The following is a review of Smolensk, the tier X premium Soviet light cruiser kindly provided to me by Wargaming. Please be aware that though this represents the release version of the ship, her statistics may change in the future. To the best of my knowledge, these stats are accurate as of patch 0.8.8.
Someone thought it would be a good idea to release a tier X version of USS Flint but with Soviet flavour-crystals. Players in the know are disinclined to drink the red Kool-aid — and with good reason. If you’re hoping that I was going to feed the drama llama and tell you everything is fine with Smolensk, I’m sorry to disappoint.
Smolensk is an unapologetically powerful premium and continues the 2019 Stalinium trend. I should call Smolensk by her proper appellation: a “Reward Ship”. This distinction is hella-important. Reward ships can still be directly nerfed after-release. Barring extraordinary circumstances, a premium cannot. This is, of course, adding to the feelings of frustration within certain circles of the community — knowing that Wargaming could apply corrections to Smolensk but hasn’t. I’m personally not getting my hopes up.
So let’s take a look at this calamity and why Smolensk has so many people sipping Tang.
- Troll armour scheme, with 30mm hull amidships, 50mm citadel roof and a thin armoured belt which prompts frequent AP ricochets and over-penetrations.
- Armed with sixteen (!) rapid-fire Soviet 130mm guns that upgrade well with commander skills.
- Has the ability to make players give up on life and/or rage quit simply by bringing them under fire.
- Speaking of fire, she’s good at setting it.
- Good accuracy and shell ballistics for a light cruiser.
- Downright trollish protection scheme.
- Excellent concealment. It’s so good that she can hide her over-performance from spreadsheets.
- Fast and agile.
- Good anti-aircraft firepower.
- Has access to a Smoke Generator.
- Super squishy with a tiny hit point pool, pathetic armour and zero anti-torpedo protection.
- Speaking of squish, her citadel is exposed over the waterline and just begging to be groped by AP shells. When things go wrong, they go wrong quickly.
- Short ranged guns and torpedoes. But you can fix the former and you don’t necessarily need the latter (nice as they are to have).
- Poor HE and AP penetration for a tier X cruiser (not that this matters, really, but someone would complain if I didn’t put it here).
- It’s Soviet, so it’s not allowed to be good.
Smolensk is an HE spamming, torpedo-armed light-cruiser with smoke. In theory, she’s soft and fragile. In theory. In reality, she’s hard to spot, she’s hard to hit, and when you do hit her, you can’t guarantee good damage numbers.
The Details You Need to Know
There are four main elements you need to know about Smolensk.
Main Battery: Sixteen 130mm/57 guns in 4×4 turrets in an A-B-X-Y superfiring configuration.
Torpedoes: Ten torpedo tubes in 2×5 launchers with one mounted on each side in wing mounts straddling the rear funnel.
Smolensk has destroyer-caliber guns. This presents a few problems but, as we’ll see, these are problems that are largely irrelevant. These imagined difficulties are:
- Smolensk is short ranged.
- She only has a modest fire-chance per shell compared to 152mm+ armed cruisers.
- She has low damage per shell compared to 152mm+ armed cruisers.
- Her AP penetration and HE penetration are poor.
Smolensk starts with a mere 13.8km reach. This is near-suicidal range for a cruiser at tier X, but Smolensk has two ready fixes. Between the Gun Fire Control System Modification 2 upgrade and the Advanced Fire Training commander skill, Smolensk’s range can be modified to 16km or 16.6km respectively. The choice between these two options lets players pick one of the two without taxing their ability to boost Smolensk’s DPM or set fires. Combine the two (often at the expense of reload) and you have a reach of 19.2km. These options more than undermine any deficiencies in the reach of her guns. Furthermore, unlike some other destroyer-caliber armed cruisers, Smolensk’s guns are comfortable to use up to ranges of 15km and have better ballistics than British or American 152mm.
Speaking of damage output and setting fires: It’s true that Smolensk’s AP and HE shells are found wanting in terms of raw damage output and fire chance compared to the 152mm, 203mm and 240mm guns of her competitors. However, the sheer volume of fire and her improved accuracy more than make up for any perceived deficit here. Furthermore, Smolensk can directly increase her rate of fire with Basic Fire Training — something the other cruisers at tier X cannot, stacking this on top of Main Battery Modification 3. In addition, she takes less fire-chance penalty for using the Inertial Fuse for HE Shells skill than her contemporaries.
This just leaves the issue of penetration, and this isn’t one that can be corrected. Even with Inertial Fuse for HE Shells, Smolensk is incapable of damaging areas of armour thicker than 27mm with her high-explosive rounds. Her AP shells are similarly anemic with less than 100mm of penetration at ranges greater than 8km. However, her low penetration is largely a non-issue. Smolensk is more than capable of aiming for weak spots, and when you’re tossing out that many shells, you’re bound to hit something squishy sooner or later. Her AP shells are still able to chew through mouthfuls of an enemy ship’s hit points if they present their broadside. She need merely aim at their softer hull sections like the bow, stern or upper hull. And for those tougher nuts out there, her fire setting will burn them to the waterline before long.
Whatever perceived flaws Smolensk has with her guns are laughable, easily corrected if they were something that needed correcting in the first place. The sheer volume of fire her sixteen guns put out is nightmarish — driving off and intimidating opponents. Softer hulled ships vanish in just a few seconds, allowing even this soft-skinned ship to out-trade select opponents.
And if that weren’t enough, she has decent torpedoes to stove the face in of anyone that comes sniffing near her smoke screens.
Speaking of smoke screens, there are two consumables here worth noting. Smolensk, like all tier X cruisers, has access to a Repair Party consumable. There’s nothing out of the ordinary with her having one, but given the frustrations of landing hits on this ship (and good quality hits at that), it’s presence is noteworthy.
The real ship-defining consumable here is Smolensk’s Smoke Generator. There aren’t many cruisers with HE shells with a Smoke Generator and with good reason. Iwaki Alpha, Belfast, Mikhail Kutuzov, and Flint aren’t exactly biword for balance. If it weren’t for Perth and Huanghe providing some (occasionally) good press, this combination would deserve it’s automatic derision. Still, Smolensk is moving the needle towards the direction of “never again” in my opinion (she says, then HMS London gets previewed).
What’s funny to me is that there were steps made to try and reign in Smolensk’s Smoke Generator. Mikhail Kutuzov, the retired tier VIII Soviet premium cruiser uses the same Smoke Generator as tier VIII Soviet Destroyers. It would stand to reason that Smolensk would use the tier X version but she doesn’t. She uses the same tier VIII version as Kutuzov. The difference here is that Smolensk’s smoke “only” lasts for 89 seconds as opposed to the 97 seconds it could have been. r/There was an attempt…
Smolensk’s Smoke Generator combines with her excellent surface detection, getting down as low as 10km. Stack this onto her flexible gun range and she’s a hard cruiser to find when she doesn’t want to be seen. Aircraft carriers won’t do the spotting here — her aerial detection range is the same reach as her long-range AA bubble. That just leaves blasting her with radar, waiting for her to open fire or getting suicidally close. For destroyers, closing the distance is high-risk. Getting counter-spotted inside of 10km of Smolensk is a great way to get yourself sent back to port in a hurry. For anyone else, there’s those torpedoes to worry about and that ridiculous DPM.
Short of radar, a well played Smolensk is only seen when she wants to be seen, and that’s only when she’s pulling the trigger.
Hit Points: 32,400
Minimum Bow & Deck Armour: 16mm
Maximum Citadel Protection: 16mm bow/stern + 100mm transverse bulkhead (70mm belt broadside)
Torpedo Damage Reduction: Nope.jpg
Smolensk has an exposed citadel, but she’s surprisingly resistant to broadside citadel damage from battleships. Her citadel roof is 50mm thick and will auto-ricochet any battleship shells attempting to penetrate it from a range of 21km or less (even then, good luck). So only shots aimed directly at her waterline (or just beneath) count.
At 70mm, Smolensk’s belt isn’t thick enough to fuse AP shells greater than 420mm in caliber. There was some great work done on Reddit by U/R_radical (link here, please give it some well deserved love) which I followed up on for my own tests. The grossly simplified version is this:
République, Thunderer, Ohio, Georgia, Musashi, Yamato and Kremlin are physically incapable of landing citadel hits against the flat broadside of Smolensk if the shells don’t strike water before entering the ship. They need to hit angled surfaces to increase the relative thickness of Smolensk’s belt in order to fuse. It gets worse, though. Smolensk has a narrow beam — there just isn’t enough room when striking Smolensk’s flat broadside for most battleship shells with their 0.033s fuse timer to explode inside the ship. The shells have to be slowed down first and air drag doesn’t really begin to be enough of an effect until you get to ranges of around 15km or more. For some battleships with high velocity shells like Roma, you’re looking at ranges closer to 20km. Inside that distance, short of shells dunking beneath the water first, their AP rounds will pass clean through resulting in over penetrations despite hitting the bullseye of her machine spaces.
Thus, battleships have to wait until Smolensk is angled in order to have a chance at landing penetrating and citadel hits. The size of these angles varies with range, but even at a distance of 15km, Yamato is looking at needing Smolensk to be angled out at least 30º from a flat broadside before she gets that magical combination of thick enough armour to arm her fuse AND enough space along her shell path to land a citadel hit. My own tests with Lert necessitated a 37º angle before we got lucky with Musashi’s 460mm AP shells.
If that wasn’t enough, Smolensk still has a few tricks to play. Her 30mm will also autobounce any AP shells smaller than 429mm that strike it at too acute of an angle. And finally, if you think smashing shells through her fragile snoot will finally yield those big damaging hits, be aware that her upper transverse bulkhead is 100mm thick — there’s no overmatching that if the shell comes in too steeply as Smolensk angles away.
The net effect to all of this confusing math is that Smolensk’s armour is downright troll when battleships shoot at her. Over penetrations abound. Citadel hits are rare. Auto-ricochets happen just often enough to make you want to pull your hair out. Thanks to her Smoke Generator, hits alone are uncommon for slow-firing ships.
If this analysis seems battleship-biased, you’re right. That’s because cruisers have no problems at all ripping apart Smolensk if they catch her. Smolensk has a tiny hit point pool — a mere 0.9 Viribus Unitis (VU) worth — which also means poor returns on her Repair Party consumable. While outright trading with Smolensk is generally a bad idea because of her monstrous DPM, the occasional pot shot from cruisers will yield big numbers when they slap this little Soviet monster. Do your poor battleships and destroyers a favour if you get the chance.
Top Speed: 35 knots
Reverse Speed: –13.6 knots
Rudder Shift Time: 8.2 seconds
Turning Circle Radius: 750 meters
Maximum Rate of Turn: 5.7º/s at 4/4 speed
It’s the smallest slights which sting the most. I think I might have stomached Smolensk’s inclusion better had she not trespassed here. She doesn’t handle like a Soviet cruiser and this irks me to no end.
Allow me to explain. I’ve spent forever twirling boats. I’ve got a pretty good base understanding of how ships move in this game and I’m forever expanding that knowledge. I’ve come to recognize patterns and trends, not only between the different ship types but also within a given nation. Japanese cruisers are fast, American cruisers have small turning radii, British cruisers break the laws of physics, and so on and so forth. I must stress that these are trends — not hard fast rules. Still, patterns exist and I don’t think they’re coincidental.
The Soviet cruiser line is one of contrasts. Their low tier cruisers are ridiculously agile — some of the most agile cruisers in the game. However at tier V, they transition to very fast ships with enormous turning circles. Barring borrowed and up-tiered designs (and Mikhail Kutuzov), Soviet cruisers pay for their sleek hull forms with poor handling.
For a Soviet cruiser, she is bloody nimble. She’s fast. Her rudder shift time is good. Her turning circle radius isn’t appalling. And it’s this last part where I take issue. I expected her to have a turning radius at the 820m mark or greater — something like Chapayev or Shchors. This would scale back her rate of turn down from 5.7º/s to 5.2º/s or less — still decent but definitely more in line with the Soviet light cruisers as a whole.
And let me be clear: I’m aware I’m unfairly gate-keeping which ships are allowed to be agile. There’s no hard-fast rule that says Soviet cruisers must handle like a pregnant yak in a mud-wallow. The Sverdlov-class doesn’t. None of their low tier ships do either. It kinda makes sense that a small, anti-aircraft cruiser like Smolensk would be a wiggly little thing. Colbert is. The Atlanta-class is. Their radii are much tighter than what Smolensk can boast. Compared to those two, Smolensk is pretty chunktacular. In fact when you put her alongside these other AA cruisers, her turning radius is downright Soviet.
Still, even with this minor disparity, this is one more thing Smolensk is hella-good at. She’s got the firepower. She’s got the stealth. She’s got the smoke. She’s got the speed. She even has the durability despite being worth 0.9 VU. Her AA power is excellent (specifically when you also account for her aerial detection). And now, with this, she’s super agile too. She’s hard to hit in the hands of a good player. It’s bad enough that she’s a small target and one that’s hard to dig out of smoke. With her great range improvements, she can play the open water game and Just Dodge™ her way to victory when islands and smoke aren’t an option.
I suppose with all of the time I’ve spent with twirling ships, it explains why this is the final straw for me. It’s kinda absurd, when I think about it, but when have feels ever made sense? I hate you, Smolensk and your cute, twirly butt.
Just so I can say that I didn’t leave it out:
Camouflage & Refrigerator
Smolensk’s camouflage is the standard Type 20 Camouflage. This provides:
- 3% reduction of detectability by sea
- 4% increase of dispersion of shells fired by the enemy attacking your ship.
- 50% reduction of cost of the ship’s post-battle service.
- 20% increase to credits earned per battle.
- 100% increase experience earned per battle.
Smolensk’s economy doesn’t appear out of the ordinary, being comparable to the other tier X reward ships Bourgogne, Thunderer, Stalingrad, etc.
Base Surface Detection: 12.78km
Aerial Detection: 7.41km
Minimum Surface Detection Range: 10.04km
Detection Range When Firing in Smoke: 5.91km
Main Battery Firing Range: Between 13.8km (stock) up to 19.21km
Nothing further to add here that hasn’t already been discussed above. Smolensk is smol and a sneaky danger-noodle.
Anti Aircraft Defense
Flak Bursts (3.5km to 6km): 8 explosions for 1,890 damage per blast
Long Ranged AA Guns (6km): 167.6 damage every 0.32s
Medium Ranged AA Guns (3.5km): 186.2 damage every 0.32s
Short Ranged AA Guns (3.1km): 58.6 damage every 0.34s
Smol-bote with biggish AA. It’s important to note that with Concealment Modification 1 and Concealment Expert, Smolensk’s aerial detection range is a mere 21mm (yes, millimeters) longer than her long-range AA power. Don’t ask your CV to try and spot this thing — they’ll get shredded. Smolensk can bloody stealth-snipe aircraft.
I bloody hate this ship. I’ve hated working on this review all month. I’ve rewritten this damn thing so many times, never happy with the tone, never happy with the message. Even now I’m not sure I’ve properly communicated how frustrating it is to face off against a well-played version of this thing. I don’t want to water down this sentiment (which I have so many times before) by mathing out the odds of actually meeting a competent Smolensk player or how, yes, it’s technically possible to counter it with X, Y and Z. I don’t like facing this ship for the same reasons that I cringe when I see a Flint, Belfast or Kutuzov on the enemy roster. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the enemy Smolensk is good or not. My sentiments about the match are already soured. I consider myself a patient person and the presence of a Smolensk taxes even me.
I am someone who can stomach playing against carriers. I enjoy my troll-ships. However, even I have my limits. I don’t like playing Smolensk. It feels grossly unfair. It feels the same way as playing Belfast, Kutuzov or Flint. She has all of the advantages and few match-ups are unfavourable (short of derping into a Shimakaze torpedo like I did one game).
The deeper I looked into Smolensk, the more concerned I became. There’s a lot going on here — a perfect storm of potential and so many different combinations to analyze that it’s easy to see why Smolensk not only can be a piece of garbage in one player’s hands and an absolute beast in another.
If you don’t have Smolensk yet, I dunno what to tell you. On the one hand, I don’t want to play against your new ship. On the other, I know that there’s a risk you could miss out. She’s a bona fide reward ship — not sold for cash money so nerfs are possible. What you invest in now might not be the ship we have six months from now. If you’re hoping to preserve this sense of superiority, then she might not be worth the investment.
This changes if she’s eventually sold for cash. As a tier X ship, I see that as unlikely. This might change come Black Friday through Christmas, though. Wargaming does like to bundle everything together and ring the dinner bell. This is also the first year where we’ve had a veritable glut of tier X reward ships available. Once cash changes hands, Smolensk’s performance is locked in. The only recourse from then on is to hope she becomes rare. And if that happens, if you haven’t got her already, you’re unlikely to ever get her.
To Hell with it: If you don’t have her yet, get her ASAP. Play her often. Play her so often that it chokes the matchmaker. T-59 this momo and have popularity necessitates re-evaluating her performance and availability. I don’t see Smolensk surviving either change-free or remaining freely available, though who knows what kind of timeline this is on.
She’s that good. She’s that annoying.
How to Balans the Spreadsheets
There’s a lot to unpack with the upgrades of high-tier ships, but it’s generally simple. You want to build Smolensk for agility and gunnery. Everything else is secondary to this.
- Start with Main Armaments Modification 1 in your first slot.
- In your second slot, take the corresponding Special Upgrade for either Defensive AA Fire or Hydracoustic Search — whichever consumable you tend to favour using. Barring that, default to Steering Gears Modification 1.
- You’re going to be doing a lot of gunnery at range so Aiming Systems Modification 1 is a good investment (if only because the other upgrades are crap).
- If you prefer to play Smolensk more static — hiding in smoke and behind islands, take Propulsion Modification 2 in your fourth slot. Otherwise, take Steering Gears Modification 2 for better open water agility.
- Similarly, if you prefer open-water play and feel confident with your ability to dodge, Steering Gears Modification 3 will serve you well. Otherwise take Concealment Modification 1 to make hiding easier.
- Between the two best options here, Gun Fire Control System Modification 2 is the preferred choice, extending Smolensk’s range. This puts less of a strain on her commander skill options (the effects here can be replicated with Advanced Fire Training). If you’ve 4 skill points free, then by all means, take the range-skill instead and default to Main Battery Modification 3 for the increased reload speed. Or, you could get all the range and combine the two — but at least one range upgrade is needed.
There’s a bit of a balancing act going on here. You need to have at least one range-upgrade for Smolensk (need is a strong word, but trust me, it makes all the difference). So if you haven’t taken Gun Fire Control Modification 2 then you have to select Advanced Fire Training for example. So let’s look at the worth of individual skills rather than the total package:
- At tier 1, there are three skills worth considering. Priority Target and Incoming Fire Alert are the first pair and tend to be mutually exclusive — take one, not both. The former gives you more information. The latter gives you more critical and specific information. The last skill that’s worthwhile here is Preventative Maintenance, but it’s definitely sub-optimal compared to the other two for Smolensk.
- At tier 2, Last Stand is highly recommended. While not on Destroyer levels of fragility, Smolensk’s rudder gets shot out often and near misses from large caliber HE shells can (and will) knock out her engines. Adrenaline Rush is also a great skill if you have the leftover points to spend on it. Jack of All Trades is handy for reducing consumable reset timers, particularly when the action is heated and in combination with the November Foxtrot signal and premium consumables to further drop their cool down. Similarly, Smoke Screen Expert is nice for the extra room to move around, especially if you plan to be sharing your smoke with a friend.
- At tier 3, there’s a glut of choices here. Superintendent is arguably the best of the lot for the extra heal and extra charge of Smoke Generator. Basic Fire Training and Demolition Expert also play to Smolensk’s best strengths. Beyond this, there are skills that are simply “nice to have” but hardly an efficient use of points including Vigilance and Torpedo Armament Expertise.
- The tier 4 skills are contentious and, frankly, are largely a matter of personal taste. Advanced Fire Training is all but mandatory in the absence of Gun Fire Control Modification 2 (how many times have I said that now?). Concealment Expert is amazing for its points cost, improving not only her survivability but opening up the door to ambushing aircraft with Concealment Modification 1, yet I wouldn’t consider this skill required. Probably the best investment is Inertial Fuse for HE Shells, opening the door for Smolensk to directly damage the extremities of all heavy cruisers within her matchmaking. But even this isn’t mandatory if you just want to make battleships burn. Finally, for the truly eclectic, there’s Radio Location for those who fancy themselves as destroyer hunters in the late-game.
And here I told myself this was going to be a short review. The amount of prep-work for this review was insane. I started mapping the dispersion of cruisers (ugh!), tested battleship AP fuses, did more work on torpedo damage, played with AA, did even more twirling, never mind all of that dirty, DIRTY play testing.
You’ll note a lack of an Angry YouTuber jpeg at the end of this article. That’s deliberate. Some of my readers get too hung up on the soundbite at the end rather than the message as a whole. They might return at some point, but I’m retiring them for the time being.
Thank you for reading.