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Category: Food

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Yankee "Rat Packs"

Since WW2 most of the integration that the Australian Army has had to do is with the Yanks. In Korea and Viet Nam that meant that sometimes Aussies had to eat the American C Rations. I am told by usually reliable sources that they are better than starving to death, but not much. Generally the American stuff was/is too bland and soft for Australian tastes. This belief may be supported by the fact that many unofficial recipes for C-Ration meals call for the addition of Tabasco Sauce, an item not usually found in an Australian Diggers basic pouch in the 1950s or 1960s, although I am told that these days it is included in the new packs
C-rations were designed to be eaten cold, but they tasted better hot. And nothing heated as fast as a small nugget of C4 blasting compound set afire with the end of a cigarette.
C Rations in Korea

We Eat C Rations after Landing

We Eat C Rations after Landing

Well we have landed and the company has been assembled. C Rations have been issued and we are having something to eat. C Rations is a box about 5 by 10 inches with food for one person for three meals. 

  • There are three cans of food like 

    • eggs and ham, 

    • pork and beans, 

    • beef and beans. 

  • There is one can with 

    • gum drop candy and 

    • two cookies. 

  • There is 

    • dried coffee, 

    • a tiny can of jam, 

    • a bar of cocoa, and 

    • some dried cream. 

Nutritious but not exactly exciting. The company has an immersion heater. That is a heater that is gas fired and dropped in a garbage can of water. When the water is boiling, soldiers tie wires around their cans of food and lower it into the boiling water to warm their food. It is best to hang on to your wire less some other rescue your food.

 Otherwise you gum down the can of food with the coagulated grease, or in freezing weather try to thaw it out in your mouth, that is after you carve it out of the can with your bayonet. Most of these rations were left over from WWII. We referred to the food as "has beans." Many of the Korean civilians were starving and scrounged the discarded cans for remaining food. We often gave boxes to some of the deserving kids.


C-Rations used in Vietnam
This is the official US Quartermaster's description of C-Rations used in Vietnam
"The Meal, Combat, Individual, is designed for issue as the tactical situation dictates, either in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three as a complete ration. Its characteristics emphasize utility, flexibility of use, and more variety of food components than were included in the Ration, Combat, Individual (C Ration) which it replaces. Twelve different menus are included in the specification.

Each menu contains: one canned meat item; one canned fruit, bread or dessert item; 
one B unit; an accessory packet containing cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, toilet paper, coffee, cream, sugar, and salt; and a spoon. Four can openers are provided in each case of 12 meals. Although the meat item can be eaten cold, it is more palatable when heated.

Each complete meal contains approximately 1200 calories. The daily ration of 3 meals provides approximately 3600 calories."

B-1 Units

Meat Choices (in small cans):
   Beef Steak
   Ham and Eggs, Chopped
   Ham Slices
   Turkey Loaf
    Fruit Cocktail
Crackers (7)
Peanut Butter
Candy Disc, Chocolate
    Solid Chocolate
Accessory Pack*

B-2 Units

Meat Choices (in larger cans):
    Beans and Wieners
    Spaghetti and Meatballs
    Beefsteak, Potatoes and Gravy
    Ham and Lima Beans
    Meatballs and Beans
Crackers (4)
Cheese Spread, Processed
Fruit Cake
Pecan Roll
Pound Cake
Accessory Pack*

B-3 Units

Meat Choices (in small cans):
    Boned Chicken
   Chicken and Noodles
    Meat Loaf
    Spiced Beef
Bread, White
Cookies (4)
Cocoa Beverage Powder
    Mixed Fruit
Accessory Pack*

*Accessory Pack

Spoon, Plastic
Coffee, Instant
Creamer, Non-dairy
Gum, 2 Chicklets
Cigarettes, 4 smokes/pack
    Pall Mall
    Lucky Strike
Matches, Moisture Resistant
Toilet Paper
(Turkey & Chicken Poulette)

1 can chicken and noodles
1 can turkey loaf, cut up into pieces
1 can cheese spread
12 spoons milk
Crackers from one C-Ration can, crumbled
Salt & pepper to taste
2 spoons butter or oil or fat-
2 spoons flour
3 dashes TABASCO

Melt butter oil or fat, add flour and stir until
smooth.  Add milk and continue to cook until cheese melts and sauce is even.  Empty cans of turkey loaf and chicken noodles into cheese sauce.  

Season with TABASCO, salt & pepper to taste and continue cooking.  Cover poulette with crumbled crackers and serve piping hot.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Photo left. Maybe the food wasn't great but you have to admit the delivery system was the best in the world. This Huey is crammed full of C Rats. Photo right. Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. 24 August 1967. Troops from C Company, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR), unload a resupply RAAF Iroquois helicopter at their base near the village of Long Dien. In the back of the Huey are stacked C rations, American pack rations. 

The Army's Best Invention

The Folding Can Opener

The P38

Story by Maj. Renita Foster

It was developed in just 30 days in the summer of 1942 by the Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago. And never in its 52-year history has it been known to break, rust, need sharpening or polishing. Perhaps that is why many soldiers, past and present, regard the P-38 C-ration can opener as the Army's best invention.
C-rations have long since been replaced with the more convenient Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), but the fame of the P-38 persists, thanks to the many uses stemming from the unique blend of ingenuity and creativity all soldiers seem to have.

"The P-38 is one of those tools you keep and never want to get rid of," said Sgt. Scott Kiraly, a military policeman. "I've had my P-38 since joining the Army 11 years ago and kept it because I can use it as a screwdriver, knife, anything. "The most vital use of the P-38, however, is the very mission it was designed for, said Fort Monmouth, N.J., garrison commander Col. Paul Baerman. "When we had C-rations, the P-38 was your access to food; that made it the hierarchy of needs," Baerman said.

"Then soldiers discovered it was an extremely simple, lightweight, multipurpose tool. I think in warfare, the simpler something is and the easier access it has, the more you're going to use it. The P-38 had all of those things going for it."

The tool acquired its name from the 38 punctures required to open a C-ration can, and from the boast that it performed with the speed of the World War II P-38 fighter plane.

"Soldiers just took to the P-38 naturally," said World War II veteran John Bandola. "It was our means for eating 90 percent of the time, but we also used it for cleaning boots and fingernails, as a screwdriver, you name it. We all carried it on our dog tags or key rings." When Bandola attached his first and only P-38 to his key ring a half century ago, it accompanied him to Anzio, Salerno and through northern Italy. It was with him when World War II ended, and it's with him now. "This P-38 is a symbol of my life then," said Bandola. "The Army, the training, my fellow soldiers, all the times we shared during a world war."

Sgt. Ted Paquet, swing shift supervisor in the Fort Monmouth Provost Marshal's Office, was a 17-year-old seaman serving aboard the amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans during the Vietnam war when he got his first P-38. The ship's mission was to transport Marines off the coast of Da Nang.

On occasional evenings, Marines gathered near Paquet's duty position on the fantail for simple pleasures like "Cokes, cigarettes, conversation and C-rations." It was during one of these nightly sessions that Paquet came in contact with the P-38, or "John Wayne" as it's referred to in the Navy.

Paquet still carries his P-38, and he still finds it useful. While driving with his older brother, Paul, their car's carburettor began to have problems. "There were no tools in the car and, almost simultaneously, both of us reached for P-38s attached to our key rings," Paquet said with a grin. "We used my P-38 to adjust the flow valve, the car worked perfectly, and we went on our merry way."

Paquet's P-38 is in a special box with his dog tags, a .50-caliber round from the ship he served on, his Vietnam Service Medal, South Vietnamese money and a surrender leaflet from Operation Desert Storm provided by a nephew. "It will probably be on my dresser until the day I die," Paquet said.

The feelings veterans have for the P-38 aren't hard to understand, according to 1st Sgt. Steve Wilson of the Chaplain Centre and School at Fort Monmouth. "When you hang on to something for 26 years," he said, "it's very hard to give it up. That's why people keep their P-38 just like they do their dog tags.... It means a lot. It's become part of you. You remember field problems, jumping at 3 a.m. and moving out. A P-38 has you reliving all the adventures that came with soldiering in the armed forces. Yes, the P-38 opened cans, but it did much more. Any soldier will tell you that."

            Courtesy of Soldier's Online

How to make a C-Ration Stove

The small cans included in the meal were ideal for making a stove. Using a "John Wayne" pierce a series of closely spaced holes around the top and bottom rims of the can. This stove was satisfactory, but did not allow enough oxygen to enter which caused incomplete burning of the blue Trioxin heat tablet, causing fumes which  irritated the eyes and respiratory tract. A whole heat tab had to be used.

A better stove was created by simply using the can opener end of a "church key" (a flat metal device designed to open soft drink and beer containers with a bottle opener on one end and can opener on the other commonly used before the invention of the pull tab and screw-off bottle top) to puncture triangular holes around the top and bottom rims of the can which resulted in a hotter fire and much less fumes. With this type of stove only half a Trioxin heat tab was needed to heat the meal and then the other half could be used to heat water for coffee or cocoa. A small chunk of C-4 explosive could also be  substituted for the Trioxin tablet for faster heating. It would burn hotter and was much better for heating water.
A stove was usually carried in the back pack or cargo pocket and used repeatedly until the metal began to fail.

Australian troops were always issued with hexamine stoves and so did not have to create this type.

US Operational Rations in World War II

As a result of these developments, the Army entered World War II with two established special-purpose rations-Field Ration D and Field Ration C. Ration D (see below) was used throughout the war as the Army's emergency ration and as a supplement to other rations. The C ration went through an evolution which ultimately produced an outstanding ration for the purpose it was designed to meet-a daily food which the soldier could carry and use when he was cut off from regular food supply sources.

The use of these rations after 1941 revealed their inability to meet all the many feeding problems imposed by new combat conditions. Therefore, a succession of rations, individual food packets, and ration supplements was developed and came into use before the war's end. The haste attached to the initial wartime ration development indicated that the country was no better prepared to cope with the food problem in 1941 than with other problems of war supply. The early trial-and-error method was proof, too, that haste made waste. Nevertheless the food program ultimately evolved for the American soldier was firmly based on the premise-"that all troops . . . be fed the best food available in the best and most appetizing form within the realm of reasonable possibility particularly . . . troops in combat." 31 For the citizen soldier, for the most part accustomed to good food in civilian life, "what do we eat" became as important, if not more so, than "when do we eat." In addition to providing an acceptable answer to this query, ration developers had to pay equal attention to military utilization, to stability and storage requirements, to nutritional values, to demands for shipping space, and to the necessity of going beyond commercial practices to protect packaged foods on the long journey from American factories to theatres of action. Add factors of war born shortages of material and the continued necessity for providing adequate interim substitutes and the magnitude of the ration-development problem in World War II becomes evident.

Despite obstacles, many varied and excellent rations, packets, and supplements were developed and supplied to the World War II soldier. In volume, approximately one billion special rations, costing about 675 millions of dollars, were procured between 1941 and 1945 (see table 1).

The list includes such individual rations as the lightweight K ration, the emergency D ration, and the food-for-a-day C ration. Need of rations in specific climates produced the mountain, jungle, and desert rations. Packets produced for subsistence requirements in flight were an aircrew lunch, a parachute-emergency packet, and an in-flight combat meal. At-sea survival called for lifeboat and life raft rations and pointed to the desirability of all-purpose survival foods. Supplements were designed to augment other rations:

namely, the aid-station and hospital beverage packs that provided beverages for casualties at advance medical posts, and the kitchen spice pack for use by mobile kitchens. At the end of the war, the assault packet, intended to provide a quick-energy snack before combat, was in production.

 other  details from several American sites

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