Streetwise Professor

December 24, 2013

How Many Rooms In the Kalashnikov Mansion?

Filed under: Guns,History,Music,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:22 pm

The widow of the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. fortune, Sarah Winchester, believed that her home in New Haven, CT was haunted by the ghosts of men shot with Winchester rifles.  A medium told her to move west and build a house big enough to house all of the spirits.  So she moved to the Santa Clara Valley in California, and in 1884 began construction of a house.  Construction continued, day after day, for 38 years, as Winchester directed the addition of room after room after room to appease those haunting her. Today the Winchester House is a museum.

Yesterday, the inventor of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, left this mortal coil at age 94.  It is almost certain that the ubiquitous AK-47 (and its successors like the AK-74) has killed more people than any firearm in history.

Pace Mrs. Winchester, how many rooms would be required in a Kalashnikov mansion to house all of the pour souls slain by Kalashnikovs?  A city of Winchester Mansions, probably.

Kalashnikov himself was disturbed but realistic about what his mechanical genius had wrought:

Mr. Kalashnikov said he regretted that it became the weapon of choice for guerrilla armies. “It was like a genie out of the bottle, and it began to walk all on its own and in directions I did not want,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in 2003. But he added, “I sleep soundly. The fact that people die because of an AK-47 is not because of the designer, but because of politics.”

This is true.  In particular, the politics of the USSR (and the People’s Republic of China), which liberally supplied AK-47s to its clients around the world, and which armed, directly and indirectly, numerous guerrilla forces engaged in conflicts euphemistically known as “wars of national liberation.”  Once millions of AKs were in circulation, as Kalashnikov said, “they began to walk all on [their] own” to every corner of the globe.  The genius of the design is that a child can use it.  And tens of thousands of child warriors have.

Look at the photos from any of today’s most brutal conflicts.  Syria. Central Africa. You see AKs, not FNs or M-16s.

A toxic combination.  A weapon of brilliant simplicity and durability produced by one of the most malign states in history, which had no compunction against indiscriminately flooding the world with them as part of a geopolitical strategy intended to realize the imperatives of a twisted ideology.  Meaning that Comrade Kalashnikov’s mansion would have to have rooms almost without number.

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  1. S Professor:



    Comment by Vlad — December 24, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

  2. @Vlad. Fabrique Nationale. Longtime major Belgian arms manufacturer. (Belgium at one time being the largest arms making country in Europe.) FN Herstal is the largest exporter of military arms in Europe. The FAL is its most well known weapon.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 24, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  3. Let’s not sell Browning short. He may not have designed a mass killer like the AKM, but he did invent every gun mechanism under the sun, subsequently incorporated into great hits like the AKM and many many others. Therefore Browning’s body count is higher.

    Comment by So? — December 24, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

  4. @So? Fair point, if you are considering all of Browning’s progeny that derive from his basic designs. For those guns he designed directly, M2, M1917, M1919, BAR, M1911, etc., I’d still wager that the body count is well below the AK.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 24, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

  5. Professor, Kalashnikov can take comfort in the fact that guns don’t kill people, bullets do. 🙂

    Comment by MJ — December 25, 2013 @ 12:50 am

  6. Especially the civilian body count.

    Comment by Andrew — December 25, 2013 @ 1:02 am

  7. Merry Christmas Professor and Merry Christmas all readers.

    Has this morphed into some kind of left wing anti gun blog.:)

    Samual Colt at least deserves some mention as does Schmeisser who designed the StG44. The AK sure looks like the StG44 in photos.

    Comment by pahoben — December 25, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

  8. Mechanically the stg44 is completely different. The only thing in common is the use of an intermediate cartridge. But so did the Fedorov Avtomat 30 years before.

    Comment by So? — December 25, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

  9. @pahoben. Thanks. Merry Christmas to you too.

    Re anti-gun blog. No. Definitely not. Guns are morally neutral objects. The criticism in my post is focused on the USSR which promiscuously distributed these weapons to those they knew would use them to commit evil.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 25, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

  10. @So
    The point was that Schmeisser was taken to Germany and worked with Kalashnikov for many years but nothing was ever released about his work.

    Has anyone ever heard that the T34 crews used sledgehammers to change from 2nd to 3rd gear?

    Comment by pahoben — December 25, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

  11. ..taken from Germany to Russia..

    Comment by pahoben — December 25, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  12. @pahoben. Never heard that. I have seen T-34s, and noted that their castings are very crude so I would not be surprised if the transmissions were very crude as well. I do know that the interior was so cramped, even by comparison to other tanks, that operating in them was very exhausting and bruising for the crews.

    If you can find a link/documentation, please send it on.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 25, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

  13. @pahoben. To close the circle, Kalashnikov was a T-34 driver during the war. We could ask him but . . .

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 25, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

  14. @pahoben. Dinking around, it seems that rumor is pretty widespread but definitive confirmation is lacking. This is the closest to a first hand account I could find.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 25, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

  15. While the bolt system on the MP?SG44 was different, the gas return and ergonomics of the weapon most certainly inspired Kalashnikov.

    Comment by Andrew — December 26, 2013 @ 12:34 am

  16. Fascinating about Mrs Winchester and her house. As for this:

    Look at the photos from any of today’s most brutal conflicts. Syria. Central Africa. You see AKs, not FNs or M-16s.

    As some random blogger said 8 years ago:

    You generally don’t see US-made rifles, mortars, and landmines scattered willy-nilly around warring African tribes. What you do see is Russian made rifles, mortars, and landmines scattered amongst anyone anywhere who is willing to have a fight, and right behind them you see the Chinese knock-offs of the same.

    It is the Russian and Chinese weaponery that is has caused and is still causing the deaths of tens of millions of people the world over, not the US high-tech kit. Yet oddly, Russia and China are seldom vilified by the peace activists and do-gooders in the West for flogging millions of rifles and grenades to anyone who wants them, whilst at the same time protesting voiciforously when the US or Britain sells an air traffic control system to Tanzania or India. Were they to actually take into account which weapons were actually causing the mountain of misery in places like Sudan and Sierra Leone, they’d be surprised to see that it is Russian and Chinese kit doing the killing.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 26, 2013 @ 6:34 am

  17. @Tim. Very well put: better than what I wrote. Interestingly, you wrote that about a week after I started this blog, so you were obviously well ahead of me on that. There were other points in your post that deserve mention too. Notably, that the dollar value of arms sales is a poor measure of the carnage the arms wreak. As you note, big ticket prestige purchases that inflate the dollar volume of sales aren’t the weapons that are killing multitudes.

    The key point is that mass killing is usually low-tech killing. What’s more, the Russians/Soviets and Chinese are overwhelmingly responsible for passing out those low-tech weapons like candy on Halloween.

    It would be interesting as well to track down ammunition sales/shipments. That’s probably the measure of who is truly responsible for the “mountains of misery.”

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 26, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  18. I went to the Winchester Mystery House during college nearby. Weird place.

    Tim, you’re trying to ruin the entire false narrative. Damn imperialist.

    Comment by Howard Roark — December 26, 2013 @ 10:53 am

  19. From the Fly on the Wall to all contributors:

    This is by far the most informed group of bloggers. It is a testament to the man who invoked it.

    Thank you, Professor.


    Comment by Vlad — December 26, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

  20. @Professor

    I think there is a report on a T34 captured in Korea that mentions problems with the design of the gearbox and clutch. The early models also had a poor suspension system. There is stability data on tanks of the era and the t34 scored low.

    There is mention of the shift from 2nd to 3rd requiring superhuman strength in the T34’s with a four speed gearbox. This document says that 4th gear could only be used on roads because of stability issues and since 3rd was so poorly accessible that cross country tracks were only transited in 2nd gear. As I have time over the next couple days I will look more and post some links but you may have seen them last night.

    If we were to ask Kalashnikov the best place to do it might be in the Winchester mansion.

    It’s too bad Winchester had so many quality problems in the 70’s and 80’s that I guess ruined the brand at least for rifles. I would say the ammo brand is still pretty good with the exception of (if I remember correctly) of shards from their Silvertips jamming the action of handguns.

    I have a different view than others here. It seems to me it is deeply ingrained in male biology to choose sides and wage war. Always been that way and will be that way for a very long time.

    I saw super slo mo video of an AK firing and the amount of barrel flex was surprising. Besides the reliability etc it is very good for spray and pray and that is what it is generally used for. The ammo is cheap and well suited for this use.

    Comment by pahoben — December 26, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

  21. Besides the reliability etc it is very good for spray and pray and that is what it is generally used for.

    Indeed. Half the AK-47s I saw during my day trip to Iraq were missing the foresight, and well over half those I saw in Nigeria (and I saw a lot) were missing a proper stock. These clowns use them as submachineguns, not rifles.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 26, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

  22. On the crudity of Soviet weaponry…I’ve seen a Mig-29 up close in a museum in Moscow. These aircraft look sublime from afar, but up close it looks as though it’s been made in somebody’s garden shed. Rough as a beggar’s arse it was.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 26, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

  23. @Tim & @pahoben. US troops could always tell where US troops were and where Iraqi insurgents were (and the same is true if Afghanistan) by the firing. US troops fire single, aimed shots. Seldom full auto. Iraqis would just let it rip.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 26, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

  24. The T-34 was rushed into production… and kept in production warts and all to keep the output up. (Who in their sane mind would use aluminium to cast tank engine blocks and wood to build planes? But that’s how the chips fell in 1941). The Germans innovated, reaching 10:1 kill ratios in 1943 thanks to the new tanks, but lost the war (in the short term, of course. In the long term the historically inevitable happened – witness the Gauleiter in the Kremlin).

    Comment by So? — December 26, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

  25. The Soviets had a different philosophy, even with regards to jet aircraft. They considered them expendable and concentrated on numbers rather than quality. MIGs are particularly notorious. The MIG-21 was/is a widow maker (ask the Indian Air Force). MIG-29 is notoriously unreliable. The Russians have a hard time giving them away now. Sukhoi is somewhat better. The Russians believe that quantity has a quality all its own. Their Arab clients paid the price for this philosophy time and again.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 26, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

  26. In terms of safety the MiG-21 is no worse than other aircraft of its era. The Indians simply insist on flying them way past their use-by-date.

    Comment by So? — December 27, 2013 @ 12:24 am

  27. “giving them away like candy”

    I think that there is an element of arms sales here to a certain extent, isn’t there?

    Comment by elmer — December 27, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  28. You should be ashamed of yourself Mr. Pirrong. You’re an academic. If you want to make money, stop throwing around your paid for beliefs to your students and to the rest of America masquerading as an independent professor!

    Comment by Americans — December 28, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  29. The US government is the largest arms dealer on the planet, and while it’s true that the weapons we sell don’t end up quite so often as the AK in the hands of “people’s liberation armies,” they do end up quite often in the possession of brutal dictators — the Shah, Saddam, the Saudis, Marcos, Pinochet, Rios Mont and the other Central American murders, etc etc etc. Shouldn’t these facts play some role in this conversation?

    Comment by aw — December 30, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

  30. Begging the question there, aw. The US sold fewer arms to Saddam Hussein than Brazil and Denmark. Saddam Hussein was armed primarily by China and the USSR, secondarily by France, and negligibly by everybody else. If you want the US arms sales to Saddam to form part of the conversation, then let’s look at the far more significant role of his main suppliers at the same time.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 30, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

  31. @aw

    Let’s just take your first case. As I understand your post the switch from US weapons wihen the Shah was in power to People’s Liberation Weapons post Shah was a big step forward for Iran. The Shah was a brutal killer and post Shah was (is) like the Age of Aquarius. Is that your point?

    Comment by pahoben — December 30, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

  32. @Professor He has passed away:

    Comment by MJ — January 13, 2014 @ 11:40 am

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