Last Friday when I asked if the Colorado class battleship in World of Warships was really so bad, the first comment I got pointed out how much superior the Nagato class battleship is in the game, of course. The actual post from Kirith Kodachi of the Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah was,
You compared her a lot to the Fuso, but she’s tier VII like the Nagato. I think the complaints come a lot from that comparison as the Nagato is all types of awesome (I might be biased.) 😉
He is quite correct. The Nagato class is all sorts of awesome. I purposefully chose the Fuso class to compare the Colorado class against, rather than the same tier Nagato class. I consciously chose to ignore the Nagato class because the game specifications for that battleship are way out of line with what she was actually capable of doing. The World of Warships version is extremely over powered (OP) and I can prove it. WARNING: this will be a long post of several thousand words.
Now, before everyone loses their mind let me say right here and now I am not saying I can prove the Colorado class battleship was superior to the Nagato class, either in real life or in World of Warships. I am merely going to provide enough evidence to show the Nagato, as it is portrayed in the virtual reality of World of Warships, does not match enough real world data and therefore the virtual version of the ship is OP. To do this, all I need do is show parity between the real IJNS Nagato with the real USS Colorado in most ways that matter in the game.
There are many, many sources of historical data for both ships listing speed, tonnage, gun size, etc. – but that is not enough. To prove how OP the Nagato is, we must analyze the data she might actually have been able to inflict had she engaged in a surface battle. That never happened. Fortunately, I found a web site that has researched such information, and I will liberally reference it in this post. That web site is NavWeaps: Naval Weapons, Naval Technology and Naval Reunions.
I will also draw on a few other sources of information for ancillary data. I will annotate those as I present my findings. And, there is a bonus! I will also present comparative data for the KMS Tirpitz, so everyone who bought one can judge for themselves if it was worth the cost or not. Let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of it shall we?
Let’s start with the armor on the two classes of ship. This is perhaps the most difficult comparison to make. The Japan and the United States had two different concepts of how to armor a ship. Japan took the traditional approach of placing armor on the entire hull. The United States on the other hand recognized a shift in how surface warfare would be fought in the 20th century, and during World War I began constructing ships on the “all or nothing” principle. Basically this doctrine identified key areas of a ship that had to be protected from catastrophic shell penetrations. We call these areas citadels. The remainder of the ship received little to no armor, and steps were taken in the interior design of the ships that would ensure it was capable of remaining afloat and surviving even if these unprotected areas were completely destroyed. There is a great write-up of this on NavWeaps here. Here is the key takeaway from that page,
Part and parcel with the armor scheme went the USN concept of the “raft body.” Since the “all or nothing” scheme eliminated much of the light to medium armor intended to protect a ship’s buoyancy fore and aft, it was necessary to ensure sufficient buoyancy was enclosed within the heavy armored box to ensure the ship could survive if its ends were riddled and flooded.
There is evidence that the all or nothing concept did indeed function as envisioned. On the night of November 14, 1942 an electrical mistake silhouetted the USS South Dakota to the Japanese fleet at Savo Island during the Guadalcanal campaign, and we all know how that works from WoWS. How this specifically came to be can be read in the official incident report here. The South Dakota was illuminated and subsequently hit by 27 Japanese shells ranging in size from 5 inches to 14 inches. A very thorough summary detailing every impact and the damage that resulted from it has been posted to the NavWeap sit by Robert Lundgren, and there are more details and other analysis on his site. It is well worth the read. The conclusion of this excellent article though is this,
Overall, the South Dakota class battleships were tough ships. Their internal armor arrangement meant that Japanese AP shells faced a complex set of defenses that would typically remove their nose ballistic and AP caps before they struck the armor plates. The side shell of these ships was strong enough to limit the damage of even the largest Japanese HE caliber shells fired at point blank range. At Guadalcanal, the “All-or-Nothing” armor system worked as her designers intended in limiting structural damage and keeping the ship’s fighting capacities intact.
Though the South Dakota was in a class of U.S. battleships after the Colorado class, their armor structure was functionally the same. That is where the game designers for World of Warships got it wrong. I don’t think they really understand the concept of “all or nothing.” I don’t think they grok a U.S. battleship can be wrecked fore and aft and still fight as effectively as before. Thus they look at the overall hull armor of the Nagato class post modernization and see it as superior when it is not. They gave the fully upgraded Nagato class ship hull hit points of approximately 65,000 as opposed to the approximate 50,000 hit points of the Colorado class, but without justification. During her modernization in the 1930s, which the C Hull in WoWS is base on, the fundamentals of the Nagato’s armor construction were not altered. The website CombinedFleet.com provides details on what was done to the Nagato,
1 April 1934: First Modernization :
Kure Navy Yard. NAGATO’s hull is lengthened aft, anti-torpedo bulges are added and all torpedo tubes removed. A clipper bow is retrofitted. Additional horizontal armor is fitted over the magazines and machinery spaces. An armor strake is fitted to hull bottom in the vicinity of the turn of the bulges.
New main caliber turrets taken from unfinished battleships KAGA and TOSA are installed. Her 16-inch (406-mm) guns’ elevation is increased to 43 degrees, increasing their maximum range to 41, 448 yards or 23.5 miles. Additional armor is fitted to turret faces, sides and tops. The barbette armor is likewise strengthened. The secondary battery 5.5-inch (140-mm) guns’ elevation is increased to 35 degrees. Two upper deck secondary caliber guns are landed.
The NAGATO’s forward funnel is removed. All of her 20 original steam boilers are removed and replaced with four large Kampon oil-fired boilers in addition to six rebuilt small boilers. As a result of increase in displacement, the NAGATO’s maximum speed drops to 25 knots. Three Nakajima E4N2 floatplanes are embarked.
She got more armor, but nothing changes about how that armor functions other than the torpedo bulges, which the Colorado class already had. So considering the “raft body” concept means the unarmored parts of a USN battleship can be destroyed without affecting the ship’s capabilities, and considering the IJNS Nagato only got more armor, but nothing different or beyond what the USS Colorado had, it really comes down to armor thickness. In that regard, the ships are comparable with a slight nod to the Colorado class for having slightly thicker armor, which is accurately reflect in the game.
The only area where the Nagato exceeds the Colorado is in secondary casemates (not primary casemates, check the real world statistics,) and the loss of those can hardly account for the 15,000 hit point difference between these two ships. Perhaps the Nagato’s casements could account for a slight increase in armor protection, but I think it’d be better to give it an increased secondary gun survivability percentage than overall ship hit points.
This armor parity alone might be enough to prove the Nagato in WoWS is tremendously OP, but I can’t just stop there. There is also this range disparity in the game that did not exist in real life. The guns 16 inch guns on the Nagato were not inherently better than those on the Colorado. That is clearly shown on NavWeaps here (U.S) and here (Japanese.) I have taken the liberty to summarize these two pages, as well as the data for the Tirpitz main gun, in these graphs.
First up for inspection is the range of the main guns on these ships. The chart is well labeled and self-explanatory. We have elevation in degrees along the bottom and range up the side. Overall, the Nagato’s main guns have a very, very slight edge in range over the main gun used on the Colorado class battleships. How slight? At 25 degrees elevation there is less than a 250 meters difference. Both guns range out to just over 32 kilometers. There is certainly not a 900 meter difference near the 20 kilometer range. Again, the game is wrong.
The biggest difference is in elevation capabilities. I have only used the elevations the guns could attain in their final refit, and as you see above the Nagato’s turrets were modified in 1934 to allow a maximum 43 degree elevation. The U.S Mark 5 16 inch guns could only elevate to a maximum 30 degrees. This gives the Nagato a decided range advantage… or does it? What is the furthest range one battleship has ever hit another? I didn’t know the answer to that question until I started digging on the NavWeaps website. It turns out the Scharnhorst hit the HMS Glorious from 26,465 yards away. That’s 24,200 meters, well within the maximum firing range of the U.S Mark 5 main gun. As that is the longest range anything has ever been hit at, anything beyond that range is unnecessary. You plan for the battle you will fight, not the battle you wish you’ll be able to fight. And as you can see above, the Nagato has no range advantage at realistic ranges.
But range isn’t everything. There is also the question of ammunition superiority. Perhaps the ammunition the Nagato used is the reason she is so powerful. That’s a nice hypothesis, but it simply isn’t true. First of all, have a look at the damage summary on the USS South Dakota again. How many shells failed to detonate? There is nothing superior about the performance of those shells. But it was a dark and hectic night. There were many variables which could have caused the poor performance of the Japanese shells.
Let’s strip away all the variable and just look at the raw penetrating power of the guns and munitions used. There is an app for that believe it or not. It’s name FACEHARD and it was written by Nathan Okun using real world testing data. Go read his site and discover the incredible program he has created. It is truly amazing. And some very OCD men named Robert Lundgram (again) and Richard Worth ran the calculations for us. I have summarized their results in the following chart.
Again, this chart is self-explanatory. It shows range along the bottom and inches of armor penetration up the side. The first thing that clearly shows itself on this chart is the SUPERIORITY of the U.S. AP shell. It outperforms the Japanese equivalent at EVERY range. So much for the hypothesis of Japanese ammunition superiority.
But that isn’t the most exciting result on this chart. Look at the Tirpitz data. It clearly shows it has the most superior performance out to a range of 22,000 yards (20116.8 meters.) Yes, the Tirpitz does indeed have the extra penetrating power with which Wargaming.net bequeathed it. In that regard they got it right.
There is one more item we must consider if we are to have a truly fair appraisal of whether the Nagato class battleship in WoWS is OP. We need to look at range finders. Perhaps he range finders on the Nagato justify the increased range. It was difficult finding performance data on the actual range finder installed in the IJNS Nagato. However, I discovered in a copyrighted book the Nagato had the same fire control system as the Myoko heavy cruiser – the Type 14. It was a purely optical range finder, though a very good one. I lifted the pages from the book I found, may the copyright gods forgive me.
Page 241 gives an overall assessment of Japanese fire control during one of the early Solomon Island engagements. It is not a favorable review. Still, most of those ships had older fire control systems, and it is difficult to make the claim that the Type 14 in the Nagato would have done as badly. The only fire control system comparisons I could find was between the Yamato and several other battleships including the USS Iowa and the USS South Dakota. You can read those result at CombinedFleet.com, an Imperial Japanese Navy Page, on their Best Battleship: Fire Control table. The optical fire controls of the IJN were easily superior to all but the Kriegsmarine systems, which used the vaunted Zeiss optics!
But that shouldn’t be a consideration in the final upgrade of the Colorado class battleship in WoWS. Why you ask? Because by the time WWII started, U.S. battleships no longer used optical fire control as their primary means of acquiring targets. They used radar, even on the older Colorado class battleships. This is pointed out on Best Battleship: Fire Control page,
The bottom line is that, after 1943 or so, having the world’s best optical fire-control systems was largely irrelevant. The night battle between Washington and Kirishima near Savo pretty much settled the point; good radar usually beats good optics in a stand-up fight. And the radar used by Washington off of Guadalcanal was not as good as the sets fitted aboard Iowa.
The emphasis is mine. The Washington (BB-56) is a North Carolina class battleship. She had radar fire control in 1942 at Savo Island. But this isn’t definitive evidence. It is inferred. So the question is, when did the Colorado class ships get their radar fire control systems? To try to answer this question, I lifted another copyrighted page from Naval Firepower: Battleship Guns and Gunnery in the Dreadnought Age. It shows the USS Colorado before October 3, 1944.
Surigao Strait showed that the pre-war battleship fire-control system was inadequate. By that time ships that had not been rebuilt completely were being fitted with the new Mk 34 system (with Mk 8 radar) in addition to their earlier systems. USS Colorado is shown before the battle, on 3 October 1944, with a mixed system: the old fire controls are int he structure on her foremast, but the tower aft carries a Mk 34 surmounted by a Mk 8 radar antenna. She retained the old Mk 3 radar on her foremast, and the forebridge rangefinder standard pre-war.
The picture is definitive. You can see the radar antennas quite plainly. I will also point out there is an older Mk 3 radar, which obviously was in use before she was fitted with the newer Mk 8 radar. But when was the Mk 3 radar installed? I was still looking when I started this post. It’s the last bit of unfinished business so to speak.
I know from HistoryofWar.org that the Colorado was one of the least modified “old” battleships of the war. She was in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard being refit when the war started for the U.S. She returned to the West Coast for repairs on August 3, 1944 due to battle damage suffered at Tinian. So the picture above was taken before August 1944. From the USSColorado.org history pages we know she was continuously on duty from Pearl Harbor until December 1943. But it says this return, “barely gave her crew time to digest their Christmas dinners before she was back in action.” There was no refit in 1943. That leaves only one conclusion, the radar fire control had to be mounted during the pre-war refit in 1942 she was undergoing when the IJN attacked Pearl Harbor.
This coincides with the historical deployment of the Mark 3 Fire Control Radar found on The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia. Specifically this source states,
The U.S. FC or Mark 3 fire control radar was known in British service as the Type 284. It gave no height information, but used lobe switching to achieve high directional accuracy. It was first tested in May 1941 and began to appear on Allied ships during the Guadalcanal campaign. It was FC radar that allowed Washington to straddle Hiei with its first salvo and rapidly render the Japanese battleship hors de combat.
Though this still is not strictly definitive proof, I believe any reasonable person will conclude Colorado class battleships used radar based fire control for nearly the entirety of WWII. This has been a very long way of saying, no, the fire control systems on the Nagato ARE NOT superior to the fire control systems on the fully upgraded Colorado class battleship in World of Warships.
At each point: armor, guns, ammunition and fire control, I have shown the Nagato class battleship was not superior to the Colorado class. The only statistic the Nagato clearly excelled at was her 25 knot speed. But just that four knot advantage would not have given her that much of an advantage at 25 kilometers. In fact, with her optical fire control she couldn’t even maneuver and fire. U.S. battleships fit with radar fire control systems could – and at speed – though this was demonstrated in a North Carolina class battleship in real life. The bottom line is, the Nagato as depicted in World of Warships is completely OP – no ifs, no ands and no buts.
That said, I do believe the Colorado class is accurately reflected in the game for the most part. It’s final hull should get a range boost for the fire control radar it had; to at least bring it to parity with the WoWS Nagato. But that is it. As for the Nagato, they only have to change one thing. They need to drop the hit points 15,000. That would be more in line with the actual armor she had, not the 65,000 hit points currently given. That is just flat-out ridiculous and completely unsupported by the facts of her construction. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.