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New Review: The Petlyakov Pe-2. Stalin’s Successful Red Air Force Light Bomber

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Review Author: 
Brian R. Baker
Pen & Sword

HISTORY:

The Petlyakov PE-2 and PE-3 series were probably the most significant light bomber in the arsenal of the Red Army in its fight against the Nazi German invasion during World War II.  Produced in numbers exceeding 11,000, the PE-2 was initially produced as a dive bomber, but during its development it also served as a standard light bomber, fighter, and reconnaissance aircraft.  Its performance was closer to that of contemporary fighters than other light bombers, and its crews were awarded many citations for bravery and notable accomplishments.  The plane was in mass production until the end of the war, and remained in service for a number of years thereafter.  Many were exported to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, France, and Red China.  A small number survived until recent times, and are displayed in various museums, mainly throughout Eastern Europe. Warbird buffs are still locating crash sites and recovering wrecked PE-2's.

The story of the development of the aircraft is described in detail, with the head of the original design team,  Petlyakov, having been caught up in one of Stalin's purges of the late thirties, beginning the design from prison.  Later released, he didn't last long, as he was killed in the crash of one of his bombers due to poor production standards and workmanship, which were later rectified.  Of course the fact that as soon as production began, the Soviets moved their entire aircraft industry east to avoid the areas that they believed the Germans would capture. This caused immense problems, but these were eventually overcome through various means, fair and foul, even though the civilian workforce paid a tremendous price.

The author goes into extensive detail in describing the design development of the PE-2, and describes each prototype and the test program used to cure various design defects.  The fact that the VVS demanded the aircraft as soon as possible caused many aircraft to be placed in service before all of the problems were solved, causing numerous fatal crashes.

The combat record of the aircraft is described in detail, and the author identifies numerous units which operated the type, what missions they flew, with what result.  The author not only describes the action on the Western front against the Germans, but also shows how the PE-2 was used against the Japanese after the German surrender. Other chapters relate the accomplishments of the women's units, who were quite effective against the Germans.  One chapter relates the story of jet and rocket powerplants being used for tests and for takeoff assists. There is also a chapter dealing with color schemes, but while the development of camouflage systems is discussed in detail, there are no illustrations that would be useful to a modeler. However, one very impressive feature of this book is the detail the author goes into, using source material from official documents and firsthand recollections by individuals who were there when it all happened.

This is probably the definitive work dealing with the PE-2, as it provides more specific details of the aircraft's developmental and combat history that any other book I have seen.  The author uses many Russian sources, and must have been very fluent in the Russian language, or had an editor that did.   Each specific model's development and service is described in detail, and even Stalin's personal involvement in the process is covered.  The author alludes to the Soviet political process and how some of the participants tried to show their personal success in solving certain problems while actually failing to do so.  Soviet bureaucracy was alive and well, even during the difficult times of the war.

As for specific information provided, most of the data provided was metric, talking about kph rather than mph, and kilograms rather than pounds, which might drive an American reader to having a special ruler to convert the figures to a more familiar system.  Lack of color illustrations also means that a modeler who uses this book will also have to have copies of the other two popular publications dealing with the PE-2,  the Profile  #216 (1971)  and The In Action  #181 (2002).  These books have much less specific information, but include color drawings of the aircraft.  The photos in the book, however, are very well reproduced, and would be very useful in building a model.  

I expected the book to have a section specifically aimed at modelers telling what kits are available, and giving reviews, but this is not included.  This leads me to believe that the book would serve as an interest generator, getting the modeler all excited about building a model of the aircraft because of all of the information provided, but he would need one of the above mentioned texts for specific color information.  But it is very interesting reading, and I would certainly highly recommend it to anyone interested in this particular aircraft.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and Phil Peterson for the review copy.

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