Heroes: the Army
"...Soldiers complained about the weight and the awkward cylindrical shape of the cans. Flat cans, they said, would be easier to carry. "Dog food" was the soldiers' blunt assessment..."
Arthur J. Crawford III
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. G., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Bridgeport, CT
World War II Rations
by Jim Crawford, 407-G
This article comes in part from one which appeared in the Summer - 1998 edition of "lnvention and Technology". It was sent to us by Jim Crawford, 407-G
Ration science really got underway after WWI, and it didn't begin in a lab, it began with a school. In 1920 the quartermaster general opened the Subsistence School in Chicago to teach selected soldiers how to buy and inspect food for the Army. Later the Army merged it with a similar facility in Philadelphia but at the end of the spring term the teachers closed the doors and shipped everything east.
The Chicago professors, now out of work, lobbied the quartermaster general to reopen the school as a laboratory completely devoted to developing Army cuisine. The idea was novel, but in 1936 the quartermaster general approved a lab with a staff of three and gave them $300 to buy equipment.
The OM office asked that they develop an emergency ration, something that soldiers could eat for a day or two when completely cut off from supplies. The reasoning at the lab went "If the ration tasted too good, the soldiers might eat it right away instead of saving it for an emergency. Thus the goal, create the most nutritious but unappetizing chocolate bar possible. So was born the only Army food actually designed to taste bad. (It included kerosene!)
Luckily for the troops, there was a taste test for Army brass, and they were not pleased. The Army changed the directive "palatability was made a requisite," in military jargon) and eventually there was produced a decent-tasting 600-calorie, 4 oz. chocolate bar which wouldn't melt until 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the summer of 1937 the Army fed these "Logan" bars to soldiers and tested how well they held up in storage. While most liked the bar, it made others sick, and all agreed that it made them thirsty. Also in hot storage the fat separated out causing the bar to crumble. The problems were minor for emergencies, but during WWII the bars were called into service more and more often. The original designed left the group but the small cadre of scientists kept on. They were besieged daily by visitors pushing everything from soup mix to vitamins, until in 1938, it was decided to develop a ration unlike any other: a full day's chow to be distributed every morning and carried into combat by each soldier. The newly developed ration became the "C" ration, since it was to be used in combat.
The C ration that went into the field contained 6 cans, 3 of meat and vegetables, 3 holding biscuits, coffee, and sugar. It weighed 5 lbs, 10 oz. and when supplemented by 2 Logan bars it provided about 4,500 calories.
Soldiers complained about the weight and the awkward cylindrical shape of the cans. Flat cans, they said, would be easier to carry. "Dog food" was the soldiers' blunt assessment. Under optimal conditions the biscuits were bland and dry, the meat greasy and barely recognizable. After storage in high temperatures the crackers went rancid and the fat separated from the meat. Marines on Guadalcanal dumped their rations in favor of canned taro and bean sprouts captured from the Japanese.
A big complaint was menu monotony. The lab suggested ten meat dishes, which the Army promptly reduced to the three most easily available: pork and beans, beef stew, and the nebulous "meat hash."
The scientists could do little about the monotonous menus, but they were responsible for the condition of the food when it reached the troops. Aluminum foil was rationed and other flexible packaging like cellophane wasn't waterproof, so tin cans were the only other option. In 1940 when Japan was threatening the Malay Peninsula which supplied the US with most of its tin, the cans were thinned, with paper labels. These flimsy cans rusted easily and the paper labels came off. Opening a can with no label frequently brought soldiers no closer to solving the mystery of its contents. By the end of the war, scientists had replaced paper labels with printing and developed a varnish that provided successful rust proofing.
The food sometimes spoiled, due to poor packaging in the small factories, but often food which looked and smelled bad wasn't really spoiled. So great was the prejudice against C rations that, although improved by late in 1944 (including toilet paper) they were poorly accepted.
New lightweight combat rations were developed. These "K" rations were scientifically engineered and packaging included three meals, each in its own wax-dipped, waterproof cardboard box. Each brick sized box weighed less than a pound. Three boxes were a days ration.. Soldiers from Ft. Snelling and conscientious objectors were the guinea pigs when put them thru rigorous tests on a diet of K rations. Soldiers eating the K rations for more than a few days ran low on vitamin C. To solve the problem, the lab added lemon powder to the new ration. It's hard to imagine the tempest the lemonade created. "The troops" in Europe detested the lemonade and all its variants. The unsweetened lemon crystals turned to taffy in the heat, losing any semblance of flavor. When soldiers could make lemonade it was far too sour. As a final blow, a quartermaster in the 2nd Infantry Div. reported scrubbing floors with the stuff, noting that "it worked out exceptionally well, cutting dirt spots and more or less bleaching the wooden floors." Other resourceful soldiers used the lemon powder to clean stoves or as a hair rinse.
Not surprisingly, some found ways of "combining it with liberated spirits in new tests of inventiveness." Conceding defeat, the Army retired the lemon powder in 1945 in favor of orange or grape.
Jim Crawford added that burning the wax container produced a smokeless flame that was just right to bring a canteen cup of instant coffee to a boil. A hot mocha pudding could be had by adding the fruit bar and biscuits to the brew. The K ration box included instructions saying that burning the box for this purpose was part of the design rationale.
He continued: "The K ration bouillon, puree, cat-food supper was the least popular among us; the breakfast ham and eggs the most. The cheese lunch was good but the bacon and cheese lunch was insufferably thirst-making. I once moved into a 29th Div. dugout where our two predecessors had lined the space under the overhead door with every bacon and cheese they had been issued for a week.
We hardly ever saw C rations after we got off the 40&8s in Belgium. Whenever we did, the noncoms had preempted the tastier items, such as franks and spaghetti, leaving privates with the ineffable meat hashes. Regardless of ration type, the article was right-on about lemonade."
----- Jim Crawford
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
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The above story, "World War II Rations", by Jim Crawford, 407th, G. Co., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 1, October/Dec. 1998, pp. 10 - 11.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 4 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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