“Look, just tell him he can buy me a double vodka!” the Rhodesian soldier said to Mikhail Kalashnikov’s interpreter. “No, he wants to give you his watch instead”, was the reply.
The Rhodesian Bush Wars were truly an example of when worlds collide. The war in this tiny, unrecognized state drew in the arms and involvement of many unlikely nations.
From the armed supporters of an Albanian king in exile to arms supplies from the Soviet Union itself, the Rhodesian Bush War was an inherently international conflict.
And we haven’t even discussed the numerous infamous Rhodesian Bush War mercenaries yet, either. Don’t worry; we have a badass article dedicated to those fellas, which you can read here.
“Dr Kalashnikov expresses sorrow for the pain he caused.”– The author talking with Mikhail Kalashnikov: Johannesburg, 1998.
“Tell him not to worry.”
“He would like to offer a token of his sorrow.”
“He can buy me a double vodka.”
“It’s not enough. He would like to give you his watch.”
Recently, we covered the Rhodesian FN FAL, its bizarre story, and how collectors can correctly identify one.
Today, we’re going to cover a little-known tale that saw a bizarre crossover between Rhodesian soldiers and the inventor of the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov.
The tale takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1998. It was towards the end of a weapons expo known as the Sandton Exhibition.
“Dr. Kalashnikov expresses sorrow for the pain he caused.”
I was rather surprised to be seated opposite Mikhail Kalashnikov at the banquet. After all, it was the culmination of a Sandton exhibition promoting “Quality Weapons”.
Seated on either side of the “five times hero of the Soviet Union” were two dour-faced Russian colonels who looked more like heavyweight wrestlers than army officers.
I thought they might be twins as they both wore the same blank expressions. I was told they were Kalashnikov’s personal bodyguards and interpreters.
“Would you classify the AK-47 as a quality weapon?” I asked twin number one. I might just as well have been speaking to a brick wall.
He stared at me vacantly, his brain probably numbed by the considerable amount of vodka he had been imbibing… we hadn’t even progressed passed our first course yet. His twin brother was more vocal.
“Of Course,” he injected, swigging back his own goblet of vodka. “It’s the world’s best-selling weapon.” His accent was thick and guttural.
“That might be so, but you must admit it’s the world’s most useless weapon.”
I immediately regretted my remark. It even seemed to permeate the first twin’s numbed brain.
He looked at me as if unable to decide whether to lunge at me across the table or have me incinerated in the nearest Russian Gulag.
His brother started stammering inaudibly as if what I had said might be the most insulting thing he had ever heard.
I was saved from bodily harm only by Kalashnikov’s timely intervention. He asked the two colonels what the commotion was about.
After a short while, twin number two stood up. He paused to clear his throat as if wanting to make an important announcement.
When it came, it was trumpeted in a voice louder than the limited capacity of the banquet hall might have necessitated. Guests were hushed into silence. You could have heard a pin drop.
“Dr Kalashnikov would like to know why you think the AK-47 is such an inferior weapon,” he bellowed, sounding like a wounded buffalo.
“Because, old chap,” I responded quietly. “I’ve been shot nine times by an AK-47, and I’m still alive to talk to its inventor tonight.”
“Nine times, that’s impossible,” guffawed the Colonel puffing himself up like an angry bullfrog.
“Nine times,” I replied, swigging back my own vodka.
The hall remained silent.
Further whispered discussion took place between Kalashnikov and the two angry twins. Twin number two remained standing as he glared at me across the table. I sensed he wished I had been killed by the first of the nine bullets.
“Dr Kalashnikov is sorry he caused you so much pain,” he eventually gargled, sounding like a bulldog lapping from a plate of porridge.
“Tell him not to worry. A Rhodesian body is stronger than Russian bullets.”
“He wishes to give you something as a token of his sorrow.”
“He can buy me a double vodka.”
“It is not enough; he wishes to give you his watch.” I saw Kalashnikov removing his watch from his wrist. It was one issued to senior Russian staff officers and had been inscribed with his name.
“Thank you,” I replied, reaching for the watch. “I’ll take it and the vodka.”
The banquet resumed, the vodka tasted good, and I became the proud owner of Kalashnikov’s personal wristwatch.
Want To Read More? Explore The Acclaimed Book Of This Rhodesian Soldier
This tale is an excerpt of Timothy Pax’s acclaimed book on the Rhodesian Bush War: Three Sips of Gin: Dominating the Battlespace with Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts.
Eager to see more about the legacy of the iconic Kalashnikov assault rifle? Don’t miss War Advisor’s recent trip report from Russia’s official Kalashnikov museum in the weapon-producing city of Izhevsk on the edge of Siberia.