The Saipan is a pretty important premium vessel for World of Warships. She’s not only a badly needed USN Premium but she’s also the first carrier premium in the game. This fills me with a little trepidation — Wargaming is unlikely to want to overhaul the mechanics surrounding a premium vessel so seeing the Saipan being released tells me that we’re not likely to see significant changes to the mechanics of carriers in the future. Tweaks? Sure, but not an overhaul. I fear there may be a glut of tier 7 Carriers in the queue very soon and some wait times to get a match as a result.
At any rate, the USS Saipan is back. She’s been bumped up a tier and her squadrons have been tricked out in new and unique ways. Let’s see what this returning Closed Beta beauty is like.
The Saipan comes with two different plane load outs, each with four air groups. The default is an air superiority set up, with three fighter squadrons and a single dive bomber squadron which, on paper, is the more “interesting” of the two setups. You’ll note that I didn’t say “better”. When the squadrons themselves are more closely examined, things turn a bit ugly. The second setup is two fighters and two torpedo bomber squadrons in a Strike package.
The Saipan is able to carry a total of 48 planes — only 67% of the capacity of the other tier 7 CVs. So make your planes count. If you don’t, you’re going to be swarmed. The real gimmick of this carrier is playing this uphill battle of air superiority with your high performance planes.
The Saipan’s fighters are the tier 9 (yes, really), the beautiful F4U-4 Corsair. This is the same upgraded aircraft you unlock with research on the Essex-class carrier. Being higher tier, with initially higher characteristics makes them benefit more from Captain Skills and modules than contemporary aircraft which boost by a multiplier rather than a flat value. At 178 knots and 70dps per plane, they’re individually faster and harder hitting than any same-tier aircraft you may face. The catch is you only get three of them per squadron. These tiny fighter groups are the bane of enemy attack craft waves, but they don’t lord over air superiority when dog fighting enemy fighters.
The single biggest issue with her fighters is their lack of endurance. They are good for approximately a single intercept before needing to seriously consider returning to the carrier to rearm. This lack of ammunition can make them vulnerable when not managed correctly and coupled with the small squadron size, enemy planes won’t melt quite as quickly as you might hope. When engaging enemy fighters, you can find your Corsairs running out of ammunition before the fight’s over. It’s imperative to make good use of the strafe feature strategically can help thin numbers, particularly when you use your fighter’s superior speed to get a positional advantage on enemy attack waves.
The one good thing about her small squadron size is that the fighters rearm very quickly — a mere 20s for a stock squadron. This allows you to get them back up into the fight, keeping your carrier’s deck very busy with a constant flow of traffic. Depending on which load out you take, the Saipan will carry between 19 and 24 fighters (ironically, the air superiority load out carries less).
The F4U-4 Corsairs from the Saipan ambush a squadron of Hellcats from a Ranger with a strafing run, shooting down two of their number on the initial pass. Air superiority against USN Carriers will always be hard fought with your planes horribly outnumbered in the air but also in reserves. You must keep a close eye on your ammunition before engaging enemy aircraft, or you can find your Corsairs out of ammo and sitting ducks for reprisals.
Alright, now things get interesting.
The default squadron load out on the Saipan gives you a single Dive Bomber squadron … with eight tier 9 aircraft. Yes, eight of ’em. Yes, tier 9. She uses the Douglas AD2 Skyraider, an aircraft not seen on any of the other US Carriers. As a big fan of the Skyraider, I fangirled all over this.
What this means in practical terms is that you have eight aircraft, each armed with a 1000lb bomb that strikes with 10,800 alpha damage. Destroyers beware. It’s very easy to get multiple hits with such a high volume of bombs dropping everywhere, and the manual bomb aiming reticule is tiny.. Even against armoured warships like Battleships, her bombs can yield strikes in excess of 10,000 damage and several fires under multiple hits. This can potentially one-shot a destroyer if you can perform a good drop. The catch is that ‘if’. The flip side to this the RNG nature of bomb drop dispersion, which can cause even a well aimed drop to splash wide and inflict zero damage. The large squadron size gives them a pretty good defensive DPS. Their defensive fire is able to swat single float plane fighters almost immediately when they latch on and maul any fighter squadron dumb enough to engage them normally instead of strafing.
The drawback for such a massive squadron is an enormous rearming cycle of 59s. This makes those occasional single-hit-only drops especially painful, putting a massive drain on your damage totals for a game which are already going to be on the light side without a significant strike package. With only a single squadron, this puts a real hurt on the Saipan’s ability to dish out any form of punishment when taking the air superiority load-out. This makes the lack of her secondary batteries even more of a weakness as when pressed, she cannot rely on her bombers to see off approaching threats.
Be aggressive with these dive bombers — the Saipan will stock 29 of them so you can afford to lose more than a few. You’re racing against the clock to get enough damage done with these.
Upgraded to a squadron of nine, these Skyraiders maneuver to prepare a manual drop on this IJN Fuso-class Battleship. Their strike would land four direct hits, starting two fires and inflicting over 12,000 damage in a single attack run. As impressive as this may look, the Air Superiority build of the Saipan is grossly inferior to the Strike build. The same amount of damage could easily be done with a torpedo hit or two. The torpedo squadrons rearm faster and you get two of them as opposed to this one massive, slow reloading, RNG dependent formation of bombers.
The Tier 9 Skyraider returns in the form of the Saipan’s torpedo planes. Like the fighters, these come in very small squadrons — a mere 3 planes each. The advantage to this is that it allows you to cycle them very quickly, with a stock reload rate of 22s. Keep close to the fight and you can send out an endless parade of torpedo bombers against targets, whittling them down. Given the small size of the air group, they don’t put out a lot of defensive DPS so even float plane fighters can be an issue.
With such a small squadron, you really are at the mercies of AA DPS when you’re lining up for your attack runs. At tier 9 with a high survival chance, often you can run the gauntlet against same or lower tiered ships without much issue. However, when you face higher tiered Battleships like the North Carolina or Iowa, or when you stray within the AA range of a dedicated Anti-Aircraft escort, your entire squad will disappear in the blink of an eye. Use your high top speed to outrun as much as you can and minimize your time in the AA umbrellas.
But for all of these drawbacks, these small attack squadrons are brutally effective. Their reload cycle is nothing. By staying close to the fight, you can swarm over and over again onto the same target and just brutalize them. Isolated Battleships are just so much meat on the table, permanently afflicted beneath a flooding state as your bombers reapply their damage over time effect with each subsequent run.
The torpedo tracks from the Skyraiders are quite spread out. Getting two hits is pretty easy, but you have to time things just right to hit with all three. I lost one Skyraider to this Ranger on my initial attack run. These torpedoes from the second squadron also landed two hits and the resulting flooding sank the enemy CV. He was quite annoyed with me.
Fighter Load Out 3-0-1
The fighter load out is a lot of fun, but it’s also rather weak. Boasting three squadrons of three fighters (which you can upgrade to 4 planes with a tier 5 Captain Skill) and one squadron of 8 Dive Bombers (which you can upgrade to 9 Dive Bombers in the same manner), it’s certainly unique and amusing. In practice, though, it struggles based on two key problems. The first, I’ve touched upon before — there’s a long reload on the Dive Bombers, which hurts the over damage you’re able to do per game. The ships you do hit well, you’ll devastate. But you’ll be unable to score much in the way of secondary fire damage without picking on targets that have already blown their Damage Control Party. The second issue is that for an air superiority build, it has a real deficit of fighter aircraft. With 19 fighters and 29 bombers aboard, the numbers feel completely backwards. You can and will run out of fighter aircraft and rather quickly with this build but it will be rare if you ever run low on bombers.
The one advantage to this load out is that with three squadrons of fighters, when facing IJN CVs with a 2-2-2 load-out, once your Corsairs are locked down by their Zeroes, you’ll still have a third squadron with which to harass their attack waves. It’s just unfortunate that your bomber retaliation will be slow and unimpressive… and that you’ll run out of fighters much sooner than the Hiryu.
Strike Load Out 2-2-0
The strike load out is much more balanced than the above, with two squadrons of three fighters (which you can upgrade to 4 planes) and two squadrons of three torpedo planes. Maybe balanced is the wrong word. The Saipan’s strike load-out is incredibly effective, being the only USN CV with a two-squadron torpedo load out. With an even mix of 24 fighters and 24 torpedo planes on board, this allows you to put out the hurt on the enemy team without sacrificing air cover, in theory giving you the best of both worlds (or alternatively, making the Air Superiority build useless by comparison). The fast recovery time of both squadron types and high speed of your aircraft means you can keep delivering attacks in rapid (for a CV) succession. It’s a real joy to be able to cause flooding and hold off attacking with the second wave — the threat of their attack run giving free damage while they hold off on activating their Damage Control Party.
The catch is, of course, that this load out can be overwhelmed by a 2-2-2 loaded Hiryu unless you can win the air superiority contest with their fighters. Marshaling your Corsairs correctly can see you win out on attrition. But you have to make good use of strafing runs and try and go for a 2:1 kill advantage with your Corsairs. Your team is going to hurt badly in the meantime as your fighters are likely to have their hands full just fending off A6M5s and then scurrying back to reload and rearm. There’s also the very real danger of getting your CV sniped out from under you, so take care.
The best success I enjoyed with this load out involved keeping close to the fight once I gained an advantage in fighter superiority, accelerating the return & rearm cycle of my torpedo bombers. And while dangerous, this increases the Saipan’s potential DPM enormously when there are slow, fat targets near at hand to harass with your bomber stream.
In the opening minutes of the match, these torpedo armed Skyraiders make an early blitz straight at this garishly painted Nagato, braving the flak wall from four vessels to drop their torpedoes. The high speed of these Skyraiders allowed them to get into position, complete their attack run and escape before the enemy CV player could respond.
The agility of the Saipan (if you want to call any CV agile) is a bit of a mixed bag as far as a CV goes. She has a 33.0 knot top speed which is nice and workable, though not enough for you to outpace pursuing destroyers or fleet footed cruisers. Surprisingly, she has 920m turning circle which is downright pleasant given the lumbering handling of the other high tier CVs. Her rudder shift is a tragic 15.9s so don’t expect to be able to take fast advantage of that smallish turning circle.
Durability and Defense
First of all, you might note a lack of Secondary Armament section. The Saipan has no self defense batteries to speak of. She’s dangerously vulnerable at close range. This makes her entirely reliant on either an escort vessel or her own aircraft to neutralize surface threats. Pay close attention to the minimap at all times. Without any dual-purpose secondary guns, this also puts a bit of the hurt on her AA power, at least at range. Instead she carries no less than thirty-eight 40mm Bofors mounts scattered across the ship, backed by another thirty Oerlikon 20mm canons. This gives her an excellent layer of self defense firepower, provided enemy planes stray within 3.5km. This short ranged fire is ferocious, amounting to 188dps at 3.5km with an additional 91dps at 2.0km. It’s a shame enemy planes won’t stay inside that range for very long for you to make use of it.
Based on the Baltimore-class Cruiser hull, the Saipan isn’t as long as the Ranger, but she does end up with almost as many hit points at 44,600hp. She’s visible from the surface from 12.2km out and from the air at 12.7km. This is better than the Ranger but worse than the Hiryu, but all rather comparable. The armour layout is … well, it’s forgettable. It’s not so thin that you really need to worry too much about taking hits to your citadel from stray destroyer HE shells, but it won’t stand up to any form of lasting punishment. In short, leg it and ensure that you keep out of sight like a good CV.
The Saipan burns, hit by an Aichi D3A Dive Bomber. Her AA power is limited to close range automatic cannons, lacking any form large caliber guns. This makes her more vulnerable not only to aircraft, but also to surface ships. She has no form of secondary armament whatsoever.
I enjoyed myself playing the Saipan. I know! Shocking isn’t it?
Let me explain — I am not a CV player. With an aversion to Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games, carrier play didn’t really interest me at all. That said, it was a lot of fun using the fighter load out to provide air cover for my team. I’m very much a fan of support roles and it was fun trying to lock down enemy carriers while providing spots … never mind dropping 9 bombs on people’s faces. Does this mean that I’ve changed my stripes? Does that mean the Saipan has won me over to carrier game play? Should every non-CV player break out their wallets because this ship will convert you? Well, no.
The Saipan is about as quirky as you can get with a Premium Ship, joining the ranks of odd ducks like the Kitakami (we miss you!) and the Atlanta. The high tier squadrons with their weird sizes are novel and will offer a change of game play if nothing else. Novelty doesn’t necessarily translate into power, though. Her air superiority load out is weak, plagued by an inability to do any significant damage through the course of a game through the long reload of her dive bomber squadron (impressive though it may be). Her small fighter groups equally can struggle with doing what they’re meant to do best, which is dominate the skies, especially against experienced or higher tiered Captains. This leaves her small (and fragile) torpedo squadron load out as being the competitive option. Her torpedo air groups are much more viable for putting out the hurt with a fast cycle time between missions. I suspect the meta will involve keeping the Saipan quite close to the front lines when able to accelerate this even further, but I will leave that for the expert CV players to chime in on. Towards the end of my test runs with the Saipan, I was enjoying quite a bit of success with these small, fast reloading torpedo squadrons and was fancying my chances of actually giving CVs a second look.
What this means is that if you’re a good CV Captain, you’ll probably enjoy the Saipan for what she is — just like how a good cruiser player can grab an odd duck like the Atlanta and have some really fun games. They will undoubtedly recognize the Saipan’s weak Air Superiority load out for what it is. They will know how to push out the mad DPS with the torpedo squadron build. But if you’re going in blind to the intricacies of CV play, unless you have a really good sense of self-depreciating humour, the Saipan is going to take you for a ride and make you look silly.