Operational Lessons from Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra is not only a good primer to study insurgencies, it can also be used to study operational art. The Battle of the Bay which took place between the Equalists and the United Forces over control of Republic City in season one episode eleven is an especially suitable example. The United Forces made several classic mistakes and the lessons we can learn from these mistakes can be useful for students of operations and war. This post will present two mistakes that had a crucial influence on the outcome of the battle and compare them to how similar problems were solved by the Allies during Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy) during World War 2.

Caution: this post contains spoilers for The Legend of Korra‘s first season.

United Forces Battle Plan

Let’s start out with a look at the overall battle plan for the United Forces. The United Forces fleet to retake Republic City from the Equalists was split into two divisions, the first division under General of the United Forces Iroh and the second division under Commander Bumi. The first division was to sail into Yue Bay, in the center of Republic City, in what seems to have been a travel/sailing (and not a battle) formation, followed by the second division a few days later. It seems like this was the whole battle plan, there were no other preparations.

This lack of proper planning was the first and gravest mistake of the United Forces commanders. It seems like General Iroh and Commander Bumi thought that they could simply sail into Yue Bay unopposed, disembark their troops from their ships and wing it from there. The United Forces did not try to send infantry transports covered by battleships to take a foothold/bridgehead in Yue Bay before attempting to land the rest of the force there, and the formation they used to sail into Yue Bay was inappropriate for battle. They were not prepared to suppress enemy forces opposing their landing. The principal of fire and maneuver was utterly ignored. In doing so, they exposed their whole fleet to enemy fires and put their forces in peril.

An operation similar in character (though much grander in scale) were the Allied landings in Normandy that took place on June 6, 1944. There was a meticulous plan for every aspect of the operation, from fire support to logistics. German defenses on the beaches and in the hinterland were destroyed or suppressed by Allied aviation and naval gunfire, giving the maneuver elements room and protection to hit and subsequently take the beaches. Simultaneous airborne drops beyond the Normandy beaches were supposed to take and hold the causeways leading into France. Nothing was left to chance.

But maybe United Forces leadership did not expect battle? Maybe they were so convinced of their own superiority (after all, they were a force of mostly benders fighting against non-benders)? Maybe the last time they had planned major operations was a long time ago so they had forgotten all the important lessons. There is a name for that: hubris.

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

The second mistake that was committed by United Forces leadership was the failure to collect intelligence prior to the United Forces first division arriving in Yue Bay. General Iroh had no idea of what was expecting him in Yue Bay (including the waters and the buildings/infrastructure) as well as its vicinity. The outcome was predictable: the first division of the United Forces was decimated by naval mines and attack from the air.

Furthermore, communications between the first and second division were quickly cut off by the Equalists, messages from Iroh to Bumi were intercepted and United Forces capabilities to further coordinate forces or warn the second division were reduced. There seems to have been no plan in case of lost-comms and it appears like the second division would have similarly stumbled into Yue Bay as the first division did, had not a daring commando raid conducted by Korra turned the tide of the battle. United Forces could have used their waterbenders to infiltrate and recon Yue Bay, find and reduce naval mines and gain an initial foothold in the bay. Season two of the series shows that waterbenders could travel on or under water without needing any type of vessel, so this was an aspect of the force that went totally unused.

According to German doctrine reconnaissance and intelligence collection are the keys to success in combat. There are a myriad of historic examples of how proper intelligence preparation for the battlefield (IPB) enabled successful operations and how a failure to collect intelligence doomed even the best-planned operations to failure. The Allies conducted very thorough reconnaissance prior to D-Day. American frogmen would recon possible landing sites, document obstacles and even reduce obstacles, as well as take ground samples. These ground samples were collected in order to determine if the beaches would be usable for tanks. This is the length that the Allies went to ensure the operation was a successful operation!


Proper planning and intelligence collection/reconnaissance are crucial elements in preparation of operations. A failure to do so, as in the example of the Battle of Yue Bay, can lead to failure and disaster.

About the Author: Ilhan Akcay is a German infantry officer. He has a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in aerospace engineering from the Technical University of Munich and is currently pursuing a B.A. in history. He blogs about military preparation and training on his blog, School of War. All opinions are his own and his own only.

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