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The Kalashnikov Rifle & Its Many Variants

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Brief History:

The AK-47 is a gas piston-operated 7.62×39mm cartridge assault rifle developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Work on the AK-47 began as early as 1945 in Russia and in the following year 1946, the AK-47 had reached prototype phase and was presented for official military trials. 1948 came and after gaining a production contract from the Soviet Armed Forces the fixed-stock version was introduced into active service with selected units of the Soviet Army.

An early development of the design was the AKS, which was equipped with an underfolding metal shoulder stock not dissimilar in design from the WW2 German produced MP38 and MP40 shoulder stock.

In early 1949, the AK-47 was officially adopted by the USSR and shortly after members of the Warsaw-Pact begun to produce their own “home grown” variants and patterns of AK based off the original design.

The Difference Between Milled And Stamped AKs:

Milled Receivers:

Milled receivers (as the name implies) are created out of solid chunks of steel.  All the internal guide rails, magazine well and latch and bolt locking surfaces, bolt carrier stop and the barrel and butt stock receiving sockets are cut from a single piece of metal.

The milling process and construction was solid, many regard milled AK’s to be some of the best quality models to have ever been produced. However this precise machining came at a cost as is a labour-intensive and, more expensive process. In order to create each receiver large quantities of metal from each batch of rifles was lost as scrap material and wastage. Due to this the line was discontinued as well.

Stamped Receivers:

As the name implies, stamped receivers are stamped from normally a single sheet of steel and shaped in a series of bending processes. This in turn makes them more cost-effective to produce in mass.

The original “Type 1 AK-47”, had a stamped receiver but this model was quickly discontinued as the stamping and assembly technology at the time was not up to par. This resulted in a lot of quality issues. As a result, the Soviet manufacturers went to milled receivers.

The Soviets eventually perfected the stamped receiver with the introduction of the AKM. It is worth noting with this later technology the “newer” stamp receivers are now lighter than the milled versions of old. These method are still used today to manufacture Russia’s main rifles such as the AK74m.

Type 1 (1948/49): The very earliest models, stamped sheet metal receiver. Few were made and are extremely uncommon even to today.

Type 2 (1951): Now uses a milled receiver. Barrel and chamber are chrome plated to resist corrosion.

Type 3 (1954/55): Lightened or “economic” milled receiver variant. The rifle now weighs 3.47kg

It is worth noting the Chinese produce more milled Type 56s than the stamped variant during the period of the Vietnam War; henceforth most that are seen in country are the Milled receiver version rather than the later stamped receiver.

Models Seen In Country:

Please bear in mind that not all photos will be of SOG personnel using said weapons, however most will be.

Russian AK47, AK47s and the AKM:

We’ve covered the weapons history above now we are going to look at some pictures of these weapons in use. Most rifles seen will be the full stocked variant however some are the under folding model (AKS), sadly due to camera technology, trickery and often the wrong angle can make it hard to differentiate between a Russian AK47, Early Chinese Type 56 rifle stocked and under folding stock. This is due to the small differences each weapon had at the time such as simply where one had a hooded front sight and the other not.

As seen above we have Lynne Black Jr of ST Idaho firing a Russian made AK47 on the range.

Above here we have another RT member (Unknown) with a modified AK47, simply the stock had been removed for easier manipulation.

Seen above is famed SOG veteran Jim Bolen with numerous AK47s in frame.

Here we can see an indigenous team member with another AK47, heavily used or possibly painted due to the tone of the wood.

Finally we have above an early example of the AKM rifle seen in country. We know this because it has small differences in the features to that of the earlier AK47. The stock is no longer angled downwards rather straight backwards or “inline” with the barrel of the rifle. The rifle above appears to be an earlier rifle with smooth top cover and flat barrel nut. However we do not know if these parts have been replaced or the rifle was issued like this, it is simply an unknown.

Chinese Type 56 and Type 56-1:

The Chinese Type 56 is very much a copy of the Russian AK47 using similar tooling. However the Chinese military made small changes in its design which allow us now to recognise them in photos.

It is speculated the majority of AK rifles used in country were provided by the Chinese as Military aid to the north Vietnamese. It is no surprise then that many that appear in use/captured or shown destroyed in pictures are of the Chinese variety.

The designations for the rifles are as follows:

Type 56: Full Stock

Type 56-1: Underfolding stock

The easiest way to spot a Type 56 is the large spike bayonet affixed to the front of the rifle which folds down underneath the barrel. Another difference is a hooded front sight post which no other AK variant from any country had. Finally early rifles had a reinforced handguard with a metal bracket, this shows a very early rifle before this feature was later removed for economic purposes.

However very early Type 56s did not have this bayonet, making them difficult to seen in some “Profile” or side on photographs, this is where you would look for the bayonet or early production handguards.

As seen above an RT member (unknown) holding 2 varieties of weapon, one of which is the Chinese Type 56 with its spike bayonet.

Here we can see 2 Soldiers from the 75th Ranger company. The left solider has an early Type 56 without a bayonet, we can see this due to the reinforced handguards as outlined with the red circle.

2 Team members of RT Maine, both are equipped with Type 56 and Type 56-1 rifles.

RT Maine with multiple AKs, some Chinese Type 56s and 56-1s. Others are hard to identify due to the angle and quality of the image.

Hungarian AMD 65:

The Hungarian AMD was a licensed but modified production variant of the Russian AKM rifle used by Hungry during the cold war. Its unusual appearance and features were mainly based around Paratroopers and Armoured Personnel, a light and effective combat rifle that had the capability to become relatively compact and manoeuvrable if required.

This is possible by its side folding wire stock and shorter than normal overall barrel length. Other features are its plastic furniture, plastic foregrip and muzzle break. The AMD also has a shorter gas system meaning normal AKM bolt carriers are not interchangeable.

Most AMDs produced have plastic furniture however small quantities were made with wooden equivalents.

It is important to note there is a lot of speculation on how they became to be in country during the war, by the timeframe this rifle was still very very new and overall seen in very small numbers. However this is the most plausible explanation we have found:

“There were a number of Officer training schools based in Hungry during the cold war, because of the Warsaw pact it was not uncommon to see troops from neighbouring countries of the pact have cross pollination training, exercises and such like. It is noted that due to the communist support North Vietnam was receiving (officially and non officially) from multiple countries its likely some NVA officers had been sent to Hungry to receive a higher quality of training in order to effectively lead their troops against the US and its allies. After training its possible a handful of AMD rifles were given as Military aid or assistance to North Vietnam, whether this was a good will gesture or possibly in hopes of a military arms contract to sell arms to Vietnam if the war had continued.”

Logically this makes sense due to the extreme limited number of AMD’s seen in country and with how newly issued the rifles were at the time of the war. However if you have additional information on this matter please get in touch.

Pile of destroyed captured weapons, one of which (Centre bottom) is an AMD 65 amongst SKS rifles.

RT Maine 1970, seen in the hands of SGT. Upchurch is a Hungarian AMD 65 rifle. Speculation is that there was 1 rifle in the Dak To inventory as it is also seen in the hands of RT Delaware around the same time frame, and doing the same Cross Border Ops with NVA styled uniforms.

Captured AMD65 rifles, one captured by a Recon Team and the 2nd by an infantry regiment.

Visible on the right is the front flash hider and foregrip of a AMD 65 rifle. Along with its usage this RT member also has CISO mag pouches, Pith helmet, NVA boots and uniform. Most probably a Pointman.

Romanian MD63 and MD65:

The MD63 rifle is an AK pattern of rifle that is of Romanian origin. The design is based directly on the Russian AKM rifle and it can be considered a “licence produced model” using Russian based tooling. Romanian AKs can be easily identified by their wooden vertical grip.

This vertical grip aided in weapon handling and recoil control however when they went to produce the MD65 model (underfolding stock) they found that the stock could not fully close due to the grips angle. Therefore a new grip was made which curved in the opposite direction to clear the stock but still providing a forward grip to use effectively.

Hungarian AMD 65 left and Romanian MD 63 seen on the left.

Bottom left is a Romanian MD63, spotted by the forward foregrip, Centre is a Type 56 and at the top is a Czechoslovakian VZ58.

Czechoslovakian VZ58:

Unlike anything we have talked previously this “AK” is anything but. Other than having a vaguely similar silhouette as an AK it shared absolutely nothing with any other rifle out there in the Warsaw Pact.

An interesting feature of the VZ58 is that it could be loaded with stripper clips straight into the rifle or its magazines for quickly topping up your available ammunition.

US Marine test firing a captured Czech VZ58v.

US Infantryman holding a captured Czech VZ58 with a full stock.

South Vietnamese forces displaying some captured weaponry, seen being held on the left is a Czech VZ58v. – type 1 AK – type 2 AK -Type 56