Long guns have been in the hands of soldiers for centuries. There are even medieval illustrations of European armored knights with “hand gonnes” dating from the 14th Century — proof that people have been using metal tubes loaded with gunpowder to shoot projectiles for quite some time.
The rifle is quite another matter. Despite the fact it is far more accurate than the smooth-bore muskets that dominated European warfare for 300 years, it is a relative newcomer to the battlefield.
But it was the Baker Rifle that convinced many generals that the rifle should be an infantryman’s weapon, not just the firearm of specialists. My article at War Is Boring tells the story of the Baker Rifle and how it transformed the ordinary soldier into a long-distance killer. The battlefield was never the same afterward.
One of the little-known results of the tragic Hungarian Revolution in 1956 is the world’s first real look at the AK-47 assault rifle. Issued to both Hungarian security forces and Red Army soldiers, the Kalashnikov was used in combat for the first time as troops squashed efforts to overthrown communist rule in the East Bloc nation. However, revolutionaries who used captured Kalashnikovs were photographed by journalists whose publications carried the images around the world, introducing the public to a weapon that would soon become the symbol of guerrillas and insurgents. My story at We Are The Mighty outlines the circumstances behind this unlikely debut.
On this day in 1947 the Автомат Калашникова, better known as the AK-47 7.62 x 39 mm select-fire assault rifle, went into production for the first time. Some argue it is the most reliable and durable military firearm ever made.
For better or for worse, the AK-47 changed the nature of warfare forever. C.J. Chivers in his magisterial work The Gun explains why.