The Petlyakov Pe-2 Peshka (Russian: Pawn) was a dive bombing ground attack aircraft that was used by the Soviet Union during WWII.
The Pe-2 had two Klimov VK-105PF engines that were capable of propelling it at speeds of up to 540 kilometers per hour. The armament of the first Pe-2 meanwhile consisted of two 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns, a ShKAS mounted in a dorsal position, and a single ShKAS mounted in the ventral position. The bombload consisted of up to 1,600 kg worth of bombs.
The total weight of the Pe-2 was around 5,870 kilograms empty with a wingspan of 17.1 meters and a total length of 12.6 meters. With a service ceiling of 8,800 meters, the Pe-2 had a climb rate of 430 meters per minute. Operational range was 1,500 kilometers.
Inside the "Peshka", the radio operator sat just behind the pilot, manning the dorsal turret but could crawl under the pilot's position to serve as bombardier. Furthermore, considering the strength it required to pull the elevators during takeoff, the radio operator was sometimes required to help the pilot lift up the control stick.
The reliability of the Pe-2 in the field was generally quite good, though the initial survivability rate was generally poor. This was due in part to the quick to jam ShKAS machine guns mounted as defensive armament and the positions they were mounted in which heavily restricted their arc of fire, allowing Axis fighters to quickly shoot down the Soviet bombers. To increase accuracy in bombing, the Pe-2 was given dive brakes for engaging into shallow dives.
The Pe-2, being one of the standard ground attack aircraft of the Soviet Union during WWII naturally had a long list of variants to steadily upgrade the type's performance in the field. The first of these variants was the Pe-2D, a three seated bomber conversion which also had VK 107 engines mounted for increased speed. Following came the Pe-2FT which was more the standard Pe-2 of the war. This model had its dive brakes removed and a new 7.62mm ShKAS machine gun mounted in a dorsal turret which had a better arc of fire. Although not produced in official variants, the Pe-2 did get to receive numerous upgrades to the armament. For example, later variants often had a 12.7mm machine gun mounted as offensive armament, replacing one of the ShKAS machine guns and 12.7mm machine guns replacing the ShKAS 7.62mm in both the ventral positions and the dorsal turret. Furthermore, two ShKAS machine guns were sometimes placed in the midsection of the aircraft for a better arc of fire.
Also produced in the series was the Pe-2R, a reconnaissance aircraft with limited armament, but extra fuel. The Pe-2U meanwhile was a training aircraft. Furthermore, the Pe-2 had quite a few prototype aircraft made, varying from ground attack models with 20mm autocannons to rocket boosted test models. However, the last major variant of the series was the Pe-3 and its variants. This model was a heavy fighter/bomber interceptor with a 20mm armament.
The Pe-2 was developed by Vladimir Petlyakov while still in a Soviet prison camp. Petlyakov was forced to hurry the completion of his designs under pressure for Stalin with the first examples taking flight in 1939 as the VI-100. The prototype was placed into production immediately with the aircraft being converted from its original imagining as an escort to a ground attack aircraft, taking inspiration from the Ju-87 and its use in supporting ground forces. Thus, the redesigned aircraft, the PB-100 was created. The design proved successful once more with new production of Pe-2s beginning in 1940.
By the time of Operation Barbarossa, numerous Pe-2s were in use with frontline units, though with the initial surprise of the attacks, most were destroyed on the ground. It wasn't until Soviet troops had managed to regroup that the Pe-2 finally was able to inflict some kind of losses upon German troops. Entering full-scale production, the Pe-2 was quickly standardized as a ground attack aircraft, becoming well liked among its crews. However, tragedy struck in 1942 with the death of Vladimir Petlyakov who was killed following a test flight in a Pe-2. From then on, the Pe-2 was used against German troops in the Eastern Front until the end of the war and later against Japan during the short resumed conflict in Manchuria and China. In total, around 11,400 examples had been produced during WWII.