Beast of War, The
The Beast of War, or as it's widely known to American viewers under the U.S. release title of "The Beast", is a 1988 war film that followed a Russian tank crew during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan that finds itself separated from their fellow tankers and relentless pursued by Mujaheddin fighters. The film was shot in Israel, using the Middle Eastern landscape, and more importantly, Israeli armorers. The very real Ti-67 tanks (Israeli-modified T55 tanks featuring a larger 105mm gun vs. the original 100mm gun) used as well as the authentic Soviet weaponry were all provided by Israel, with cooperation from the IDF. The T55 tanks were well obsolete by the time frame of this film, however it was nice to see authentic Soviet armor in a Western movie. When the film was made in 1987 (released in 1988), the Russo-Afghan war was still ongoing, and thus a topic of debate, but the quaint perception of the mountain tribes of Afghanistan as 'victims of Soviet oppression' is now out of date. Views of Afghanistan, its peoples and the outer tribal areas have changed in recent years with the current U.S. involvement in the country and the radicalization of the mountain regions towards militant Islam. An attempt to paint the Russian invasion (1980-1988) as a mirror of the American action in Vietnam (1965-1973) seems awkward and glosses over the very real differences.
The following weapons were used in the movie The Beast of War:
The AK-47 is one of the more common weapons in the film, used by both the Soviets and the Afghan Mujahideen alike. In the film, Soviets use mostly AKS-47 folding stock rifles, while the Afghans have both folding and fixed stock models. In the real war, the Soviet forces almost exclusively used the 5.45mm AK-74/AKS-74 rifles, the 7.62x39mm AK variants relegated to the Communist Afghan Regime soldiers. So the use of the 7.62x39mm AKs for the Soviets is historically anachronistic.
Trivia: The Israeli Blank Adapters
Note the extended muzzle nut on these AK-47s. They are the BFAs (Blank Firing Adapters) used mostly by Israeli movie armorers. American movie armorers use blank firing adapters that are either hidden in the barrel or look just like the existing compensators or flash hiders on the issued firearms. Usually these obvious BFAs indicate that a film was shot in Israel.
The RPG-7, equipped with a PGO-7 scope, plays a pivotal role in the film, first being used by Soviet soldiers during the raid on the village (including being used to blow up a mosque by Koverchenko at the beginning of the film) then is captured by the Mujahideen who intend to use it to take revenge ("badal") on a Soviet tank that is lost in the Afghan desert after the murderous raid. The Afghans initially have poor luck using the weapon, even damaging it to the point it won't fire, though a defector from the tank's crew, Konstantin Koverchenko (Jason Patric), is able to repair it using parts from a Lee-Enfield rifle sight spring, and is given the responsibility of firing the weapon at the tank, though ends up only blowing off the end of the tank's main gun barrel.
An LPO-50 flamethrower is used by a Soviet soldier in the raid on the village, killing one of the inhabitants who was hiding in a building.
Short Magazine Lee-Enfield
A Short Magazine Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk III* bolt-action rifle is among the collection of weapons used by the Afghan Mujahideen in the film. A Lee-Enfield is seen in the hands of Taj (Steven Bauer), the leader of the small Afghan Mujahideen group and it was his main weapon in the film. Taj is also seen holding his Lee-Enfield rifle when he swears badal (revenge) to Allah when he was standing at the crushed remains of his brother. The weapon's main role in the film is being cannibalized for parts by Koverchenko to repair the damaged RPG-7 launcher. Another Lee-Enfield can be seen being cleaned by one of the villagers just prior to the raid by the Soviets at the beginning of the film.
B-10 Recoilless Rifle
During the raid on the village, one of the inhabitants mans a B-10 recoilless rifle mounted on a hill overlooking the village and attempts to engage the attacking tanks, nearly scoring a hit on one before the emplacement is destroyed when the tank returns fire, the gunner diving clear just in time to save himself.
The Afghans are shown using traditional Afghan Jezail muskets, dating back to the 18th century. These are traditional ornate and customized muskets with tribal decorations (and pretty much useless for accurate long range fire at modern distances or most instances of Close Quarters Battle). During the raid on the village, one of the inhabitants catches Koverchenko off-guard with an Islamic percussion Jezzail musket and pulls the trigger point-blank, though the gun is unloaded, producing only a harmless click as the Afghan smirks and says something to him in Pashto before one of Koverchenko's comrades knocks him down and beats him with the butt of his AKS-47. Koverchenko can later be seen holding it at the end of the film when he's airlifted out by a Soviet helicopter, having had it given to him by Taj.
Another weapon used by the Mujahideen is an IMI Romat, an Israeli version of the FN FAL. The Mujahideen seen carrying it ends up drinking from a watering hole that had been filled with poison by the tank crew lying in wait nearby.
RPD Light Machine Gun
Another weapon employed by the Mujahideen is an RPD light machine gun.
A soldier accompanying the helicopter crewmen carries an SVD Dragunov as his weapon of choice, but is only seen after the helicopter crew is dead, having ingested the poisoned water left behind by their fellow Russians. Note: there is an obvious continuity error. The SVD rifleman's helmet is off in some shots and on in other shots. Note: This could be an SVD variant built locally (like the modern day 'Tabuk') but the details are hard to verify.
SGMT Machine Gun
One of the weapons on the Soviet tanks is the SGMT machine gun, the tank-mounted version of the SGM Goryunov machine gun featuring an additional solenoid trigger. The weapon is mounted in a "coaxial" configuration parallel to the main gun, and is most notably seen being fired in the scene where the tank is trying to make it through a mountain pass to safety while being pursued by Koverchenko and the Mujahideen, as well as in the scene where all the tanks' weapons are fired at once when the crew believes themselves to be surrounded by the Mujahideen at night.
At one point, the tank crew finds themselves trapped in a dead-end valley. As they're trying to decide their next move, a helicopter scouting for water comes upon them, mounting an SGM or SGMT as the door gun.
Fake DShK Heavy Machine Gun
Browning M2HB heavy machine guns are seen impersonating DShK heavy machine guns in the film. One is mounted on the commander's hatch of the Soviet T55 tanks, and is used by the tyrannical Commander Daskal (George Dzundza) to impose his authority over his crew, as well as murder Afghan crewmember Samad (Erick Avari) when he is suspected of being a traitor. Daskal attempts to use it to fend off the Mujahideen when they are advancing on the tank while it's stranded due to an overheated engine, but runs out of ammo after firing only a few rounds, none of which hit their mark. The use of a Browning M2HB is curious, since Israeli Armorers have easy access to real DShK guns they have captured from the Arab armies over the years.
The Makarov PM makes a few appearances in the film. Daskal carries one as his sidearm, and Mustafah (Chaim Girafi) carries one as well, using it to end the suffering of one of his comrades who is mortally wounded by a booby trap left by the crew of the tank.
Following the raid on the village, several Afghans who weren't around during the raid return to find the devastation, including a group of scavengers led by Taj's cousin Mustafah, who discards several weapons in a gesture of peace as he approaches Taj, though Taj still finds him packing a Tokarev TT-33, grabbing it and holding it on him.
Enfield No.2 Mk.I
A boy who runs with the Mudjahideen carries an Enfield No.2 revolver as his weapon.
F-1 Hand Grenade
The F-1 hand grenade is the Soviet World War II fragmentation grenade that was still in use until the late 1980s. However the newer RGD-5 grenade would have been the most commonly issued grenade to Soviet Forces. This ordnance may have been captured from the Communist Puppet Regime of Afghanistan (who was supplied by the Soviets and may have received older ordnance). In the film, during a night ambush, the Mujahideen shower the tank with F-1's from a cliff above, wounding one of the crew before they're able to retreat to the safety of the tank and escape. A group of Afghan women also use F-1 grenades (attached to Plastic Explosives) to trigger a rock slide that disables the tank.
RGD-5 Hand Grenade
RGD-5 hand grenades make several appearances in the film, typically used by the Soviets to booby trap objects (including Koverchenko when he defies Daskal) for the persuing Afghans. Finally, a deranged Daskal intends to use RGD-5's to commit suicide rather than face capture by the Afghans, but is stopped by the remaining crew as the act would take their lives as well.
- Actually it is not surprising that he is unharmed. The rock was a perfect shield. He was elevated away from the ground by at least three feet or more, shielded by solid rock. The only part of him that would have been exposed to the blast would be the soles of his boots, and the grenade would have blown outward, away from him (several feet below him amongst the attacking dogs).
SPSh Flare Pistol
When the helicopter happens upon the tank crew, Daskal uses a Russian SPSh Flare Pistol to signal the chopper.
Flamethrower (Vehicle Mounted)
In the scene where the crew of the tank think they're surrounded in the middle of the night, they open fire with all the weapons on the tank, including an integral flamethrower, though come morning they discover that they had actually wasted all the ammo on a herd of deer.
Russian T55 Tank
A nice example of a real authentic Soviet armored vehicle in a Western movie. Actually an Israeli Ti-67 Tank, standing in for a T55 (the same tank except for a larger main gun) we see countless beautiful shots of the tank in action and get a real understanding of the mechanisms and functions of the vehicle. An armored vehicle lover's dream. At one point, Koverchenko and the Mujahideen take advantage of the limited elevation range of the tank's main gun; a notorious weakness of Soviet tanks operating in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Fake Soviet Helicopter aka Aerospatiale SA.321 Super Frelon
The helicopter that discovers the tank crew when they're trapped in the dead-end valley and is later seen at the poisoned watering hole is in fact a French-built Aerospatiale SA.321 Super Frelon standing in for a Soviet helicopter, most likely it is supposed to impersonate either an Mi-8 Hip or Mi-6 Hook. One of these also appears airlifting Koverchenko at the end of the film.
The Afghans have has a long history of village gunsmithing, especially since the British invasion of 1838. This was a time when smoothbore flintlocks were actually more common than rifled muskets and the percussion cap firearm was a relatively new invention. The Short Magazine Lee Enfields in the country are obvious left overs from both World Wars, but the film takes place in 1981, in the third year of the Soviet invasion. Mustafa's band of scavengers are the best armed fighters in the area, because they steal all their weapons from fallen Soviet soldiers. In 1981 most of the Afghan tribesmen would have a mix of antique weapons and some capture Soviet weaponry. Things have changed a lot since then. The 1980s saw a huge influx of aid and help by western powers (like the U.S.) and other countries that (at the time) were at odds with the USSR, like Mainland China. After 2001, countries like Iran and Syria funneled tons of weapons to any Anti-U.S. proxy force (like Al Qaeda and the Taliban). The Afghan tribesmen of today's conflicts is no longer the quaintly armed with 'vintage rifles' villagers of past years. They are much more heavily armed with modern weapons, mostly supplied by Iran via the Taliban through Pakistan. Too many viewers have this antiquated view of Afghanistan.