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Debunking the AK-47 Myth: Everyone had an AK

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I have been reading a  lot of articles about the AK-47 in Vietnam, and how poor American soldiers armed with M14 and later unreliable M16s faced hordes of AK-47 armed soldiers.

 

Most of the AARs from units prior to 1970 show that Americans were not for the most part fighting AKs.  The Russians had only successfully finished equipping its own armies with AKs in 1965, flooding its allies with SKS and Mosin rifles that the AKs replaced.  Many Eastern European allies adopted other weapons that AKs in the 1960s because the limited supply of these weapons.  May of 1970 was when the PAVN decreed that they would only issue AK type rifles - made possible by weapons manufactured in China reaching them in big numbers.

 

The Americans were mostly fighting SKS rifles and submachine guns through 1969.  

 

It just struck me as interesting because so many historians describe the ill-armed US soldiers when the AK did not really dominate until the 1970s, and even then French soldiers facing AK-47s in African were able to, using a semi-automatic rifle, completely destroy opposite of soldiers that really did have an AK heavy infrastructure.

 

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There are actually reports of whole NVA units using captured M14s. Until the '70s, as you mention, the Vietnamese were using a true motley of weapons. As you mention, it was Chinese rifle production that really was the most significant, not Russian.

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Yes.  My own interest in French rifles started after interviewing French soldiers from the interventions in Africa 1975.  The French had a semi-automatic rifle dismissed by everyone as a toy, but their AARs showed they totally routed larger forces of African soldiers carrying AK rifles.  So if the AK is that great, how did the lowly French rifle defeat superior enemy forces?  Of course I think it was the rifle grenade that did it from AARs.

 

The AK myth places this rifle in the hands of every communist soldier from 1949 on, an unstoppable red sea of cunning warriors faced by idiots whose military were not smart enough to pour sand from their own boots when in reality the Garand would have been an equal to most of the weapons carried by from communist soldiers until the end of the 1960s - assuming it was backed up by the M60.

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You're correct. As soon as the 1956 Hungarian Uprising shows the AK to the West, the stage is set for the subsequent failure of the M14 program in the late fifties and early sixties to cause a bit of "Kalashnikov panic". US Army Ordnance dismissed the Kalashnikov as little more than a submachine gun, but this was the same organization that was still firmly wedded to the full-power .30 caliber round into the 1960s.

Eventually, the US thoroughly leapfrogged the Soviets with the AR-15, a minor but still significant gap the Soviets never closed, but may this year or next with the AK-12.

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Was there even a specific point where the AK ingrained itself into popular culture or did it gradually gain popularity as more and more groups from the IRA to Hezbollah used it along with it being on the flag of Mozambique?

 

I did some rudimentary research on newspaper references to "AK-47" and "M-16 rifle" and this is the results I got.

Dnopv4Q.png

I would break this down to a yearly basis instead of a decade basis but laziness. 

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I know the flag of Mozambique was made in 1982 and adopted the next year.  

 

It is a great reference you have posted - but my main theory is that movies and Internet pundits of the past decade or two have over emphasized the effect the AK-47 had on history since it was not widely deployed outside of the USSR until 1970.  NATO did worry about  the AK-47 when it showed up in Soviet troops hands in 1956 but this was not a issue that caught press.  I think that it was the use of the weapons for terror attacks in the 70s that made it recognizable.  However, I remember discussing with a game designer about a mistake in their game when they assigned Vietnamese VC irregulars 75% AK-47 in 1965.  Now game designers are renowned for getting some aspects of history wrong but this mistake was creating ahistorical results from platoon level fights nearly 95% of the time with casualties more than an order out from expected.  

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I've mentioned this before and elsewhere and will add it here again. They hey day of the AK-47 in popular consciousness was certainly the 1970s and 1980s in terms of mystique and notoriety. I like to look at things from a pop culture perspective since I feel that does provide a useful  insight on how John Q Public views a topic. And when it comes to pop culture and Hollywood in particular, the "AK-47" as a catch-all term doesn't really feature in any Hollywood movie or television show of note until 1977 with the Israeli-based action movie Operation Thunderbolt featuring the Raid at Entebbe. Apocalypse Now was the first American film in 1979 to portray the Viet Cong/NVA using them in the Vietnam War although there is an Australian movie The Odd Angry Shot that apparently beat Francis Ford Coppola to the punch. (At any rate it probably wasn't a long and contrived pile of yack like Apocalypse...)

 

The Internet Movie Firearms Database is usually my go-to source in terms of finding info about guns in movies.

 

Edit: A slight correction. The first 'Nam movie that features an "AK-47" might be 1978's The Deer Hunter with the Norinco Type 56 playing a supporting role. Although Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers were obviously the star of the movie. I guess that's if you really consider The Deer Hunter to be a Vietnam War movie and not simply a device to allow Christopher Walken to chew threw the scenery.

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I know it's very old topic but maybe interesting information. According to this article (which is reffering to a book of historian Vladimír Francev) North Vietnam got 1500 Sa-58 in 1965 and starting with 1969 10-15 thousand a year. Sa-58 is rather common in American movies about Vietnam but in reality it could not have been that widespread. Nevertheless the article contains some photos of US soldiers with captured Sa-58. The rifle was first addopted in 1959 and by the time of Vietnam war it was very modern one.  

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On 4/18/2015 at 11:36 AM, Sturgeon said:

You're correct. As soon as the 1956 Hungarian Uprising shows the AK to the West, the stage is set for the subsequent failure of the M14 program in the late fifties and early sixties to cause a bit of "Kalashnikov panic". US Army Ordnance dismissed the Kalashnikov as little more than a submachine gun, but this was the same organization that was still firmly wedded to the full-power .30 caliber round into the 1960s.

Eventually, the US thoroughly leapfrogged the Soviets with the AR-15, a minor but still significant gap the Soviets never closed, but may this year or next with the AK-12.

 

The CIA knew about it in 1953 according their archives:

 

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001000900006-5.pdf

 

 

The new Soviet gun was described as fitted with a 30-round magazine, a “wooden” or “wire” folding stock, and a “handle grip.” The agent also describes the AK-47’s gas piston operating system, describing a “gas returning metal tube” that caused the bolt to recoil and eject a spent cartridge. Overall, the new weapon was described as “very similar to the German World War II submachine gun,” probably meaning the German StG-44 assault rifle. The new submachine gun round is described as “somewhat longer than for the PPSh (submachine gun) and the top of the projectile is more pointed.”

 

Obviously this is limited information but between then and ‘56 they almost certainly found out more about the gun.

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Also if you watch the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam the veterans describe how automatic firearms were rare at first with maybe one going off to support the bolts and semis. As the war went on automatic fire increased drastically.

 

Footage also shows weird stuff like ZB26s, Type 99 LMGs, Type 92s, Chatelleraults, RPDs, and a smattering of random stuff like MAS 38s and such. There are also a good amount of Beretta M12 SMGs (that famous footage of the American guard spraying into the window of the embassy is iconic).

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1 hour ago, Alex C. said:

Also if you watch the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam the veterans describe how automatic firearms were rare at first with maybe one going off to support the bolts and semis. As the was went on automatic fire increased drastically.

 

Footage also shows weird stuff like ZB26s, Type 99 LMGs, Type 92s, Chatelleraults, RPDs, and a smattering of random stuff like MAS 38s and such. There are also a good amount of Beretta M12 SMGs (that famous footage of the American guard spraying into the window of the embassy is iconic).

 

That documentary is excellent. I love how it even goes into detail on the VC infantry tactics, and I think anybody seeking to change future small arms procurement should give it a watch first...

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11 hours ago, Alex C. said:

 

The CIA knew about it in 1953 according their archives:

 

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001000900006-5.pdf

 

 

The new Soviet gun was described as fitted with a 30-round magazine, a “wooden” or “wire” folding stock, and a “handle grip.” The agent also describes the AK-47’s gas piston operating system, describing a “gas returning metal tube” that caused the bolt to recoil and eject a spent cartridge. Overall, the new weapon was described as “very similar to the German World War II submachine gun,” probably meaning the German StG-44 assault rifle. The new submachine gun round is described as “somewhat longer than for the PPSh (submachine gun) and the top of the projectile is more pointed.”

 

Obviously this is limited information but between then and ‘56 they almost certainly found out more about the gun.

 

They talk a lot about the collapsible wire stock on the "German submachinegun", so it's probably the MP-40.

 

Although maybe one could argue that the CIA started the rumour that the AK is a clone of the Stg.44 ;)

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8 hours ago, EnsignExpendable said:

 

They talk a lot about the collapsible wire stock on the "German submachinegun", so it's probably the MP-40.

 

Although maybe one could argue that the CIA started the rumour that the AK is a clone of the Stg.44 ;)

I assumed the agent saw some AKS rifles in the mix. The AKS and AKMS folding stocks look and work like an mp40 folding stock.

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