ShipComrade

Premium Carrier Review #3: Attack Aircraft

Welcome to part three of my review of Saipan, Enterprise, Kaga and Graf Zeppelin.  Since patch 0.8.2, Wargaming considers these ships finalized (barring the occasional bug fix).  There’s a lot of redundancy in reviewing four carriers one after the other, so to mitigate this, I’ve decided to evaluate them all at the same time.  Rather than a single monumental article, I have broken this up into sections, releasing one a new part every week or so.  After an introduction, I covered the torpedo bombers from these four carriers.  This week, I’ll be looking at their attack aircraft.

Here’s the series so far.

Basic Parameters

So let’s start by covering the essentials.  Unlike with torpedo bombers, all attack aircraft are spotted at 10km by aircraft or ships.  This can be modified as low as 8.1km with all bonuses stacked.  Their durability is more varied, however:

I’m still trying to reconcile that Seafires are considered more durable than Hellcats, Corsairs or Bearcats.

On the whole, attack aircraft are much more fragile than torpedo or dive bombers.  They don’t benefit very much on their own from the 7.5% health bonus provided by the Attack Aircraft Modification 2 upgrade, with only Implacable and Saipan gaining more than base 120hp provided by the Survivability Expert skill.  Still, the two abilities do stack for a more tidy sum, but I couldn’t recommend choosing the upgrade over improving Dive Bombers or Torpedo Bombers, depending on the ship in question.

Speed

Initial aircraft speeds. These can be modified with the Improved Engines and Adrenaline Rush commander skills. These values are important as they form the basis of the speeds of the ship’s respective fighter consumables. Summoned fighters travel at the same speed as a boosted attack aircraft. So Graf Zeppelin and Implacable’s fighters move at 183kts, for example.  From these values you can figure out if your aircraft can outrun pursuing planes.

Attack aircraft are generally faster than their dive bomber and torpedo bomber counterparts, but there is a notable exception.  Graf Zeppelin’s Me-155As are appallingly slow compared to her Ta-152s which manage 181 knots base.

Attack aircraft do lack a long-lasting boost.  While dive bombers and torpedo bombers enjoy up to 20s worth of extra power to slow or accelerate, attack aircraft only have 5 seconds initially (this can be improved to 6.05s with the Improved Engine Boost commander skill in combination with the Aircraft Engines Modification 1 upgrade).  Furthermore, the engine boost on attack aircraft isn’t as efficient, providing less speed and slow effects than those on dive bombers and torpedo bombers.  However, this is countered by a much faster recharge time and far more responsive acceleration and braking power when this is used.  Lastly, while engaging on attack runs, an attack aircraft’s boost works at full efficiency.

Speed matters so much for an aircraft carrier’s planes, moreso than durability.  If a plane is fast enough and they have a long enough attack-run time, they can outright negate the threat of flak bursts.  In addition, speed also reduces exposure to sustained damage from AA mounts.  Finally, speed means there’s less travel time both to and from the target, allowing a carrier player to deliver more attacks over time.  A given aircraft (and squadron) needs only be “durable enough” to reduce casualties.  Anything beyond that is merely wasted window dressing.  Contrarily, more speed is always useful.

Agility

Like with torpedo bombers, a given aircraft’s agility is not linked directly to their given speed and is set based upon internal, hidden parameters.  Thus while Graf Zeppelin and Implacable’s attack aircraft share the same speed, they have different turning radii and thus different rates of rotation.

Like torpedo bombers if you want your aircraft to turn faster, slow down.  This (greatly!) increases their rate of turn.

Measured in degrees per second.  The boosted rates of turn had to be estimated because the boost for attack aircraft doesn’t last long enough for a complete 360º rotation.  Estimations were made by extrapolating the ratio of Enterprise and Graf Zeppelin’s attack aircraft turn time data and those of bomber and torpedo bombers.
Standard turning radii for tier 8 attack aircraft. When slowed, their radii shrink down to roughly 70% of the values listed here. When boosted, they appeared to balloon up to approximately 180% of these values.

Individual Plane Summary

  • Enterprise‘s Hellcats are, hands down, the most agile of the tier VIII attack aircraft ,combining good speed with a tight turning radius and a ridiculously fast rate of turn. They have modest durability.
  • Graf Zeppelin‘s Me-155As, while agile, are painfully slow and very fragile.
  • Kaga‘s Zeroes has a modest rate of turn and turning radius but struggles where her top speed is concerned.  They are also very fragile.
  • Saipan‘s Bearcats have an excellent top speed, a modest rate of turn but an enormous turning radius.  They are very tough.

If I had to pick a “best individual plane”, speed and durability wins the day here with Saipan’s F8F Bearcats taking first prize. I don’t think particularly high on turning radius and agility — they’re nice to have, but aircraft survivability and travel time mean so much more.  Unless the aircraft handled like a there was a hole in their right wing, agility doesn’t mean much. Ranking all of the attack planes on their base stats alone at tier VIII we get the following:

  1. Saipan‘s F8F Bearcats
  2. Lexington’s F4U1 Corsairs
  3. Enterprise‘s F6F Hellcats
  4. Shokaku’s N1K2 Shiden Kai
  5. Implacables Seafires
  6. Kaga‘s A6M5 Zeroes
  7. Graf Zeppelin‘s Me-155As

Our premium ships have some of the best and worst individual aircraft.

Ordnance

The rockets of the tier VIII carriers are a diverse lot.  This is the first time we see larger rockets, including the infamous Tiny Tims.  Rockets are effectively a form of HE shell, fired in a massed salvo over a (relatively) small area. The shape of this area and the number of rockets fired change from aircraft to aircraft.

Kaga fires a small number of light rockets at a tiny, round target marker. Enterprise fires half again as many at a marker that’s wider than it is tall. Graf Zeppelin flips this shape 90º with a very long, yet narrow marker. Her rockets are enormous and much harder hitting. Saipan shares the heavier damage output of Graf Zeppelin and fires fewer rockets still. Her marker is longer than it is wide, but it isn’t as narrow as Graf Zeppelin’s.

One of the key factors dictating what attack aircraft can successfully engage is the penetration value of their rockets.  To this end, it’s important to keep the following structural armour thresholds in mind:

  • 25mm or less – All superstructures, all destroyers, all light cruisers, any non-American or non-German heavy cruisers, all battleships below tier VIII+.
  • 27mm – As above but now including German and American tier VIII+ heavy cruisers.
  • 32mm – As above but now including all tier VIII+ battleships.
  • 35mm to 60mm – As above but now including many reinforced areas of deck and upper hull of many ships but excluding extended belts which can be as much as 100mm or more.

Note this list does not include areas such as belt armour, conning towers or turrets which are often in excess of 100mm.  Aircraft carriers are also excluded because they’re weird and should be looked at on a case by case basis (I’ll get into this more when I cover the CV hulls in a later article).

To this end we can thus separate rockets into two distinct categories:

  • Low Penetration Rockets – These have less than 32mm of penetration and are only really effective against lightly armoured ships.  They can be used to directly damage superstructures of most ships they face in a pinch, however.
  • High Penetration Rockets – These have 32mm of penetration or greater and can safely engage almost any target they face.

The penetration values of rockets largely dictates how effective they can be — even above and beyond the number of rockets fired, their fire chance or damage per hit.  If there’s a range of targets they simply cannot engage, their utility drops considerably.

Summary

  • Saipan‘s Bearcats have excellent damage, penetration and fire settings per hit.  They carry only three rockets and their aiming marker isn’t especially precise and favours attacks running down the length of the ship.
  • Enterprise‘s Hellcats have poor damage, penetration and abysmal fire setting per hit.  Individually, they don’t carry a lot of rockets  Her aim marker facilitates side-on attacks.
  • Kaga‘s Zeroes have the worst potential damage output per plane.  Their penetration is low and so is their fire chance.  They fire a very small number of rockets but their aiming marker is precise and isn’t as penalized from launching at odd angles.
  • Graf Zeppelin‘s Me-155As have excellent damage, penetration and fire setting per hit.  She fires a small number of rockets and she needs to attack along the length of a ship to have a chance for her long aim market to land hits.
The tech-tree attack aircraft share a similar variety of targeting markers.  Shokaku andKaga’s markers are comparable, as are Lexington’s HVAR and Tiny Tims to Enterprise and Saipan respectively.  Implacable’s Seafires have a longer reticule than it is wide but not to the same exaggerated degree as Graf Zeppelin.

Squadron & Attack Flight Details

Once again, it’s 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.

Attack Flights

Let’s hop up from individual aircraft to the next largest functional unit:  the Attack Flight.  This varies per carrier and dictates the size of their strike package.

  • Shokaku – 3 aircraft for 18 rockets per attack.
  • Kaga – 2 aircraft for 8 rockets per attack.
  • Lexington (HVAR) – 3 aircraft for 24 rockets (!) per attack.
  • Lexington (Tiny Tim) – 3 aircraft for 6 rockets per attack.
  • Saipan – 2 aircraft for 6 rockets per attack.
  • Enterprise – 3 aircraft for 18 rockets per attack.
  • Graf Zeppelin – 2 aircraft for 6 rockets per attack.
  • Implacable – 2 aircraft for 20 rockets per attack.

As you can see, this creates wildly different strike potentials between the carriers.  The raw damage potential per attack run works out to the following (in order):

  1. 48,000 damage – Lexington (HVAR)
  2. 47,000 damage – Implacable
  3. 39,600 damage – Shokaku
  4. 35,600 damage – Graf Zeppelin
  5. 34,200 damage – Enterprise
  6. 32,400 damage – Saipan, Lexington (Tiny Tim)
  7. 17,600 damage – Kaga

While all four premium carriers are in the bottom half of this spread, keep their penetration values also in mind.  Saipan and Graf Zeppelin’s rockets can damage even large targets while Implacable and Shokaku cannot.  Lexington’s HVARs set the bar really high, admittedly.  Potential damage is curbed not only by penetration but by accuracy as well.  Depending on target size, the angle at which you engage a target can change results enormously.  For example, when engaging a stationary Reference Mahan™ in the Training Rooms, the Tiny Tim rockets off Saipan and Lexington generated contrasting results from one another despite launching the same ordnance with identical (or near enough) target markers.  Saipan landed more parallel hits but Lexington landed more perpendicular.  This is largely owing to small sample sizes (only 10 attack runs per carrier, per aspect) but it shows the kind of RNG trolling that can and will happen when firing rockets, especially against small targets.

The only rockets I would call reasonably accurate are the HVAR off Lexington’s Corsairs and Enterprise’s own Hellcats.  Both CVs can land an alarming number of hits provided they attack broadside on.  However they have the worst aim time and they don’t respond well to constant adjustments during aiming.

The aim time of the various attack aircraft varies considerably, with the large Tiny Tim rockets ironically being easiest to lock onto a small, fast moving target. The swarms of rockets off of Enterprise, Implacable or Lexington when she uses HVAR that are oh-so devastating against destroyers are the most difficult to aim at twitchy, stealthy lolibotes.

This brings up the issue of trying to attack agile and stealthy targets with rockets.  For all of their apparent design to engage destroyers, attack aircraft are some of the least suited to sniffing them out and engaging them at close ranges.  There isn’t enough attack time on attack aircraft to make significant course adjustments against a destroyer that is stealthed with its AA disabled.  This will necessitate making a second or even a third pass to line up on the target and it’s not likely that the aim marker will be perfectly settled if the destroyer is attempting to go evasive.  In this regard, dive bombers are much better.

Attack Runs and Flak

Generally speaking, attack aircraft are immune to flak explosions while performing their attack runs.  There’s no need to wiggle and dodge flak bursts while on your final approach.  Now I say generally because in testing, very occasionally I would get clipped by a flak cloud but it was so rare that I could never predict why and how it was occurring without any discerned pattern.

Do note you are not safe from flak when coming out of an attack run.  This is why it’s so often preferable to drop any excess planes from your squadron before entering high flak-volume areas.

Squadrons

Squadron sizes vary enormously.  These are arguably more important on rocket aircraft given the attrition rate of these planes over the more durable torpedo and dive bombers.

  • Shokaku 9 aircraft (3 attack flights)
  • Kaga – 8 aircraft (4 attack flights)
  • Lexington – 9 aircraft (3 attack flights)
  • Saipan – 6 aircraft  (3 attack flights)
  • Enterprise – 12 aircraft (!) (4 attack flights)
  • Graf Zeppelin – 8 aircraft (4 attack flights)
  • Implacable – 6 aircraft (3 attack flights)

Enterprise really stands out here in the same way Kaga did with torpedo bombers:  she simply has so many.  Unlike the fragility of the Japanese planes, Enterprise’s attack planes are doubling up with not only a lot of aircraft but a fair chunk of health too, having more than half again as many effective hit points within the squadron as the other premium carriers.  The size of Enterprise’s squadrons come with the same disadvatange it did for Kaga:  it makes it harder to avoid flak bursts.

For Enterprise (and indeed, for all carriers), it’s advised to send unneeded portions of the squadron back to the carrier pre-emptively by having them drop ordnance just after launching.  This will save on casualties later.

Carrier Capacity

Finally before we get to my overall feels for these aircraft, let’s touch base on the “unlimited” number of planes each of these carriers can deploy.  Enterprise is the hands-down winner here.  Though she starts with fewer than Kaga, she regenerates aircraft almost at a 2:1 rate to her Japanese premium counterpart and almost 5:2 compared to Saipan.  If you spammed nothing but attack aircraft on Enterprise (because you don’t like winning), you could throw away as many as 47 Hellcats over a 20 minute game, not including her deployed fighters (which are also Hellcats).  Seriously, spam the blighters — you’re going to have to try in order to lose them all.   This is Enterprise’s theme — her fighters are meant to be her strength after all.

Flight Control Modification 1 from the 5th upgrade slot is all but a must-have on all carriers for the increased carrier capacity.

Summary

  • Kaga‘s Zeroes surprisingly do not come in the same large squadrons and attack flights as her bombers and torpedo planes.  They are very fragile with poor hitting power.  She starts with a fair number of them but not-so many that you could confidently throw them away.
  • Saipan‘s Bearcats come in small, nimble flights and squadrons, perfect for evading flak.  The number of attacks per aircraft more than make up for this deficiency.  Despite the lack of numbers, her flights and squadrons are comparable in durability to most of the other CVs.  Furthermore, they have excellent reaction time for attacking targets suddenly, with quick aim and prep time, but properly setup, they will generate a lot of hits.
  • Enterprise‘s Hellcats come in monster-sized squadrons.  She has deep reserves and can recover aircraft losses quickly.  Not only that, but her aircraft (and thus her squadrons) are reasonably tough too.  On the downside, it takes them a long time to setup for an attack run and for their aim to settle.  Their accuracy is questionable, though.
  • Graf Zeppelin‘s Me-155As share Kaga’s fragility but with improved striking power.  The small number of rockets and elongated aim marker limits the number of hits she can land against wary targets.

Overall Impressions

Attack Aircraft take a back seat to Torpedo Bombers and Dive Bombers in the current meta.  Among the premiums, even with “good” Attack Aircraft like those on Saipan and Enterprise, they’re often idle until a preferred plane type is depleted.  This is a shame in Enterprise’s case as she’s definitely built to specialize in her fighters, but they just don’t have the punch needed to be a universal plane type.

The other problem, really, is that for most carriers, dive bombers perform better in the anti-destroyer role than attack aircraft do.  Individual hits are meatier.  Aiming them is often easier, especially for destroyers that have their AA guns disabled which are trying to hide from the CV.  The short attack window and long aim time of some of the rocket types just makes this worse.  For the amount of time spent trying to repeatedly line up a rocket attack, you could have a follow up dive bomber strike already on the way.

Still, when there’s a proper target available, rockets can be a reasonable choice, especially for finishing off low-health targets in a hurry, or just being handy for having a reserve of fighter consumables still to deploy on your own carrier when someone’s trying to snipe you.

Kaga – A6M5 Zeroes

  • Fragile individual aircraft and fragile flights and squadrons too.  Her Zeroes are exceedingly squishy.  She doesn’t have the exhaustive reserves here either, though they are deeper than normal.
  • Not all that impressive agility wise either with a meh top speed, turning radius and rate of turn.
  • Her striking power is poor with a tiny number of rockets fired and unimpressive damage, penetration and fire chance.
  • Failing marks all around.

Kaga’s Zeroes suck monkey-butt.  They are, hands down, the worst attack aircraft tier VIII and by not a small margin either.  Pick a trait and they are average at best and more often than not towards the bottom half (if not at THE bottom).  You don’t want to have to resort to these if you can help it.

Saipan – F8F Bearcats

  • Tough planes.  They’re surprisingly not operating at a tremendous deficit, durability wise, in terms of their squadrons and attack flights.
  • She lacks reserves, though, and her regeneration is painfully slow.
  • Great top speed and surprisingly agile despite that.
  • Excellent prep and aim time on her rockets.
  • Her rockets are individually excellent but she doesn’t fire many of them to guarantee hits against small targets.  Still, any hit you do land are going to be pretty meaty and are worth lobbing at destroyers just because.
  • Excellent weapons to finish off low-health targets or to try and tax their Damage Control Party.

The only thing that could have made Saipan’s Bearcats any better would be the option to swap between Tiny Tims and HVAR rockets the way Lexington can.  This lack of versatility doesn’t hurt much overall, though.  Saipan has arguably some of the best attack aircraft at tier VIII, combining durability, speed and striking power.  The only draw back is that you don’t get enough and when you start taking losses, you can find yourself quickly deplaned.  Beware of fighters.

Enterprise – F6F Hellcats

  • Reasonable durability per plane for an attack aircraft.  Her enormous attack flights and squadrons exaggerate their apparent durability.  Large squadrons are more vulnerable to flak, however, but Enterprise has the reserves to muscle through losses like it was a non-issue.
  • Still, the squads are ridiculously agile with a decent top speed.  Shed a few aircraft with by dumping ordnance early and you can correct that squadron size issue.
  • Side on attacks are a must to guarantee hits.  You will get a lot of them if you do this.  Make sure you attack from a long way out — it takes a long time for her aim marker to settle.
  • Unfortunately her rockets don’t do a lot of damage, start many fires or have much in the way of penetration either.  If you can’t land a large number of hits, the attack isn’t worth it.

Enterprise is ostensibly the premium carrier meant to specialize with her Hellcats.  They are good attack aircraft.  It’s just a shame attack aircraft aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  Their interactions versus destroyers was nerfed heavily and this feels readily apparent when sailing this CV.  These should be a selling feature for Enterprise.  But how can you get excited over a selling feature that’s been nerfed to the point of near irrelevance?

Graf Zeppelin – Me-155A

  • Fragile planes, fragile flight, fragile squadron and not a whole lot of reserves.
  • Her planes are painfully slow but they handle nicely at least.
  • Their striking power is pretty good though.  It’s unfortunate that their aim marker and the small number of rockets they fire makes hitting destroyers so difficult.  Oh well.  When you do land hits, your targets are going to feel it.

I’m not going to lie — I find Graf Zeppelin’s rocket aircraft to be pretty crappy, to be honest.  They’re not Kaga-bad, at least.  For a ship that lacks HE bombs, I would have preferred to see a swarm of a small number of destroyer killers but I’ll take baby Tiny Tims.  At least they’re not Japanese.

Summary

The big question is this:  “Should attack aircraft form up part of my regular plane rotation?

The answer isn’t simple but it largely boils down to this:  How good are you with your dive bombers and torpedo planes?  The better you are with these two types of aircraft, the less you’ll ever need to take out attack aircraft.  Attack aircraft were meant to counter destroyers but they haven’t performed as well in this task since early on in the CV-rework.  This task has largely been taken over by dive bombers.

Still, there are some attack aircraft with some merits.  Saipan has arguably the best rocket aircraft of the tier VIII carriers with Lexington coming in second and Enterprise third.   I wish that was something to get excited over, but it’s at the point now that a carrier could have crap attack aircraft and I wouldn’t count that as much of a flaw.

This simply speaks to how much better dive bombers and torpedo bombers are at the moment in the current meta

Mouse’s Ranking of the Tier VIII Attack Aircraft

  1. Saipan
  2. Lexington
  3. Enterprise
  4. Implacable
  5. Graf Zeppelin
  6. Shokaku
  7. Kaga
Winner, winner.

Conclusion

I am so glad I decided to split these reviews up in parts.  Now, I should be doing dive bombers next, but with the bug(?) that’s affecting dive bomber accuracy still kinda being up in the air, I’m not sure when this next part will be out.  I’ll have to speak to the devs before I commit to publishing an article like this if everything’s simply going to be changed when patch 0.8.3 rolls around.

This may necessitate skipping dive bombers for now and covering the hulls of the four carriers next article instead.  This article ran longer than I wanted (there was a lot of testing which slowed me down) and it’s being published a few days later than promised.  I’d expect the next part late next week or early the week after.  Hopefully this whole project will be done by early May.

Thanks for reading!

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