By the time of the German invasion of June 1941, the Soviets managed a Pe-2 stable of some 458 aircraft and deliveries proved slow - handfuls of the type made up whole dive bomber groups. Additionally, there were few trained crews to be used and it was not until August of 1941 that the aircraft arrived in serious, useful numbers. When pressed into action, the Pe-2 did not disappoint in their given battlefield role. A heady pilot and bombardier pairing, along with a capable machine gunner, proved highly effective in the "repulse" campaigns enacted by the Soviets in the months following the German onslaught. Indeed, the Pe-2 contributed much to the land advanced of Soviet troopers following the many deflating defeats against the Germans prior. This led to their increased use over all challenged fronts where, when used in conjunction with artillery and armor, could provide a Soviet brand of blitzkrieg on the beleaguered Axis infantry forces and armored columns. Pe-2s were eventually committed to the famous fighting in and over Leningrad, Kharkov, Kursk and Stalingrad and elsewhere. Pe-2s graduated from their original dive bomber roles to serve as reconnaissance platforms, fighter-bombers, light bombers and night fighters as the war situation required. A strong airframe (required for the original dive bombing role) and cockpit armoring allowed it to be used in just about any way imaginable to a desperate commander.
Original Pe-2s offered considerable after-action reporting from crews which allowed Soviet engineers a springboard for improving the type. Additionally, the unexpected arrival of the new, faster German Messerschmitt Bf 109F models pushed the envelope of the Pe-2, requiring them to raise typical level-bombing ceilings which, in turn, reduced bombing accuracy. In response during late 1942, this led to the development of the Klimov M-105PF-engined Pe-2FT variant which also upgraded the dorsal defensive armament to 12.7mm caliber from its original 7.62mm offering and added armor protection (which reduced some performance). From mid-1942 onwards, an additional 7.62mm could be fired by the machine gunner through side and dorsal hatches at midships for additional protection. The dive brakes were removed and glazing at the nose assembly was reduced. Pe-2FTs proved the definitive Pe-2 variant.
In time, the line was greeted by a pair of dedicated fighter-bomber models in the Pe-2I and the Pe-2M, these being outfitted with VK-107A series engines of 1,620 horsepower. The variants expanded the Pe-2s role in that they could now be pressed in combat in the strike or counter-fighter role. A dedicated reconnaissance platform then came online under the Pe-2R designation. Crews of all Pe-2s received their training on the dedicated dual-control Pe-2UTI and Pe-2S (two-seat) trainer forms. The Pe-2-2M was a prototype with VK-105 series engines with larger bomb bay. The Pe-2B was a standardized bomber variant appearing in 1944. The pe-2D was a three-seat bomber with 2 x VK-107A engines. The Pe-2K was fitted with radial engines and saw limited production. The Pe-2MV added 20mm ShVAK cannons coupled to 2 x 12.7mm heavy machine guns in an underfuselage position. The Pe-3 was related variant of the Pe-2, customized for the night fighter/heavy fighter role. Limited production of a related Pe-4 is also noted.
The Pe-2 managed a healthy service life from the beginning of the Eastern Front commitment in 1941 to the end of the war in 1945. Indeed, it was likened to the famous war-winning de Havilland Mosquito of the British cause for its multi-role capabilities and importance to the Soviet effort. The Pe-2 went on to become one of the finest of the twin-engined examples in all of World War 2 - though often overshadowed by the more popular twin-engined Ilyushin Il-2 "Shturmovik" ground attack series. It was already being replaced some from 1944 onwards by the Tupolev Tu-2 medium bombers.
Wartime use was not limited to the Soviet Union for Czechoslovakia became a formal, albeit limited, operator. Finland operated only captured Soviet examples. The Pe-2 was exported in the post-war years to Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia (additional units), Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. Pe-2 types survived into 1954 before being discontinued. Its final operator became Yugoslavia. Very few have survived as museum showpieces today (December 2013).