Weapons of War
Nation: Fire Nation
Description: Reminiscent of the real world zeppelin's of the 1930's1,
this flying machine is a much larger adaptation of the war balloon (see
"Balloon" entry below). This behemoth is evidently made of metal, flies
under the power of several rear propellers, and has a crew of dozens.
The primary difference between an airship, or zeppelin, and a balloon
is that an airship is built around a rigid frame and can control both
its altitude and its flight path via a series of mechanical controls
and fins. The war balloons seen earlier in the series meet that latter
criteria, but not the former.
The war balloons use hot air burners to achieve lift, but the exact
method the Fire Nation airships use to gain "lighter than air" status
is unknown. Other potential substances used to obtain buoyancy besides
hot air are helium and hydrogen, the latter of which was used with
infamously disastrous results in the case of the Hindenburg upon its
arrival in Lakehurst, NJ in 19312.
Application: The Fire Nation uses these ships to great effect as both bombers and floating weapons platforms.
Each of these airships has enormous bomb bays under its center section.
These can be loaded with explosives and discharged by opening the bay
doors when above the desired targets3.
The destructive power of this type of carpet bombing was seen first
hand against the Earth Kingdom submarines in "The Eclipse."
The airships also have series of metal walkways that extend from the
base of the ship underneath the center hull section. Each of these
walkways is intended for a Fire Nation soldier to use as a small
platform to launch firebending attacks during battle.
Nation: Fire Nation
A huge crossbow type weapon that uses torsional force to propel
generally smaller and lighter projectiles, for example darts or arrows,
much farther and faster than a catapult or similar device.
The ballista, which first appears in episode 301 of Avatar, "The
Awakening", is an enormous device that is mounted on a rotating
platform aboard a Fire Navy ship, similar to the catapults and
trebuchet seen in earlier episodes. The weapon is mainly used to
deliver a metal projectile to the hull of the enemy's vessel at a point
below the water line. Once the hull is punctured, the projectile opens
up to prevent itself from exiting the vessel.
Nation: Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation
War balloons have three main components: the fabric envelope, the
basket, and the burner. When filled with heated air by the burner, the
envelope inflates. The hot air inside the inflated balloon is less
dense than the air outside. This provides buoyancy, or lift, and causes
the balloon to rise. The burner is a power source that blows heated air
into the envelope through an opening at its bottom called a "throat."
The war balloon seen in "The Northern Air Temple" can control both its
altitude and its flight path. The altitude is controlled via a lid on
top of the envelope. The lid can be opened from the basket by pulling
on a rope attached to the lid. When the lid is opened, hot air escapes
and the balloon loses altitude. By manipulating the burner and the lid
as needed, the altitude of the balloon can be controlled.
The flight path is controlled through a set of three propellers located
on the aft end of the ship. A large fin on the back of the balloon
helps direct air flow when in motion. Since the war balloon is capable
of powered flight, it is more properly classed as an airship or
Although the center of the basket is dominated by the burner, it is
nevertheless large enough for several people. It is made mostly of wood
or wicker, except for its bottom which appears to be made of metal. The
burner is a large, boiler like contraption that has a blower on the top
to push hot air into the envelope. The back end of the burner is
attached to the three propellers and is probably the source of their
Application: Sokka and the Mechanist used a war balloon against Fire Nation troops in "The Northern Air Temple."1 The war balloon carried four, huge slime bombs. This ordnance was marginally effective against the enemy infantry,]2
but failed to stop the Fire Nation tanks. As the situation became
desperate, Sokka and the Mechanist, smelling natural gas below them,
threw the burner overboard.3 The burner ignited the natural
gas at its source and blew up much of the lower part of the mountain on
which the Northern Air Temple rests, forcing the Fire Nation to
retreat. Unfortunately, the war balloon was captured by the Fire Nation
when Sokka and the Mechanist had to abandon ship. It is clear that the
Fire Nation will take advantage of this technology in the future.
Nation: Water Tribe (Southern)
The boomerang is a Water Tribe weapon constructed of an unknown
material. It is flat and consists of two wings or arms joined at an
acute angle. When thrown the wings create lift, much like a modern
airplane.1 The wings are designed, however, so that the lift
of each wing is out of balance with the other. This causes the
boomerang to fly in a circle as the two forces fruitlessly attempt to
reach equilibrium. Sokka's boomerang in particular is designed so that
one wing has two holes drilled into it, while the other wing is solid.
Application: The boomerang can be used either to strike an opponent directly,2 or to disarm an opponent by knocking their weapon away from them.3
A key advantage of the Water Tribe boomerang, unlike those in real
life, is the extreme range at which it can be used effectively as a
weapon and that it returns to the user even after striking another
Nation: Fire Nation
Catapults are torsional devices used to throw projectiles great
distances. These devices work by using a beam to efficiently transfer
mechanical energy from torsion built up inside a rope or wire into the
projectile.1 Catapults are generally more difficult to build
and less accurate than trebuchets, leading most military practitioners
to favor the latter over the former.
The design of the Fire Nation catapult revolves around two "Half A"
frames, a beam, and a rope or wire to provide the torsional store of
energy. The construction material appears to be mostly metal. The beam
has a bucket at the launch end to hold the projectile. Its back end is
linked to the rope or wire storing the torsional energy. The rope or
wire is strung between the crests of the two "Half A" frames.
The device is prepared to fire by twisting the wheels attached to the
base of either "Half A" frame. The wheels are attached to the rope or
wire so that as the wheels are turned the rope or wire twists. The
twisting provides the torsion that is the source of the machine's
mechanical energy. The bucket end of the beam is then winched to the
ground and the bucket loaded with the projectile. When the beam is
released the rope or wire untwists, tilting the beam rapidly upwards
and releasing the projectile toward its target.
Similar to its use of trebuchets, the Fire Nation has adapted the
catapult for use at sea. These devices are seen mounted on rotating
platforms on the decks of some ironclads, specifically Prince Zuko's
Small catapults are also used by the Fire Nation cavalry. These devices
can be attached to the saddle harness on each side of the rhinoceros
used as mounts by the Fire Nation.3The
arm of the catapult extends backward behind the animal, leaving the
bucket or launch pad far enough way from the beast that it won't get
burned when the projectile is lit on fire.
Nation: Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation
Cavalry, or mounted troops, are mobile and flexible military units that
are often instrumental in flanking manuevers. They can literally run
circles around infantry. Heavy cavalry, such as the late Roman
cataphracti, are useful as shock troops to break up infantry formations
in close combat. Light cavalry is often used for scouting activities or
to harass an enemy in retreat.
Application: The Earth Kingdom uses war ostriches as cavalry mounts.1
These creatures, who seem to be part horse and part ostrich, are able
to carry great weight. They are heavily armored, with a metal mask and
metal neck, breast and even small side plates. In addition to their
armor, they can safely carry two men. It is not known how fast or over
what distances war ostriches can operate.
The Fire Nation uses war rhinoceros as their mounts.2
These sturdy beasts have tough skin that acts as natural armor plating.
Their three long, sharp horns are built in weapons for them to use in
close combat. In certain situations the rhinoceros can be fitted with a
pair of small catapults.3 These devices are attached to the
saddle harness on each side of the beast. The arm of the catapult
extends backward behind the animal, leaving the bucket or launch pad
far enough way from the rhinoceros that it won't get burned when the
projectile is lit on fire.
Type: One-Hand Blunt
Nation: Water Tribe (Southern)
Perhaps the simplest and most ancient of all weapons is the war club.
At its most basic the club is just an elongated piece of wood or metal.
The Water Tribe club, however, seems to be a more sophisticated weapon
called a composite club. It is divided into three pieces, the handle,
the stock and the ball. Each of these pieces appears to be made of
different and unknown materials.
The wielder grips the club on the handle and swings it at the opponent.
The intent is to strike the enemy with the ball at the end of the club.
The purpose of the ball is to provide a wider surface area than the
stock alone could provide over which to deliver the force of the blow.
Nation: Fire Nation
Description: The drill is a massive, steam powered, segmented metal pipe whose head section is shaped like a blunt drill bit.1 The bridge is located on a metal frame tower towards the rear of the machine.2 Although tubular, it apparently can move above ground on relatively flat terrain.
The head section can rotate rapidly, causing it to penetrate the surface in front of it as the drill moves forward.3 The different segments of the drill can separate4 to allow the deployment of support struts that prevent the drill from just sliding backward as it tries to drill.
Designed to move through rock, the action of the drill creates a huge
amount of both broken stone and heat friction that would eventually
melt the drill head. To solve both problems, the drill head ejects
water into the bore. The water and stone mixture (called a slurry) is
then collected through scoops at the drill head, passed back through
the body of the drill along a series of pipes and then ejected at the
back end of the machine.
Application: The drill was designed by the Fire Nation, probably by or with the assistance of The Mechanist,
for one purpose: to penetrate the walls of Ba-Sing-Se. Once a breach
was made, the main Fire Nation army would then be able to exploit the
breach and pour through.
Convinced of its invulnerability, however, the Fire Nation sent the
drill into action supported by only a few tanks. While the drill did
penetrate the outer wall of Ba-Sing-Se,5 it was in turn destroyed in situ when Aang and his friends blocked up the slurry effluent system.6
Nation: Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation
Explosives come in three forms so far in the show, fireworks, blasting
jelly and firebombs. Fireworks are devices that use explosives and
other materials in order to produce loud, colorful detonations for
entertainment purposes. Blasting jelly is a mixture of nitroglycerine
and a small amount of a stablizer such as collodion. It's primary use
is in mining and construction, though it is just as easily used for
demolition and military purposes. Firebombs are incendiary devices
whose military function is to damage opponents and their material by
subjecting them to violent explosions and intense flame.
Explosives function by allowing unstable chemicals to combine rapidly
and produce a strongly exothermic reaction accompanied by rapid
expansion. The rapid expansion, usually produced by the liberation of
gases from the reaction, create the explosive shock wave that
Application: Fireworks are set off by a firebomb thrown by Chey at the "Fire Days Festival" witnessed in "The Deserter."1
Jet and his freedom fighters captured several barrels of blasting jelly
at the beginning of "Jet." The jelly was then used to blow up the dam
protecting the Earth Kingdom village occupied by the Fire Nation.
Firebombs have been used on a few occasions. Chey used them a couple times to help Aang and his friends escape pursuit,2
Colonel Mongke's men used dynamite type bombs in "Avatar Day," and the
Mechanist provided them as ammunition for the war balloon and gliders
in "The Northern Air Temple." In this latter, however, it must be noted
that the firebombs were not strong enough to damage the Fire Nation
tanks that led the assault,3 though they were useful against the Fire Nation infantry.
Nation: All Nations
Fortifications are fixed, man made structures designed to facilitate
the defense of a location. They may consist of any combination of
walls, towers, moats or ditches, trenches, bunkers or stockades.
Fortifications have two primary purposes. The first is to give
defenders superior position over an invader by making it easier for the
defenders to strike their opponents, while making it harder for the
invader to do so. The second is to prevent the attacker from coming to
close quarters with the defenders.
Fortifications do have significant drawbacks. Since by definition they
cannot move, a numerous enough invader can surround the area and lay
siege. They are also generally difficult to conceal, especially those
protecting cities or other above ground installations. The principal
weakness of any wall based fortification system is the gate or any
exit, though the Earth Kingdom and Northern Water Tribe have developed
an ingenious solution to this problem.
Although both artillery and explosives exist in Avatar, none of the
belligerents have put these inventions together yet to create cannons.
In the absence of such weapons, fortifications play a critical role in
the military dimension of the story and are used by every nation.
Water Tribes: The Northern Water Tribe City is built into the face of a huge glacier that abuts the arctic ocean. 1
The city is divided into three sections, each protected by a wall of
ice. The main city wall has watchtowers on each end atop the glacier
and six along the wall itself. It also has no gate. It is opened by
waterbending the ice of the wall to make an entry tunnel that is then
replaced when authorized travelers have passed through. The interior
walls have several watchtowers each and are equipped with portholes
through which water flows into moats below. The portholes can act as
powerful jets of water when waterbended by defenders.2 While
beautiful, ice is not the most suitable material for fortifications and
these defenses quickly withered under the Fire Nation assault in "The
Siege of the North, Parts I and II."3
Earth Kingdom: The most readily accessible example
of Earth Kingdom fortifications is the city of Omashu. The mountainous
location and very narrow approach, reminiscent of the ancient Judean
fortress of Masada,4 make Omashu difficult to attack even
before fortifications are considered. The position of the city on top
of a mountain renders its walls a sheer drop to the floor of a canyon
or mountain pass below.5 The city's fortifications are impressive, however, with high stone walls 6 and a set of triple, interlocking gates that are opened by earthbending.7
Additionally, the residential section of the city rises well above even
its high walls, allowing defenders to shoot downward at any invaders.
Mighty as these fortifications are, however, they were not sufficient
to prevent the city from falling to the Fire Nation.
Fire Nation: Even though the Fire Nation has
focused on mobile warfare to aid their offensive ambitions, they still
need fortifications in order to occupy enemy territory. The Fire Nation
fortress seen in "The Blue Spirit" is an excellent example.8
Composed of a three tiered wall structure and a huge central keep, this
fortress has enough interior room in its courtyards to act as a
military base. Fire Nation fortifications also seem to be built mostly
of metal in order to preclude earthbender attacks. Other examples of
Fire Nation fortifications are the prison rig in "Imprisoned" and the
naval bases seen in various episodes.
Air Nomads: The Air Temples' primary defensive
power lies in their inaccessibility. The Temples themselves, however,
are not heavily fortified.9 Once the Fire Nation solved the access problem their security was compromised.
Type: Two Hand Blunt
Description: The glider staff is a combination long staff and glider used originally by the monks of the airbender temples.
The staff itself is simply a long, hardwood pole and is one of the most ancient weapons used in martial arts.1 The long staff is referred to as a bo in Japan and as a gun or chang bang
in China. The length of the staff usually corresponds to the height of
the user or a little longer. The staff increases both the reach and
leverage of the wielder against an opponent. Although quite versatile,
the bo staff is generally regarded as a defensive weapon.
The glider portion of this weapon appears when the user activates a
trigger mechanism somewhere on the staff. When activated the staff
releases a colored glider sail on a rigid frame. The sail allows
airbenders to maximize the lift from airbending the air around them.
Application: The glider staff is used for many purposes. These can be divided into three categories: flight, fighting and utility.
Flight: Airbenders can use this staff for sustained, powered flight using their bending abilities.2 Depending on their skill, they can also carry passengers either using the glider method3 or, if the staff does not have glider capabilities, the helicopter method.4
Fighting: The staff can be used to block firebending attacks, direct blasts of air at an opponent,5 or at close quarters to block direct attacks or to deliver thrusting or sweeping blows.
Utility: This weapon can be used as a tool for a variety of purposes. These include using it as a lever or pry bar,6 or for carrying loads such as buckets of water.
Nation: Earth Kingdom, Air Nomads
The gliders seen in Avatar are single person, fixed wing aircraft
designed for un-powered flight. The glider's pilot hangs suspended from
the wooden frame and controls the vehicle's flight either through hand
controlled rudders or by shifting one's weight against the hang bar.
Although gliders are un-powered, skilled pilots can still obtain lift
if they are able to find rising air masses. These occur naturally in
many instances, for example when the sun warms the ground creating
columns of rising air, called thermals.
Gliders were first used by the monks of the Air Temples before their
destruction by the Fire Nation a century ago. After the Northern Air
Temple was reinhabited by The Mechanist and his people, they began to
use the gliders again. Without airbending to provide lift, the
Mechanist devised a way to heat the air surrounding the temple so the
glider pilots could use the resulting air currents to fly.
Gliders are the tactical bombers of the Avatar universe. Flying in
close and low, glider pilots can bomb ground troops with impunity. The
Northern Air Temple, with its lower terrace serving as a natural
now relies almost exclusively on its air force for protection. When the
Fire Nation attacked the temple with tanks and infantry, the gliders
were able to repel the infantry with slime, stink and firebombs.2 The heavily armored tanks, however, proved resistant to the glider's weaponry.3
Nation: Fire Nation
This Avatar equivalent of the modern jet ski is apparently made of
metal and features a curved hull ending in bowed prow. The rider sits
on a three cushion seat in the middle of the vehicle and steers by
holding onto and turning a set of handle bars mounted up front. The
rear of the vehicle houses its engine, though whether it is a steam
engine or an internal combustion engine is difficult to ascertain.
Application: These are one man water vehicles
designed for use in rivers, lakes or coastal areas. They are very fast
and highly maneuverable. Although intended for one rider, a passenger
can be easily accommodated. The Fire Nation generally uses these
machines for patrolling waterfront population areas rather than heavy
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