22. Petlyakov Regained His Freedom, Only to Die Soon Thereafter in a Plane Crash
The first Pe-2s entered service in early 1941, but most were destroyed a few months later at the start of Germany’s surprise invasion of the USSR. However, by late 1941, when the German advance was finally halted, Pe-2s began proving themselves as elusive and highly accurate light bombers. Unique among WWII belligerents, the Soviets frequently used females in combat. Many Pe-2s were flown – and many Pe-2 squadrons were commanded – by women. Pe-2s frequently devastated German supply and troop convoys. They usually first destroyed the lead vehicles to block the road, worked over the rest of the stalled column, then fled before German fighters arrived.
Another tactic was known as the “Carousel”, in which Pe-2s circled a target, making repeated diving attacks until they ran out of munitions or were forced to scatter by the arrival of German fighter protection. Over time, the Soviets wrested aerial supremacy, and Pe-2s began operating under an effective umbrella of Soviet fighters. Pe-2s played a significant role from late 1941 onwards, from the Battle of Moscow, to Stalingrad, to Kursk, and helped pave the way for the Soviet juggernaut as it rolled to Berlin. As to Vladimir Petlyakov, he was freed from the gulag, but did not enjoy his freedom for long. In early 1942, while flying to Moscow in a Pe-2 to protest his team’s poor treatment, he died in a plane crash.