designed as a fast interceptor not unlike the Messerschmitt Bf-110. However the successes in Poland and France of the Ju-87 and Ju-88 dive bombers meant that the Russians were looking for a precision instrument of their own. Polikarpov’s SPB was proving unsuccessful and Archangelskiy’s conversion of the Tupolev SB was looking pessimistic. The Russian purchase in 1940 of a Ju-88 suggested the similar “100” as a possible conversion. Petlyakov was released from prison in the summer of 1940 and with a host of designers from the competing but unsuccessful design teams drafted in, he set to work. The navigator and pilot were moved into a single cockpit and glass was placed in the nose to aid landing and target spotting. Sights for level and dive bombing were added, together with defensive machine-guns for the upper and lower hemispheres.
The PB-100 was redesignated the Pe-2 in December 1940, the same month as its first flights. Testing by the Red Airforce revealed 187 defects. Most were quickly resolved but some remained as “features” of the Pe-2 throughout its service. Chief among them was the tendency to stall during landing if the angle of attack exceeded 11 degrees. This was caused by the wing design originally intended for the high-altitude fighter and kept for the Pe-2
The bomber entered service at Moscow and Kiev but by the time of the German invasion, 180 were serving in the frontier Military Districts. First encounters with German aircraft were encouraging — unlike the SB, the Pe-2’s could parry enemy attacks and gain rare victories even over the nimble Messerchmitt Bf-109’s. A raid on Ploesti in Rumania confirmed the bomber’s ability — 250,00 tons of oil was set alight. Nevertheless, the defects were also apparent: insufficient defensive armament, a high fire risk and insufficient armor for the navigator and gunner.
Defensive armament was improved — from August 1941, three defensive guns were carried. One was fired by the Navigator from his position in the main cockpit. The Radio Operator/Gunner in the fuselage had two guns — one covering behind and below from the ventral hatch and one that could be switched from side to side to fire from small portholes. These guns were initially of 7.62mm caliber but the turret and ventral guns were later upgraded to 12.7mm. Armor was improved, especially for the Navigator and Gunner, as was the inert gas system that protected against fire. Still, ten gunners were wounded for each wounded pilot, and two or three gunners killed for each dead pilot.
The Pe-2 first came to prominence during the battle to defend Moscow that began in October 1941, where they flew the most important attack missions. A number of modifications were also attempted, from rockets to airborne searchlights to counter German night bombing. Thereafter the Pe-2 spread to every front, carrying the burden of daylight bombing, reconnaissance and maritime surveillance until the end of the war.