|"They came again and again, each time rounding up more of our waterbenders and taking them captive."|
|— Hama to Team Avatar.|
The Southern Water Tribe raids were a series of incursions by the Fire Nation military forces on the Southern Water Tribe. They had the long-term strategic goal of eliminating all waterbenders in the Southern Water Tribe, as well as decimating its population, as part of the Hundred Year War. The raids appeared to be a victory for the Fire Nation with the death of Kya, who was thought to be the last waterbender. However, Kya had lied about her identity in order to safeguard the survival of the true last waterbender, her daughter Katara.
A number of people residing in the Northern Water Tribe headed south to found the Southern Tribe, which slowly grew and prospered. Before the Hundred Year War, the Southern Water Tribe had had a significant population. The tribe was based around one great city, which had thick walls of ice.
In 0 AG, Fire Lord Sozin launched a war on the other nations. The Fire Nation planned to conquer the entire world in the War. This inevitably meant an attack on the Southern Water Tribe. However, as the South Pole was less strategically important to the Fire Nation, with limited resources and only a small population, Fire Lord Azulon, Sozin's successor, came to the conculsion that eliminating waterbenders would be the best strategy, as this would prevent larger participation in the Hundred Year War, reducing resistance against the Fire Nation in the Earth Kingdom.
The Fire Nation did not intend to defeat the Southern Water Tribe in one great battle, as it was not necessary and would waste resources that could be used elsewhere. Their goals could be achieved more effectively and with less loss of life through a series of short raids that prevented a coordinated counterattack. To this end, the Fire Nation sent a number of naval forces south.
The first raids began in 40 AG. The raids first occurred on an ordinary day in the Southern Water Tribe, when no attacks by the Fire Nation had been anticipated by the local populace. The people were tending to their normal activities when a large force of Fire Nation Navy warships appeared on the shores of the South Pole. These ships bombarded the many villages scattered across the South Pole, forcing the unprepared waterbenders and nonbending warriors to defend their tribe.
In the course of the following years, the waterbenders and nonbending tribesmen put up a valiant fight against the firebenders and were successful in sinking or trapping several of their mammoth warships. However, they were outnumbered and outgunned, as the Fire Nation troops often overwhelmed their defenses, killing many waterbenders, warriors and civilians. The Fire Navy soldiers also used special tactics to trap and arrest the waterbenders.
Eventually, a special task force, the Southern Raiders, was created by the Fire Nation for the sole purpose of hunting down and killing the remaining waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe. Consequently, the Fire Nation Navy did not participate in the raids anymore and left them to the raiders, who dealt with the task brutally and successfully.
Ultimately, all of the known waterbenders were captured or killed by the Fire Nation over a 54-year period, and the Southern Water Tribe was left in ruins. With the waterbenders gone, the nonbenders were forced to fend for themselves and without any sufficient means of defense, they barely controlled their own waters, which were patrolled by Fire Nation raiders.
All captured waterbenders were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment in maximum security prisons, where they were denied water except for drinking. With the notable exception of Hama, who managed to break free from her imprisonment by using a new technique called bloodbending, all of the waterbenders are believed to have eventually died in prison. Hama dedicated the rest of her life to exacting revenge on the nation that destroyed her tribe through her continued use of bloodbending during the full moon.
Eight years prior to this final raid, the last Southern waterbender, Katara, was born to the Chief, Hakoda, and his wife Kya. As the last waterbender, Katara was a source of hope for the ailing tribe, despite her inexperience with the powerful art. Hakoda attempted to find a master for her, but his efforts ended in failure.
In the year in which the raid occurred, the infamous Southern Raiders, the unit charged with raiding the Southern Water Tribe, was ordered to attack the Tribe again. Their leader, Yon Rha, had been informed by "sources" that one last waterbender still lived in the Southern Water Tribe. To ensure that this waterbender could not impede the war effort, he launched the raid with the sole purpose of killing the waterbender.
The raid occurred in 94 AG; people saw snow mixed with soot beginning to fall from the sky, the now well-known sign of a Fire Nation attack. Southern Raider ships landed on the shores and the residents prepared for battle. While Sokka joined the fight alongside his father, Katara ran for her mother.
Upon arrival, the Southern Raiders charged at the outnumbered and outmatched warriors, who were led by Hakoda. Despite their disadvantage, the warriors managed to defeat many of the Raiders with little effort, but this was only a diversion so that Yon Rha could infiltrate the village in order to hunt down the waterbender.
Katara ran into her family's igloo to find that her mother, Kya, was being held hostage by Yon Rha. He was interrogating her on the waterbender's identity. Kya insisted that Yon Rha let Katara go. Katara was reluctant as she feared for her mother's safety, but fled when Kya reassured her that everything would be okay.
When Katara left, Yon Rha once again demanded to know who was the waterbender. Kya stated that there were no waterbenders, as they had all been captured in earlier raids. Yon Rha shot her down, saying that he was fully aware that one waterbender was still left, and that they would not leave until they found her. However, Yon Rha did not catch on to the fact that Katara was the waterbender, so Kya turned herself in as the last waterbender in order to protect her daughter. She agreed to be taken prisoner, but Yon Rha was not taking any prisoners this time, so he killed Kya with firebending, and fled back to his unit.
Katara ran to her father for help, and she and Hakoda rushed back to the igloo to save Kya. By the time they reached her, she was dead and Yon Rha was gone. The Southern Raiders fled the village, confident that they had achieved victory.
Aftermath and significance
The raids, particularly the earlier attacks, were very successful. The Southern Water Tribe made no impact at all during most of the War. However, the final raid was a very important strategic failure. Ironically, the one person who this raid was conducted for survived. Katara was the last waterbender of the Southern Tribe. Six years later, the raid leader, Yon Rha, learned the truth in an astonishing manner - while near his home in the Fire Nation, he was confronted by the girl whose mother he had killed six years prior, and Katara, at the time already one of the most powerful waterbenders in the world, showed him the full, terrifying extent of her power, halting the rain in a wide dome and sending it flying toward him as an icy hailstorm.
The Fire Nation appeared to have claimed victory in this raid, as they had been led to believe that they had killed the last living waterbender. In reality, their target, Katara, survived. The Fire Nation would not discover this failure for the rest of the War. It would prove a major setback to their war effort, for a number of reasons: as the waterbender they searched for; Katara would grow up to be a powerful waterbender in her own right; and it would be Katara and her use of waterbending that would rediscover the long-lost Avatar, Aang, six years later, thus turning the tide of the War against the Fire Nation. Katara would also ensure that Fire Lord Ozai's chosen heir, Azula, could not claim the throne by defeating her in battle.
Kya was the only known casualty of the raid, but her death had a severe impact on her family. Her family was disheartened, and Hakoda decided that if his dying tribe were to survive, they had to help win the War. This meant that Sokka was left in charge of the tribe, while Katara handled the cleaning and cooking, while becoming the mother figure that the Southern Water Tribe had lost.
Katara inherited her mother's necklace, a betrothal necklace that Kya inherited from Gran Gran. This would become Katara's most treasured possession. She and her brother, Sokka, developed a deep hatred for the Fire Nation, but it would not be until six years later that Katara would discover the reason for the raid or settle the score with either the Southern Raiders or her mother's killer, Yon Rha.
This specific raid on the Southern Water Tribe had a very similar outcome as the Air Nomad Genocide. The Fire Nation looked for a certain bender in each nation, Aang and Katara respectively, failing to kill or capture that bender and killing every other. Both Aang and Katara grew up to become prominent figures with strong bending talents and each played a significant role in ending the Hundred Year War.
Apart from eliminating many of the Southern waterbenders, much of their culture was destroyed as well. The South fell out of balance with the spirits, causing the disappearance of the southern lights. This spiritual decay would continue for decades after the conclusion of the Hundred Year War.