A History of the Army Field Ration
Army "Chow" and what we ate in World War II
Throughout the history of the 63rd Infantry Division I have presented information about awards, training, combat, occupation duty,
off-duty times and just about everything except the one thing that was more important to a soldier- FOOD--well, maybe the second
most important thing.
So, with a little effort and the wonders of the Internet I have come up with a little history of our Army rations, how they became what
they were, how they were made and other great stuff like that.
As we can all remember, one of our big complaints while in training at Camp Van Dorn was the fact that we had to eat out of field
kitchens using mess kits most of the time. Now, this was OK while in the field but when we starting eating from mess kits and field
kitchens in garrison that was almost too much. Little did we realize that in a few months we would have given our "eye teeth" to have
a good old "A Ration" meal from a field kitchen.
Once we arrived in France it didn't take long for us to realize that we would take meals whenever we could and however we could.
Hot meals from our Company or Battery kitchens would be few and far between. So how did we sustain ourselves during the heat
of battle? How did we maintain our strength, energy and vitality when there was little time for "chow call" and on one to prepare it for
Well, that is what the following articles are about. ARMY FIELD RATIONS- THE FOOD WE LOVED TO HATE and HATED
TO LOVE AT THE SAME TIME. (Webmaster's opinion only)
WHERE DID THE "C" IN C-RATIONS COME FROM?
Have you ever wondered why C-rations are called C-rations, Ks are called K-rations and if there are A-, B- or D-rations? Of
course you have! Well not surprisingly there is a method to the military food nomenclature madness. The letter designations for
rations were supposed to make the military "subsistence" (Army talk for food) easier to understand and more "rational". To
understand this alphabet soup, lets first talk about how things were going prior to WWII, describe the "new" nomenclature, and then
talk a little about some of the famous or infamous rations.
Before WWII the Army divided its subsistence requirement (for procurement purposes) into three types of rations: The Garrison
Ration, The Field Ration and the Iron Ration. The Garrison Ration was what was sent to permanent mess halls in garrison. It was
pretty much anything you would find in any other institutional feeding facility. The Field Ration was food appropriate for use in a field
kitchen on the move. This ration consisted of non-perishable goods- canned food and dry food mostly- that could sit in the back of a
wagon or truck for a few months without spoilage. The "Iron" Ration was the idea the US Army borrowed from the British Army in
WWI. Cans of food were issued to each individual soldier to be kept in his pack as an emergency ration, in case he got caught
behind the lines ore couldn't get to a field kitchen (See Note 1)
Later the Army realized soldiers would dig into their iron ration anytime they couldn't get to a field kitchen. They were using it as a
"box lunch". The people in the Army subsistence branch decided this wasn't all bad, if fact was a pretty good idea. But, there was
still a need for an emergency ration so they developed a fourth category of rations and called it "Emergency Ration".
In the late '30s, when the US Army was reorganizing to prepare for WWII it also reorganized its food. Under the new system, the
Garrison Ration became "Field Ration A", the Field Ration became "Field Ration B". As usual, the troops didn't use it as an
emergency ration;' they ate it as candy. The rations themselves stayed the same, only the names changed. The change the Army
made official was that
C-Rations weren't designated to be eaten for more than 3 consecutive days!!! So, the subsistence people initially only developed 3
different menus. This is the main reason C-rations became so hated.
THE REST OF THE ALPHABET:
When the US entered WWII there was an initial flurry of enthusiasm for special troops. Each of these special groups wanted their
own type of rations. The Paratroopers asked for concentrated "Parachute Rations" (See Note 2)., the jungle fighters wanted a
"Jungle Ration" and when the 10th Mountain Division was being organized, they asked Army subsistence personnel to develop a
special "Mountain Ration". Each of these special rations as well as lifeboat rations and a few others were assigned a letter "E" to "J"
while they were being developed. (See Note 3).
The Subsistence Branch tried its best, but the requests came in faster than they could develop rations to meet them. The last straw
came when General Dwight Eisenhower asked for a special concentrated "Assault Ration" for troops to carry with them when they
stormed the beaches of Normandy. Finally the Subsistence Branch cried "foul" and stopped working on all special orders. They
agreed to develop 1 (and only 1) new concentrated ration that would take the place of the parachute and assault rations. This was
called "Field Ration K". This was probably the most popular field ration with US troops in WWII- except for the British "Compo"
Ernie Pyle wrote so much about how the troops liked British Composite Rations (Compo) that Army Subsistence decided to come
up with their own Compo ration. The compo ration was based on feeding a group of people rather than an individual. A box of
Compo would feed and infantry section (about 8-10 men) for a day or a tank crew (around 5 men) for two days. (See Note 4). The
American answer to this was the "5 in 1" ration (feeds 5 men for 1 day) which was later changed to the "10 in 1" ration.(essentially
two "5 in 1" boxes). The 10 in 1 was advertised to feed 10 men for a day, five men for two days or 1 man for 10 days. They even
developed a "Squad Cooking Set" to prepare the 10 in 1 rations. This ration got to the troops in late '44 and early "45, and they
NOTES: 1. The British originally called it "iron" ration because it came in metal cans. There are a few cans of these rations on
display at the Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, London.
2. The original parachute ration was to be based on pemmican, an American Indian invention consisting of dried meat (jerky)
pounded into powder and mixed with dried fruit and melted. Reports were that they smelled terrible and tasted worse. The
pemmican idea was dropped in favor or conventional crackers.
3. The letter "I" was not used and I'm not sure ":J" was used either.
4. Compo was essentially a box of lots of cans of food. Its primary attraction was the great variety of food it had. Rather than
a set menu, the British made sure each box had a balance of meat, vegetables, bread and condiments.
WORLD WAR II MILITARY RATIONS by B Michael Berger (Note: Click on ration type and go to page with photo)
The C-ration was one of the three types of combat rations used during the war. It was designed specifically for units in actual
combat where no messing facilities were available and represented the culmination of scientific experiments begun in 1939 to provide
rations that could be carried by the individual soldier and provide three satisfying meals a day.
Cs were packed in six small cans, three contained the meat (M items) three the basics (B items). In most instances the ration was
served cold, but was designed to be palatable hot or cold. Menu No. 1 M items included Ham, eggs and potato, Meat and beans,
or Chicken and vegetables. The B-1 unit included biscuits, premixed and compressed cereal, coffee, cubed sugar and coated
peanuts. Menu No 4 M items included Pork and beans, Meat and spaghetti, Ham and Lima beans. The B-4 unit was the same as
B-1 except that coated chocolate drops replace the coated peanuts.
The original K-Ration was developed for paratroopers because the C, with its can and weight, was not considered appropriate.
The K was created to provide a good nutritional ration, light in weight, yet suitably packaged to withstand the rigors of combat. Ks
were placed in three units marked Breakfast, Dinner and Supper.
Breakfast consisted of compressed, premixed cereal, biscuits, egg and meat product, fruit bar, coffee and sugar, wooden spoon,
cigarettes, chewing gum, water purification tablets and toilet paper. Dinner included biscuits, cheese product, candy bar, a lemon,
orange or grape drink powder, sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, matches, chewing gum and salt tablets. Supper included biscuits,
meat product, chocolate bar or caramels, bouillon, coffee, sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, and chewing gum. The egg and meat
product was either chopped pork and egg yolk or chopped ham and egg. The cheese product was processed American cheese,
process American cheese with bacon, or processed American and Swiss cheese. The meat product included in this ration was
canned pork with carrot and apple or beef and pork loaf.
The D-Bar ration was an emergency combat ration carried by all men to be used when there was no other food. The four ounce
bar was packed with 1,770 calories and all kinds of vitamins.
There were other rations in addition to Cs, Ks and D.
Field Rations A were domestic rations, supplied for posts, camps, stations in the United States. A maximum amount of fresh fruits,
vegetables and meats was included.
Field Rations B were overseas rations. All items were non-perishable, preserved by canning, dehydration or other methods.
Menus were designed for Tropical and Temperate areas or Frigid areas.
Ten-in-one rations were similar to Bs, but designed for troops in all areas to be used in advance of arrival of field kitchens. Each
case provided food for ten men for one day. Items were non-perishable and could be eaten either hot or cold. Five menus were
offered, with each ration providing 4,100 calories. Each case included cigarettes, water purification tablets, matches, salt, can
openers (The famous P-38), toilet paper, toilet soap and paper towels.
There were also Life Boat Rations and Parachute Emergency Rations designed to sustain fliers downed at sea or forced to bail out.
There was also an Air Corps Lunch full of carbohydrates developed for fliers unable to stop performance of their duties for regular
MORE INFORMATION ON FIELD RATIONS
The other Army rations available when the country entered WWII, Field Ration Type C, as a ration of meat and bread components,
had the prewar characteristics of the 1918 "reserve rations" but had a better balance than its predecessor, good keeping qualities,
and study packaging. Its disadvantages were that it was troublesome to carry and that its manufacture posed difficult production
problems. These difficulties provided the incentive for the improvements which produced today's individual "combat" or C ration.
The ultimate form in which the C ration emerged from the war, however, came only as hostilities were ending and before wide
distribution could be made.
A major problem of the C ration concerned its meat components. Procurement was first of necessity confined to items which could
be produced in volume and variety was of secondary importance. Hence the early waves of criticism from the field were aimed at the
monotonous meat diet offered by the first C Ration. Soldiers not only encountered repetitious meat and hash combinations in the C
rations, but also met them when returning to central messes where they were served duplicates of these combinations in B Rations.
It was little wonder that there was so much denunciation of the C ration. Despite constant effort, attempts to increase the component
variety and hence ration acceptance, were not easily or quickly successful. New or substitute items could be introduced only after
productive ability had been coordinated with laboratory research. Early improvements embraced a better selection of confection
items, inclusion of cigarettes in the B unit of the ration and modifications required by wartime advances in packaging technology.
Until early 1944, separate specifications were used for the so-called B or bread unit of the ration and for related components. In
June of that year, the component specifications were consolidated into on specification which abandoned the title "US Army Field
Ration C" and adopted the nomenclature "Ration Type C, Assembly, Packaging and Packing". Under its terms the ration consisted
of three cans of B units,m three cans of M or meat units and one accessory pack. Six combinations of components or menu
arrangements were specified to provide variety to the ration. Six B units were listed, two each for breakfast, dinner, and supper. B
unit components, varied in accordance with a grouping which would fit the meal, including biscuits, compressed and premixed cereal,
candy-coated peanuts or raisins, soluble coffee, sugar, lemon or orange juice powder, hard candies, jam, cocoa, beverage powder,
and caramels. The accessory packet included nine "good commercial quality" cigarettes, halazone water-purification tablets, book
matches, toilet paper, chewing gum and an opener for the meat cans. The varieties of canned meats were meat and beans; meat and
vegetable stew; meat and spaghetti; ham, egg and potatoes; meat and noodles; pork and rice; frankfurters and beans; pork and
beans; ham and lima beans; and chicken and vegetables. The unpopular meat and vegetable hash and English-style stew, which were
the first additions to the original three were abandoned because of poor acceptance.
The final wartime version of the specification was published in April 1945 and amended in July 1945. It contained still more
improvements resulting from field tests and combat experiences. Hard candy and candy-coated peanuts and raisins were deleted
from the B units because of their poor keeping quality, and a fudge disc and cookie sandwich were substituted. Salt tablets to
alleviate heat exhaustion were added to the accessory pack. The ultimate revision also substituted sugar tablets for the granulated
type, increased the variety of beverage powders and added a compressed cocoa disc to the list of B components. At the request of
The Surgeon General, halazone tablets were deleted from the accessory pack. Beef stew was a new canned meat component. The
accessory pack was divided into two packets, first named the "long" and the "short" pack and later the "accessory pack" and the
"cigarette pack". Gum, toilet paper, can opener, granulated salt, salt tablets and wood spoons were included in the "long" pack. The
cigarette pack consisted of three units of three or one unit of nine cigarettes and matches, (Continued on next page)
17 Oct 13