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Premium Ship Review: Admiral Graf Spee12/16/2016 10:24:48 AM
Published By: LittleWhiteMouse

Please be aware that all of the statistics and performance discussed in this post reflect the version of the ship as she appeared during the testing period.

These are subject to change before release.
 

Ambush Predator.
 
Quick Summary:  A Cruiser with Battleship caliber guns.
Patch and Date Written:  05.15.2, December 15th, 2016
Cost:  Undisclosed at the time of publishing.
 
Closest in-Game Contemporary
Uhh.... ?  Y'see, when a Scharnhorst and a Nurnberg love each other VERY much...  ♥ ♥ ♥
Degree of Similarity: Clone / Sister-Ship / Related Class / Similar Role / Unique

The Graf Spee is a fairly unique ship.  She has Battleship caliber guns but they don't behave like Battleship guns, not in all of the ways you would expect.  She has the fragility of a cruiser to contend with but she has access to a Repair Party.  She's not fast like a cruiser but she's not a thunder-chunker when it comes to wiggling her tush about.
 
Lert suggested that I should have gone with the Molotov as the closest example.  That's not a bad choice but it's still far off.  I'ma stick with my Scharnhorst-Nurnberg mutant-baby comparison.
 
(Seriously though, I think something between the Molotov and Dunkerque are closest but still miles off).
 
PROs

  • Large hit point pool for a tier 6 Cruiser at 39,400hp.
  • Very powerful main battery of six 283mm Battleship-sized weapons.
  • Good gun handling for weapons of their size with a fast traverse rate.
  • Very accurate guns for their caliber.
  • Strong torpedo armament with excellent speed and range, especially for German torpedoes.
  • Decent handling with a 680m turning circle.
  • Has access to a Repair Party at tier 6.
CONs
  • Poor armour values with a maximum of 156mm of citadel protection.
  • Poor overall DPM, relying more on high alpha strikes to deliver damage. Poorly aimed shots or over penetrations really hurt her damage output and can leave her well behind in a damage race.
  • Her armament is ill suited for handling destroyers and she doesn't have the DPM or protection to trade with Battleships.
  • Only modest AA power.
  • Slow for a cruiser, with a top speed of 28.5 knots
 
"Pocket Battleship".  Oh, how I hate that term.  It's taken me quite a while to divorce myself of that classic British descriptor for the Admiral Graf Spee.  When I was little, I swallowed it wholesale, believing the Graf Spee to be stereotypical Battleship, just smaller.  This imagining entailed a ship bristling with guns, protected by heavy armour and, because she was little, high speed.  My own delusions couldn't be further from the mark.  I hope these  impressions aren't commonplace among the community.  Maybe I can shake them off fully as I make my way through this review.
 
Lert and Zoup have both agreed to join me.  Hopefully they can keep my wild imaginings of this vessel in check.
 
 
 
The Lertbox

Welcome to another Lertbox. Once again LittleWhiteMouse has let an evil black cat into her little parlor. Fortunately for her, I'm more interested in boxes than mice.

This time we're talking about Graf Spee. I've been looking forward to playing the ship, and dreading writing about her. After playtesting her, this has only increased. Let me get this right out of the way: I love this ship, but not everyone is going to. Both Mouse and I were hesitant to recommend Dunkerque, and I was accused of claiming she sucks by some people, while I just said she wasn't for everyone. Well, Spee is the same. I adore her, I think she's a great ship, but she's not for everyone.

I'm going to do something different in this Lertbox. Instead of giving tips on how to engage your direct rivals in a theoretical 1v1, I'm going to compare her to Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen, discussing how these ships differ in playstyle and feel. Hopefully this will give a solid base from which to decide whether or not you're going to part with your greenbacks for this ship.

 
Options
The big choice you'll have with the Graf Spee is whether or not to use the German Hydroacoustic Search or to instead go with Defensive Fire.   I played with the former for a while but found it to largely be very situational given the Graf Spee's general phobia of closing with enemies.  Overall I would recommend the latter, at least until you get your footing with this ship.  Carriers are still rather commonplace at mid tiers and you will have your AA power tested and getting in close with the Graf Spee is kind of a bad idea until you appreciate her strengths and weaknesses.
 
Consumables:
  • Damage Control Party
  • Hydroacoustic Search OR Defensive Fire
  • Catapult Fighter
  • Repair Party
Module Upgrades: Four slots, standard German Cruiser options.
Premium Camouflage:  Tier 6+ Standard. This provides 50% bonus experience gains, 3% reduction in surface detection and 4% reduction in enemy accuracy.
 
 
Firepower
Primary Battery:  Six 283mm rifles in 2x3 turrets in an A-X configuration.
Secondary Battery:  Six 105mm rifles in 3x2 turrets and eight 150mm rifles in single turrets.
Torpedoes:  Eight tubes in 2x4 launchers mounted to each side on the stern.
 
These aren't the Scharnhorst's 283mm rifles.  At a glance they look similar.  Some of their stats are identical and you might overlook the important differences between the guns of the Graf Spee and the Scharnhorst.  They share the same rate of fire, rotation speed and appearance.  However, there are three key differences.
 
  1. The Graf Spee has a higher muzzle velocity at 910m/s vs 890m/s of the Scharnhorst.
  2. The Graf Spee has a harder hitting AP shell with 8,400 alpha strike vs 7,600 of the Scharnhorst.
  3. The Graf Spee has significantly less dispersion.

It's these latter two traits which are so important to the performance (and viability) of the Graf Spee.  The Graf Spee is an alpha-strike ship, defined by it's ability to deal front-loaded salvos of heavy damage against targets rather than wear them down over time with volume of fire. You want to hit a target so hard it pulverizes them and makes them think twice about engaging you.  Her accuracy deserves special notice.  This isn't caused by a favourable sigma value (though she may have one).  The Graf Spee's raw dispersion values at her maximum range of 16.0km are lower than any other Battleship in the game.  Here's some raw values of similarly ranged ships at this distance.

 
 
  • DE Battleships: Approximately 223m
  • IJN Battleships:  Just shy of 200m
  • Admiral Graf Spee: 184m
  • IJN & DE Cruisers: Approximately 144m

So not only is the Graf Spee a cruiser armed with Battleship caliber guns, she's a cruiser armed with Battleship caliber guns with almost a cruiser's level of accuracy.  The Graf Spee can be a real nightmare for other ships of her type -- throwing railcars at their faces and hoovering up 8,400hp citadels with every salvo.  Her 283mm rifles can overmatch any 19mm sections of armour or thinner, so even angling may not protect your ship.  Be aware of your armour's thickness before trying to bow tank a Spee.  Her firepower is also sufficient to give a Battleship pause, being accurate but also as fast reloading as the Scharnhorst.  If you give her your side in your Super Dreadnoughts, you deserve the pain train the Spee will deliver.

Where these guns really lack is in handling destroyers.  She has neither the fast reload nor the volume of fire to put off enemy DDs.   Like all German ships, her high explosive rounds are lackluster.  At a 4.0km range, her secondary compliment is respectable for a ship her size -- certainly better than comparable American Battleships -- but it's not likely to give any destroyer pause except for one on very low health. 
 
With all this in mind, is her artillery compliment any good?  Well, no...  No it isn't.  It's "interesting" but it's a far cry from "good", in my opinion.  She's excellent at biting the faces off of other cruisers (which is historically accurate) but she doesn't have the firepower to seriously challenge a Battleship and she doesn't have enough guns or a fast enough reload to put down enterprising destroyers.  Like the Belfast, she is over specialized -- a perfect fit for one role and awkward to passable in other situations.
 
Torpedoes
 Arguably just as interesting as the Graf Spee's main battery is her torpedo armament.  Like her guns, these things are weird.  They're mounted on the stern of the ship, well behind the second turret.  This gives them tremendous fields of fire, both forward and aft.  But the launching angle will always seem odd as they come from well behind your field of view in the ship.  As for the fish themselves, they're rather noteworthy.
 
 With 13,700 alpha strike, they're not bad for their tier (not great, mind you, but at least they're not American).  Where they really stand out is their high speed of 65 knots and their range of 8.0km.  Don't be fooled -- you'll never be able to launch fish from stealth in open water with the Graf Spee, but this is 2km longer than the reach of most other German Warships.  They can and will surprise people.
 
Summary
  • Though small in number, the Graf Spee's main battery is accurate and hard hitting.
  • She relies upon delivering high alpha strikes, not DPM to bring down her opponents.  Inaccurate fire or poor target choices will greatly reduce her effectiveness.
  • Her secondary battery is heavy for a cruiser but light for a battleship
  • Her torpedoes are surprisingly good for a German Cruiser but their utility is hampered by not being able to fire from stealth.

 
No, she didn't dodge those.  Her torpedo tubes are mounted on the stern.  This gives them excellent firing arcs, especially to the rear.  When launching them at targets ahead, they will always appear to come from odd angles.

Maneuverability
Top Speed:  28.5 knots
Turning Radius:  680m
Rudder Shift Time:  10.3s
 
The Maneuverability of the Graf Spee is a bit of a mixed bag.  I am disappointed with how slow she is.  Her 28.5 knot top speed is ... well, it's bad for a cruiser.  It would be alright for a Battleship but she's not a Battleship.  The Graf Spee needs to rely on concealment and her agility to stay alive and not being able to outrun ships she cannot outfight is a real weakness.  She will face ships like the Scharnhorst-class, the Dunkerque and Bismarck-class which can all easily outrun her. 
 
This also limits her flexibility.  You don't have any tricks to extract yourself if you sail into a contested area. Defensively, you will have to maneuver the Graf Spee very much like the Molotov.  Keep at range.  Give yourself time enough to dodge incoming fire, especially from enemy cruisers (but especially from Battleships).  
 
Rivals: Scharnhorst

Let me get the first thing out of the way: Graf Spee's guns are not the same as Scharnhorst's. The differences are slight, but real. Scharnhorst has longer barrels, and fires a heavier shell, but at a slower muzzle velocity. This means that Spee has even flatter arcs than Scharnhorst and shorter time-to-target, at the expense of losing more energy over distance.

Scharnhorst is a brawling opportunist. This is the ship that plays from the first line and actively looks for an opening, then mercilessly pushes in, weathering withering fire and closing in for the brawl. This is something you simply can't do in Spee, being slower and simply not having the armor to tank the amount of fire that Scharnhorst can without problem.

 
 
Durability
Hit Points:  39,400
Maximum Protection:  100mm + 16mm over her citadel
Min Bow & Deck Armour:  19mm (immunity up to 271mm rifles)
Torpedo Damage Reduction:  22%
 
For resilience, the Graf Spee has some pretty exceptional qualities for a tier 6 cruiser.  The first is pretty obvious; she has a truck load of hit points -- more than even the Mogami at tier 8.  She has almost Battleship quality steel on her bow, stern and deck at 19mm thick, the same as the tier 5 Dreadnoughts.   This is enough to repulse anything up to heavy cruiser armour piercing shells when angled sufficiently.  On top of this, the Graf Spee has a Repair Party consumable which can help recover health when things go wrong (and they will). Combine this with her 22% damage reduction from torpedo hits along her flanks and the Spee looks pretty good as far as durability goes.
 
That is until you look closer at her armour.  Her citadel doesn't sit too much higher than the waterline.  But it's the thickness of armour around it that's concerning.  There are three layers protecting the majority of her citadel from damage.  She has 16mm of submersed armour from her anti-torpedo bulge with a 100mm layer of belt armour behind that.  The citadel herself has a 40mm wall, giving what appears to be a 156mm of combined protection which seems pretty okay.  However sandwiched layers of steel have their downsides.  While they may make citadel hits less likely, they're also more likely to prevent a shell from over penetrating.  If you don't angle properly, you can expect to take some pretty big hits.  Do it properly and you should be able to protect your citadel from most other cruisers.  This quickly falls apart when facing Battleships though.
 
Her Repair Party will often feel taxed.  It appears to be standard, healing back 0.5% of her health every second for 28s (14% total or 5,516hp).  Like all cruiser Repair Parties, this does permit you to heal back more citadel damage than those found on Battleships.
 
Her citadel is enormous, in truth.  It's not very well submerged and it extends far more to the rear than you might normally expect.  With her bow and stern easily overmatched by even the smallest of Battleship guns (including her own), you need to rely on concealment and agility to stay safe.  Against smaller targets, maneuver and angling can help carry the day, but it's still better to avoid  damage than trust on your armour to tank it or your Repair Party to heal it.
 
Rivals:  Prinz Eugen

Eugen is faster, but doesn't turn as well. She has eight of the typical German 8" guns with a 13 second reload, backed up by roughly center mounted torpedoes with a 6km range. In terms of playstyle, she is perhaps closest to Graf Spee out of the three ships in this comparison. I play her from the second line, keeping a sharp eye on the minimap and moving to where support is needed, WASD'ing all the time to throw off incoming enemy fire. I move up when I think I can and slink back to lick my wounds when needed. I drove Spee the same.

Where Eugen and Spee differ though is in how I use the guns. Eugen has more, weaker guns, with a higher ROF. I'm constantly looking for viable targets when driving Prinz Eugen, prioritizing cruisers over battleships and close / mid range destroyers over cruisers. I try to keep my guns constantly singing, putting out volume of fire, farming DPS. Spee meanwhile has a very low DPM or volume of fire, but makes up for that with heavy alpha potential. I prioritize broadside battleships over cruisers and try to time my salvoes more to what maneuvers the enemy is making.

Spee's torpedoes are flat-out better, with better range and better arcs - especially vs ships chasing you. It's rare when I can use Eugen's torpedoes, but I'm more likely to look for a chance to use Spee's. I drive Prinz Eugen more like a support ship, constantly putting pressure on anyone within range. I used Spee more like an opportunist, delivering heavy damage to whatever target is most viable.

 
 

I found fires to be a continual problem for the Admiral Graf Spee.  While she has the armour to bounce AP shells from destroyers and cruisers, they never seem to want to cooperate and shoot armour piercing at me.
 
Concealment & Camouflage
Surface Detection Range: 13.1 km
Air Detection Range: 8.5 km
Minimum Surface Detection Range:  11.2km
Concealment Penalty while Firing: +8.49km (vs 16.0km gun range)
 
Well, you're never going to be able to make the Graf Spee sneaky, that's for sure.  Her guns are too big and so is her surface detection range.  This should clearly emphasize the need to keep your distance from dangerous opponents (read: everyone).  Use the accuracy and hitting power of your guns along with your agility to dodge reprisals.  Be aware of your low speed and that if things turn sour, you will not be able to easily disengage if you let them slip within your surface detection range. 
 
Rivals: Tirpitz

Everything I said about Scharnhorst goes doubly so for Tirpitz. This German brute brawls and tanks with the best of them, has significantly heavier firepower and boasts a decent set of torpedoes to boot. This is a ship that lives for the brawl, with an armor scheme that becomes stronger the closer you come, and a very nasty poison dagger in the form of torpedoes. The two ships couldn't play more differently. In fact the only thing that they have in common is aforementioned poison dagger.

The last thing you want to do in a Graf Spee is move in for the brawl, or try to facetank biblical amounts of damage. She can brawl in a pinch, but her low speed means that getting there is an issue in and of itself, and her weak armor means you're not going to last long when you do. Only push in for a brawl from a position of strength, when you're confident your health, firepower and torpedoes mean you will win the brawl, after which you can use your heal to recover some of the health you're inevitably going to lose.


Anti-Aircraft Defense
AA Battery Calibers: 105mm / 37mm / 20mm
AA Umbrella Ranges: 4.5km / 3.5km / 2.0km
AA DPS per Aura: 50 / 10 / 30
 
I shouldn't have been surprised to see the Graf Spee suffer from what could be described as "early-war AA power".  It's an affliction that many premium ships have succumb to, including the Dunkerque, Arizona and Perth.  Without the Defensive Fire consumable, the Graf Spee's AA power isn't sufficient to keep her safe from enemy carriers.  You'll be lucky to chew through an aircraft or two before they launch their attacks.  Without help, you're never going to do enough damage to wear down their reserves.  The consumable will at least make you a less appealing target and you might even bloody the noses of the incoming attack waves.  Players should seriously consider arming that over Hydroacoustic Search.
 
Still, I would never be so bold as to call the Graf Spee's AA power "good", even when specialized for it.
 
 

While the Graf Spee will never have anything close to formidable AA power, with the Defensive Fire consumable, she can at least protect herself.

Overall Impressions

Skill Floor: Simple / Casual / Challenging / Difficult
Skill Ceiling: Low / Moderate / High / Extreme
 
 Do not invest in the Graf Spee lightly.  She combines some of the difficulties of a cruiser with some of the difficulties of a Battleship.  When we were play testing the Graf Spee, there were some testers who just couldn't make a go of her.  But on the flip side, those that did succeed with her did very, very well.  If you couldn't find that magic engagement range that worked just right for your play style or if you couldn't prioritize your targets, the Graf Spee just didn't perform.   You'll be tempted to play her like a Battleship.  Don't.  You'll be tempted to play her like a light cruiser.  Don't do that either.  She's her own beast.
 
Lert hit the nail on the head when suggestion that she's sort of like the Molotov.  You need to find that magic range where your own guns perform well but not so close that the enemy can easily shoot you back.  Unlike the Molotov, though, your guns are nowhere near as ubiquitous -- nor do you have as many of them with anything close to the same reload.  They're best suited to slapping cruisers and battleships, instead of being suitable for harassing all comers.
 
 The real pinnacle of good Graf Spee play comes when you can effectively use her Hydroacoustic Search offensively.  This requires getting close, as you can imagine -- dangerously close.  To do so means that you understand how to isolate prey and how to avoid reprisals.  You also trust your gunnery and torpedo skills to unmask prey that's attempted to go to ground.  While I do strongly advocate for inexperienced Spee players to stick to Defensive Fire while they're learning the ship, the move over to Hydroacoustic Search unlocks the last bit of nastiness this ship can deliver.  British cruisers beware.
 
The Lertbox

Graf Spee is a strong ship. At least, I firmly believe so. Bad games were rare for me, and even in those cases I had fun. Her guns punish broadside cruisers, and even angled battleships at range usually caught one or two of my shells for a couple thousand damage. But strong as she is against cruisers and reliable as she is against battleships, Spee doesn't have the volume of fire to effectively deal with destroyers. Where she falls apart most is in tanking incoming fire. Her armor can reliably bounce 8" AP when properly angled, but battleship fire just yolo's through you like a hot knife through butter.

The thing is though, that goes for all cruisers at her tier. And Spee has more hitpoints, and a heal. The three key things to keep in mine when driving Graf Spee are that you're not driving a battleship, you're driving a cruiser - and that target selection is paramount, more than in other cruisers. The third is that other cruisers are faster, so you must be aware not to overextend.

Her dispersion is good, far better than that of the German battleships, but it won't feel that way because of her low volume of fire. Her torpedoes are excellent and a powerful deterrent for anyone chasing her. This is a cruiser that bullies cruisers, but doesn't do well against destroyers, and though she can reliably damage battleships, that damage is nibbles rather than large bites. That said, I found her AP more consistent against battleships than that of 8" or 6" armed cruisers at the same tier.

I love this ship. But that's just because she clicked with me.

 
Mouse's Summary: 
  • She's not an easy ship to use.  Opinions from testers really were heavily polarized as "too strong" or "too weak".
  • The Graf Spee is amazing as an ambush predator.  Success with this ship often involves holding fire until just the right target or opportunity presents itself. 
  • Destroyers are scary.
  • Carriers are also scary.
  • But not as scary as a tier 8 Battleship that's faster, tougher and harder hitting than you deciding it wants to eat you.

When I imagined classic Battlecruiser game play for World of Warships, what I imagined isn't what I saw with the likes of the Ishizuchi or the Amagi.  These are both fast-battleships with slightly less armour.  I pictured the ships being much more lightly armed and much more fragile.  This was, of course, my imagination running far and away from what reality should have indicated.  You can imagine my surprise when playing the Graf Spee dredged up these impressions.

The Graf Spee is going to polarize the community.  Some are going to love her.  Some are going to say she's grossly overpowered.  Then there are going to be others that can't make her work for the life of them.  The Admiral Graf Spee is heavily overspecialized.  She's a wonderful ambush predator but she's very selective of her prey.  Destroyers and Carriers can give her a lot of problems.  Sailing predictably will get her deleted with contemptuous ease.  Choosing your targets poorly or announcing your presence prematurely will greatly reduce the amount of damage you can inflict.
 
 The only thing I really didn't like about the Graf Spee was her top speed.  I dunno, in my head, in the histories I had read or heard about her, I somehow got the impression that she was wicked fast but that's clearly not the case.  In fact, it's probably one of her greatest weaknesses -- an inability to largely dictate engagement ranges.  Short of meeting a brick or a Bogue, you're not outrunning anyone.  Maneuver poorly and this forces the Graf Spee to have to fight her way out.  At times like these, that six gun broadside feels mighty small and her reload painfully long.
 
Would I Recommend?
 Generally?  No.  The Graf Spee is going to give the novice player a lot of trouble.  She doesn't have enough firepower and she's too fragile with a dependence on keeping engagement ranges open to survive.  I could hedge my bets by saying she's a welcome challenge or an opportunity for players to use to improve themselves but there's definitely a touch of finesse required to get the most out of Spee and I question if the average Warships player is going to espouse the necessary tactics or cry foul at their imposition.
 
Special mention should be made for those who enjoy Co-Op, of course.  The Graf Spee does very well there.  Her guns are hard hitting.  Her torpedoes are fun to use and bots are categorically dumb.  It's very easy to do well with her there and score big damage totals in short order to boot.
 
For Random Battle Grinding
 
Mouse:   The Graf Spee is a good trainer for your German captains, no matter what their proficiency.  However, with up to four consumable slots with three likely vying to be upgraded to premiums, it's hard to see the Graf Spee as being a good credit earner.  The Scharnhorst is a better buy for your German training and credit earning needs, hands down.   I can't justifiably recommend her here.
 
Lert:  I think so, yes. Spee makes a decent amount of credits and XP, comparable to ships like Molotov and Perth. She's comfortable to drive, if slow, and can reliably do the damage needed to earn aforementioned credits.
 
For Competitive Gaming
 
Mouse:  I'm strongly inclined to say no.  I would bring a Dunkerque instead of the Graf Spee.  The Dunkerque is faster, harder hitting and tougher.  That said, the combination of big guns and hydro is tempting for a competitive environment, but I see her too easily trumped by the all-too common destroyers of in Ranked Battles.   The Leander would arguably be a much better choice.  And not a premium you had to buy.
 
Lert:  No. Reliable volume-of-fire cruisers like Aoba, Cleveland and Molotov are better suited. Plus, Spee is just too slow in a meta where flexibility is paramount. Her hitpoints and heal just don't make up for her deficiencies here.
 
For Collectors
 
Mouse:  Why hasn't Hollywood made a recent Admiral Graf Spee film?  Yes. 
 
Lert:  This is the Admiral Graf Spee we're talking about. The lead antagonist of the first naval battle of WWII and the main part one of my favorite stories of the war, a story filled with honor, integrity, intrigue and sacrifice. For any collector serious about naval history, Graf Spee is a crown piece of any collection and a must-buy.
 
For Fun Factor
 
Mouse:  I enjoyed her.  But I like my odd ships.  There's certainly a uniqueness to the Graf Spee that I really enjoyed.  Plus, I really like the challenge of stalking enemies from afar to deliver crippling sudden strikes.
 
Lert:  Maybe? It strongly depends on whether you can make her work or not. She's slow-for-a-cruiser and doesn't have a high volume of fire to make her excellent against destroyers, a role typically assigned to a Cruiser.
 
 
Boom, baby.  While she doesn't have a lot of guns, you will LOVE how well they pop cruisers suddenly and dramatically.
 
How to Spee and Neuter your Admiral Graf
As far as a training ship goes, there's a lot of overlap with the Graf Spee and other ship types.  Short of something weird happening with the German destroyers, she will probably end up a decent trainer for them too.
 
Recommended Modules
 Here's my picks for your modules:
 
  • For your first slot, Main Armaments Modification 1 is your best choice.

  • In slot number zwei, as good as her dispersion is, you're going to want Aiming Systems Modification 1 to tighten it up further.  A lot of your shell fire will be at what amounts to long range for the Spee.

  • Are the third module slots all still terrible?  Yep, looks like.  So go with Damage Control System Modification 1.  At least this gives a small increase to your torpedo defense.

  • And finally, for your fourth slot, Steering Gears Modification 2 is your best choice.  This will reduce your rudder shift time down to 8.2s which will really help with dodging fire.

Recommended Consumables

Like any consumable heavy ship, you really need to watch your budget with the Graf Spee when it comes to equipping premium versions as you can put a significant dent on your earning potential.  If you're taking her into Co-Op, even just a pair of these can quickly zero-sum you on a poor performing match.
 
  • As ever, a premium version of her Damage Control Party is almost a must. 

  • While you have the choice between Hydroacoustic Search and Defensive Fire, I find the latter to be more forgiving at least until you get comfortable with the Spee.  This will not turn her AA power into anything formidable but you may find some nice opportunities to either assist comrades or save your own butt if a strike-equipped CV wants to test the new-boat.  Which they will.  For those pinching pennies, you can avoid the premium versions of these.

  • Don't ever take a premium version of an aircraft unless you hate credits.

  • But do consider taking a premium version of your Repair Party.  The combination of a reduced reset timer and additional charge can save your ship.

Recommended Captain Skills

The Graf Spee doesn't predicate taking any weird skills, thankfully.  Though she might not gel particularly well with some of the secondary-heavy built Captains such as for the Bismarck or the Friedrich der Große.
 
  •  As ever, take Basic Fire Training for your first slot.  This will bump up your AA power and give your secondaries a little bit of extra teeth.  We're not focusing on building up our secondaries, but it will happen as a matter of course.

  • For slot number two, Expert Marksman and Last Stand are both worthwhile.  The former will reduce your 180' turret rotation down to 22.8s.  Even though the Graf Spee looks the part of a Battleship, she does get her steering gears and engine blown out on occasion when you don't dodge properly.  While not as chronic as that of the Konigsberg or Nurnberg, you may find Last Stand worthwhile.  I would recommend Expert Marksman more though.

  • At slot number three, Superintendent is my preferred choice with the caveat that you have to be making use of all of your consumable charges on a regular basis for this to be worthwhile.  Otherwise go with Vigilance to spot torpedoes earlier.  If you're particularly mean, you could also go with Torpedo Acceleration.  This will reduce the Spee's torpedo range to the stereotypical 6km range of other German ships but launches them at a horrifying speed of 70 knots.  Hilarious!

  • Next up, Advanced Fire Training is definitely the best choice.  This will give your AA power and Secondaries a nice boost to their range, bringing them up to 5.4km and 4.8km respectively. 

  • And finally, take Concealment Expert.  This will reduce your surface detection range with camouflage down to 11.2km.  You won't be able to stealth fire, but you will be better able to control engagements when you hold fire between reloads.
 
 
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