The AK-47 is not just the preferred weapon of America’s enemies, it’s also the weapon of America’s allies. It’s the most widely used weapon on Earth. People name their children after it. Some countries have its distinctive shape on their flag. Egypt even built a monument featuring the rifle with its barrel and bayonet in the Sinai Peninsula.
Yet, despite its widespread legitimate use in 106 recognized countries’ standing armies, the AK-47 has also become a symbol of pirates, insurgents, warlords, and terrorists. So where does the rifle live on the scale between good and evil?
To help figure that out, WATM presents 10 facts about the most durable, dependable and infamous rifle ever designed:
1. Though it is widely known that he did not receive any royalties from his design (the Stalin-Era Soviet Union wasn’t too big on international copyright law – the AK borrows from many contemporary designs), Kalashnikov received an award from Stalin and special privileges until the Soviet Union was dissolved.
2. The original AK-47 was unwieldy and much too heavy. It’s unusual to find a “real” ’47 AK. Most of the weapons produced by the Soviet Union and shipped abroad are really AKMs or AK-74s. You can tell the difference by the barrel: the AKM uses a muzzle brake while the 74 has a flash suppressor. For example, the Malian soldier pointing his rifle at my chest in the photo below is holding an AKM.
3. Because the Russian government produced and shipped out so many, and because more than 30 countries are licensed to produce AK family rifles, no one knows how many of them there really are. Its estimated that there is an AK-47 for every 70 people on Earth, around 100 million. The next most widespread family of rifle is the M-16 line, with a paltry 10 million.
4. The Kalashnikov is the deadliest weapon ever produced, killing around 250,000 people each year. This far surpasses the casualty count for any weapon (including nuclear ones) made by man.
5. The worldwide average cost of a single rifle is between $100 and $300. Prices of AK-47s in public markets can be used as a barometer for social unrest: The more expensive they are, the more likely an uprising is about to take place. For example, some AKs in Afghanistan can be purchased for around $10. If you can get an AK for less than $100, it might be better to buy a ticket home.
6. During the Iraq War, the US lost track of 110,000 AK-47s. So many ended up in the hands of insurgent groups, the U.S. began issuing M-16s to Iraqi Security Forces instead. (Fun fact: Saddam Hussein received a Gold AK as a gift. It was found by American troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: slightly used, dropped once.)
7. The AK is a relatively inaccurate rifle. This is because of its chrome lining, but that lining is why it’s so dependable, as the chrome reduces the need for cleaning. When the AK does need cleaned, it can be done faster than any weapon ever made, under almost any conditions.
8. A Missouri car dealership once offered a free AK-47 to new customers, which seems more controversial than it really is. True AKs have an automatic feature — rare in the US — and are only legal when grandfathered in before 1986. Legal AK-47s are only semi-automatic.
9. A Colombian artist, Cesar Lopez, turns AK-47 rifles into guitars. He was even able to put one into the hands on then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2005.
10. Mikhail Kalashnikov did well financially after the fall of the Berlin Wall, doing speaking tours and launching his own brand of Vodka.
For more information about the history of automatic weapons, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and his famous design, check out The Gun by CJ Chivers.
Leave your thoughts in the comments. (We all know what’s about to happen . . .)
We’re not just talking about the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point (although 11 battles stars and a Presidential Unit Citation is nothing to shake a stick at). The entire history of Charleston, South Carolina, has been full-blown ‘Merica from Day One: independence, freedom, and local pride.
One of the first things the founders of Charleston did was to construct a wooden stockade to defend the colony from the surrounding tribes and Spanish outlaws. Since then, one of the friendliest cities in America has constantly contributed some of its best to the unfriendliest of situations.
1. Charleston saw the first defeat of the British Navy in America.
They fought off the British squadron after a full day of fighting and the British wouldn’t return to Charleston until 1780.
2. Andrew Jackson’s anger was born in Charleston.
After the Battle of Stono Ferry, Andrew Jackson was held as a POW by the British. The young Jackson was ordered to polish the boots of a British officer. Jackson, a crotchety old man even in his youth, refused. So the officer cut Jackson’s face and hands with his sword.
Jackson never forgot the event and carried his hatred of the British throughout his career. It came in handy at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, when Jackson and his outnumbered ragtag group of slaves, soldiers, and pirates fought the British in a lopsided victory for 12 straight days.
3. The opening shots of the Civil War were fired there.
With all the controversy surrounding the memories of the Confederacy, it’s a tribute to the people of Charleston that even when their state was in full rebellion against the United States, the opening siege of Fort Sumter managed not to kill anyone.
The Union troops were allowed to leave the city, with only one death. When they fired a 100-gun salute as the Union troops lowered the American flag, a Union artilleryman was killed when his cannon accidentally misfired.
4. Charlestonians developed the first submarine used in combat.
Fortunately, the mystery surrounding the CSS Hunley’s disappearance was solved after the ship was raised in 2000. The Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, but as it rammed a spar tipped with explosives at the USS Housatonic, the blast wave caused the disappearance of the Hunley for more than a century.
The answer was that the blast wave killed the crew immediately. Though far enough from the explosion that sank the enemy ship, the blast wave – traveling slower through the water – cause three times the damage to their soft tissue. The crew of the Hunley knew the boat sank twice during testing and knew the dangers of the underwater blast, but went on the mission anyway.
5. Charleston has been training military leaders forever.
Ok, not forever, but The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, has been in operation since 1846 and in that time has created so many notable officers, heroes, football stars, and other alumni (including one Miss USA and an Oscar nominee), listing them all would be time consuming.
Its more notable alums include General William Westmoreland, who commanded all U.S. forces in Vietnam as well as and Charleston’s own former Mayor Joe Riley, who led the city for more than 40 years.
6. Charleston is where legends are born and honored.
All five living former American Presidents – Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – agreed to serve as honorary directors for the National Medal of Honor Museum going up in the Mount Pleasant area of greater Charleston.
Patriot’s Point is going to be the home that preserves the stories of America’s bravest (or craziest) fighting men and women.
It’s Saturday, but most of you enlisted fellows blew your paycheck last weekend and are now looking forward to sitting around the barracks this week. To alleviate your boredom, here are 13 military memes that made us laugh.
See, we know about you, privates.
Yay, submarines! A phallic object filled with phallic objects!
Every so often Hollywood makes a military movie that’s so compelling in the eyes of the audience that it helps shape how they view the world. War stories in general display how dangerous life can be for those serving on active duty — mostly in the infantry.
But from time-to-time, some minor aspect of these films call out to movie-goers and motivate them to serve.
So we asked several veterans what movies made them want to join the armed forces and here’s what they told us.
A combat jump and the gold star on your wings is the desire of all airborne personnel. During World War II, the U.S. Army fielded five airborne divisions, four of which saw combat, as well as numerous independent regimental combat teams and parachute infantry battalions. Today, the U.S. military fields one airborne division, two airborne brigade combat teams, and a number of special operations forces, all airborne qualified. Throughout the history of these forces, they conducted all manner of combat operations and tactical insertions. Here are the eighteen times, in chronological order, that the U.S. military conducted large-scale combat operations with airborne forces.
1. Operation Torch
The first large-scale deployment of American paratroopers took place on 8 November 1942 as part of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. The men of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (at the time designated 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment) were tasked with securing airfields ahead of the seaborne force landings. To accomplish this, they conducted the longest flight of airborne forces, originating from airfields in England. However, the jump was unsuccessful with troops widely scattered and ten planes having to land in a dry lake bed to disembark their troops due to a lack of fuel. A week later, three hundred men of the battalion conducted a successful combat jump on Youks-les-Bains Airfield in Algeria.
2. Operation Husky
America’s second attempt at a combat jump was during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. On the night of 9 July, the 505th PIR reinforced by 3/504 PIR and with attached artillery and engineers spearheaded Operation Husky. Two nights later on 11 July, the remainder of the 504th parachuted into Sicily to block routes toward the beachhead. However, due to numerous Axis air attacks and confusion within the invasion fleet, the troop carrier aircraft were mistaken for German bombers and fired on. This resulted in twenty three planes being shot down and the loss of eighty one paratroopers with many more wounded.
3. Landing at Nadzab (Operation Alamo)
The first airborne operation in the Pacific Theatre was carried out by the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Markham Valley of New Guinea as part of Operation Alamo on 5 September 1943. The 503rd seized an airfield that allowed follow-on Australian infantry forces to conduct an airlanding as part of the greater New Guinea campaign and were successful in driving out Japanese forces from the area.
4. Operation Avalanche
With the success of the invasion of the Italian mainland hanging in the balance, on 13 September 1943 the paratroopers of the 504th donned parachutes and quickly boarded planes before jumping into American lines to shore up the perimeter around the Salerno beachhead. The drop zone was lit by flaming barrels of gas-soaked sand arranged in a T-shape. The next night, the 505th followed the 504th and continued to continue to reinforce the American lines. A few nights later, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion was dropped in the vicinity of Avellino in an attempt to disrupt activity behind German lines but was widely dispersed and failed.
5. Operation Overlord
This is the airborne operation that all other airborne operations are measured against. In two separate missions, code named operations Albany and Boston, the paratroopers of both the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions jumped behind enemy lines as part of the invasion of Normandy and the cracking of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Though the paratroopers were widely scattered over the French countryside due to misdrops, the havoc and confusion they created behind German lines was crucial to the success of the landings on the beaches.
6. Operation Table Tennis
As part of the greater battle of Noemfoor in Dutch New Guinea on the 3rd and 4th of July 1944, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 503rd PIR conducted a combat jump to reinforce American positions and to secure the Kamiri airfield. Due to poor jump conditions that led to excessive casualties, the drop of the 2nd battalion was scratched and they were landed by sea instead.
7. Operation Dragoon
As part of the 1st Airborne Task Force the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, the 509th and 551st Parachute Infantry Battalions, 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and numerous glider and parachute units in support, performed a combat jump into Southern France as the spearhead of Operation Dragoon on 15 August 1944. Due to poor visibility, most of the pathfinders and therefore most of the follow-on forces missed their drop zones and were widely scattered. Despite this, as had happened in Normandy two months prior, many of the men were able to regroup and secure their objectives.
8. Operation Market-Garden
During the infamous “a bridge too far” operation, American airborne units, the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, jumped into Nazi occupied Holland during the daylight hours of 17 September 1944. Operation Market, the airborne component of Market-Garden, was the largest airborne operation ever undertaken, though due to a number of circumstances, it would ultimately be a failure and ended the Allies’ hopes of finishing the war by Christmas.
9. Battle of Luzon
As part of the battle for the island of Luzon in the Philippines and the drive by the U.S. Sixth Army to take Manila, the 511th PIR and 457th PFAB, part of the 11th Airborne Division, dropped onto Tagatay Ridge south of Manila on 3 February 1945. The jumped linked up the 511th and 457th with the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments and the rest of the 11th Airborne Division for the drive to Manila.
10. Operation Topside
On 16 February 1945, the 503rd PRCT performed the combat jump that would give it the enduring nickname “The Rock” onto the fortress island of Corregidor. The 503rd dropped right on top of Japanese positions and, in conjunction with the 34th Infantry Regiment, fought viciously to recapture Corregidor, which had been the last bastion of American resistance in the Philippines some three years earlier.
11. Operation Varsity
American Paratroopers in Operation Varsity
The largest single-day airborne operation in history was carried out by the American 17th Airborne Division alongside the British 6th Airborne in an airborne assault crossing of the Rhine River on 24 March 1945. The entire operation was carried and dropped by a single lift and was conducted in broad daylight. The daylight drop and the fact that it was on German soil led to intense fighting with the 17th Airborne Division, gaining two Medals of Honor during their initial assaults. The operation was intended to be even larger but due to a lack of aircraft, the American 13th Airborne Division was unable to participate.
12. Task Force Gypsy
On 23 June 1945 Task Force Gypsy, consisting of 1st Battalion 511th PIR, Companies G I of the 2nd Battalion, a battery from the 457th PFAB, engineers, and glider troops from the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment conducted the final airborne operation of World War II, by jumping onto an airfield in northern Luzon to cutoff the retreating Japanese and linkup with the 37th Infantry Division as it drove north. Strong winds and treacherous terrain on the drop zone led to two fatalities and at least seventy injuries during the drop. This was the only time gliders were used in combat in the Pacific.
13. Battle of Yongju
Spearheading the UN Forces drive north the 187th Airborne RCT conducted a combat jump north of Pyongyang in an attempt to cutoff North Korean forces retreating from the capital. The paratroopers captured their objectives with only light North Korean resistance. In the following days, they would work with British and Australian forces to destroy the North Korean 239th Regiment.
14. Operation Tomahawk
As the airborne component of Operation Courageous on 23 March 1951, the 187th ARCT, this time complimented by the 2nd and 4th Ranger Companies, once again conducted a combat jump against Communist forces in the Korean War. Though there was confusion and misdrops, the Regimental Combat Team captured its objectives quickly and allowed UN Forces to regain the 38th parallel in that sector.
15. Operation Junction City
As part of the larger Operation Junction City, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, centered on the 503rd PIR, made the only large-scale combat jump of the Vietnam War on 22 February 1967. The plan was to create a hammer and anvil scenario with the 173rd along with other units forming the anvil while other forces, the hammer, would flush out and drive Viet Cong forces into the waiting trap. Though there were numerous clashes with Viet Cong forces, a decisive victory was not obtained by the American operation.
16. Operation Urgent Fury
On 25 October 1983, Rangers from the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions along with Delta Force operators, Navy SEALs and Air Force Combat Controllers descended on the southern portion of the island of Grenada and captured the unfinished airfield at Point Salines. This opened the way for follow-on forces from the 82nd Airborne Division. By 3 November, hostilities were declared to be at an end with all American objectives met.
17. Operation Just Cause
In the early morning hours of 20 December 1989, the entire 75th Ranger Regiment, followed by the reinforced Division Ready Brigade of the 82nd (consisting of 1st and 2nd Battalions 504th PIR, 4/325th AIR, 3/319th AFAR, and Company C 3/73rd Armor), conducted combat jumps to secure the Rio Hato and Torrijos-Tecumen airports in Panama. In the following days the Rangers and paratroopers continued combat operations in conjunction with other forces of Task Force Pacific. This marked the first and only combat parachute deployment of armored vehicles, the M551 Sheridan.
18. Operation Northern Delay
After Turkey denied access for American forces to attack Iraq from the north through Turkish territory, the 173rd ABCT was alerted for a combat jump into northern Iraq. On 26 March 2003, the unit, along with members of the U.S. Air Force 786th Security Forces Squadron conducted an airborne insertion onto Bashur Airfield to establish an airhead and allow for a buildup of armored forces in the north. This effort held numerous Iraqi divisions in the north rather than allowing them to be diverted south to oppose the main effort. The jump by the 786th marked the first and only combat jump by conventional USAF personnel and was the only large-scale airborne operation conducted as part of the War on Terror.
Scout Snipers are some of the most elite warfighters on the planet. Often serving a unit’s personal team of spy-assassins, they’re trained to be self-sufficient, resilient, and deadly silent.
Whether they’re sent to collect intelligence or precisely remove specific members of a certain population, you won’t know they’re there until it’s far too late. But snipers don’t have the ability to teleport to a vantage point (not yet, at least) — they have to get there somehow. That’s where stalking comes in.
It’s their way of getting from point A to point B while avoiding detection by the enemy on which they prey (hence the term ‘stalking’), and it can put them in some really uncomfortable situations.
Here are some of the worst things you can stalk through as a sniper.
When you need to go, you need to go. When you’re a sniper, there isn’t always time to dig a hole or find some nice spot to drop your payload. Sometimes, you just have to drop your trousers and go.
But, when you inevitably find yourself stalking through that same place a week or so later, you may forget about it for just long enough to realize you’re crawling right through it.
2. Someone else’s poop
Hopefully, you’re stalking through someplace that offers plenty of concealment. Unfortunately, if it’s a good place for sneakin’, someone else may have been there before you. That someone, maybe an enemy, maybe a friend, might have felt the undying urge to let it go right then and there.
Again, you probably won’t even know it’s there until you’re laying directly on top of it.
3. Fire ants
Snipers are fearless and they feel no pain. But it’s still unpleasant to find a good spot to take a shot at your target and realize you’ve become one yourself — to a colony of angry fire ants.
They’re probably pissed that you just destroyed the mound they’ve been working on all day and now they have to rebuild — but they’ll probably sting you first.
When you find yourself stalking to a vantage point, depending on where you are in the world, there might be some bodies of water between you and your destination. So, it makes a lot of sense that you might have to go through the water to get to your objective.
Just make sure you have a dry set of clothes ready before you leave so you can immediately change when you come back… whenever that may be.
These 21 images (shared with WATM courtesy of Lou Reda Productions) vividly capture the nature of war from a variety of angles. Each of them was awarded the Pulitzer prize for photography in the year indicated in the caption:
1944 – Aftermath of a flamethrower attack on Tarawa
1944 – Lt. Col. Robert Moore, USA, returns to his family after fighting the Germans in North Africa
1945 – The flag raising at Iwo Jima
1951 – Refugees fleeing across the Taedong River during the Chinese invasion of North Korea
1965 – South Vietnamese casualties after a firefight with the Vietcong
1966 – Vietnamese refugees fleeing an attack
1969 – Lt. Col. Nguyen Loan summarily executes a VC prisoner on the streets of Saigon
1972 – Marine on top of a war-torn hill after battle with NVA
1973 – Vietnamese children fleeing after napalm attack on Vietcong-held village
1974 – Lt. Col Robert Stirm, USAF, returns to his family after 5 years as a POW in North Vietnam
1977 – Vietnam veteran and wounded warrior Eddie Robinson at Chattanooga Veterans Day parade
1978 – American mercenary, member of “Grey’s Scouts,” holds gun to the head of a Rhodesian prisoner
Infantrymen train countless hours on immediate action drills, patrolling techniques and room clearing during their pre-deployment work up. The goal for every successful combat pump is to complete the mission and get your a** home safe.
While on a combat deployment, you made some epic memories — some good and some bad.
But one memory you’ll probably never forget is that first time you took enemy contact.
Long gone are the wars studied in history class where one conspicuous force goes up against another, banners flying, in a flashy display of military might. To say that war’s changed is an obvious truth — I know it, you know it, and, more important, the Russians know it.
In February 2013, General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, published a paper that outlined a concept called, aptly, “New Generation Warfare.” This paper outlines what the Russians see as the key tenets of successful, modern war waging. These are the 8 phases of an invasion — the essential ingredients, from a Russian perspective, to war in this generation.
Phase One: Setting the Stage
This first phase is all about establishing a favorable political, economic, and military climate in the targeted area. This first phase is completely non-military. It involves gathering information, establishing economic ties between Russia and key industries in the area, understanding local ideology, and so on. It’s all about knowing your target.
Phase Two: Media Misdirection
Next, the Russians mislead political and military leaders with a coordinated, tactical “leaking” of false data, orders, and directives. The Russians target the biggest media channels and the most visible public figures, creating or further instigating political strife to rile up locals. To do this successfully, the Russians use information they’ve gathered in phase one and twist it to build pro-Russian sentiment.
The third phase is all about making use of Russian-cultivated relationships. In this phase, the Russians intimidate, deceive, and bribe key politicians to get them to abandon their post when “convenient.”
In this phase, the Russians pump propaganda en masse into the targeted region, fomenting further discontent among the population. At this precise moment, Russian troops start to arrive. It’s no coincidence that this happens when the population favors Russia most.
Phase Five: Lockdown
Russian military forces are still posturing in phase five — no overt triggers are pulled just yet. In this phase, Russians establish no-fly zones, put up blockades, and exert force through the use of private military companies and local armed resistance forces.
Phase Six: Military Action
In phase six, Russia finally starts to flex its military muscles. All wheels turn simultaneously — Russian forces make their move alongside an all-cylinder firing of special operations and subversive missions. Industrial espionage, satellite interference, and so on; whatever it takes to weaken the opponent.
In phase seven, Russia employs precise strikes to hit the exposed weaknesses of their enemy. Targeted information operations, electronic warfare, and precise, long-range artillery strikes hit key pressure points, paralyzing the opposition.
Phase Eight: Clean Up
Finally, the Russians identify and clean up and pockets of remaining resistance.
That, by the numbers, is how Russia invades foreign territory. Of course, no war is simple enough to fit within a playbook–these phases can happen in sequence or all at once, if necessary. Though execution may vary, the key principles outlined here can be used to devastating effect.
Just how effective is this new, hybrid warfare? Russia’s official involvement in the annexation of Crimea was just 24 days—but you can safely bet that covert operations were well underway in the months prior. Years later, NATO is still figuring out how to respond.
In October 2010, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines started clearing the Taliban insurgency from the Sangin District in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Once 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines handed over the area of observation to 3/5, things escalated quickly, making this campaign one of the bloodiest in American history.
Marines who headed out to clear the enemy-infested area were met by a dangerous environment and an extremely complicated IED threat — as a result, casualty rates climbed.
Eventually, the actions of the Marines of 3/5 were unofficially dubbed, “Bangin’ in Sangin.” The narrative that unfolded there was very close to that of a story set in the Wild West. Here’s why:
Marines of 3/5th Marine patrol through unpredictable, enemy terrain in Sangin, Afghanistan.
Paved roads were scarce
In most parts of the world, people drive on paved roads with designated lanes. Well, for British and American forces, the only option was to drive and patrol on roads made from loose gravel. The main roads in the district were described as nothing more than “wide trails.”
Since the majority of the Sangin population uses animals to haul their cargo, in the troops’ perspective, it was like jumping into a time machine and transporting back to the Old West.
The local cemeteries
How many Westerns have we seen where the cowboys, on horseback, encounter an eerie cemetery as they travel through uncharted land? Too often to count, right?
Well, Sangin was no different. Many of the graves were decorated with rocks and flags tied to wooden staves — just like the movies.
HM3 Mitchell Ingolia, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment conducts a security patrol through the dangerous area known as Sangin, Afghanistan.
(Photo by U.S. Marine Cpl. David Hernandez)
The nasty terrain
In many Westerns, the cowboys add days to their journeys because of some unmarked obstacle blocking their path, forcing them around.
In Sangin, the rough terrain provided for some unique challenges. Harsh conditions plus the fact that mud structures can be destroyed and rebuilt quickly made keeping maps current nearly impossible.
The locals lived in tribes
In the old days, Native Americans lived in settlements and did every they could to make ends meet while answering to the chief of the tribe. In Afghanistan, Marines commonly patrolled through similar villages — and the locals answered to their Islamic religious leader, known as the “Mullah.”
Though modern in many ways, social organization on the local level remains tribal.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jose Maldonado (left) and Cpl. Rocco Urso (right), both with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, provide over watch security during an operation in Sangin Valley, Afghanistan, on Oct. 7, 2010. The Marines conducted a two-day operation to clear insurgents from the Wishtan area.
(USMC photo by Cpl. David Hernandez)
The Marines lived like cowboys
When Marines left the wire for several days, they packed ammo, food, and their sleeping system. Since they didn’t know where they were going to be sleeping each night, Marines found rest in places most people couldn’t even imagine.