German Korobov: armourer of the future
Many visitors to the Tula Arms Museum linger at the showcases with machine guns, which look like props from a blockbuster. Multi-barrel systems, bullpup, bright orange plastic – these all distinguish German Korobov's designs, even for a person who is not familiar with weapons. Experts have not ignored Korobov' heritage: in terms of the originality and boldness of his designs, Korobov did not have many competitors.
Naturally gifted soldier
One of the complaints about the creator of the AK, Mikhail Kalashinkov, is that: "a mere sergeant could not have become an arms designer". The initials AK could have had a different meaning – Avtomat Korobova (Korobov's automatic rifle) – but this complaint would still have been heard. The only difference is that German Korobov, before the Great Patriotic War, managed to graduate from the Ural Industrial Institute and served in aviation units. His first design, a project to improve the ShKAS machine gun, was directly related to weapons, and his future lay at the air force headquarters. As a result, at about the same time as Kalashnikov was setting up the production of his motor resource meter, Korobov was sent to the Tula design bureau TsKB-14.
Very early in his time in Tula, the young designer was engaged in a very promising project. In February 1940, Korobov designed a helical magazine with ammunition fed through a spiral channel. However, he apparently failed to complete this. The helical magazine became known much later with the submachine gun made by the American company Calico.
Korobov's first design to be given the "green light" and sent to production was much simpler. In the autumn of 1941, "glass artillery", or Molotov cocktails, became one of the main anti-tank weapons of the Red Army infantry. However, a part of the fire mixture did not ignite in the air on its own, and German Korobov developed the most successful fuse assembly design. The main components of the fuse were a tube made of steel sheet, a spring and cartridge from the TT gun.
German A. Korobov
However, even this simple design displays a clear "signature" that distinguishes Korobov's later work. German A. Korobov was an expert in metal working processes and tried to minimise the milling required in his designs. Some Tula residents recall that one of the stages of creating a new design for Korobov was working with cardboard. Korobov made a kind of a "pattern", which he then bent, folded and glued until he obtained the cardboard model of the future weapons. Cardboard and glue were only replaced with sheet steel, stamping and spot welding at the next stage.
AK, the eternal rival to the AK
Korobov's next works in TsKB-14 include a submachine gun and a new type of metal machine gun belt. But the most famous of his early works was the TKB-408, an assault rifle made by German Korobov for a competition for weapons with the intermediate 1943 type cartridge. This design stood out at the competition, even externally as it was based on the bullpup design. However, although the originality of the Korobov's assault rifle was excellent, its was not very reliable: after 5,000 shots the gun was removed from the test. The TKB-517, the next Korobov assault rifle, could not take on Kalashnikov either.
The 1960s are considered to be the beginning of the space era: in 1961 Yuri Gagarin took off in his rocket, which was the start of humanity's path into space. Interestingly, in the same year, Korobov designed the family of TKB-022 assault rifles, those wonderfully looking examples with orange plastic parts which attract visitors to the Tula Museum.
However, the bright colour has a fairly mundane explanation: the first Soviet heat-resistant polymers developed in the 1950s were produced exactly like this for process reasons. If we look at the other side of the ocean, we can see that the first American AR-10 examples, which appeared before the black M16, look quite bright.
In fact, the plastic was one of the reasons why the military people doubted the reliability of the new assault rifles: the army only obtained new material in the form of magazines for the AK-74.
Another outstanding Korobov design was the so-called "3B device", which was further developed in the form of the TKB-059 assault rifle. This three-barrel automatic rifle may seem like a fun design toy, but, in fact, multi-barrel systems were seriously considered as one of the options for ensuring that the target was hit when shooting. For example, the Springfield Armory Museum exhibited the double-barreled Winchester SALVO Assault Rifle and, at that time, it was not the only multi-barrel American design.
Korobov's final attempt to replace one AK automatic rifle with another was the Abakan competition. The TKB-0111 automatic rifle seemed to have a good chance of winning: the competition began with an eye on the results demonstrated by the previous Korobov automatic rifle, the TKB-072 ,with the ability to fire at the rate of 500 and 2,000 shots per minute. This was based on a study conducted by Korobov that showed that the first rate is best for shooting when lying down and the second one – for firing from unstable positions.
TKB-0111 automatic rifle
But this time, once more, luck was not with Korobov: Nikonov's automatic rifle, later known as the AN-94, was recognised as the best.
However, it is too early to sum up the results for German Korobov's designs. For example, the widespread use of plastic parts in weapons only became common several decades after the creation of the TKB-022. It is quite possible that other ideas from this great Tula designer will be in demand in the future.