- Aug 17, 2010
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A man who truly shaped the 20th century. R.I.P.
The inventor of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has died aged 94, Russian officials say.
The automatic rifle he designed became one of the world's most familiar and widely used weapons.
Its comparative simplicity made it cheap to manufacture, as well as reliable and easy to maintain.
Although honoured by the state, Kalashnikov made little money from his gun. He once said he would have been better off designing a lawn mower.
Kalashnikov was admitted to hospital with internal bleeding in November.
Mikhail Kalashnikov's 1947 design became the standard equipment of the Soviet and Warsaw pact armies. Versions were manufactured in several other countries, including China.
With its distinctive curved magazine, the Kalashnikov became a revolutionary icon in the hands of militants and insurgents around the globe.
When I met him in Paris, he proudly wore the insignia of a Hero of Socialist Labour on his jacket. He seemed perplexed at the extraordinary changes that had engulfed his country.
He was sensitive to any criticism that his gun had caused countless casualties around the world. He told me he had simply designed the rifle to defend the Soviet Union. The uses to which it had been put elsewhere were nothing to do with him, he said.
The Kalashnikov - which is still widely used today - will go down in history. If the name of Samuel Colt and his revolver is associated with the 19th Century, then the gun of the 20th Century is undoubtedly the Kalashnikov.
He died on Monday in Izhevsk, the city where he lived 600 miles east of Moscow, an official there said.
Matching the Germans
Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was born on 10 November 1919 in western Siberia, one of 18 children.
In 1938, he was called up by the Red Army and his design skills were used to improve the effectiveness of weapons and equipment used by Soviet tank regiments.
He designed the machine gun after being asked by a fellow soldier why the Russians could not come up with a gun that would match the ones used by the Germans.
Work on the AK47 was completed in 1947, and two years later the gun was adopted by the Soviet army.
Kalashnikov continued working into his late 80s as chief designer at the Izhevsk firm that first built the AK-47.
He received many state honours, including the Order of Lenin and the Hero of Socialist Labour.
Kalashnikov refused to accept responsibility for the many people killed by his weapon, blaming the policies of other countries that acquired it.
However, pride in his invention was tempered with sadness at its use by criminals and child soldiers.
"It is painful for me to see when criminal elements of all kinds fire from my weapon," Kalashnikov said in 2008.