The Beginner’s Detailed Guide for Japanese Destroyers in WoWS

Lately there’s been some negative feedback regarding the WOWS articles I’ve posted here, more precisely concerning their lack of depth and the fact that they provided little useful information to what beginners actually have to do to improve quickly and to become decent if not good WOWS players. This piece is my response to the critique and in the same time, hopefully a guide that will make readers true masters of Japanese destroyers by the time they reach the bottom of this page/article.

The first thing a beginner needs to understand about destroyers in general and about Japanese destroyers in particular, is the nature of the ship they’re dealing with. Destroyers are fast, agile and stealthy ships, the smallest in the game (true to the proportions of their real-life counterparts) which can pack a nasty punch under the right circumstances, but which come with a glass jaw. At the beginning of battles, as a destroyer captain, you’ll see the role of the ship defined on your loading screen: you’re supposed to carry out torpedo attacks on the enemy fleet and “escort” friendly ships. While that is exactly what you should stick to, the definition leaves room to tons of explanations and analysis, so here we go.
Destroyers are thin-skinned, with low HP and aren’t designed for artillery-slugfests. Staying out of such battles and avoiding direct confrontation at all cost is half of your mission in the game. Low observability and speed are your most important weapons in this respect. Most of the enemy fleet, with the exception of destroyers of course, will spot you much later than you spot them. That’s a major advantage with Japanese destroyers, because the range of their torpedoes is longer than the distance at which they’ll be seen. Back to stealth though: your mission as a destroyer captain should be to remain unseen preferably at all times. Whenever someone spots you, do everything you can to melt back into the mist. Do not commit the mistake of getting emotionally invested into a “duel”, looking to inflict damage on a particular enemy at all costs.

That doesn’t work in this game. Swoop in for a punch, then get out before the opponent realizes what hit him, regardless of the amount of damage you’ve managed to inflict. Don’t chase the enemy, unless you can do so without blowing your cover. If you get spotted (and it will happen), turn around and run while dodging the incoming artillery salvos by zig-zagging your way out. Look back at the ship(s) firing at you and as soon as you see a salvo lift off their decks, tweak your rudder a bit left or right. If you have several ships firing at you, just zig-zag and employ a smoke screen if possible. Smoke screen is great, but don’t forget to hit P to turn off your AA armaments which will give you away even through smoke if there are enemy planes spotting above. If a plane (or anything belonging to the enemy) can see you, everyone else on their team will see you too and they be able to keep you under fire and sink you faster than you’d think it’s possible. Destroyers are really vulnerable to the big guns of enemy cruisers and especially battleships.

Your weapons. On your destroyer, you have artillery batteries and torpedo launcher-tubes. These are your means to inflict harm on your foes and to a beginner, it can be a little confusing what to use…after all, firing an artillery salvo into an opponent well within range can be extremely tempting, and it doesn’t require finesse and intricate maneuvering/guesswork. Forget about your guns. That’s right. Forget about them altogether. They’re nothing but pea-shooters, utterly useless 98% of the time, with the exception of a couple of circumstances I’ll discuss later. Your torpedoes – as clumsy and cumbersome (not to mention frustrating) as they may seem, are your main weapons by a long shot. Whenever you fire your guns at something like a battleship or cruiser, you cause a minor annoyance, you throw away stealth and you serve yourself up for dinner. Keep your pea-shooters quiet and rely on your torpedoes for offense/damage. It may be a little frustrating at first, but you will have to master torpedo attacks if you want to score kills and dish out damage with a destroyer.

How do you use your torpedoes? On a Japanese destroyer, torpedo-attacks are fairly straightforward. The best victims for your torpedoes are enemy battleships, carriers and then cruisers. Cruisers can be a handful to go up against, and other destroyers are a nightmare. Here’s how a perfect torpedo-attack should unfold: you spot an enemy battleship 12 km away. You position your cursor on it, switch to torpedo (3) and hit X to target it. This will give you the bearing of the ship as well as the ideal “strip” where your torpedoes should be fired for a timely rendez-vous with the side of the targeted ship. Set course in the direction indicated by this handy little tool: that’s the fastest route to approach your target. DO NOT fire any torpedoes at this point. close the distance to 7 km. Once you’re down to about 7.3-7.2 km, start turning in the direction in which you’re least likely to be spotted by other elements of the enemy force. The distance will continue to drop as you turn. When you’re down to 7-6.5 km, fire your torpedoes. If you have 3 salvos at your disposal, fire one straight down the center of the ideal targeting strip indicated, one slightly ahead of it and one slightly behind. Keep turning and be done with the launching of the torps by the time your back is turned to the target and you can no longer engage. Do not come back for another shot unless you manage to steam parallel to your target while not getting closer than 6 km. Under 6 km, he will spot you and the surprise element is gone. Continue turning after launch outside the visual range of your target, giving your tubes time to reload. If you time this loop well, by the time you get back in position, you’ll have another set of salvos at the ready. Rinse and repeat. If you manage to pull this off, the enemy ship won’t get a whiff of your presence before his torpedo warning is sounded, which -for battleships and carriers – is usually too late. If you go closer than 6 km before firing your torpedoes, they’ll learn about your presence and take evasive action. Battleships may still be hit this way (being closer, the torps will arrive sooner too) but Cruisers will almost always evade. Torpedoes can be fired with a wide or a narrow spread. With the above strategy, I prefer to use the narrow spread as the likelihood of a Devastating Strike (one-salvo kill) is much bigger this way (several torps will impact). Your target-selection is extremely important too: you’re much more likely to hit a battleship than a cruiser, thus you will want to single the lumbering beasts out even when there’s a pack of enemy ships you’re dealing with. Place your cursor upon the battleship and hit X to single it out, do your little destroyer-dance and fire your torps at it then get out and start to loop back in. This tactic works well early-game, when you have packs of ships coming at you. Your torps will cause widespread panic among the enemy ranks, and you may even score unintended hits when you target a battleship that’s slightly behind the rest of the villains. More importantly though, the battleship captain will assume you’re targeting someone if front of him and won’t break into evasive action in case you are spotted. I found this approach to work like a charm. With a bit of luck thrown in there, you can even hit several ships in one launch.

Later in the game, as the action spreads out, battleships will remain your preferred prey, as – when isolated from their destroyer/cruiser screen – they’re effectively defenseless against you. Still later in the game, if you manage to break through to them, carriers are definitely on the menu too. Use the same MO against them, although – when they’re without proper escort – you can actually afford to get much closer to them as they won’t be able to hurt you as much as a battleship even if they do spot you. Just remember to zig-zag and maneuver around to evade those pesky dive-bombers (which are much less of a threat in the game than they were in real life at Midway for instance) and torpedo bombers. If you’re spotted, turn on your AA guns and fire a couple of HE shells onto the deck: if you can get a fire going, the carrier won’t be able to launch planes at you.

Cruisers are much lower on the list of preferred targets. While the torps they carry in the higher tiers aren’t much of a threat, these guys move fast, and they can actually evade your perfectly launched torpedoes, even if they only notice them when their alarm is sounded. On top of all that, if they catch a glimpse of you, they have the firepower to knock a couple of coats of paint right off your ship. Few things are more frustrating in the game than going up against a skilled Cruiser captain, who knows how to deal with destroyers. At least however, you still spot them before they spot you. The same cannot be said about enemy destroyers. That’s your nightmare match-up. Just as stealthy as you are, enemy destroyers will usually stumble upon you when you’re already close-up and it always ends in a catfight. While you can at least theoretically sink every other ship-class without getting as much as a scratch on your destroyer, when locking up with another destroyer, you will always suffer damage. Use your torps, but get on those guns and put them to use too. Pepper your opponent with HE rounds, keep an eye out for his torps and shells and hope for the best. It’s a real catfight and he with the better close-quarters fighting skills will prevail, but no party will walk away unscathed from this brawl. To make things even worse, destroyers will spot you for the rest of the fleet, which brings us to another important part of our guide: destroyer counters.

You need to know how your ship-class is best countered to know what situations to avoid. As said above, some of the best destroyer counters are other destroyers. While they can go out on lone-wolf missions and effectively harass/even sink a whole wing of the enemy fleet single-handedly, destroyers also act as the eyes of the fleet. When a destroyer steams in front of a wall of cruisers and battleships, and you run into this lineup, just try to lay down smoke and run. There’s nothing else you can do: the destroyer will spot you and the other ships will rain continuous fire down on you. In 90% of the cases, you get closely acquainted with Davey Jones’ locker in such situations. As a destroyer, you can play that role too though, in fact this is probably the role the class was designed for in the game.
Another hard counter for destroyers are planes: they spot you and the battleships turn you into Swiss-cheese from 12 miles away, from the other side of an island. Smoke is your defense against planes too: smoke up the place and turn off your AA. You can then get back to your devious scheming, or split the spot if the situation is too hot there. As a destroyer captain, situational awareness is your next best friend to stealth.

Above, I’ve covered two situations when your guns come into play. Another such situation is when you have an opponent near-sinking. In such cases, you can use your guns for the coup de grace, even on cruisers and battleships, given how they won’t really be able to retaliate.

To wrap things up: there are some highly frustrating situations you shall encounter as a destroyer captain. Here’s a small run-down of them and pointers on how to counter/avoid them. The more obvious such situation is when you end up torpedoing you teammates. You have to be aware of your situation and place in the formation when you launch your torps. Still, especially later in the game, it may happen that a teammate, locked in binocular view and firing away at the enemy will simply steam into your torpedoes from an impossible spot/angle. Other than that though, as you gain experience and a “feel” for your ship, you will be able to pull off some rather close launches without harming your allies.

Another annoying scenario will unfold like this: you have an enemy battleship isolated from its team and in your crosshairs. It is however sailing straight away from you or at a 45-degree angle. You move in within 6.5 kms, launch your torps, you loop away and you follow the torpedoes as they speed towards the victim (you can do that by pressing Z). You see that everything is on time and on target and see that 4 of your 6 torps will impact…then seemingly 2 meters from the side of the ship, they fizzle out and sink. The reason for that is that although you did fire your torpedoes from 6.5 kms (well within range), as they travelled towards the target, the target itself travelled away from the point of launch, so by the time the torps reached it, it was more than 7 kms from that point, having thus effectively outrun your weapons. The way to defeat this problem is to simply move closer, risking detection and a nasty pounding, or to disengage and attempt approach from a different angle later.

Peter Wassenberg is a member of the top eSports community,