ShipComrade

Premium Carrier Review #2: Torpedo Bombers

The aircraft carrier rework is almost finished. Wargaming is happy enough with the state of the older aircraft carrier premiums to declare them re-balanced. For those unhappy with their ships, they have until patch 0.8.2 drops to refund them. This isn’t enough time for me to provide an in-depth review for each. Instead, I am releasing these articles in parts. In this manner, the most important details of these ships will be compared and evaluated relatively quickly and my coverage will be constant over the next few weeks. Hopefully this will be time enough for my readers to make educated choices regarding the fate of the premium carriers in their inventory before the deadline.

This is the second article in the series.  In this part, I look at torpedo bombers of the tier 8 premium carriers in more detail.

The Aircraft

The variety in individual aircraft performance at tier 8 is pretty impressive, with no-two alike.  To be clear, Kaga, Enterprise and Saipan each borrow aircraft from other aircraft carriers but these are either out-of-tier or the stock versions.

From top left and going clockwise: Saipan’s BTD Destroyer, Kaga’s B6N Tenzan, Graf Zeppelin’s Ta-152C-1/R14 and Enterprise’s TBF Avenger.

Concealment

Most torpedo bombers start with a 10km detection range from enemy surface and aerial elements.  Kaga and Shokaku stand out with a 7.5km detection range. These values can be modified in two ways through the Concealment System Modification 1 upgrade (5th slot) and the Concealment Expert skill for your commanders (4pts).  This gives the following detection radii:

This feels like a holdover from when Japanese torpedo bombers could stealth-drop their torpedoes in 0.8.0. Still with some AA power being able to reach out in excess of 6km, this very handsome ability to have.

Durability

In general, British aircraft tend to be the most durable found in World of Warships.  American planes come behind that and Japanese planes are the most fragile.  This mostly holds true among the torpedo bombers at tier 8 with a few of notable stand outs.

  1. We have a German aircraft carrier. Graf Zeppelin’s torpedo bombers are only slightly better than Shokaku’s.
  2. Saipan uses higher tiered aircraft, superseding Implacable’s torpedo bombers as the toughest the tier.
  3. Kaga and Enterprise each use lower-tiered torpedo bombers, giving them less health than the respective torpedo bombers of their tech tree counterparts.
With upgrades, Saipan’s individual torpedo bombers can have almost twice the health of Kaga’s stock planes. That’s a huge disparity in aircraft durability at this tier which has a trickle down effect on how much individual carriers gain from HP modifying upgrades and consumables.

There are three ways of directly modifying the effective hit points of your torpedo bombers and one way of indirectly increasing it.  Let’s start with the direct methods.  The Survivability Expert commander skill (3pts), the Torpedo Bomber Modification 2 upgrade (4th slot) increase the base number of hit points for your planes, with the former adding 120hp for your torpedo bombers.  The upgrade adds 7.5% which works out to the following for each aircraft:

  • Saipan: 154hp
  • Implacable: 146hp
  • Lexington: 125hp
  • Enterprise: 116hp
  • Graf Zeppelin: 110hp
  • Shokaku: 109hp
  • Kaga: 92hp

These two elements stack, however, with the 120hp added first and then modified by the upgrade (which is nice).  As the upgrade is percentage based, the larger hit point pool carriers benefit from the gains here far more than those with less.  Kaga really hurts on a per-plane basis here.  This is duplicated with the Repair Party consumable but I’ll go into more detail with that in the Squadron & Attack Flight details below.

The final way of (indirectly) increasing overall aircraft effective health is the Aircraft Armor commander skill (3pts) which reduces damage done by the continuous AA DPS from surface ships by 10%.  Note this has no effect on damage done by flak explosions or fighters.

Speed

Speed is life for aircraft.  It not only reduces travel time both to and from the carrier, it also reduces their exposure to enemy threats, be it flak or fighters.  The stand out in this category is Graf Zeppelin’s Ta-152s which can nearly reach a top speed of 260kts when boosted and fully upgraded.  Speaking of upgrades, an aircraft’s speed may be increased by 2.5% with the Improved Engines commander skill (2pts).  This works out to the following values (base on top, improved below).

I can’t stress enough how important speed is to accelerating the number of attacks you can get off.  Here’s the time it takes to cross 1km:

  • Graf Zeppelin: 2.06 seconds.
  • Shokaku:  2.72s seconds
  • Kaga & Implacable:  2.80 seconds
  • Saipan:  2.84 seconds
  • Lexington:  2.98 seconds
  • Enterprise:  3.10 seconds

This may not seem like much but it adds up.  On a 20km attack run, Graf Zeppelin will arrive in 41.2 seconds while Enterprise 62 seconds.  In short, over long distances, Graf Zeppelin is capable of launching 50% more strikes than Enterprise with her torpedo bombers due to the time saved from traveling.

Agility

I had originally assumed that Wargaming had taken the easy way out:  that all aircraft had the same base turning radius that would be modified by their speed.  This hasn’t proven to be the case.  Each aircraft appears to have its own individual turning radius which is then modified by their speed.  The slower the aircraft moves, the tighter its turning radius.  Unlike with ships, this also increases their rate of rotation.  So when you need to make fast course adjustments, dropping speed will let you do it faster.

Getting out my phone and using my stopwatch app to time how long it took to twirl 360º yielding the following data:

American and British torpedo planes are much more agile than Japanese aircraft. Kaga and Implacable have identical speed for their planes but Implacable’s bombers turn inside Kaga’s own. Graf Zeppelin’s Ta-152s have painfully slow handling, especially when boosted.  The big surprise here is that Saipan, while also having faster planes, has relatively agile planes for their speed.  The above values are using their stock speeds without modifications.

The turning radius was calculated assuming that aircraft are now affected by the same distance compression as ships (5.22x in World of Warships).  With speed and time, I could then approximate what the radius would be, rounding up or down to the closest 10m.

Ordnance Carried

The final piece of the puzzle for the tier 8 torpedo bombers is their load-out.  All of them carry a single torpedo apiece with the exception of Saipan’s bombers which carry two.

Summary

Saipan has the best torpedo bombers of any of the tier 8 carriers, not just the premiums.  They are tough, agile and carry an extra torpedo each, which is just icing on the cake.  This makes sense given that they’re ripped directly off Midway’s flight decks.  Otherwise things are more balanced between the various premiums.  I rate them in the following order:

  1. Saipan‘s torpedo bombers are tough, agile and carry two fish.
  2. Graf Zeppelin‘s torpedo bombers are ridiculously fast but cumbersome.
  3. Implacable‘s torpedo bombers are tough.
  4. Shokaku‘s torpedo bombers are stealthy.
  5. Lexington‘s torpedo bombers are agile but a bit slow.
  6. Kaga‘s torpedo bombers are stealthy but very fragile.
  7. Enterprise‘s torpedo bombers are agile but slow.

I rate speed and durability as the most important traits for torpedo bombers so Enterprise and Kaga are in the dog house here.

Torpedoes

The torpedoes launched by the tier VIII aircraft carriers are as different as the aircraft themselves.  All of the aircraft carriers at tier 8 use standard torpedoes (as opposed to deep water variants).

I could have spent hours breaking this down into several graphics and making them look pretty. My apologies that it’s just a dumb ol’ table.

Alright, let’s go over the standout statistics in the above table:

  • Kaga has fast torpedoes with good range.  This opens up the ability to not-quite stealth drop but at least launch fish at a distance with a reasonably good chance of hitting targets that are coming around islands or not paying attention.  Unfortunatley they also have the longest arming distance needing a full 6s travel time before they fuse.  This makes it much harder for her to drop on agile targets.
  • Graf Zeppelin has great range.
  • Enterprise has the shortest arming distance, allowing her to drop at near point blank ranges and making them harder to dodge.
  • Saipan‘s torpedoes have some of the worst stats here with slow speed, average range and a long arming time.

The Torpedo Acceleration commander skill (2pts) is a sound investment across the board with only the Japanese carriers being able to conceivably skip using it if they wanted to attempt some semblance of stealth torpedo drops.  While actual stealth-drops are dead and buried, the low detection radius of her aircraft will provide little in the way of warning, even when they are spotted.

The long running time of torpedoes have two advantages.  The first is pretty obvious:  you can drop from further away reducing flak exposure.  The second is that attacks from the rear quarter of an enemy vessel can force them into manoeuvring into a certain direction for some time to thread between the runs.  If they don’t decelerate while doing so, this can open up the possibility of setting up an immediate second run and cross-dropping.  Graf Zeppelin is particularly well setup with this, with her torpedoes running for 45s to 64s before expiring depending on if you use Torpedo Acceleration or not.

Blast radius refers to the area in which the torpedo can damage modules on the target ship, such as engines or the magazines.

When it comes to damage, the American torpedoes on Enterprise and Saipan are the big winners.  Their hits are meaty and they have a good flooding chance per torpedoes — far better than Kaga’s or Graf Zeppelin’s.  Of particular note, Graf Zeppelin’s torpedoes are hands down the weakest in terms of striking power.  This should probably come as little surprise based on what we’ve seen so far on how good her individual planes are and the range of her fish.

Summary

The performance of the individual torpedoes are all over the map.  They each have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s difficult to call a clear winner.  If I had to pick one, though, I’d probably choose Enterprise’s torpedoes as my go to — the short arming distance and great flooding chance is just too nice to pass up.

  • Kaga has great range and speed, but terrible arming time.  Her individual torpedoes don’t hit particularly hard and their flooding chance is low.
  • Enterprise can drop her torpedoes at near point blank range.  They also do great damage and have a good chance of causing flooding criticals.
  • Saipan echoes the damage and flooding chance of Enterprise but she can’t drop them as close as the Grey Ghost.
  • Graf Zeppelin has excellent range on her torpedoes but they’re the weakest hitting and least likely to cause floods on a per hit basis.

Squadron & Attack Flight Details

Nomenclature time!

  • Squadron:  The group of aircraft that flies together.  The player spends most of their time controlling squadrons.
  • Attack Flight:  The portion of the squadron which separates to attack an enemy target.
  • Hangar Capacity:  The maximum number of aircraft that can be stored on the carrier’s flight deck.

The Attack Flight

So let’s start building up from individual aircraft to looking at the next functional unit: the attack flight.  When attacking with torpedo bombers, each of the carriers organizes their planes into the following attack flight sizes:

  • Shokaku:  2 aircraft
  • Kaga: 4 aircraft
  • Lexington: 3 aircraft
  • Saipan: 2 aircraft
  • Enterprise: 3 aircraft
  • Graf Zeppelin: 3 aircraft
  • Implacable: 2 aircraft

With one exception, all of these attack flights are dropping one torpedo per plane with Saipan dropping two per aircraft instead.  Right off the bat, Saipan and Kaga are the obvious front runners with the amount of ordnance they drop per attack run.  But there’s more to attacking than just the number of planes and fish.  First you have to be able to hit the target.

There are three phases to an attack run. The initial setup occurs when the attack flight separates from the squadron and dives down towards the enemy ship. Ordnance cannot be launched until this completes. Then the attack flight begins its attack run. After the torpedoes have been dropped or the attack-run timer expires, the surviving attack flight disengages and the squadron recovers before it can attack again. This is where I wish I had time to put together a cool graphic showing the planes diving in, running along the water and then ascending after their drop. Instead you get a boring ol’ bar graph.

Kaga stands out here for not only having the shortest aim time but also having a shorter setup time too.  This is definitely a blessing given the fragility of her aircraft.  On the flip side, Graf Zeppelin’s aim time is curious — for most of the other carriers, the rate at which the spread begins to narrow feels close to constant.  For Graf Zeppelin, it starts very slowly and accelerates the longer you let the planes aim.  This makes constant course adjustments in Graf Zeppelin feel more punitive than with other carriers.  Her slower rate of turn with her planes exaggerates this effect.  Taking the Sight Stabilization commander skill (4pts) will shave off almost a half second off her aim time.

This was a pain in the butt to collect, so I hope you’re all happy. That’s a Reference Mahan™ for scale at 108m long.

There’s still an element of dispersion to a fully aimed drop, with each torpedoes deviating up to a degree or so to the left or right.  Most of the torpedo drops are set upon divergent paths — the spread growing wider over time.  The degree to which this happens varies per carrier with Saipan having a very pronounced divergent path followed by Graf Zeppelin being the next worst.  Kaga and Enterprise’s drops run nearly parallel to one another at maximum aim.

On a per-flight basis, combining the number of torpedoes dropped with flooding chance and potential damage, we get the following values:

You’re NEVER going to see damage totals or flood chances like this. Both are affected by mitigation. You’re much more likely to see about two-thirds (or less) of the listed damage here. Flooding is dropped into a formula based on the target ship’s anti-torpedo protection. Note that though I added these values altogether, they’re not actually additive. Saipan doesn’t have a 208% flood chance, it’s 52% chance four times against an unprotected target. It’s entirely possible for it to fail all four. Still averages are a thing and you’re twice as likely to cause a flood with a perfect strike from Saipan than you are from Implacable.

Squadron

Up from the Attack Flight we now come to squadron sizes.

  • Shokaku:  Four attack flights for 8 aircraft total
  • Kaga: Three attack flights for 12 aircraft total
  • Lexington:  Three attack flights for 9 aircraft total
  • Saipan:  Three attack flights for 6 aircraft total
  • Graf Zeppelin:  Three attack flights for 9 aircraft total
  • Implacable:  Four attack flights for 8 aircraft total
Fully upgraded squadron HP: Saipan 13,997hp, Enterprise 16,061, Kaga 17,415, Graf Zeppelin 15,383hp.  For all of the toughness of her individual planes, Saipan begins to show the first of her fragility issues once we get to the squadron level.  However, she is the smallest formation, being less than half the size of Kaga’s own massive air-group, making her a very small target for flak.  Enterprise’s own air group is smaller than Graf Zeppelin’s despite having the same formation shape,

There are advantages and disadvantages to different squadron sizes.  The larger the air group, the more dispersed sustained anti-aircraft fire becomes, making it less likely for any one plane to be shot down.  Similarly, this provides some resistance to fighter groups which can only shoot down as many planes as there are fighters.  However, this also makes for a much larger target for flak bursts, increasing the difficulty to dodge.

Squadron size can be modified by the player by making preemptive attack runs on the way to the target, dumping torpedoes and sending planes back to the carrier.  This has the advantage of reducing the maximum number of casualties the squadron can receive while also shrinking the flight group appreciably to make it easier to avoid flak.  This will make individual planes more vulnerable to sustained DPS, however, but is worth implementing in most cases until you’re facing targets with very little in the way of AA defense.

Repair Party

The Repair Party consumable for aircraft is a bit odd and functions differently than the consumable of the same name for ships.  Per charge, a torpedo bomber’s Repair Party heals up to 50% of the current squadron’s maximum HP.  The squadron’s maximum HP is highly malleable, determined not only by skills and upgrades, but also the number of remaining aircraft.  The squadron’s HP is treated as a singular unit, thus even aircraft on the brink of destruction can (theoretically) be healed back to full.

Examples:

  • Kaga has 9 planes remaining in her squadron after completing an attack run.  The squadron is at 8,733hp of 13,061hp (9 aircraft with Survivability Expert and Torpedo Bomber Modification 2).  Using the consumable will heal up to 6,531hp (13,061 divided by 2).  The squadron returns to full health.
  • Saipan has 4 planes remaining in her squadron.  Three are at full health but one has been clipped by flak and is burning with just a sliver of life remaining.  The squadron has 6,220hp of 8,200hp maximum, meaning that burning plane has a mere 70hp left to its name.  The Repair Party consumable activates and heals the squadron for 4,100hp, bringing the burning plane back up to full health and making the rest of the squadron lemon-fresh scented to boot.

The larger you can make your squadron’s HP pool, the more health your Repair Party can potentially recover.

Hangar Capacity & Regeneration

Finally, we get to the torpedo bomber reserves of each carrier.  The upgrade Flight Control Modification 1 can increase a carrier’s maximum capacity by 2 of each aircraft type in addition to reducing the regeneration timer by 5%.  This upgrade competes with Concealment System Modification 1, the same skill needed to get Japanese carrier torpedo planes to their penultimate concealment levels so it’s a difficult trade for them.  The commander skill, Air Supermacy (1pt), also reduces regeneration by 5%.

The theoretical maximum number of planes per game assumes that from the moment the start-of-game timer ticks down, you have torpedo bombers in the air and you are constantly regenerating them from casualties without a wasted fraction of a second. This is a highly unlikely event, so in practice the maximum reserves per CV are lower than shown here.

When it comes to plane recovery and total number of aircraft available, Kaga and Enterprise stand out.  Kaga does this primarily through her enormous starting capacity.  Nominal hangar reserves are half again as many planes as found in their squadron.  Shokaku has twice the number of planes in her hangar and Kaga has triple the amount.  Enterprise manages a similar feat, not through initial reserves, but with a reduced regeneration time, recovering more aircraft over the course of a game than other carriers.  Properly managed, neither carrier is likely to struggle much, always having torpedo bombers available unless they get consistently (and horribly) outplayed.

The same cannot be said for Saipan or Graf Zeppelin, with the former being especially vulnerable to being deplaned to bad plays due to the relative fragility of her squadrons.  Pre-dropping ordnance to reduce squadron sizes is highly advised with Saipan (and indeed, all carriers) to reduce the maximum number of casualties.

Summary

  • Kaga hits like a truck but she needs her huge squadrons to land her blows.  She’s very likely to take casualties, especially from flak due to her enormous squadrons.
  • Saipan is a glass cannon with small, relatively fragile squadrons that deal the most damage per attack run.  She lacks reserves, but her squadrons are small and adept at dodging.  Fighters are her bane.
  • Enterprise has good striking power and her squadrons present a relatively small, nimble target.  She has very deep reserves and her squadrons are relatively tough.
  • Graf Zeppelin does the least damage per attack run.  Her formations present a large target and she lacks reserves to protect her from misplays.

Overall Impressions

Now let’s put all of this information together.

Kaga

  • Unremarkable speed and agility of her aircraft.
  • Great concealment.
  • Individual aircraft are very fragile.
  • Squadron size is enormous as are her reserves, making her very resistant to fighters.
  • Drops four torpedoes (!)
  • Her torpedoes hit hard but aren’t likely to cause flooding with individual hits.
  • Her fish have great range and speed.
  • Her attack runs are short and she has great aim time.
  • Her torpedoes have a ridiculously long arming distance.

Kaga’s torpedo bombers are very good, but limited in their target selection.   Begin attack runs way outside of flak range and lob fish at unsuspecting enemies, preferably battleships.  These weapons are ill suited for engaging more agile targets due to that long arming distance though you can play with their range to try and create ambushes and cross-drop traps with her fish.  Most attack runs will see her losing handfuls of aircraft a time which can be very disheartening, however she does have the reserves to get away with this for a time.

Saipan

  • Good agility but unremarkable speed.
  • Her small squadrons make for a very small target for flak bursts.
  • Tough individual aircraft but her small squadron sizes and long plane regeneration make her air groups fragile overall.
  • Highly vulnerable to fighters.
  • Drops four torpedoes (!)
  • Her attack flights have the best striking power among the tier 8 carriers for damage and flooding chance.
  • Her torpedoes are slow, short ranged and with a long aim time and relatively long arming distance.

The performance of Saipan’s aircraft is best described as “average”.  Though individually tough, it’s a mistake to test that durability.  Her small reserves must be managed carefully.  Played correctly, Saipan provides the player with the best striking power of any of the tier 8 torpedo squadrons.

Enterprise

  • Her planes are very agile with a tiny turning radius but they’re painfully slow.
  • Her individual aircraft and squadrons are relatively tough.
  • Her squadron has a small footprint despite having nine planes making dodging flak easier.
  • She has the shortest arming distance of any of the tier 8 aircraft carriers, allowing her to drop her fish at nearly point blank ranges.
  • Her torpedoes hit hard and provide a good flooding chance.
  • Her torpedoes are slow and short ranged.

Enterprise’s torpedo bombers are probably the easiest to use out of all of the tier 8 carriers, however their slow speed greatly reduces their effectiveness.  She simply cannot keep up with the damage output of other carriers due to the increased travel time of her planes.  Still, she’s always likely to have torpedo bombers available due to her fast regeneration which can’t be said of other carriers.  She’s very friendly to inexperienced players but the lack of strike potential holds her back.

Graf Zeppelin

  • Ridiculously fast but with poor handling.
  • Not especially durable.
  • Large squadron footprint — reliant upon velocity changes to dodge flak.
  • Poor torpedo damage and flooding chance, giving her some of the lowest striking power of any of the tier 8 carriers.
  • Excellent range on her torpedoes with a long running time.
  • Takes a long time to aim requiring long periods without course adjustments.

Graf Zeppelin has some of the best torpedo bombers at tier 8, hands down.  This is all owing to their ridiculous speed and range of her torpedoes.  While they may not hit as hard, she’s able to greatly reduce travel time and make more attack runs.  In games where there are exposed targets available, she more than makes up for any deficit in damage-per-run by simply making more of them.  Furthermore, the speed of her torpedo bombers provides partial immunity to fighter cover as she can outrace most fighters and make daring plays.

Summary

Enterprise’s torpedo bombers are the easiest to use but arguably the weakest.  Kaga has much better striking power but the fragility of her aircraft makes landing hits more difficult.  Graf Zeppelin and Saipan vie for the top spot with the latter being arguably more powerful under perfect conditions.  However, Graf Zeppelin’s speed provides her with more opportunities, provided the player can capitalize upon them.

Conclusion

These were supposed to be short, damn it.  My expectation was that cutting these into smaller sections, I could reduce production time.  But as it would happen, I blew out my 1,500 word allowance and then some and went way over my time budget.  There’s just too much to talk about.

The next aircraft on my list are rocket attack planes.  This should be out sometime next week.  Thanks for reading.

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