Master Sergeant testing Test/Early C-Rations in the field.

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WORLD WAR II RATION HISTORY

    I am always interested in purchasing original WWII U.S. Military Rations, as well as WWII U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army and Marine Airborne Militaria. Please E-Mail me with anything of interest.

    A SHORT WWII RATION HISTORY

    In 1939, the U.S. Army developed a new classification system for its ration system based on tests conducted in the late 1920's and 1930's. The system was based on the classification of all rations as "Field Rations". The Field Ration Type A would closely correspond to the old Garrison Ration, and consisted of fresh food products prepared at some sort of permanent facility (mess hall). The Field Ration Type B would be essentially the same, with the subsitution of canned and dehydrated foods where refrigeration was not available. These were often prepared in some type of temporary small unit or mobile mess facility.

    The Field Ration Type C, Type D, and Type K were to become the new individual combat rations, and were intended to provide adequate food to soldiers unable to be provided with any other type of standard ration for a short duration of time, say up to five days, or one day in the case of the D-Ration. Necessity or improper of the use of the combat rations by shortsighted commanders led to extended issue of the rations beyond their intended purpose. This in turn led to complaints regarding the monotony of the meals and the complete phasing out of some of the rations, such as the K-Ration, by the end of the 1940's.

    U.S. Army Ration Type C

    This ration traces its direct lineage to attempts by the army in 1938 to standardize earlier experimentation. At this point, a system was sought to carry an individual ration of a complete, balanced meal for the combat soldier. Eventually, a ration composed of six key-opening cans (one days ration), three meat or M-Units and three bread or B-Units, was recommended.

    The M-Units consisted of: The M-1 Unit of Meat & Beans; the M-2 Unit of Meat & Vegetable Hash; and the M-3 Unit or Meat & Vegetable Stew. The B-Unit consisted of biscuits, a confection, sugar and coffee, additional soluble beverages being added later. The ration was tested in 12 oz., 15 oz. and 16 oz. cans, with the 12 oz. adopted as standard in late 1940. The smooth, gold-tone lacquered can was also adopted as standard at around the same time.

    Labeling information was printed directly onto the can (although my research has turned up at least one period photograph with paper labels) and by approximately 1942/1943, labeling specifications required that the cans be marked with lithographed labels on the body or top as follows:

      U.S. ARMY FIELD RATION C
      M-1 UNIT (or M-2 or M-3)
      MEAT & BEANS (or MEAT & VEGETABLE HASH or MEAT & VEGETABLE STEW)
      List of Ingredients
      Net wt. 12 oz.
      Round U.S.D.A. Inspection Legend
      To Open: Use key attached to B-Unit Can

    Test and early war cans appear to have had less information printed on them. For instance, they did not include the M-Unit information or the list of contents printed on them.

    Labeling of the B-Unit can was similar, reading as follows:

      U.S. ARMY FIELD RATION C
      B UNIT
      SAVE KEY TO OPEN M-UNIT
      BISCUIT, CONFECTION, BEVERAGE

    Labeling location and details varied with manufacturer and by year and the weight of the contents were often listed. Coffee was listed on early cans, since no other soluble beverage existed. Later, lemon and cocoa powder were added and the beverage contained in the can was embossed into the lid.

    At some point during WWII, olive drab painted cans were introduced. In the closing year of the war, the number of meals was expanded to ten and additional items were added to the B-Unit for variety.

    For shippment, 48 cans, eight cans of each M-Units and 24 B-Units were packed into nailed wooden box. Late in the war, improved cardboard containers replaced the wooden crate for packing and shipping.

    U.S. Army Field Ration Type D

    First emerging in 1937, this ration was intended to replace the emergency or "Armoured Ration" of WWI. Made up of vitamin fortified cholcolate bar containing chocolate sugar, oat flour, cocoa fat, skim milk and artificial coloring, three, 4 oz. bars constitiute a ration. This ration was only intended to be used for short durations, about one day, when no other ration was available.

    Tests in 1940 called for some of the bars tested to be first sealed in aluminium foil, then wrapped in parchment paper, then kraft paper wrapped around the long axis, and then twelve bar being packed into a tin can.

    By February 1942, packaging required the bar be wrapped in moisture resisting cellophane (due to an aluminium shortage) and placed in a waxed paperboard outer box. Orignial examples seem to indicate that the aluminium foil and parchment paper inside the waxed cardboard carton was used concurrently. The individual boxes were then packed into cartons of 12, which were in turn packed into wooden crates (12 to a crate for a total of 144) for shippment.

    U.S. Army Field Ration Type K

    Owing its origins to a three meal pocket ration developed for the paratroops (Parachute Ration), the K-Ration was adopted and standardized in 1942 by the U.S. Army due to its superior packaging, ease a of carrying and great variety of components.

    Over the course of the war, its components constently changed as newer and more acceptable products were developed.

    According to the Summer 1944 Edition of The Officer's Guide, the army K Ration consists of the following:

    DESCRIPTION OF THE "K" RATION
    Breakfast Units: K-1 Biscuits; K-2 Biscuits; Meat and Egg M-Unit; Fruit Bar; Soluble Coffee Product; Sugar Cubes; Cigarettes; Chewing Gum; & A Key.
    Dinner Units: K-1 Biscuits; K-2 Biscuits; Cheese Product M-Unit; Confection; Lemon Juice Powder; Sugar Cubes; Cigarettes; Chewing Gum; Matches; & A Key.
    Supper Units: K-1 Biscuits; K-2 Biscuits; Meat Product M-Unit; Chocolate Bar (Field Ration D); Boullion Powder; Cigarettes; Chewing Gum; Toilet Tissue; & A Key.

    At least four distinct variations appeared during the war, and my research indicates there were seven in all, each varying somewhat in contents and packaging. All consisted of three meals, Breakfast, Dinner and Supper, and were packaged and marked so on both the inner and outer boxes.

    The ration culminated in the colored "morale boxes" with a wax coated inner box and a colored box to indicate Breakfast, Dinner or Supper, each of which was a different color.

    Twelve complete rations (twelve Breakfast Units, twelve Dinner Units, and twelve Supper Units) were packed in a cardboard box and overpacked in a nailed wooden box for shipping

    Unit and Special Purpose Rations

    Special rations developed during the war included:

      The jungle ration;
      The mountain ration;
      The 5-In-1 ration; and
      The 10-In-1 ration.

    All contained numerous canned, dehydrated or dryed foodstuffs, as well as components from other rations. Also, all were packaged in one to four part cardboard containers.

    By mid-1943, all but the 10-In-1 ration were discontinued in a trend to reduce the number of special purpose rations.

    Per the Summer 1944 Edition of The Officer's Guide, an abbriviated list of 10-in-1 included the following:

    A TYPICAL "10-IN-1" MENU
    Breakfast: Cereal; Bacon and Eggs; Biscuits; Jam; Coffee; and Milk.
    Dinner: An abbrievaited K Ration and K Ration Egg Product M-Unit.
    Supper: Corned Beef Hash; Lima Beans; Biscuits; Butter; Chocolate Bar; and Grape Drink.


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