Legends of the East Part Five: Pe-2

Legends of the East turns to the Soviet Unions primary light bomber of WWII – the Petlyakov Pe-2. This twin engine aircraft was fast, tough, and sometimes difficult to fly but it was also built in large numbers and adapted for almost every combat role imaginable from reconnaissance to dive bombing. This is a piece of its legend.

Fighter turned dive-bomber

The story of the Pe-2 is an unusual one, especially by Western standards. The aircraft’s designer, Vladimir Petlyakov, and his design team would build what would later become the Soviet Union’s most effective light bomber from a special NKVD prison.

Petlyakov had been sentenced to prison for allegedly delaying the ANT-42 heavy bomber project that would lead to the production Pe-8. Regardless of the veracity of his crimes, he and three other design teams would go on to create a variety of new aircraft designs requested by the authorities from their prison near Moscow.

The assigned aircraft was intended to be a long range, high speed, high altitude heavy fighter with the ability to escort the ANT-42 bomber to and from targets. Petlyakov developed a concept for a streamlined heavy fighter, powered by two M-105 in-line engines, equipped with a rear a gunner and heavy cannon armament, under the designation VI-100.

First flights proved promising, however, Soviet leadership had shifted their thinking away from heavy escort fighters and towards tactical bombers. Petlyakov was given just 45 days to redesign the VI-100 (now designated PB-100) into a dive bomber. Dive brakes, bombardier position and an internal bomb bay were added along with numerous changes to the aircraft. Some Pe-2 models were equipped with cameras for reconnaissance missions and an additional 360 Pe-3 heavy fighters were produced with the Pe-3 filling the role originally envisioned for the type by adding armament and removing some of the bomb equipment.

Stalin was impressed enough to free Petlyakov and the Pe-2 was ordered into production with the first examples being delivered in December 1940.

In all, 11, 430 Pe-2 bombers were produced (more than the 7,781 Mosquitos produced by the British) and contributed greatly to front line operations all across the Eastern Front.

A much-needed aircraft thrown into combat

While the Western Allies concentrated their bomber forces into medium and heavy bombers, the Pe-2 was well suited to the distributed nature and austere conditions of the Eastern Front. Its relatively robust nature allowed it to operate from airfields nearer the action.

Compared to the SB-2 and its long line of redesigned successors, the Pe-2 was a leap ahead, flying higher and faster than other Soviet light bombers. A service ceiling of 28,000 feet (8,800 meters), a speed of 360 mph (580km/h), and a range of 721 miles (1,160 kmh) were all far in advance of the SB-2 and comparable to many fighters.

The Pe-2 had various issues during its development. Early prototypes had issues with oil cooling at high altitudes, the wing design that had been optimized for speed made the aircraft difficult to land requiring a high landing speed, and the elevators were regarded as being overly heavy. Yet, the Pe-2 had other attributes that made it particularly effective.

Many small changes would arrive in response to the war. Early versions had a UBT 12.7mm machine gun in a dorsal gun position and a ShKAS 7.92mm light machine gun above. The ShKAS proved troublesome and inadequate and was replaced with another UBT. Later a powered turret would be added to the aircraft along with armor plating to protect the navigator and tail gunner – whom were much more likely to die from enemy fire than the pilot. M-105PF engines were added improving low and medium altitude performance.

From its baptism of fire early in the conflict through to the end of the war, Pe-2s were used to attack battlefield and tactical targets all along the Eastern Front. Their combination of speed, range, and altitude capabilities ensured that the Pe-2 was difficult to intercept and effective at bombing targets.

Pe-2’s had a reasonable chance of evading enemy interception. In some instances, when they were intercepted, Pe-2’s were often able to shoot down their attackers despite a lack of escort. Stories are written about Pe-2s being attacked with no losses sustained and multiple Bf 109s.

Even strategic targets such as the Romanian oilfields at Ploiesti eventually came into range of the Pe-2’s attacks. In one instance just six Pe-2s were able to cause severe damage and 552,150 lbs of petroleum were burned – Romanian sources claiming that 100 bombers attacked the facility such was the destruction caused.109s claimed shot down on multiple occasions.

In the sim

Three main variants of the Pe-2 are present in the IL-2: Great Battles Series right now with the Pe-2 Series 35 representing an earlier version of the light dive bomber coming with IL-2: Battle of Moscow. The Series 87 comes with IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad and, when equipped with a powered turret, becomes the Series 110. Each of the bombers has the same available bomb and rocket loadout along with standard ShKAS 7.92mm and Berezin UB 12.7mm forward firing gun. They also have along with a dorsal and spine turret plus a swappable waist gunner position (the gun has to be swapped from left to right).

The Pe-2 appears to live up to its reputation in the sim being well suited to fast hit and run attacks and occasionally being feared by fighter pilots facing its rear gunners firing heavy machine guns and slow intercept speeds compared to other bombers. The Pe-2 has also a bit of a reputation for its deadly gunners – perhaps being a little too good at times.

Both the real life version and the one in IL-2 have the ability to perform limited aerobatic maneuvers owing to the type’s original design as a heavy fighter. Enemy fighter pilots should be careful not to present a situation where a Pe-2 pilot can bring their forward guns to bear in a dogfight.

Final thoughts

Of all the Russian aircraft I’ve featured so far, I suspect that the Pe-2 is the one with a history that is least well known to Western aircraft enthusiasts, yet the aircraft made a significant contribution and was produced in significant numbers.

Despite a few quirks, the Pe-2 proved to be an immensely successful design. One that it’s designer, Vladimir Petlyakov, would not ultimately see all the way through as he would die in a plane crash in 1942. Despite this, the aircraft cemented itself in history through its deeds if not its reputation in the West.

Performance

Pe-2 series 35

Speed

  • Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal: 434 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 2000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 476 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 5000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 521 km/h

Climb

  • Climb rate at sea level: 9.3 m/s
  • Climb rate at 3000 m: 8.4 m/s
  • Climb rate at 6000 m: 5.6 m/s

Turn

  • Maximum performance turn at sea level: 30.5 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
  • Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 39.9 s, at 270 km/h IAS.

Armament

Forward-firing armament:

  • 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 150 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, nose-mounted
  • 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 450 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute, nose-mounted

Defensive armament:

  • Top: 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 750 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute
  • Belly: 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 200 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute
  • Side: 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 225 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute

Bombs:

  • Up to 10 x 104 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-100M”
  • Up to 4 x 254 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-250sv”
  • Up to 2 x 512 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-500M”

Rockets:

  • 10 x 23 kg rockets “ROS-132”, HE payload mass 9.1 kg

Pe-2 series 87

Speed

  • Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal: 446 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 2000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 476 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 5000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 498 km/h

Climb

  • Climb rate at sea level: 10.4 m/s
  • Climb rate at 3000 m: 7.8 m/s
  • Climb rate at 6000 m: 3.0 m/s

Turn

  • Maximum performance turn at sea level: 29.9 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
  • Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 40.3 s, at 270 km/h IAS.

Armament

Forward-firing armament:

  • 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 150 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, nose-mounted
  • 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 450 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute, nose-mounted

Defensive armament:

  • Top: 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 200 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute
  • Belly: 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 200 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute
  • Side: 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 225 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute
  • Top turret: 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 200 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute (modification “series 110”)

Bombs:

  • Up to 10 x 104 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-100M”
  • Up to 4 x 254 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-250sv”
  • Up to 2 x 512 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-500M”

Rockets:

  • 10 x 23 kg rockets “ROS-132”, HE payload mass 9.1 kg

Screenshots

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Blue 5 says:

    Another nice addition to your series. I might suggest that you look again for proofing as there are several sentences that appear to have been cut or re-ordered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks Blue! You’re right and this one wasn’t quite up to my usual standards. Edits are being applied.

      Like

      1. Blue 5 says:

        I enjoy reading your free work for the common good! A couple of minor things that did not detract from the article at all. Anyway, proofing your own stuff is always a bugger 😆

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ShamrockOneFive says:

        It is! I read and re-read everything I post but, as I’m sure you know, you are often blind to your own otherwise obvious mistakes. And that’s on a good day! 😉

        Like

  2. ADorante says:

    Any quirks when running on only one engine?

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Usually trimming things out (mostly with rudder) is enough with the Pe-2. Things get a bit more interesting when trying to land on a single engine as the high wing loading and asymmetric thrust can really throw things off on the final approach. You have to make sure that your flare before touchdown is done to compensate.

      Like

  3. Novice-Flyer says:

    I hope that a Pe-3 is included in the future. I’d totally get it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      That’d be an interesting addition to the series. My understanding is that the cockpit wouldn’t be all that different (except for the closed in nose section) and that other differences were minor.

      It’d be interested to fly it!

      Like

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