Beginner's Guide to Naval Battles

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Welcome to the Naval Battles mode of War Thunder! This guide will help get a player on their feet in trying out War Thunder naval warfare.

Img ship.png

Getting started in War Thunder

This section's purpose is to get the player adequately ready in jumping into a War Thunder naval battle, starting from choosing a nation towards joining a battle.

Choosing a nation

With five nations in the game as of Update 1.93 "Shark Attack", there are lots of starting points to choose from for the War Thunder naval career. These descriptions will cover the first impressions of each country and the trends in navy characteristics as a player progresses in the tech tree.

Msg-info.png Do note that these are very general descriptions of the tech tree and that individual ships present in each nation can have their own characteristics that may differ from the trends.

USA flag.png USA

Coming out of WW2 as the premier naval power the US Navy has a lot to offer and a great synergy with its available air support.

Starters:
Early US gameplay is centered around Motor Gun Boats, particularly utilizing famous Bofors and Oerlikon cannons. PT's are well-rounded boats, with no big drawbacks, but also no big issues. Sub Chasers are much slower but also better armed than their opponents.

Tech Tree trends:

Germany flag.png Germany

Though the Kriegsmarine in WW2 was chiefly active in submarine warfare, it does not limit the variety and effectiveness of the surface fleet in War Thunder.

Starters:
E-boats or Schnellboote Germany's designation for the fast attack craft, are among the common vehicles in the early research. Fast, nimble and with a plethora of armament variants the S-38 and S-100 class are renowned and feared in equal measure. While the starting Reserve vehicle may be a Schnellboot itself, one must highlight the cuteness of it. Downright tiny, overall round and a plaything of the waves, the LS 3 does not look like its big brethren. Yet the name is not false for the Light E-boat 3 plays like the later Torpedoboats in the German Tree. Both Hit-and-Run and Ambush play can be tried and trained. Although the start is a tour de speed, many other early vessels sail in a more leisured fashion. There is a great selection of heavily armed barges and other slow boats in the tree coming in Rank II and the R-boots Minesweeper vessels here are too great learning experiences for such a playstyle.

Tech Tree trends:
Later vessels tend to increase firepower, especially the flak and artillery barges in Rank II. They sit in the WW2 part of the branch, making an odd fit with the prior unlocked S-100s. Only common feature is the miniscule amount of armour protecting the crew and modules. While being Anti-Air-vessels they themself are highly succeptible to them. The next branch in Rank II focuses more on several smaller Post WW2 vehicles. Noteworthy is the Jaguar (140), a continuation of the WW2 S-100 class. Otherwise following it is a pure gun boat line.

Rank III is a pure Destroyer branch (with the exception of the oddly placed gun boat K-2) with a later focus on crew quantity and the mainstain of the destroyer branch the 12.7 cm SKC/34. Noteworthy is the excellent anti-air complement on all of them.

Rank IV: The German cruisers, sleak and fast ships for convoy raiding, feature impressive anti-air abilities and above average main armament. Armour itself is average though and in a citadel design, protecting engines and ammunition bunkers. Yet the mixed armour thickness design compared to All-or-Nothing approach results in many AP fuses igniting on thin armour plates for the less vital section. However, the proection against small arms, high explosives and anti-air fire is considerable. So lightly armed convoys beware.

USSR flag.png USSR

Starters:
The soviet tree begins with an unusual whaleback design, G-5, a boat with the smallest overwater hit area in the game. Further on the tree is divided into 2 major branches: Motor Torpedo Boats and Gun Boats. Soviet boats are relatively slow but well-armed and fairly survivable. Also BMO is the only Armored Gun Boat in rank 1.

Tech Tree trends:


Britain flag.png Britain

Starters:
Early British ships, similarly to their US counterparts, are well-rounded units leaning towards Gun Boats. Fairmile or Isles class are larger and much slower than most of the boats in rank 1, but they're also better armed. In fact Dark Adventurer features the highest calibre gun of any rank 1 boat - 114 mm.

Tech Tree trends:


Japan flag.png Japan

Starters:
Rank 1 is largely centered on gun-centric boats, the notably weak part of the rank are Soukou-Tei and Ha-Go (mod. 1), where they have enough armor to slow them down, but not enough to protect them from nearly any ammunition belt in the game. The first branch of the research tree, with the Type T-* boats (including the reserve boat) very competitive in right hands, having a relatively small size, high mobility, and good weaponry.

Tech Tree trends:
Japanese tree is very mixed, with several unusual designs, forcing players into more skill-based gameplay, than just relying on a brute force. There are also no such clear trends as with the other trees. Generally, Japanese ships have an extremely poor anti-air defense and an exceptional torpedoes.

Rank 2 is relatively short, can be passed by going through just 2 boats. Side-tree from PT-15 onwards goes to the modern boats that require a very substantial amount of RP to research, being recommended for more experienced players.

Rank 3 is made of torpedo-heavy destroyers, with good guns, but extremely weak anti-aircraft weaponry. IJN Akizuki is an exception for the branch, having exceptionally good anti-aircraft weaponry, not just among Japanese ships, but other destroyers as well.

Cruiser gameplay (Rank 4 and 5) is mixed-bag in terms of potential, with some ships being very competitive (eg. Mogami-class), while other relatively underpowered (eg. IJN Kuma). Japanese cruisers, similarly to destroyers, come equipped with a very potent, long-range torpedoes, including Long Lance.


Preparing for the first match

Before starting up the first naval match, it is recommended for all players to play the tutorial section in-game to be familiarized with the ship steering and damage mechanics of the game.

To enter the tutorial form the menu, go to "Battles" at the top left corner to the left of the "Community" tab. A drop down menu should appear, with "Tutorials" appearing fourth from the top. From there, the tutorial titled Basic tutorial course: "Motor Boat Control Basis" should be completed, with bonuses in currency and a crewslot added once completed.

Now, it is time to select the game mode for the match. For any newcomers, Arcade mode is recommended as there will be assist markers available for shell trajectory and automatic firing range setting that helps new players understand where their shots will go at long range, and how to lead appropriately. As experience is earned while playing the game, the player may choose to join realistic battles for a more immersed gameplay experience.

Once a mode is set, click the large, orange "To Battle!" button to join a queue for game match to be made!

For more details on the game modes for ships, click here!

Fighting in the first match

Once a match has been chosen, the map and objective will be laid out for the player.

The first thing encountered upon joining a match is a vehicle and ammo selection screen, with vehicle selection done atop and ammunition done in the center. The next thing to take note of is a map of the battlefield on the right side, where the primary objectives for the battle are shown.

Most objectives in the game rely on the capture and control of strategic points, with the game mode being called "Conquest" or "Domination" depending on the number of capture points available. These points are captured simply by moving into the bordered circle area with the enemy removed from it.

However, the ease of capturing these points may be hampered by the terrain of each map, torpedoes en route or even mines on route, not to mention the enemy vessels shooting. To avert an early demise, take time and assess the situation. The mini-map and the map screen (default key: "M") are a great help to gain situational awareness. Then start planning a route towards the target point using said mini-map.

Msg-important.png The best penetrating ammunition is not necessarily the most optimal round to fight with in War Thunder, as other factors such as round type (AP, APCBC, SAP, etc.), angle of attack effect, and explosive filler are to be considered as well. Though Armour Piercing ammunition may have a large amount of penetration potential, majority of the boats in rank 1 and 2 have no armor, and their internal ammunition racks are very unlikely to explode, even if destroyed. On the other hand High Explosive shells may do little to heavily armored parts of the ship (such as gun shields), while at the same time being far more likely to ignite enemy ships. For more details on ammo type, see this page.

Once these considerations are taken into account, click any of the orange "To Battle!" buttons; the large one on the bottom right or the ones above the vehicle icon (or double-click on a vehicle icon) to spawn into the fight!

Breathing salty air and engines full speed ahead, the one thing to keep in mind is to play the objective. Because even if one side manages to knock out more total vessels than the enemy, if the foe retains the capture points, they will win by draining the ticket counter. Plus, taking these points result in a nice reward and score boost, so there's something in it for not just for the team, but for the individual!

Maneuvering the battlefield takes skill and familiarity with the steering characteristics. Bea-lining a straight path towards the objective just allows the enemy to lead their fire with ease. Use the terrain for cover and concealment under smoke, fog, or behind hills, and allied wreckage, etc. Exploting one's vessel speed and shift allows for steering through long range incomming fire and traversing difficult seas (river deltas, archipelago ) to get around predictable routes, catching the enemy by surprise. Prior leg work such as good positioning and team work will greatly improve one's success once entering combat.

Every encounter with an enemy, like in most player-versus-player games, is a test of wits and initiative. A good mindset to have is to not view exposure as a mere state, but rather as a conscious, active decision. Every second of exposure represents a risk one should be aware of. Try to surprise the enemies by attacking on their flanks. When you must move into an area that is watched or even under enemy control, remember to pre-aim your turrets and aim your weapon to do as much damage as you can with your first shot. This means aiming for either armament to prevent any return fire or going all in and aiming for the ammo storage.

The reward at the end of a match is largely determined by whether you have won or lost the match, and the outcome of the match is largely determined by who possesses the capture points. This, coupled with the fact that a point capture carries a higher reward than destroying an enemy, means capturing points is a first priority. Even having more targets destroyed and losing can net a smaller result than less targets destroyed and winning.

Congratulations! You have experienced your first naval match in War Thunder (or at least one that you have a good awareness on what's actually happening). However, there's more to War Thunder than just blasting away at the enemy.

After the first match

Now that you know how to fight and win battles, it is now time to use that experience to advance your placement in the tech tree you have chosen.

As more battles are fought, research points are earned towards upgrading the ship and progressing the tech tree. We'll relay how to do each step here.

Upgrades

Upgrading ship comes down to two factors, unlocking modifications for the modules and training the crew.

Modules and modifications

Main article: Modifications

In the menu, there is the option to unlock modifications for the vessel in question. These are divided into three categories: Seakeeping, Unsinkability, and Firepower. Seakeeping upgrades the engine maintenance, propeller replacement, and dry-docking. Unsinkability upgrades survivability potential with repairs, fire extinguishers, and shrapnel protection. Firepower upgrades turret characteristics, accuracy, and unlocks new ammunition to be used. These are researched and unlocked one by one, and as the criteria is met, the next tier of modifications can be unlocked to further enhance the ship.

In any ship, it is recommended to always focus on unlocking these two modifications, which happen to both be in the protection column.

  • Tool Set — This is due to otherwise being unable to repair critical modules on the battlefield. By default, only track damage could be repaired anywhere on the battlefield and repairs can be done on captured points. However, repairs to critical modules such as the gun, turret, transmission, and engine would be impossible away from a captured point without the Parts modification.
  • Fire Protection System (referred to as "FPE" by the community) is very important for combat survival as these are the most viable way to extinguish ship fires (outside of sinkingto the ocean floor). Without this, a simple fire will slowly chip away at module health, eventually leading to ammo combustion that will knock out the vessel from the game.

Past these, the priority of modifications to upgrade can vary from different ships and should be consulted on individual vessel pages on which modules are more important to research.

Crew skills

Main article: Crew skills

Arguably one of the least looked at part of vessel upgrades, crew skills can play a big role in the firepower and survivability. Unlike modifications, the training of a crew are specific to the crew slot in the line-up and can be transferable to any boat the crew is using (except "Expert" and "Ace" status, these are ship and crew specific).

Crew information can be reached on the left drop-right menu on the screen with the middle button for the selected crew (under "Vehicle Information" and above the "Favourite Achievements" button). From here, "Crew Training" would direct the player to a screen that would show the following tabs:

The crew training page, where upgrades in the Damage control's fire extinguishing skill shows an appreciable benefit.
  • Ship commander
  • Observers
  • Engine room
  • Gunners
  • Damage control
  • Logistical services
  • Qualification

Each have their own unique skills to help enhance the ship in their role. Upgrading each trait in a crew tab with the earned Crew XP Points would add a 0.5 point to the overall crew level. Each skill that can be upgraded is detailed more on the crew skills page.

Once a certain crew level is reached with crew upgrades, they can enter "Qualification" to become enhanced to one specific ship. The first stage would be "Expert" which adds 3 point to every crew skill for the cost of several Silver Lions Sl icon.png. The impact can be quite noticeable once put into a match.

After an "Expert" qualification is gained, the next step past a maxed out "Expert" crew is the "Ace" status, which enhances the reward to an additional 5 point to every crew skill. However, earning this status is much harder and requires either Golden Eagles Ge icon.png or a huge amount of experiences to achieve.

Progression

Upon selecting your preferred tech tree, you will then being the gradual process of unlocking, researching, and purchasing shipss down a column to progress towards the next vessel type.

Progression is restricted by two factors in the tech tree, vehicle unlock criteria per rank and ship branch connection. Each rank past the first has a criteria of the number of ships that must be researched and purchased before the next rank's vehicles could be researched. Ships are then linked via an arrow branching from one vessel to the next. These arrows indicate that the prior ship must be researched before the next ship could be researched, and purchased before the next ship could be purchased.

Ships restricted from being researched are noted by being under a dark red overlay, with indications that the vessel is locked.

Matchmaking

Main articles: Matchmaker, Battle ratings

While ranks are important for progression, they are not the deciding factor on what types of battles you enter.

Matchmaking in the game is solely based on battle ratings, which are indicated by a numerical value on the lower right corner of a vehicle box (or on top of a stat card). The rank of a vehicle does not play a part in this matchmaking process, and so a rank II vessel can be evenly matched with a rank III vehicle if both have the same battle rating.

Matchmaking in naval battles is sorted by the highest battle rating in the line-up and then battling against enemies within a battle rating range of ± 1.0. For example, a player enters a battle with a line-up with a maximum battle rating of 2.3, causing the player to join a match potentially between 1.3 to 3.3 in battle ratings. This is further divided into groups separated by a value of 1.0, so matches would consist of vehicles in the 1.3-2.3, 1.7-2.7, 2.0-3.0 and 2.3-3.3 vehicles. This develops into the concepts of "uptier" and "downtier" as coined by the community, where "uptier" would be placing the 2.3 line-up in a 2.3-3.3 match, while a "downtier" would be in a 1.3-2.3 match.

Always consult the statistics cards for ships when creating a line up. Also remember that every vehicle have a different battle ranking and stats card in different game modes. To change which stats card you are looking at, simply click on the mode view option at the bottom right of the research tree.

Advanced considerations

Aside from turning that diamond-shape symbol on the capture point into a blue color and destroying enemy vessels, there are more intricate details to cover when detailing how to play the game more deeply than shoot-and-scoot.

Vehicle usage

Here we detail the typical usage of each vehicle type in a battle.

Msg-info.png It should be pointed out that when choosing a vehicle to load into a battle, not every ship in the game is optimal for every situation. For example, it would probably be unwise to spawn in a slow Gun Boat when the last objective is six miles out and five minutes before match ends. A quicker Torpedo Boat may be less armed but could still arrive in time for a capture.

These situations are the reason why a diverse line up is usually good, as you cannot predict what map or match you will get, so the naval line up has to be suitable for most/all maps. In addition, later into the game, the second, third, and proceeding vehicles you choose can impact the game. If your team needs to quickly capture the "A" point to avoid a loss, you want a fast-moving vehicle to get there quickly to stop the "ticket bleed".

Without further ado, here's a general "doctrine" on how each ship type are to perform on the battlefield.

Boats

Boats are contained within ranks 1 and 2.

Torpedo Boats

Usually fast, agile, their largest damage-dealer are torpedoes, though they do have additional guns. Torpedoes will kill anything up to a destroyer with a single hit, and even with destroyers, an impact near the ammunition storage or simply: a destroyer with an already killed-off crew, will sink them instantly.

Gun Boats

Motor Gun Boats

An equivalent of Motor Torpedo Boats, only primarily focused on guns. They tend to be small, fast, agile, heavily armed, but missing torpedoes or depth charges. If they're slow - they tend to be more heavily armed.

Armored Gun Boats

Slower, but armored gun boats. They usually carry heavier weaponry for the size than their more mobile cousins.

The usefulness of armor on boats is very limited, as even 6.5mm machine guns can penetrate 20mm armor at 500 meters with tracer rounds, and realistically most boats carry much heavier machine guns or straight on cannons that can easily pierce through anything a boat can feasibly carry. Moreover: armored boats will still ignite on fire when hit with HE rounds. Armor is useful primarily against shallow angle or long-range hits.

Sub Chaser

Gun-heavy boats equipped with depth charge throwers. Usually much larger than the Torpedo Boats or Motor Gun Boats

Barges

Barges are extremely slow, but heavily armed and highly survivable units. They are a bane of low-altitude bombers and fighters, creating a no-fly zone for the enemy, and at the same time, they're more than able to take down any hostile boat. Their biggest flaw is mobility, which means that not only they rarely manage to venture far from the spawn point, but also they're very prone to torpedoes and bombs, having little chance of changing direction or speed in time to avoid hitting.

Friage

Frigates are a middle-ground between Destroyers and Boats. They tend to be post-war designs, within rank II. Unlike boats, they have modifications that are typical for the capital ships, they're also able to engage targets at longer distances and using wider, or more modern range of weaponry. Still, though, frigates are relatively prone to damage and are easily outgunned in a straight gunfire with any destroyer.

Gunboat

The distinction between Gunboat and a Frigate in-game is unclear. Frigates tend to be historically newer designs, however there are exceptions.

Destroyers

Gameplay in destroyers differs vastly from boats. 4 km is considered close-range, with ship firing often at ~10 km range, torpedoes increase in importance, positioning and long-term prediction of enemy movements become essential for successful gameplay. Destroyers are slow, heavily armed, often featuring Primary, Auxiliary, Anti-Aircraft guns, torpedoes and depth charges at the same time. Destroyers, however, tend to be unarmored and are relatively large, slow targets, making for a good target for enemy torpedoes and guns alike.

Destroyers begin at rank III.

Cruisers

Cruisers are rank IV and V warships. Gameplay again differs from Destroyers, with ranges increasing even further, main gun caliber going up to above 140mm, secondary armament turning from machine guns to medium and large-caliber cannons, and torpedoes decreasing in importance due to a very high range involved. Also, cruisers are the first class to have an armored citadel as standard and have a much higher crew count, allowing them to easily win a 1 on 1 gunfight with any destroyer. That said though, cruisers are longer, slower, and less maneuverable than Destroyers. Cruisers also tend to carry floatplanes, however, those are not usable in-game.

Light Cruisers

Typically armed with ≈150 mm/≈6 inch main guns and a medium caliber secondary weapons. They typically can fight off even 2 destroyers in straight gunfire, however, they are prone to Heavy Cruisers and torpedo strikes. There's a significant variation in light cruisers, where even pre-World War 1 designs can be found, such as Krasny Krym, laid down in 1913.

Heavy Cruisers

Currently the heaviest playable warships, Heavy Cruisers typically come armed with ≈200 mm/≈8 inch main guns and ≈120 mm/≈5 inch secondaries. They have the firepower to take down destroyers purely with AI gunners on the secondary and anti-aircraft armament. They also tend to feature significant anti-aircraft weaponry, including high caliber guns that can reach bombers even at 3 km altitude. They are true behemoths... but their size is as much of an advantage as it is an issue. An increase in firepower does not come with a proportional increase in armor, and given their large size and a significant threat they pose - they bring the attention of multiple ships, often dying a death by a thousand cuts, not to mention an entire torpedo spreads set up by ambitious destroyers.

Aircraft

Aircraft in naval battles, whether unlocked through the point system in Arcade Battles or player-owned in Realistic Battles, can help give the team an edge with supplementary air power in a combined-arms role. These too are separated into roles of emphasis in naval battles.

  • Fighters should primarily be focused on protecting the air space against enemy aircraft that come in to intercept friendly aircraft or attack sea units. The best strategy to destroy enemy planes is to gain a higher altitude than them, then dive and shoot them down. If no enemy planes are present, strafing the enemy naval units to harass them also fits fighter duty, but the most important role you can be is act as an aerial reconnaissance for your team, relaying where each enemy is on the map. Staying at a high altitude or taking evasive manoeuvres would be necessary if an enemy vessel opens with dedicated anti-air fire.
    • Alternatively, fighters can be armed with bombs and rockets in a Fighter-bomber role to attack sea units. Note that this sacrifices the plane's ability to fight other aircraft so long as these armaments are on the aircraft, and the aircraft's performance in this role varies as they are able to take a very limited tonnage of bombs, requiring very precise hits, preferable from multiple bombs.
  • Attackers and Dive-bombers should both focus on targeting individual sea units and eliminating them with either cannon-armaments on the aircraft or the available bombs and rockets.
    • Attackers come in at a low altitude with their relatively armoured air frame to get better accuracy onto target. Due to their low altitude of attack, equipped bombs should be set on delay to avoid the bomb blast and shrapnel on the ground from affecting the aircraft.
    • Dive-bombers rely on coming in from a high altitude towards the ground to directly deliver a bomb onto target. Air-brakes are available on most of these aircraft to help slow down the dive to allow for an easier adjustment of aim and also to be easier to pull up from the dive.
  • Bombers are more preferred for a carpet-bombing of an area to eliminate the enemy. These should be retained at high altitude to avoid anti-aircraft fire as most bombers lack the manoeuvrability owing to their size from dodging enemy fire.

Game modes

Should you wish for more excitement in your game play, there are other modes to try out with their own perks!

Msg-info.png Simulator Battles features are assumed to also match Realistic Battle's unless stated otherwise.
Naval Forces - Features by Game Mode
Arcade (AB) Realistic (RB) Simulator (SB)
not yet ingame
  • Rangefinder always enabled
  • 3D markers indicate enemy and friendly vehicles and range
  • Scoreboard shows vehicle composition of both teams
  • Engine power is enhanced
  • No player-owned aircraft - only selected match spawns available
  • Limited to three spawns
  • No aim or penetration indicator available
  • Manual rangefinder
  • 3D markers indicate only friendly vehicles
  • Scoreboard shows vehicle composition of only player's team
  • Engine power matches real life specifications
  • Player aircraft can be brought in and used
  • Spawn using "Respawn Points" earned through contributing actions in the match

As mentioned earlier, the Arcade Battle mode is the recommended starter mode since it is forgiving to beginners with assists in firepower (aim and range indicators) and mobility (enhanced engine power) to help be familiarized around the mechanics of the game. Once comfortable with the game, Realistic Battles can be considered for further immersion into the War Thunder battles. Realistic battles, owing to their more complicated game style, also offer enhanced rewards after a battle.

Other tips for beginners

There is a lot of things to learn about War Thunder, so much so that all other tips are placed here! Here are some tips we can give you if you're still new to War Thunder Naval Battles and want some advice, or for ideas on how to fight certain vehicles.

  • Mastering the different camera viewpoints is vital to naval battles:
    • Gunner view, named Sniper mode in the controls option, is necessary to make accurate shots at long-distance targets or to hit weak spots.
    • Binoculars in the controls option, is necessary to gain an overview without moving or de-aiming your turrets.
    • Turret view, which is the zoomed-in exterior (third-person) view, useful for close-quarter combat (especially on archipelago maps).
  • Use your binoculars, it's free. This ingame hint points at a major element of Naval Forces: spotting enemies before they spot you. Being able to surprise enemies to land the first hit is the best way to win a a fight.
  • The towing hook (default keybind: 0) actually works pretty well if you respect these two rules:
    • Point of attachment: if you want to roll and right a vessel back on its keel, attach the hook at the top (aiming with the mouse and pressing the hook key), then sail perpendicular to its hull. The goal is to pull the top of the ship, not drag the bottom across the sea floor or sand bank.
  • Do not leave a battle if you can still respawn. Not only will you be ditching your team, you will also get a Crew Lock, which prevents you from using whichever vehicles receive the lock.