The Peasant's Gun
The AK-47 is probably the most recognizable firearm worldwide. Initially Soviet made, there are close to 75 Million produced. The NVA and VC used this rifle fanatically. It was cheap, crude, and easy to maintain with little to have to worry about in ways of maintenance. It has seen service in nearly every corner of the globe, and truly is one of the world's most dependable firearms.
The AK is a Soviet-made rifle originating out of World War II. Designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov, this rifle saw over thirty years of service in the Soviet Union and is still the go-to weapon for smaller militaries/insurgencies around the globe. It was initially adopted by the Soviet Union in 1949 and subsequently by all Warsaw Pact nations. There are a recorded 75 million AK-47s produced worldwide and over 100 million in the Kalashnikov family worldwide. Many nations have adopted it in different configurations like the Chinese with Norinco or some of the nicer production ones made by Valmet in Finland. The AK is rugged, durable, and simple. This is why it worked so well in the jungle. “It was very easy to operate, and has been described as ‘the peasant’s gun’”. It fired a 7.62x39mm round, similar to that of the M14 and M16. The majority of AKs have a select fire option, however the full automatic switch is towards the top, almost beckoning the shooter to stay in full auto.
The rifle has an effective range of 437 yards. Comparing it to the M14, the AK seems to lack the range that the M14 does. I would chalk this up to cost of the weapon and the manufacturing process. The M14 was a milled receiver (costlier) and the AK was stamped (cheaper). The AK however did weigh eleven pounds, pretty comparable to the M14. It also fed from a 30 round magazine. Those ten extra rounds helped tremendously with automatic fire. The low 20 round capacity the M14 faced led to an ineffective role as a squad automatic weapon, which the AK was not either. The AK instead fathered in a generation of weapons to the Kalashnikov Family, one notable one being the RPK and RPD models, a light machine gun built off the AK platform. These would also be Soviet staples and see service in Vietnam as well. As stated before, the AK saw many copies, one notable one being the Chinese Type 56. These rifles featured a folding bayonet reminiscent of the Soviet SKS. An upgraded version of this rifle, the Type 56-1, was used extensively by the NVA and VC. However, this variant did not feature the folding bayonet but did have a folding butt stock. “It was estimated that a single VC/NVA sniper equipped with this reliable weapon could hold a well-sited position against an entire company”. The NVA were well trained with this rifle because of its dependability. Although the Soviets began improving this design, the NVA never received any of the newer upgrades such as improved trigger assembly, bolt carrier, and barrel. They used what they could and were continually supplied by the Chinese.
The AK is the quintessential ‘rebel’ gun. Its dependability and ruggedness are second to none, making it easy to use and maintain (or not maintain) in the field especially by soldiers who have limited to no experience with firearms. Take this quote from weapons historian William Atwater. “If I were to take an American soldier out today, I could get him to field strip, clean, and take care of an AK in about four hours. The M16? I'm gonna have to take a week. It's that simple.” The AK has very few complex parts to fiddle with and can sustain much abuse before being beyond serviceable. It did not take a rocket scientist to know how to use it. This rifle would stay with Vietnam long after the war as it is still the country’s main arm when it comes to supplying its military.