Getting 5 stars is pretty basic, just like old Operation Narai. In fact just following the blob works just fine, but can you optimise spawns to hog as much damage (and therefore XP) as possible, without becoming public enemy nr.1 for the entire enemy fleet?
-Note: This guide makes the expectation that you already understand the basic flow of this operation. This expands on said basic knowledge to try to min/max your XP and XP/Minute gains. It is also written with the expectation that you're solo queuing. The more competent divmates, the more XP they will hog from you.
Well, you want to hog as much damage, and take the least (I.E get someone else to tank for you)
So you need a ship that can do something useful.
-Everything is viable, however Clevelol, Kutusov, Chapayev and Baltimore are solid easy to play choices, and can follow the basic strategy underlined below. Charles Martel should take advantage of the speed to try to get to places first to hog the damage. Spec for AA and bring defensive fire over hydroacoustic search if you're playing solo. Torps are generally quite obvious and predictable. They can also be avoided by using islands.
Now, with your ship selected, lets have a look at how to avoid becoming public enemy nr. 1 for the enemy team. For that we need to quickly look at their targeting procedures (from what I've seen)
The rule of thumb is pretty simple: They shoot the closest thing spotted.
But, theres more!
If the first Aoba spawn targets you, expect to also be targeted by the remaining enemy cruisers once day breaks. Try to avoid becoming the focus target for the enemy Aoba group that spawns after the first 4 Shiratsuyus you kill.
-This can be done either by letting someone else shoot and be spotted, so they take the attention
-Smoking in a Kutusov so you're not spotted (just be careful of your 7.7km smoke shooting concealment range)
The enemy cruisers at the break of dawn can and WILL fire at you over your allies if you're their designated focus target!
They DON'T have perfect aim, and will bracket you. Wiggling can help throw off some salvoes at range should you feel a rapid need to advance in the opposite direction. Avoid predictable circles or extended turns, build speed with minor, planned adjustments.
If you have a radar (premium consumables, obviously) then if you use your radar 20 seconds into the start of the game, your 2nd radar is ready at around the time you should prepare for the double Aoba+Shiratsuyu+Kagerou spawn in the middle. This is a useful timing trick to remember instead of trying to memorise spawn timers.
The aerodromes will target
1) The closest ship thats
2) Spotted first
-Let the Fletchers open fire before you open fire. They will likely attract MOST of the aerial attention. Just beware if one of them dies early, you might be next on their list.
Ok, so lets look at the map:
The first spawn is really simple: 4 Shiratsuyus. These spawn without loaded torpedoes, so all you have to do is kill them fast enough and not have to worry about being torped.
If you spawn in the upper half as a non Charles Martel player, guns to port. If you spawn on the southern half, guns to starboard and cut off anyone heading straight for the Liberties/landing troops. You don't really want to get a southern half spawn. its suboptimal.
If you get a south half Charles spawn, sail in a straight line (NO turning) and use your engine boost. Your goal in this scenario is to get as close as possible to the first Myoukou (the one that focuses the 3rd regiment, and the one thats broadside to your fleet)
If you have a norther spawn radar cruiser, then use your radar 20 seconds into the game. Your guns (even as a Balti) will be turned and ready to fire.
Prioritise the Shiratsuyu LEAST likely to be targeted by your team, or the one thats giving you the best broadside. Avoid targets with less than 1k health if a full HP target is available. Damage > low HP kills. This is Operations, not Clan Battles or King of the Sea.
Now you're presented with 2 options:
if your ship has the 203mm guns or the 8in guns (Charles and Balti respectively) aim guns to starboard and advance towards the first Myoukou. Load AP. if you got the southern spawn as a Charles, and you didn't turn your rudder (this is to maintain speed) you will usually spot the Myoukou first.
As a Baltimore, you will be shooting from around 14-15km range, but your guns are better than the wet baguette throwers, so even if you're farther away compared to a Charles, you can still get solid damage if not 2 salvo the Myoukou.
The Myoukou is STATIONARY. Aim first shot at ENGINEERING, the 2nd shot at FRONT MAGAZINES (Shells will fall on engineering, where you want them to land).
Hope for good RNG, this Myoukou usually dies within 2-3 salvoes and if you get good RNG, most of that is your damage.
If you're in a Kutusov, Clevelol or Chapayev, you can either head towards the middle (5 line, south of the middle of the map) and wait/bait out the Aoba shots. use your radar/smoke if you have it and do your best to avoid being spotted first. Your teammtes will usually be shooting the Myoukous, and often one of them get focused.
If you're positioned right, you can also get spots on the destroyers (Shiratsuyu and Kagerou). Kill the reinforcement group and the Myoukous (and maybe Shiratsuyu thats there) will usually disengage. At around the time the text messages are delivered in your chat, 2 Shiratsuyus spawn in the north-eastern area, an Akizuki will spawn close to the regiments and the Zaos appear. Leave the Zao group along. Its not suggested to hunt them solo. Two ships with 203/8in guns can do it, but expect to die in the process. 3-4 people optimised can do it and survive if you're strategic about it.
After the regiments positions is secure and their land invasion can continue unmolested by the IJN, you want to head towards D6/D7 area. You will face 2 Shiratsuyus here. If you headed towards the middle at the start as a light cruiser, you can easily hog most of this damage for yourself. If your team is slow and still dealing with the Myoukous then you might just get all of this damage for yourself. If you arrive early enough they won't load torps on time either. However if you haven't killed them by the 6 minute mark (ingame timer 14:00) start to consider watching out for torps.
Killing these Shiratsuyus will cause your carriers to drop the the Shiratsuyus spotted in the enemy's staging area at dawnbreak. Saves you time trying to snipe DDs at 15km range. Don't worry about the Zaos, if your CVs spot them they usually don't engage at all and leave in peace. They will return fire if you stray within range and they WILL push you if you spot them before they pass the C3 island. In this case, beware of torps.
From here on its a matter of working your AA for as many planes as possible (bonus XP for free) and staying close to either of the islands that the aerodromes are build on for optimal broadside shots.
The aerodromes attack the closest target to them that gets spotted first. Don't be the first to open fire, let the AI Fletcher group fire first.
If you head for the Atago, be aware that the Atago often slows down a bit around the D3 area, don't get baited into overleading.
The Atago will also turn IN towards Fletcher torps if launched, you will lose broadside shots: Use HE if that happens and be aware of the deck armour: Its higher than 32mm, you won't HE pen that: Shoot either the bow/stern or superstructure with HE.
The rest is a simple mop-up. Again, aim for the most amount of potential %-based damage. 4k HE on a DD is better than 4k HE on a cruiser. 15k AP on a cruiser is better than finishing some low HP DD. Optimise target selection for bonus damage. Try to use defensive AA as early as possible, premium consumable will load on time for the 2nd wave.
Good luck farming XP in Operation Cherry Blossom, and remember to apply camouflagues and signals appropriate for farming what you're out for, be it ship XP, captain free XP, normal free XP or credits.
If you have found more efficient ways to play this operation or discovered more detailed/accurate spawn and targeting rules, then please comment below with evidence, and I will gladly update it.