How Much Do You Know About the Engineering Marvels of WWII?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: youtube

About This Quiz

World War II was unique in that the stakes were so high -- many countries were fighting to make sure that their peoples weren’t wiped from the face of the planet. Dire circumstances, though, have a way of focusing mental and economic energies, and as a result, WWII engineers produced countless marvels of technology, spanning everything from food, to medicine, to weapons, to planes.

The war began in 1939. Did you know that just five years later, newer planes had become so advanced that those made during the early war were nearly useless? The same trend followed in armored vehicles, as early tanks were simply no match for technological advances built into late-war variants. Can you name any of these marvelous wonders of weaponry?

You already know that the U.S. created The Bomb during WWII. Do you know anything about the costs associated with that groundbreaking program? And do you have any idea how much a similar project would cost in today’s dollars?

Both the Axis and the Allies invested vast sums of money in research and development during the war. Can you match the sides to some of the war’s crazier and more audacious projects?

The Second World War saw unimaginable human suffering, but it also sparked engineers’ imaginations in amazing ways. Let’s see if you know anything about the most miraculous inventions of the war!

What was special about the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet?

The Komet was the first attack fighter with rocket power. It was so fast that the Allies gave up trying to attack it in the air, instead shooting it during the slower speeds of takeoff and landing.


Why didn't the Nazis manage to build a nuclear bomb during the war?

Unlike the Allies, the Nazis didn't have the huge manpower and resources necessary for nuclear bomb research. Compared to the Americans, they barely got their nuke project off of the ground.


Strips of tinfoil (aka "chaff") were employed as a countermeasure against which technology?

When the Axis began using radar to track Allied planes, the bombers began dropping strips of tinfoil ("chaff") meant to confuse radar. The chaff was simple but often very effective.


What was one of the defensive capabilities of the B-29 Superfortress?

The B-29 bomber had four amazing remote-control machine gun turrets, as well as one semi-remote tail gun. The guns used a state-of-the-art computer-controlled fire-control system unlike anything the world had ever seen.


The V-2 was the world's first ______.

Germany took huge strides in creating the V-2, the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It had a range of just over 200 miles, but the weapon was incredibly advanced.


The Messerschmitt Me 323 was the largest ______ of the war.

The Germans went big on a lot of their projects, including the Messerschmitt Me 323, the largest transport plane in the war. The enormous plane could transport about 12 tons of gear or up to 130 troops.


What's special about "proximity fuzes"?

WWII saw the introduction of proximity fuzes, which can detect how far away a target is -- and then detonate explosives at just the right time. These fuzes basically use tiny radar devices to work their magic.


What was the purpose of the Enigma machine?

The Nazis used the Engima machine to encrypt their messages … and for a long time, the code seemed to be unbreakable. But circumstances favored the Allies, who finally cracked the machine and then intercepted many Axis messages.


The Junkers Ju 322 was an experimental heavy transport glider made out of what material?

The Germans developed the Junkers Ju 322 to transport cargo into combat areas. The glider, which was never built, was specifically made to be built from materials that weren't precious to the war effort … so it was designed to be made out of wood.


Why did the masterminds of the Manhattan Project build two different types of atomic bombs?

Because nuclear weapons are so complex, the scientists weren't sure if the first weapon would work. So they built two types of bombs in hopes that at least one of them would function. Turns out, both designs were successful.


True or false, did the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan use exactly the same technology?

The bombs, named Fat Man and Little Boy, were different technologies. Little Boy was a uranium gun-type bomb. Fat Man, on the other hand, was a plutonium implosion-type bomb. Both were devastatingly effective.


The Ruhrstahl X-4 was the world's first _____.

Germany managed to develop the Ruhrstahl X-4, the world's first air-to-air missile during the war. However, this wire guided invention never made it into combat.


What was one major advance featured in the B-29 bomber?

At extreme altitudes, most bombing crews relied on oxygen masks, which often failed and made it hard to move about the plane. The B-29 was the first plane to feature a pressurized cabin, making the crew's jobs much easier.


Which fledgling technology made the most remarkable advances during WWII?

Radar was in its infancy at the start of the war, but by the end, both sides were using the technology to track vehicles at long ranges. In many cases, advanced radar made surprise attacks virtually impossible.


What was the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka?

The Japanese developed the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka, which was basically a rocket-powered bomb. The catch? It had to be guided by a pilot who was guaranteed to die in the attack.


Dwight D. Eisenhower said that “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.” What did Higgins do?

Higgins designed the Higgins Boat, the LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel) that were used for D-Day, the biggest amphibious assault in history. The cleverly designed boats were the only way the Allies could land on open beach near shallow waters.


The Manhattan Project resulted in which weapon?

In 1942, the Manhattan Project set out to do what no other science project had ever done -- build a nuclear bomb. After years of work, the Allies used the fruits of their labor to demolish Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Which technology was most important to the function of the Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster?

The P. 1500 Monster was designed to travel on four enormous tank treads, each driven by a diesel engine generating about 2,200 horsepower.


What was the Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster?

The Germans built the Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster, a gigantic self-propelled gun that was just as scary as the name implies. The ridiculously large gun was 138 feet long and weighed nearly 1,500 tons.


What was "Colossus"?

In the 1940s, British codebreakers built Colossus, the world's first digital computer, in an effort to crack Axis codes. It was a top-secret program that paid many dividends during the war.


Why was the D-ration a marvel of science during the war?

During WWII, American scientists -- for the first time -- put major thought and effort into foods and how they interacted with the human body. They invented the D-ration meal, roughly the same size as a pack of cigarettes, meant to sustain troops on the battlefield in the worst of conditions.


How many people did it take to complete the Manhattan Project?

More than 130,000 people participated in the science and labor of making the first atomic bombs. In the end, their efforts transformed modern warfare and politics.


What was a nickname for Higgins boats?

Higgins boats were specially designed to cross shallow water and take men ashore. They were the critical "bridge to the beach," one that many terrified troops probably wish they had never boarded.


True or False: "By the end of the war, both sides had jet fighters."

Although jet fighters were still a very new concept by the end of the war, both sides did deploy them. And these planes were so fast and so deadly that they made planes from the war's start look harmless by comparison.


The B-29 Superfortress was one of the most expensive weapons projects in all of history. What happened to the planes after the war?

Most WWII-era bombers were obsolete after the war. No so with the ultra-advanced B-29. Many of these planes remained in active service long after the war ended.


True or false, did V-2 missiles have integrated guidance systems?

German V-2 missiles had incredible guidance systems that could send the munitions into a target hundreds of miles away … without any sort of input from operators on the ground.


What's a "dyno torch"?

Because power shortages were routine during the war, engineers at Philips created the "dyno torch," a mechanically-powered flashlight. To make it work, troops pressed the button over and over again.


Which device was the Zielgerät 1229 (or Vampir) active infrared technology primarily used with?

The gigantic infrared devices were unwieldy, but obviously allowed snipers to find their targets much more easily at night.


The production and operation of which technology was, perhaps surprisingly, the single most expensive effort of the war?

While completing the Manhattan Project cost roughly $22 billion in today's dollars, it was production and material costs of the super-advanced B-29 program that amounted to a couple of a billion more.


Why were the plans and designs for the Little Boy atomic bomb mostly discarded after the war?

Many of the plans for the world's first nuke were discarded following the war. Why? Because everyone figured the time for a nuclear weapon had come and gone.


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