a draft submachinegun for the German 0.8 cartridge.
Considering the narrow specialization of Schmeisser, he is only occasionally involved in work. None of the work that he performs now is secret.
From 1925 to 1945 he worked as a director and co-owner of a factory. Due to a lack of technical education, he cannot perform any work. He did not make any useful contributions during his time here. His psychology is capitalistic. He had a degrading effect on the other German specialists.
He is not familiar with the secret work done at this factory, but we cannot be sure that he knows nothing of the factory's products.
Factory director, P. Sysoyev
Secretary of the factory's Party Committee, I. Kasatkin»
Regardless, many authors highlight the similarity of the AK-47 and Sturmgewehr, but this is just a visual similarity. The Schmeisser and Kalashnikov systems differ radically:
- Key components, such as the locking of the bolt, are different: the AK has a rotating bolt, the StG 44 has a tilting bolt.
- The trigger mechanism is radically different, aside from the use of the general hammer principle.
- The magazine: the StG has a rather long well, while the AK magazine is inserted directly into the body.
- The fire selector and safety. The StG has a separate two-sided button fire selector on one side and a flag safety on the other, the AK has a combined safety and fire selector.
In conclusion, it is quite possible that Schmeisser knew about the development of the AK-47, and perhaps even consulted Kalashnikov, but this influence was negligible. The German did not burn with desire to share his knowledge, and Soviet leadership was not eager to listen to his advice. There is no doubt that the AK was developed by Soviet designers, and not plagiarized from German work.
Translated by Peter Samsonov. Read more interesting tank articles on his blog Tank Archives.