P.O. Box 5230, Fort Lee VA 23801

(804) 734-4339



Rations in Review

Colonel James C. Longino, Q.M.C.
The Quartermaster Review
May-June 1946

Food is the most important element in combat efficiency says the General Chairman of the Conference on Military Subsistence in his opening address, delivered on April 1st at the Army War College.

You are faced with a great opportunity during these sessions at which the problem of subsistence for the troops throughout the world will be studied. To some it may seem that thirty days might be too long a time for this conference. Far from it. The subject is one upon which many months could profitably be spent without exhausting its possibilities.

It might be thought that reports of operations filed by Army commanders should furnish much of the information which will be sought here. Those reports are available and will be utilized, but this assembly will give us something far more real and far more effective. The experiences of company grade officers, Battalion S-4’s, railhead officers, and others, through each echelon of supply, are being brought together to make a complete and authentic story which will disclose any deficiencies that might take the form of a pattern, with full consideration of the variables of climate, terrain, and types of operations. From this cross-section of experience, by analysis, we should be able to determine basic and minimum requirements for military operations, whether they be conducted in the South Seas, in the desert, or on the frozen tundras of the North.

In calling together representatives from the Ground Forces and the Service Forces, it is realized that we are taking officers from very important tasks, and former officers from civilian pursuits, at a time when they are readjusting their lives after many arduous months in the service. The Quartermaster General, however, desires to explore exhaustively the experiences in the many theatres to supplement the meager information already available in official reports. The spirit of helpful cooperation in which you have undertaken your part of the job is highly commendable, and, I assure you, deeply appreciated.

We have heard from very high sources that the American Army was the best fed army in the world. We know exhaustive research and development were conducted to make it so. We know that the product of that research and development was a ration superior to that supplied the troops of any other nation. But we also know that the end-product-namely, the food eaten by the soldier in the front lines in the combat zone at times fell far short of what it should have been. You are in the best position to supply knowledge of the causes and make suggestions for improvements.

As far as I have been able to find out, no one can draw a definite pattern of the conditions of use of the several rations. We are looking to this conference to supply the information which will enable us to do so. The desired characteristics of a field ration are that:

(1) It should be a completely balanced ration containing sufficient nutrient.

(2) It should be palatable in accordance with the eating habits of the troops, so that it may be generally acceptable.

(3) It should be transported without undue difficulty.

(4) Its components should have keeping quality, so that depots in the theatres of operation can keep on hand sufficient stocks to supply the troops for a predetermined length of time. Methods of use should be readily understandable.

(5) Bulk and weight should be reduced as far as possible to permit simplicity and ease of transport. Too often the requirements relative to bulk and weight overbalanced other desirable qualities. Great care must be exercised that too much advantage is not taken of these two factors.

To meet these requirements a ration was designed to meet the functions of base feeding. Technically it was known as the B ration, no matter how much it was supplemented. In ETO the supplemented ration was called the A ration; in the Pacific it was known as the X or Y ration, etc.

In considering operational rations it is necessary to have a clear conception of the conditions of use for which they were intended. These rations included the C, K, and 10-in-1. They were designed specifically for operational needs when kitchens could not be established.

The D ration, now obsolete and entirely off the books of the Quartermaster Corps, was intended exclusively for survival. The C ration, with a caloric value of 3700, was intended for operational needs of three to twenty-one days. The K ration, with a content of 2700 calories, was designed for a maximum of fifteen meals. Reports indicate that it was used inter-changeably with the C ration. The 10-in-1 ration, with a caloric value of 4188, was intended for feeding of small groups for a limited time when they were beyond their field kitchens, and prior to actual commitment to battle.

These uses should be the subject of careful consideration of this conference.

Much consideration has been given to the needs of beachhead feeding, and the conference will be requested to review the military necessity and define the characteristics of a desirable ration to meet the needs of large groups which are in advance of the kitchens, or which must be subsisted until the B ration can be made available for issue.

Whether the newly introduced ration known as Type E (of which you will hear a great deal as the conference proceeds) eliminates the need for the smallgroup ration-i.e., the 10-in-1-is in doubt.  Field tests will be held to determine that fact, but it is anticipated that we can close the books on the C and K in favor of the new Type E.

The D ration has been dropped, but a survival ration is certainly required. Considerable progress has been made in developing one which would replace the D ration, and, at the same time, eliminate the Life Raft ration. The military characteristics of such a ration to meet the needs of survival of both land and sea forces come well within the scope of this conference.

Specialized demands, in so far as possible, were resisted during the course of the war. However, the pressure became so great it was necessary to provide the hospital supplement pack and the first-aid station pack, even though it was realized that additional types of rations would complicate the situation and make the supply of basic requirements to the combat soldier more difficult. The types of rations should be kept to a minimum. Intensive research is currently being conducted by The Quartermaster General, with the assistance of the laboratories of leading universities and commercial concerns, upon such subjects as appetite levels and food acceptability, to determine basic physiological factors upon which an adequate ration must be based and from which knowledge the types of rations may be limited to the number actually required by conditions of use.

Can the needs of the Army be satisfied with a survival ration, a combat ration, and a base ration? Is a 30-in-1 ration, or its approximate equivalent, the solution to the beachhead and bivouac feeding rather than the 10-in-1? These and similar questions must be considered.

In that consideration-and this not only applies to rations but to accessory items related to the preparation of rations, every effort should be made to modify those with a general purpose in order to broaden their utility before new items are provided for specialized groups.

An important requirement, never satisfactorily met during the war, is that pertaining to packaging and marking. Reports from the field have suggested that the need for change is very great. Packaging must be devised to provide balanced rations flexible enough to meet varying demands. Marking must be simple in order that it may be readily detected and understood by the relatively unintelligent labor oftentimes employed. If the committee on packaging can assist in solving these problems it will have rendered an outstanding service.

Much is being said these days regarding the effect the Atomic Age will have in planning our future requirements. We are not prophets and we cannot undertake to foresee the shape of things to come, but the need for more intensive research is evident. It is sometimes said that developmental research is not necessary because the Quartermaster can adapt to military usage the results of private research geared to meet civilian economy. Our experience in the recent war has proven the fallacy of that conclusion. Fundamental research must probe deeply into the principles underling the use of food, specifications, packaging, storage and issue, preparation and consumption, and accessory equipment. All these must be related to the individual equipment of the soldier and his needs in the field. The statement by General Doriot before the War Department Budget Committee that there is not a single item of Quartermaster supply or equipment that is not now obsolete cannot be ignored, and should be a guiding principle for all who may be charged with this great responsibility.

Now, with respect to equipment used in the past war, a list has been compiled of the various heating and cooking devices, with their predetermined military characteristics and conditions of use. The committee charged with reviewing these data in the light of assembled field experience will have a fertile field of endeavor. There is a broad spread between the organic field kitchen equipment and the means provided for the individual soldier to heat a tin of rations. At one extreme there is the M-37 range, and at the other is the simple heating tab. Unfortunately, with the years of research and endeavor invested in the field range, we have not yet found a satisfactory stove to meet the military requirements which were laid down in the middle ‘thirties. Yet, in a much shorter time, industry has produced the B-54, and, prior to that, the B-29; it has produced radar; recoilless guns. Is it too much to ask and expect that it produce a satisfactory field range? The deficiency in the field range is well known to The Quartermaster General, and you may be assured that radical efforts are being made to produce a more satisfactory item. In between that item and the heating tab there has been a demand for a variety of heating implements, and this conference is asked to consider the military necessity of these intermediate items.

Mess gear available to the Army was designed to meet the needs of a 1917 field range and is obsolete. Should mess gear be completely eliminated and the cafeteria mess tray substituted as organic equipment! It is hoped the conference will supply the right answer. Centralized messes, butcher and pastry shops, have advantages under some circumstances. To what extent is centralization possible or desirable in the Theatre of Operations?

In the field of bakery operations we have many vexing problems before a standard operating procedure, uniform for all conditions of use, may be formulated. Conditions related to bakery operations are sufficiently broad to warrant the exclusive consideration of a subcommittee. Among the conferees there are representatives of several theatres who will match their experiences, one with the other. It is hoped that they will come up with conclusions on the military characteristics of a bakery unit which will meet the needs of all troops, whether they be serving in the jungle, in the mountains, or in the desert.

Equally difficult are the problems relating to refrigeration. A subcommittee on this subject should cover the entire picture, from reefer ships, reefer barges, fixed installations, through portable refrigerators, down to the lowly meat box. Clarification and centralization of functions are essential if we seek improvement.

Materiel-handling equipment is required in loading, unloading, and stacking supplies. Fork-lift trucks and conveyor equipment are indispensable for efficient operations. The sufficiency and availability of such equipment come within the scope of this conference. What lighting and power equipment are required at railheads and elsewhere? Should a bulldozer be included in organic equipment of railhead or other units? There are many such problems.

The Quartermaster General’s Office is making a continued study of the advantages and desirability of palletization, particularly the palletization of rations. The necessary mechanical lifting equipment is a collateral problem. There is place for labor-saving devices in practically every echelon of supply-devices which will make more manpower available for the front lines.

There has been much demand for the packaging of the combat ration in a sardine-type flat can rather than in a cylindrical can. Some of the data relating to this matter, collected in the field from returned combat soldiers, will be made available to the conference. The conference should realize that industry is geared for commercial packing in the cylindrical tin. There are meager resources in the country to provide the sardine-type tin in the quantities that would be required for the C ration. A military characteristic of the new E ration, however, includes this type of packaging. It is hoped that this conference will help in finding a working solution to this problem.

Assuming that the combat ration is packaged in a sardine-type tin, should it be bandoleered much in the fashion ammunition is bandoleered? Proponents of this plan urge that it will not only assure the variety of the day’s ration to each soldier but will give a simple and easy means of transport not now possible with the round tin. The conference is requested to consider the military necessity and possible value of this item.

I will not attempt to point out the problems of distribution, for my information would be that of personal experience in the 6th Army. We all had our “distributional crosses” to bear. Whatever the cause or causes may have been, they must be ascertained and corrected if the ultimate consumer, the combat soldier, is to benefit.

The selection and training of cooking and baking personnel, as well as the shortage of trained and seasoned officers of the combat arms, especially come within the scope of this conference.

During the war Quartermaster Bakers’ and Cooks’ Schools trained more than enough cooks and bakers to serve an army of 16,000,000 men. Yet we observed on every hand inexperienced and unqualified personnel performing these important duties. Sample testing in the Zone of the Interior itself showed, at the time of VJ-day, that the percentage of properly trained personnel in messes had dropped to 20 per cent.

The entire scheme of selecting and training culinary personnel must be gone into thoroughly and, in itself, constitutes enough work to last a subcommittee many days. Minimum requirements-educational and otherwise-must be established for the men who are to be entrusted with the most important duties pertaining to the handling of subsistence. These requirements must be much higher than the averages which have existed in the past. Means of supervising and improving the techniques of cooks and mess management personnel must be carefully studied, and responsibility inescapably established.

Let us recognize some of the facts with which an expanded American Army must be confronted. In the old Army, when an officer was a lieutenant for ten years and a captain for fifteen years or more, he attained a seasoning and indoctrination that we cannot expect to find in the officers of a quickly expanded Army. The old line captain learned through the bitter school of experience that his men came first in all things. He knew as much about his kitchens as he knew about firing his battery or leading his company in combat. The cook was his personal selection, and the captain’s professional fitness was, in large part, gauged by the morale-satisfying qualities of the company’s mess. Under such circumstances the company commander appointed the right kind of personnel to the job and gave it the required supervision. His own future was determined by such things. However, when young and immature officers are given command, as inevitably they must be in a quickly expanded Army, while jealously maintaining that the appointment of a company cook is their prerogative, they fail to exercise the responsibility which goes hand in glove with the prerogative. And, in practice, we see the soldier who has not made good as a combat soldier relegated to the kitchens, and, through attrition, eventually attaining the prime job of company cook. The very qualities that made him a poor soldier in the first place insure that he will likewise be a poor cook. The poor selection of personnel, plus the lack of supervision, which has also been characteristic of messes in an expanded Army, conspire to the detriment of the entire organization. It is utterly useless for The Quartermaster General to design, procure, and ship, over extended lines of supply, food of the finest quality and have that food wasted, or lose a great proportion of its nutritive value because of poor cooking. It is also useless for The Quartermaster General to train bakers and cooks if they are to be frittered away through misassignment.  Is a Bakers’ and Cooks’ School needed in the Theatre of Operations to supplement those in the Zone of the Interior?

That which has been said about the company cook applies in even more striking manner to officers charged with duties of food supervision. The company mess officer, assigned to such duty as a chore, will perform that duty in an indifferent way. His presence in the mess does not improve the cooking. Too frequently the duty is imposed upon the junior lieutenant, or upon another for punishment duty-the nearest approach to KP that can be meted out to an officer. Up through the Battalion S-4, the Regimental Supply Officer, the Division Class I Officer, on to the Zone of the Interior, we find officers who have had little experience in the methodology of food service. They learn through bitter experience, if they learn at all experience paid for in waste of food and loss of morale and efficiency. The feeling is too frequently apparent that “the outfit up there has a supply of C rations and they are good enough.” Proper supervision might warrant the pushing forward of cooking equipment, thus enabling the hapless dough-foot to get a hot meal. This conference is urged to consider the minimum qualifications of the commissioned officer who should be entrusted with the supply and supervision of food service. That supervision should start not lower than the Army level, and should be entrusted to an officer who knows his nutrients and the means of getting those nutrients to the men who need them most. The lad who has survived the assault today wonders what his numerical chances are for further survival, and thinks how nice it would be back at the kitchens where his more fortunate comrades are faring well.  A hot meal to that nigh-demoralized soldier might mean the difference between defeat and victory. I know of no way to produce the desired results except through more careful selection and training of officers who are entrusted with the highly important functions of food service and supervision in all echelons of supply, and that starts with the officer who pushes papers from one desk to another here on the Potomac River.

The Field Service Manual is pretty meager with respect to the methodology of supply. The schools are still, I presume, teaching the potential commander of troops that if he but sends a daily telegram the daily train will come to his back door with all the rations, gas, oil, and forage required to meet his daily needs. Out of this conference you gentlemen who know better should evolve a working basis for the enlargement of the training literature to be used in the schools of the several arms, including the Command and General Staff School-yes, and even the War College.

It is a tribute to the ingenuity of the American that he could, on the spur of the moment, devise so many ways to meet so many emergencies. I know the problems which had to be met in the Pacific were not the problems that had to be met when the North African Coast was stormed, the Appenines traversed, or the Siegfried defenses breached. Yet there is a common pattern of basic principles. If ever we are required to meet similar situations again, let us implement our command with something other than a telegraph blank! Supplies just do not get to the front these days following the well-defined lines of communication so dear to the student of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I have pointed out a few of our many problems; in your minds and experience I am sure there are many others. In the organization of this conference we have attempted to bring together officers from all levels of commissioned endeavor, from the combat lines to the ports of embarkation. You will be asked to furnish, in factual but objective manner, and along the lines I have just discussed, your personal experiences. The first five days will be devoted to these personal reports After that, the conference will break up into the committees.

The reading material which was furnished to you when you registered includes the chart of organization of the conference. A chairman pro tem for each committee was designated by the Steering Committee for organizational purposes. He is not necessarily your selection. Each committee will have the opportunity this afternoon of selecting its own chairman. Each committee will be augmented by technologist- who will act as a means of reference. That is to say, these technologists will furnish information, as may be desired by you, upon developments more recent than those included in your field experience. They are not assigned to you as counselors but as technical assistants.

In this connection I wish to emphasize that this is your conference, and it is your thought and your planning which we desire. Neither the Office of The Quartermaster General nor anyone connected with it will attempt, in any manner, to direct your thinking. We have nothing to sell but much to learn.

Certain outstanding officers will be brought back from civilian pursuit, who will lend of their services such counsel and advice as may be desirable to point out certain features of Quartermaster Corps research and development. In this category will be Dr. David Bruce Dill of Harvard University, late Colonel, Q.M.C., and Colonel Rohland Isker, late Director of the Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory.

I must impress upon you that the problems which we must meet here comprise a very serious military duty. For each and every one participating in this conference, these problems are a challenge, and, as I have said, an opportunity. I ask that you view this month of effort in just that light. Let us be factual and fair, but let us not hesitate to place the finger upon the sore spots which, had they been corrected before, would have made your job easier and the soldier’s life happier.

You have been selected because of your experience and proven ability to undertake this important task. I am sure you will accept the great responsibility that goes with it, and that you will give The Quartermaster General, the Army Ground Forces, the Army Service Forces, the Army, and, above all, the soldier himself, something for which they will be ever grateful. Give the problem your full time, your earnest effort, your soundest thinking, and your imagination. Give it your best.

In the business world it is said that once you know what is wrong with a business it is relatively easy to fix it. We want you to tell us what is wrong with the service of food to the soldier. It may or may not be easy to fix, but it is our job to fix it once you have pointed the way.