Articles

Sixty years ago the world got its first look at an AK-47

The dapper young Hungarian revolutionary named József Tibor Fejes holding a captured AK-47 in what is believed to be the first widely distributed photo of the weapon. (Public domain photo.)


Sixty years ago the weapon that became a symbol of Cold War guerrillas and current day insurgents made its debut in a most unlikely way.

The AK-47, arguably the most widely used assault rifle in the world, first appeared in the hands of both Communist troops and Hungarian revolutionaries during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The revolution against the nation's communist government began on October 23 but was ruthlessly crushed by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops by Nov. 10.

In particular, one photo from the revolution gained worldwide attention – and it is arguably the first time the Kalashnikov entered the public consciousness.

C.J. Chivers, former Marine Corps infantry captain and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote in his book The Gun that nobody knows which Hungarian revolutionary first picked up a captured AK-47.

But a LIFE Magazine photographer snapped a picture of József Tibor Fejes – "22-years-old, fresh-faced, sharp-eyed, purposeful, and seemingly unafraid" – whose costume as an insurgent always included a bowler hat. "The Man in the Bowler Hat" was also hefting an AK-47, making Fejes the first known revolutionary carrying what became widely known as a revolutionary's weapon.

Fejes with other revolutionaries, still wearing his bowler and carrying a captured AK-47. (Public domain photo.)

"The AK-47 was destined to become a symbol of resistance fighters almost everywhere, a weapon with innumerable spokesmen," Chivers wrote. "Fejes had nonchalantly assumed the requisite pose and begun to flesh out this historical role. He did so before Fidel Castro, before Yasir Arafat, before Idi Amin. He was years ahead of the flag of Zimbabwe, which would expropriate the AK-47 as a symbol. He was ahead of Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden, who would convert the product of an atheist state into a sign of unsparing jihad. József Tibor Fejes was the first of the world's Kalashnikov-toting characters, a member of a pantheon's inaugural class."

Although the Soviet Union had first publically acknowledged the rifle's existence in 1949, firearms experts and military intelligence analysts in the West knew little about the weapon.

In fact, it was not until 1956 that the Army's Technical Intelligence Office issued a classified report about the AK-47 – a report that mistakenly labeled the rifle a submachine gun and led to Pentagon brass dismissing the effectiveness of the weapon.

Eventually, the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and a host of Soviet satellites and licensees manufactured more than 100 million AK-47s. First encountered by U.S. fighting men during the Vietnam War, the robust construction of the weapon and its reliability soon made believers out of Americans who faced it in the hands of their enemies.

To this day, U.S. soldiers and Marines continue to face adversaries armed with some version of the Kalashnikov.

As for József Tibor Fejes, his fate was sealed. Charged with the execution of a State Security Forces officer by gunning him down in the streets of Budapest, a Hungarian court found Fejes guilty and sentenced him to death.

Despite an appeal, authorities hanged Fejes on April 9, 1959, his punishment for what the court said was an attempt to overthrow the Hungarian people's republic, the murder of a police officer, and the theft of state property – namely an AK-47 assault rifle.

Why drinking apple cider vinegar should be in your diet right now

Every so often, a new health trend emerges and takes the fitness industry by storm. Once the right celebrity endorses it, suddenly, everyone swears it works wonders and people flood the stores to buy it.

However, the best advertising around is still word of mouth. That's how many people are discovering the health benefits of ingesting small amounts of apple cider vinegar daily.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less

The memo warning about 'bad batch' of Anthrax vaccine is a fake

U.S. Army officials in Korea announced April 18, 2018, that an Eighth Army memo warning soldiers about potentially "bad Anthrax" vaccinations given on a large scale is "completely without merit."

The announcement follows an explosion of activity on social media after an April 10, 2018 memo from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Korea began circulating on Facebook. The memo was intended to advise soldiers who possibly received bad Anthrax vaccinations from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Drum, New York from 2001-2007 for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom that they may qualify for Veterans Affairs benefits.

Keep reading... Show less
International

What a Korean peace could mean for the nature preserve at the DMZ

The 2.5-mile wide, 148-mile long stretch of land that separates South Korea from North Korea is undoubtedly the most fortified border in the world. Landmines dot the land and each side is ready to destroy the other at a moment's notice.

The land between them, however, has been untouched by humans for roughly sixty years and, as a result, hosts a unique composition of flora and fauna. With recent peace talks between North and South Korea, this could all be in danger.

Keep reading... Show less

Travis Manion Foundation honors fallen Marine — and builds America at the same time

Travis Manion Foundation empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes while striving to strengthen America's national character. The non-profit was named for 1st Lt. Travis Manion, a Marine who was killed by an enemy sniper while saving his wounded teammates on April 29, 2007.

Today, Travis Manion Foundation exists to carry on the legacy of character, service, and leadership embodied by Travis and all those who have served and continue to serve our nation.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

4 reasons why 360-degree cameras should be on the battlefield

Within the last few years, 360-degree cameras have hit the market and they're changing the way we record our favorite memories. They may also have implications for how our nation fights its enemies.

When it comes to fighting a ground war, having as many sets of surveilling eyes as possible is a good idea — an idea that could save lives.

Keep reading... Show less
History

Why the Tokyo Raiders didn't bomb the Japanese emperor

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was very angry and very eager to kick some ass — hence the decision to carry out the Doolittle raid. America wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and we wanted to do so as soon as possible.

Keep reading... Show less

11 memes that will remind you of living in the barracks

Living in a military barracks is an experience unlike any other. You'll either get stuck in an absolute sh*thole where nothing works or, by some crazy stroke of luck, you'll score a place in a little palace that has a functioning TV.

Regardless, you'll come away with some epic memories of dumb working parties and hilarious stories of trying to sneak temporary partners through your front door.

Keep reading... Show less