No other cartridge has changed the face of the planet like the 7.62×39. It protected communist ideals and was the bane of freedom for nearly 70 years. The weapons that utilize this round have mostly stood for tyranny at its worst. This Russian medium cartridge is a merciless foe, which soldiers, peasants, and children carry in their weapons. Whether utilized in the Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova of 1945 (SKS) or the Avtomat Kalashnikova of 1947 (AK-47), and variants, it has helped change the face of warfare.
Soviet Engineers built the cartridge first while others would design their guns around it. The first firearm that would see its use would be the SKS. The most famous or infamous would be the AK-47.
A German gun and its cartridge, which the Soviets discovered on the battlefields of the Second World War, would give birth to the Russian cartridge. The mother of our cartridge is a German machine carbine, which utilized the reduced 7.9x33mm Kurz found near Cholm Russia. One point of note is that Mikhail Kalashnikov did not design the cartridge. He created the rifle bearing his name, but the cartridge came from others designers. As noted, his rifle was third in the running when it came to a light infantry rapid-fire rifle or machine gun carbine. In the end however, many considered it to be among the best-designed weapons systems ever created.
The concept behind this machine carbine came about following the First World War. Studies revealed that the most effective infantry fire was within 300 meters (328 yards). The heavy ammunition of that war made for large caliber and somewhat unwieldy infantry weapons. That ammunition was effective well beyond the 300 meters but the soldiers could not hit targets beyond that range. With a shorter cartridge, a smaller and lighter infantry weapon was possible.
The German entrance to the game was the Sturmgewehr 44 (storm rifle of 1944) or simply the StG44 or MP43. While the Sturmgewehr was lighter and smaller than most infantry weapons of the period, it didn’t compare well against the AK. The StG44 with no ammunition weights in at 11.5 pounds. A fully loaded Ak-47 weights almost 1.5 pound less than an unloaded StG44. Eventually you need to put ammo in them to make them work. For a soldier walking hundreds of miles in and out of Russia every pound counts.
The 7.62×39 in the AK-47 platform defined the future. A perfect balance of weight and firepower made the single foot soldier a force in and of themselves. There would be no going back since politicians and generals had to redefine the definition of a soldier. An individual with little to no military training, regardless of age, could attain more firepower than a better trained soldier of the First or Second World War.
The military world would not be the only one to redefine its tactics. Law enforcement would soon have to adjust to this level of firepower. When the streets of North Hollywood, littered with 7.62×39 casings following the infamous bank robbery, law enforcement would have to step up and meet the challenge. No longer would the patrol officer be able to leave the station with just a .38 special revolver and a shotgun. Semi Automatic and even automatic weapons would become standard and available.
On a personal note, I love shooting this round on any platform. The 7.62×39, while small compared to other rifle calibers, lets you know when it goes bang. In full auto, it is a handful. You know you are shooting an intermediate military round when shooting it. When firing the .223 / 5.56 NATO, it can be so smooth that I almost miss the recoil. The difference between the two is like driving a sports car or driving a truck.
While many cartridges and ideas follow a well-defined and tested path of previous thought, the 7.62×39 was a truly groundbreaking and innovative idea and cartridge. The chase is still on as to what will truly surpass this cartridge of 1943.