In this guide you'll learn the basics of destroyer gameplay in naval battles. We'll cover aiming, damage, movement, ammunition and survivability in this conclusive guide to get you dominating the seven seas.

Naval is an often overlooked gamemode and is the butt of many cheap jokes within the community, but hopefully in this guide and after some games you'll see that naval combat is a very interesting, fun and complex part of War Thunder with lots to learn about it and many tips and tactics to be a better player.

What is a Destroyer?

The term destroyer refers to a type of small, fast and agile long-endurance, ocean-going warship that is designed to escort larger fleets or vessels. The term is well over 100 years old and destroyers have been used in all major wars of the last century or so. The destroyers we see in War Thunder are mainly from WW2 and just after, with batteries of fast-firing main guns and substantial torpedo armaments.

Destroyers are still in use today with almost all navies. Modern destroyers typically have a single autocannon and no torpedoes, opting for more modern missile launchers, AA defence and helicopter decks instead. While their designs may have changed, destroyers still serve a similar purpose to what they did all those years ago.


In naval vessels you go forwards by increasing speed brackets with W and S, ie "1/2 speed", "forward ahead" and "flank ahead", and steer with A and D. You can halt the ship with B.

Destroyers are the smallest type of bluewater ships and thus are the most agile. They are the fastest, accelerate to speed quickest, stop quickest and generally turn well. However, these are still large warships and not PT boats or frigates, and they carry a lot of momentum so to a beginner destroyers may seem sluggish, but they are in fact the most manoeuvrable.

The agility of destroyers is one of their greatest assets. When you need to retreat, you can do so quickly and still be able to dodge incoming fire fairly well. You may often find yourself having to reposition and the vulnerability of destroyers can be reduced by not exposing yourself to more fire than you can handle.


In naval battles you have to account for the movement of the target compared to your own in order to land hits, like shown here:

Depending on the direction you're sailing compared to the target, you compensate with lead to get a hit. Targets can of course be stationary which makes aiming a lot easier, but this is uncommon as staying moving makes you harder to hit.

These are generally the accepted rules:
- When you're both travelling in the same direction, very little to any lead is needed
- When travelling in opposite directions, lead ahead of the target a lot
- When travelling towards the target, reduce gun distance
- When travelling away from the target, increase gun distance

Like with tanks, guns need ranging so they will fire at the right angle and hit the target. You can adjust this the scroll wheel under "Distance Control" in the controls. Once locked onto a target, a distance will be provided a couple seconds later by your ships rangefinder under "Distance measured". Scroll up to increase shooting distance and vice-versa. 

Between salvos change your ranging by 100-400m depending on the closing rate as in naval battles you're almost always getting closer to the enemy. The most important thing is to keep firing and adjust the aiming as you go. Waiting for the shells to land before shooting again will waste time as your first few salvos won't be perfect but if you keep firing you can rapidly adjust your aiming and when you do start getting hits you'll be doing maximum damage and will sink the enemy quite quickly.


Destroyers typically get 3 types of armament -  main guns, torpedoes and anti-aircraft guns (AA). Some also carry depth charges but these are very niche and just add risk of detonating if you carry them and they're hit, so most players don't even bother with it.

Main guns are what you'll be using most of the time to destroy enemy destroyers and even cruisers with consistent hits, and if you have HE-VT sometimes planes as they have a proximity-fuse explosive. Main guns do huge damage to coastal vessels but they can dodge shells easily and take time to reload so switching to AA isn't a bad choice for knocking out coastal vessels at short range.

Torpedoes do massive damage and often one-shot destroyers or cripple them with flooding and fires, but they take a long time to travel at longer ranges and require huge amounts of lead. The target can and often does turn after launching torpedoes, so it's best to launch a wide "spread" so even if they turn a bit, you may still get a hit.

Here my destroyer was hit by a torpedo in the bow, resulting in a magazine detonation and an instant loss of the ship.

Torpedoes also count as external ammunition stores and if they're hit then they detonate, almost always one-shotting a destroyer. Torpedoes are high-risk, high-reward as they are inconsistent with hits and risky to take, but they will get kills if they hit.

AA is of course what you will often use to shoot down enemy aircraft, but they are also useful for shooting coastal vessels at shorter ranges. The AI will often take care of shooting down enemy aircraft pretty well and better than you can so it's usually recommended to let them have control.

You can switch to different kinds of armament with the following keys:
Main guns - Alt + 1
Secondary guns (these are more common on cruisers and battleships) - Alt + 2
AA - Alt + 3
Torpedoes - Q or 3


In naval battles there are multiple ways of sinking a ship, but it almost always comes down to either destroying the crew, or sinking it with flooding. A ship is either destroyed when its crew goes to 0% (this isn't actually 0 crew left on the ship, it's 0% of the number needed for the ship to be fighting worthy) or when it's buoyancy reaches 0% - this can be caused by flooding, fire, detonation etc.

You can see all the modules of your ship and their damage status, crew count and buoyancy level in the bottom left of the screen.

All vessels have internal compartments which are each allocated a number of crew from the total of that ship. Each ship gets a different amount of crew, and a higher crew count ultimately makes you more survivable. A larger portion of the crew is placed in the centre of the ship than in the bow or stern, so prioritise shooting there - with some luck you may even knock out their engines.

Shells hit the enemy destroyer, damaging a compartment and the modules within it. You can see the crew count has been lowered by the hit quite considerably as the hits landed centrally.

As well as crew compartments vessels have modules, such as the bridge, steering equipment, propulsion, engines, funnels, guns, pumps, ammunition etc. Knocking out a component will prevent a ship from being able to fulfil that function, cannot steer if the bridge is destroyed or cannot travel as fast if the funnels are destroyed.

To destroy an enemy ship, spread your shots out across the length of the ship in order to destroy as many crew as possible. Shooting the same area repeatedly gives diminishing returns and when it's black it can't lose any more crew. You can also knock out critical modules by aiming for guns, funnels, engines, bridge etc to prevent the enemy from being able to fight back.

Detonating ammunition like magazines or torpedoes will result in enormous damage, but magazine explosions aren't common in destroyer gameplay and become more relevant the larger the ships become.

You will face cruisers in destroyers and against these supposedly impenetrable beasts, the best approach is to support your teammates and fellow cruisers to destroy the ship by setting it on fire, torpedoing it or going for vulnerable modules like guns or funnels. Some lighter cruisers are also vulnerable to destroyer AP or SAP which is useful for causing more substantial damage to them.


Destroyers have many types of shells available  so it's important to know which ones are the best.

US destroyers have a unique armour - anti-fragmentation, making them very strong against HE shells. For engaging them, SAP is advised as it will bypass this armour and still cause some explosive damage.

Other than that, always fire HE or, if you have it, HE-VT (proximity-fuse) as against ships it is identical to HE but gets more filler, and it's also able to be used against planes so it's simply a better round.

Do not use AP or HE-TF as AP doesn't have enough penetration to deal with cruisers or enough explosive to deal with destroyers, and HE-TF is an AA round but almost entirely useless as it requires manual ranging to set the time fuse while the plane is moving.

In conclusion, carry a mix of HE-VT/HE for general use and SAP for cruisers and US destroyers.


Hitting the keybind again will make it automatically activate when it needs to.

Like with all naval vessels, destroyers have 3 kinds of damage control. You can repair broken modules, you can put out fires, and you can pump out floodwater.

When you have 1 of these active it goes at the fastest rate, but when you have more than 1 or even all 3 active at once, they each progress incredible slowly and this can and will get you killed. Of course if you only have one of these needing to be dealt with you'll manage just fine, but if you have all 3 problems then handle them in this order:

  1. Flooding can sink a ship in seconds if severe enough so when it begins, prioritise pumping out the water over anything else and keeping your ship stable since if you're flooding badly you will list severely, and this will impact your ability to aim as your guns will be at the completely wrong angle. 

2. Next priority is putting out fires as this is more progressive damage with it lowering your crew count and damaging modules and hull integrity over time (which if damaged enough will get you flooding again).

3. The lowest priority is repairing. While focusing on putting out fires and flooding you can still fight with remaining guns, or lay a smoke screen if you're dead in the water or have a jammed rudder, etc. You can still fight while focusing on keeping your ship in the water, so once that's dealt with then you repair to get yourself back up to the best fighting ability.


Standout (Available) Destroyers:
- USS Fletcher
- USS Moffett
- USS Allen M. Sumner
- HMS Jervis, Kelvin & Nepal
- HMS Tobruk & Battle
- Z-32
- Tashkent
- JDS Yugure
- IJN Akizuki

So we've gone over the basics of ship movement, aiming, weaponry types, ammunition and survivability. With all this newfound knowledge you will be able to have some great fun in destroyers - just don't be deterred by the reserve ones as they're all pretty bad, and they definitely get better with lots of fun destroyers for you to try out among the different navies of War Thunder.

Remember to join EverythingWarThunder on Discord:
And be sure to join my historical battle group, the 23rd Ghost Army:

Published June 5, 2021

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