This article will cause controversy and upset a few people, so if you believe that Mikhail Kalashnikov is on the same level as John Browning when it comes to firearms design, you may want to stop reading now.
That said, I don’t believe that Mikhail Kalashnikov was as involved in the development of the AK-47 as the Soviets led the world to believe. So who was? Well, there can only be one answer: Hugo Schmeisser. Schmeisser is perhaps most famous for the MP18 (the world’s first submachine gun) and the MP43/44 “Sturmgewehr” (the world’s first assault rifle). Obviously the latter firearm is more pertinent to this article.
Many historians are claiming Mikhail Kalashnikov has “stolen” the AK-47 design from the Germans. In opposition, the Russians claim that Schmeisser only role was to implement the new manufacturing technologies for mass producing the new assault rifle. The assault rifle designed by Hugo Schmeisser during World War II (StG44 – Sturmgewehr 44, also known as MP43 and MP44) looks very similar with the AK-47, designed by Kalashnikov.
Hugo Schmeisser and his team was forced to made the AK-47 and other projects from 1945-1952. The AK-47 is clearly Schmeisser’s development but credit will not go to a “German Prisoner”. For Soviet propaganda reasons, of course, the loan went to Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov. In 1949, Kalashnikov itself admitted that the StG44 was a very great fascination and inspiration for the development of the AK-47, but that was not the whole truth. In October 1945, Hugo Schmeisser was forced to work for the Red Army and instructed to continue development of new weapons including the AK-47. However, the technique and structure of the weapons were very different, but the manufacturer was just one, Hugo Schmeisser and his german development team.
On April 3, 1945, American troops began to occupy the city of Suhl. Weapons manufacturing was completely prohibited during this time. Hugo Schmeisser and his brother Hans were interrogated for weeks by weapon expert teams of the American and British Secret services. At the end of June 1945, American troops evacuated Suhl and all of Thuringia. One month later, the Red Army assumed control over the area, starting a civilian works project to manufacture weapons for the Soviet Union. By August 1945, the Red Army had created 50 StG44s from existing assembly parts, and had begun inspecting their design. 10,785 sheets of technical designs were confiscated by the Soviets as part of their research. In October 1945, Schmeisser was forced to work for the Red Army and instructed to continue development of new weapons.
Schmeisser’s brilliance continued to impress the Red Army, and he, along with other weapons designers and their families, were relocated to the USSR. On October 24, 1946, the German specialists rode a train to Izhevsk in the southern Ural Mountains, where a center of Russian firearms development was located. Schmeisser’s work while in Izhevsk (1946-1952) is shrouded in darkness.
Hugo Schmeisser (24 September 1884 – 12 September 1953) was a German developer of 20th century infantry weapons.
Beyond Mikhail Kalashnikov’s 2009 admission that Schmeisser “helped” design the famous AK-47, which strongly resembles Schmeisser’s StG44, little is known of his life during this period, until 1952 when he and other German specialists returned home to Germany. With short notice, his stay in the Soviet Union was extended beyond that of the other weapon specialists by a half year. He finally returned home on June 9, 1952. Schmeisser died on 12 September 1953, and was buried in Suhl.
While the name of Hugo Schmeisser is known internationally, it is unknown to most Germans. The 50th anniversary of his death was honored by a ceremony held in Suhl, as he is recognized as one of the most important technical designers of infantry weapons of the 20th century.
Here are a few facts to back my hypothesis:
- In “Tales of the Gun”, Kalashnikov was interviewed and claimed that there were no similarities between his gun and Schmeisser’s. This was in the 1990s.
- Around 2002-2003 he said he drew “a little bit of inspiration” from the Sturmgewehr, negating what he said a few years earlier.
- Then in 2009 he admitted to working alongside Schmeisser and that he “helped” design the AK-47.
- But Schmeisser couldn’t simply “help” him. Schmeisser was working in Izhevsk while Kalashnikov was supposedly developing the AK–47 from 1945 to 1947 in a different plant, in the city of Kovrov.
- Russian experts admit it is hard to determine Hugo Schmeisser’s contribution to the design and development of the AK-47 assault rifle because all official documents pertaining to his time working alongside Kalashnikov as a gun designer are still classified (suspicion increases).
- In 1945 the USSR made 50 StG44s from parts and confiscated 10,785 sheets of technical designs.
- In October 1945, Schmeisser was forced to work for the Red Army and instructed to continue development of new weapons. He worked for them for 7 years, then died the year he moved back to Germany.
- The early AKs were stamped, but came apart forcing the Russians to use a milled receiver.
- If Kalashnikov was a real gun designer, how come in his long career he never invented anything that wasn’t based on his “original” system.
Also, If you’re familiar with how the USSR did things, then it all makes sense that Kalashnikov would make a great poster child for designing this symbol of national pride. If the above facts are taken in to account, he may for all we know have been Schmeisser’s errand boy. He never spoke like a humble engineer deserved of respect in interviews, and even lied about Schmeisser being involved in the project at all for many decades.
So let us take a look at the MP43 and the AK-47:
- Both rifles are stamped
- Both use the same diameter bullet as their country’s full sized rifle round, but with a scaled down case and lighter bullet weight
- Both are select fire
- Both use long stroke pistons
- Both have a similar layout (box magazine, pistol grip, sights)
- Indisputably, Hugo Schmeisser had a hand in both designs
The two guns look like dizygotic twins, if not exactly identical ones. Of course in their fine tradition of veracity the Russians have always claimed that this was where the similarity ended. It wasn’t.
All the key features of the AK-47 were copied from the StG44, if occasionally at one remove, with such features as the trigger, double-locking lugs, unlocking raceway and the high-tolerance system had been first reproduced in other rifles and then transplanted into the AK.
The long-stroke gas system and layout of the StG44 were copied faithfully, as was the banana magazine and the stamped-receiver manufacturing process. However, only in the 1959 AKM modification did the Soviets begin to use stamped sheet metal, something Schmeisser had been doing from 1943.
German soldier fires a StG44 (Sturmgewehr 44)
For the naysayers who say Kalashnikov couldn’t have been helped by Hugo Schmeisser in the design of his AK-47 rifle because he started working on his project in 1944 and the German inventor only arrived in the Soviet Union in 1946: you forgot a little detail, my friends. And that is Schmeisser’s StG44 was already in service and issued to German troops in 1944. Not coincidentally, it was the same year Kalashnikov started his work on the AK-47.