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The forgotten legend of the Russian military-industrial complex

© Портрет А. Дерябина/ Ижевский оружейный завод

The Kalashnikov assault rifle is widely known throughout the world - in a sense, it has become one of Russia's symbols, along with bears, black caviar and oil. The most widespread small arms in service in one hundred and six countries are included in the Guinness Book of Records: more than 100 million units have been produced to date. The inventor himself was greeted like a film star during his visits to various countries. But who was the man who built one of the largest Russian arms factories that gave the world not only the AK, but also the Mosin rifle?

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only two armaments factories in the Russian Empire: Tula and Sestroretsk, opened by Peter the Great. When it became clear that the war with Napoleon would not pass, no less obvious was the fact that the production of these factories is clearly not enough to win. The Russian army was simply unprepared for the upcoming confrontation: due to the shortage of small arms, soldiers were armed indiscriminately, often with trophy or outdated rifles.

© Кузница Сестрорецкого оружейного завода в 19 веке. Худ. Н.Куртейль

Emperor Paul I thought about the feasibility of building a third plant. The new production facility was to be established in the Volga region. Several factors spoke in favour of the location: rich ore resources of the region, available waterways for future transportation and remoteness from the state borders. Even if the enemy penetrated deep into the country and captured Sestroretsk and Tula, the new production facility would still be able to supply the army with weapons. The strategically important mission of finding a suitable location and the actual construction was entrusted to a young mining engineer Andrei Deryabin.

He was born in 1770 in the village of Deryabinskoye, Perm province. Although the surname Deryabin came from the Old Russian "deryaba", which meant "brawler" and "bully", these epithets had nothing to do with the family of the future organiser of the mining business. His father served as a deacon in Verkhoturinsk Nikolayevsky monastery, his elder brothers followed in their father's footsteps and became psalmists. Andrei Fedorovich was destined for a similar destiny - from childhood he regularly attended church services, received his primary education in a parochial school, then graduated from the Tobolsk Theological Seminary. In XVIII century in Russia the clergy class included not only clergymen themselves, but also their wives with minor children, as well as students of spiritual schools. Perhaps Deryabin would have become a fine, intelligent and versatile priest, but at the last moment the young man made a fateful decision that neither his family, nor his seminary teachers, nor his former comrades expected of him - instead of accepting some distant parish, he left the clerical estate in order to receive a secular, and more precisely, technical education. In 1787 the young man entered the St. Petersburg Mining School, which he graduated from brilliantly in 1790.

The next 10 years Andrey Fedorovich spent on acquiring the first production experience and acquaintance with foreign enterprises. Thus, the graduate was sent to the service at the Nerchinsk mining plants, where he showed himself so brightly that the manager recommended that he be sent abroad for an internship.

Deryabin worked for several years in Germany (1794-96), France (1797) and England (1798-99). He was fluent in German, French and English, which contributed to a thorough study of the technologies of various industries. The mining engineer got acquainted with steam engines, organisation of work at large manufactories and later implemented much of what he had seen at Russian mines and factories.

On his return to his homeland, he was appointed a member of the Berg Collegium, Russia's highest state institution in charge of the mining industry. Deryabin's career received the most rapid development. The very next year the specialist became first the manager of the Kolyvan and Nerchinsk plants, and then of the Goroblagodatsk, Kamsk, Perm mining directorates and Dedyukhinsk salt fields, i.e. of a huge complex of state-owned metallurgical, iron-making, copper-smelting and other enterprises. In a short period of time Andrey Fedorovich managed to significantly improve their activities - to open new mines, to find ore deposits, to invite highly qualified technicians and craftsmen, to build and rebuild factories, to improve machines.

In 1800 Deryabin encountered the production of weapons for the first time in his work. By the highest command of the Emperor, he was sent to inspect the Tula arms factory, whose management demanded 1,700,000 roubles for the repair of the building and workshops. At that time in St. Petersburg the project of abolition of the oldest arms factory in the country had already been signed, which implied redistribution of personnel to other factories. Having got acquainted with the activities and the state of the enterprise, Andrey Fedorovich rejected the idea of abolition, argued his decision in a detailed report and presented a modernisation project. Thus, he saved the Tula plant from liquidation, which is successfully operating to this day.

© Здание главного корпуса Тульского Императора Петра Великого оружейного завода. Празднования в 1912 году по поводу 200-летия завода

Having assessed Deryabin's qualifications, experience and the soundness of his ideas, in addition to the existing capacities of the defence industry, Emperor Paul I "ordered him to establish a gun factory on the Kama River for the preparation of cold and firearms", which Russia and its army so badly needed.

Andrey Fedorovich spent almost seven years searching for the ideal location - he thoroughly researched the areas along the Kama, Siva, Kilmezi, Chusovaya, Babka and Izh. He realised that it was troublesome and expensive to build from scratch, it was more convenient to start production of weapons at an already completed production facility. Besides, he needed a river nearby to power the hydraulic hammers and to provide cooling. As a result, in 1807 the mining engineer prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Finance his considerations on the most successful and favourable for the Treasury location of production and the project of the factory itself. It was supposed to be built on the bank of the Izhe river, known to few people in the capital, on the basis of the existing Izhevsk ironworks.

The project caused great indignation on the part of the military department. The thing is that in his conclusion Deryabin convincingly substantiated the advantage of creating weapon factories at mining factories. The military did not want to cede the new production to anyone. However, the project was approved, and by the highest decree of Alexander I (who succeeded his father-emperor on the throne) from 20 February 1807 Deryabin was entrusted with the construction. On the 10th of June of the same year the factory was laid down and in autumn the first weapons were received - soldier's smoothbore seven-line flintlock rifles loaded from the muzzle with the classical ignition system. The aiming range of the samples was 200 metres and the rate of fire was up to one and a half shots per minute. What was the hurry? It is relevant to recall that in the same year of 1807 the battle of Russian and Napoleon's troops at Preysisch-Eilau took place - the bloodiest massacre of the Fourth Coalition war, during which both sides suffered huge losses and did not achieve the desired victory.

The first head of the Izhevsk plant was Andrei Deryabin himself. Being a reformer by nature, he was not afraid of large-scale transformations, and he conducted his bosses' affairs with excitement, scope and knowledge. In his own words, he "never gave half of himself, but always devoted all of himself".

The engineer spent almost two years in Izhevsk. During this time, the enterprise became the first specialised production facility in Russia, where all operations were concentrated in one place, which significantly accelerated the process. Already in the first years of the factory's existence its workshop structure was formed: barrel, lock, bayonet, instrument, stock, tool, steel artels or workshops. The works were carried out in 14 stone buildings on a single territory.

© Интерьер механического цеха Ижевского оружейного завода

In Tula, for example, they came to such a scheme only in the middle of the 19th century - before that, only some "machine work" was done in state-owned factories, and everything else was done at home. Probably due to this approach Izhevsk weapons turned out to be cheaper than Tula weapons: the cost price of a soldier's gun made in Izhevsk was 8 roubles 85 kopecks, while that of Tula - 12 roubles 24 kopecks.

By the beginning of 1812, the factory under construction was in full swing in the production of firearms and cold weapons for the Russian army. During the war with Napoleon the enterprise managed to supply Kutuzov's army with about 10 thousand "flintlocks". In many respects, thanks to this, Russia was not inferior in terms of armaments to the enemy.

© Русская пехота/ George H. Mewes National Geographic Magazine

In subsequent years, Izhevsk produced carbines, muskets, pistols and - its own know-how - shotguns and rifled shotguns. A century later the factory workers armed the soldiers of the First World War with the legendary "Mosinka". After the Great Patriotic War, a new stage of production development began, entirely related to the Kalashnikov assault rifle.

The modern Kalashnikov Concern, Izhmash Production Association, the post-war Izhevsk Machine-Building Plant, Izhevsk Gun and Steel Works - all these are names of the same enterprise, the first name of which was the Izhevsk Gun Factory.

For its foundation Andrey Fedorovich, a former popovich, was granted a noble dignity, together with all his descendants.

Deryabin's services to the Fatherland were not limited to the factory. He compiled the work "Historical description of mining in Russia from the most remote times to the present" and submitted to the government a report on the need for reforms in mining, and then - "Draft Mining Regulations" and the most important laws relating to mining. The project was approved by the Emperor and later became a part of the first Code of Laws of the Russian Empire.

In 1810 the most famous mining figure of that time was summoned from Izhevsk to St. Petersburg by the highest command, where he was offered a promotion - to head the Department of Mining and Salt Affairs and become the director of the Mining Cadet Corps (now the St. Petersburg Mining University). During seven years of work he managed to make significant changes in the structure of his alma mater - improved the methodology of classes, introduced a number of new subjects, including mining law, increased the contingent of students and the budget for the maintenance of the university.

At the end of 1817 Andrey Fedorovich left the service due to illness and died three years later.

On 23 February 2001, Mikhail Kalashnikov inaugurated a named auditorium at the Military Training Centre of the Mining University.

© Михаил Калашников на открытии именной аудитории в Горном университете/

At the meeting, warm words were spoken to the great designer, who in turn paid tribute to Andrei Deryabin, who multiplied Russia's military potential many times over. Suffice it to cite such a figure: the total output of the factory at the end of the Great Patriotic War was 11.3 million rifles and carbines against 10.3 million rifles and carbines produced by all German arms factories taken together.

© Boris Busorgin