The Food Situation in the European Theatre of Operations
MAJ. GEN. ROBERT M.G. LITTLEJOHN, U.S.A.
The Quartermaster Review
Supplying food to American forces in Europe during WWII.
DIFFERENT peoples have different tastes. Methods of living are also affected by environment. That is why the British Army and the United States Army have different types of rations. The British ration is a good ration, but the average American does not like the high levels of tea, bread, potatoes, and mutton, the limited quantity of coffee, and the limited variety of fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, the American is a heavy meat-eater. The average Briton is more frugal in this respect.
For a few months after the European Theatre of Operations was initiated, the American soldier lived on the straight British ration. This was later modified to the so-called “British-American ration,” to include the things that the American soldier likes, and to eliminate those things for which he has no particular fondness.
In February 1942 we prescribed the first American ration. It was not, however, until mid- or late summer that practically all American troops were being fed the standard American ration. Since that date all American troops have been so fed, except in a few isolated instances where small detachments or individuals are away from United States Army centers.
Our ration here has gone through a process of evolution. We have a laboratory in which a number of experts study the ration, prepare monthly menus, and make up recipes for each individual item which the soldier eats. Our experts are assisted by nutritional experts from the Medical Service.
In addition to the above we have set up, at the American School Center, courses for bakers, cooks, mess sergeants, and mess officers. For the mess officers we have a ”Get-Rich-Quick” course, so-called.
In addition to learning geography and becoming accustomed to fog and other climatic conditions, the American soldier must also become accustomed to the ETO ration. This is based upon a minimum of shipping from the United States and upon an absolute elimination of all wastage. It allows the company commander certain flexibility, but he is watched to see that he uses this leeway wisely.
Our present ration was developed after a year of experience. We have reduced the caloric value from around 4,500 calories to 4,050 calories. The current ration is ample for a soldier performing the normal field and marching duties, provided a substantial portion of it is not stuffed into the garbage can.
In addition to the foregoing, each Base Section has a number of mess supervisors. Model messes are operated in each Base Section. Mess sergeants and mess officers who are newcomers to the theatre are invited to see and to study the model messes. The mess supervisors, likewise, make periodic checks. They also can go to the ground and air components on request from the various commands.
The current ration also resulted, in part, from a field survey made to determine what soldiers like and dislike, and what actually goes into the garbage can. Originally, organizations made contracts for the disposal of garbage and received payment for such garbage. Such contracts have ceased to exist.
Each month, my office, assisted by the Chief Surgeon’s Office, prepares a standard menu. This menu is based upon stocks on hand or obtainable locally; variety, to avoid monotony; and general nutritional requirements. It is sometimes difficult to prepare a menu conforming to these three restrictions.
From our British friends we have been obtaining substantial quantities of food. Items such as potatoes, cabbage, etc., are of local production. Some items arrive in British bottoms because it saves shipping to handle them on that basis. A good example is the case of the national flour of Britain.
As a matter of general policy the Theatre Commander, more than a year ago, issued orders that the national flour of Britain was to be utilized. This is made up of a local soft wheat, good Canadian wheat, and a limited quantity of barley and oats. It makes a rather dark loaf of bread, not attractive to most of the American soldiers. We have learned, however, how to bake it and how to make good biscuits and rolls with it. Our coffee supply is being obtained partly from British sources and partly from U. S. sources. The United States Army has its own roasting and grinding plants. Each bakery company, as now organized in this theatre, will have a coffee roasting and grinding unit capable of supplying the same number of men as the unit can supply with bread.
From time to time the office of the Chief Quartermaster and the American School Center conduct tests and competitions to secure the keen interest of the company cook and to get the maximum food value from some of the items which, for military reasons, we must handle in this theatre. Into the latter category fall dehydrated eggs, dehydrated vegetables, etc. All of these items, properly cooked, can be most palatable.
In this theatre we have made a departure in that we prescribe a hospital ration made up of those things which the sick man or the convalescing man likes best. We eliminate the heavy items required by the soldier performing hard labor. This resulted in the saving of a substantial quantity of food. We understand, from the Medical Department, that they are well satisfied with this arrangement.
For a number of years I had my office behind the Union Stockyards in Chicago. Many times I have heard it said that the packers canned everything but the squeal. In our conservation of food here in the briefly as follows:
Men, guns, airplanes, shipping, food-these are the essentials of war. Military success depends upon their utilization in proper quantity and in proper relationship to one another.
Our ration in the European Theatre of Operations is excellent. With a minimum of shipping we have a ration equal, if not superior, to that of any other place in the world. This demands good cooking, attractive serving, and the complete elimination of waste; i.e., loss of food via the garbage-can route.
The daily application of the above simple rule brings more men, more guns, and more airplanes against the enemy. It perceptibly shortens the war. It will assist in feeding our allies wherever they may be.
It will help to feed the hungry peoples of the world.