Engines in Warfare: Submarines and Missiles


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/gettyimages

About This Quiz

In the history of warfare, men have devised all manner of ways to slaughter their opponents. From spears to machine guns to atomic bombs, it seems there are unending ways to cause mayhem. In recent centuries, particularly the 20th, we witnessed the rise of advanced missile systems and submarine warfare. But what do you really know about the history of high-tech rockets and undersea warships?

Missiles, or rockets, have scorched the skies for hundreds of years. Cultures that we may regard as primitive actually made some sophisticated tweaks to basic rockets, turning them into effective death delivery mechanisms. These days, of course, first-world countries possess sophisticated missiles that can swoop toward targets at mind-boggling distances. Can you name any of the most famous and fearsome missiles on Earth?

We’ll also plunge from the clouds into the ocean’s murky depths. There, we’ll see the devastating power of submarines. These predators of the deep have been around longer than you think … and now, they can deliver weapons of mass destruction. As a bonus, none of them are commanded by Sean Connery doing an awful Russian accent!

Scream through the skies and plunge through the waves of this warfare quiz now! Let’s find out how much you know about subs and missiles!

What's the purpose of military missiles?

Missiles have messages, all right -- deadly messages. They deliver explosive warheads meant to destroy both men and machines.


When did submarines first see combat?

It was the Confederates that opened the era of submarine warfare. In 1864, the H.L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic. But then the Hunley immediately sank, too.


How are missiles propelled through the air?

Missiles typically rely on explosives gases for motion. Those gases push missiles through the air at incredible velocity.


Military rockets were probably first used in which area of the world?

There is no definitive record of the first military rocket. But most historians say Chinese troops used them all the way back in the 13th century.


What weapon did the H.L. Hunley submarine use to sink the USS Housatonic in the Civil War?

The Hunley rammed the Housatonic with a spar torpedo, essentially an explosive-tipped spear. Five men on the Housatonic were killed. Then Hunley then sank … taking with her a crew of eight.


When did the use of explosive rockets first appear in Europe?

The concept of explosive missiles spread quickly from China in the 1200s. Europeans began using them to attack their enemies in that century, too.


What were German submarines in both World Wars called?

In both World Wars, Germany made good use of U-boats. They were Unterseeboots, which stood for "undersea boats," and they roamed the seas in so-called "wolf packs," sending Allied ships to early ends.


In what war did missiles finally make a major impact?

Commanders tinkered with missiles in World War I, but the technologies were still primitive. In WWII, though, missiles shredded the skies in countless numbers.


The CSS David was a Confederate submarine in the Civil War. It used anthracite coal as fuel. Why?

The CSS David was perhaps the very first sub used in the Civil War. It used anthracite coal as fuel. This kind of coal produces almost no smoke … and thus made the David very hard to see in dim light.


What trend took hold in air-to-ground missiles following WWII?

After WWII, many designers began mounting pods of missiles onto the wings of aircraft. These pods didn't have accurate guidance … but their incredible volume of fire savaged ground forces large and small.


Bazookas are rockets intended primarily for use against which target?

In WWII, tanks were a common (and terrifying) threat. Bazookas were rockets that measured about 20 inches … and with an accurate hand, could disable heavily armored tanks.


German U-boats were most effective in which aspect of WWII?

U-boats have a reputation as fierce offensive weapons of WWII. But in reality, they were most effective in sinking merchant ships and conducting blockades of critical ocean routes.


What's the purpose of a SAM?

SAMs are surface-to-air missiles. Modern SAMs can automatically track enemy planes and then blast them out of the skies.


How do famous AIM‐9 Sidewinder missiles find their targets?

Sidewinder missiles are heat-seeking missiles. And because enemy planes produce a lot of heat … boom.


In which war did a submarine first sink another sub?

Sub-on-sub attacks are incredibly rare. In 1914, during WWI, German U-27 managed to torpedo a British sub named the HMS E3, killing 28 British crew.


The first air-to-air missiles made their appearance in which conflict?

In World War I, warplanes took to the skies by the tens of thousands. Primitive air-to-air missiles also debuted, but they had no guidance system outside of the pilot's trigger finger.


What was a common nickname for some German rockets during WWII?

Germany shot countless missiles in WWII. Those numbers included the “Moaning Minnie” or "Screaming Meemie," which made terrifying and distinct noises as they approached their doomed targets.


How many times in history have submerged submarines engaged and sunk another submerged sub?

In February 1942, Britain's HMS Venturer attacked and sank German U-864. It's the only (revealed) time in history that one sub has has successly destroyed another sub while both were deep underwater.


Air-to-air missiles in WWI were mostly used against which targets?

Sans guidance systems, WWI air-to-air missiles were nearly impossible to use against other planes. But they were useful against large reconnaissance balloons and similar targets.


In 1914, the HMS Pathfinder became the first ship ever to be sunk by which type of submarine weapon?

The British HMS Pathfinder is a sad historical footnote. It was the first ship ever sunk by a self-propelled torpedo, one fired by the German U-21.


What was the purpose of the Cold War-era AIR-2 Genie missile?

The AIR-2 Genie was incredible concept -- it was a missile with a nuclear warhead, meaning to destroy Soviet bombers loaded with nuclear bombs. The U.S. developed the AIR-2 Genie due to a lack of effective air-to-air guidance technologies.


During the War of 1812, British troops used rockets to capture which city?

It was a day of infamy in 1814, when British troops captured America's capital. And they did so in large part thanks to rockets that devastated the U.S. army's flank.


What's a human torpedo?

During WWII, human torpedoes came of age -- they were akin to small submarines with detatachable warheads. As the small crew approached a target, they'd release the torpedo in hopes of destroying an enemy ship.


What sort of technology guides the the AIM‐7 Sparrow?

The AIM‐7 Sparrow is guided by Doppler radar. First deployed in 1958, they found decades of operational use, finally ending in 1990.


What's a primary trait of so-called midget submarines?

Midget submarines are small attack craft, and they've been used by many countries. They have very little in the way of living comforts, and that's OK because you're probably going to die if you set so much as one foot into these death traps.


During WWII, how did Germans help the guided Henschel Hs 298 find its mark?

The Henschel Hs 298 was wire-guided. More advanced versions were also radio-guided, marking a major evolution in missile technology.


What sort of weapons are featured on some modern attack subs?

Advanced subs can shoot land-attack missiles at targets around the world. The U.S. used just these kinds of attacks in recent Middle East conflicts.


The nuclear-tipped AIR-2 Genie was meant to kill Soviet bombers during the Cold War. What was its maximum range?

U.S. fighter pilots knew the AIR-2 Genie had a range of about six miles. Fortunately, America never had to try these powerful devices in real combat.


During the Vietnam War, what percentage of Sidewinder missiles found their targets?

In the Vietnam War, America blew tons of money on air-to-air missile technologies … with dismal results. Sidewinder missiles had a probability-of-kill ratio of just 15%.


How has submarine warfare changed since 1945?

Since WWII, submarine warfare has slumped to very low levels. Some countries, like the U.S., use subs for spying missions and for potential future wars.


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