Rations during WWII

Rations were used as a way to ensure that all persons had food and a reasonable diet.

The US War Department required that the dietary to be fed to the soldier be nutritionally balanced. In the final adoption and revision of War Department circulars relating to the menu plan of field rations, the following was included as the result of suggestion of The Surgeon General: 8   ". . . that consideration be given to evaluation of vitamins and minerals. . . . In its preparation, consideration should be given to the quantities of food necessary to meet nutritional requirements consistent with the prescribed training program."

Civil populations were also studied and a ration plan established.

The B ration was essentially the same as the A ration except that nearly all of its components were canned. It was used in communications zones and, as far as practical, in combat zones.

The C ration, K ration, and ten-in-one ration (also used as emergency combat rations) were designed for the various phases of an assault and were intended to be used only for short periods before adequate cooking facilities could be brought forward. It was thought that the K ration should be used in the early days of an assault where no facilities or time for preparation were available. In the next few days, the C ration, which required only heating, and could even be used cold, was indicated. In the next phase, where small groups could eat together, the ten-in-one ration was to be used and finally, when kitchens could be set up, the B ration was indicated. 

The emergency combat rations, C, K, and ten-in-one, proved to be inadequate for sick and wounded soldiers at clearing stations and evacuation hospitals.  There were several other types of Army food, sometimes erroneously called "rations," which were to be used for special purposes and in the event of severe emergencies. They were not rations in the true sense because they did not contain adequate nutrients for a soldier for 1 day. Examples of these are the D bar which was a type of chocolate bar, the Air Corps flight lunch which was a box of mixed candies, the parachute ration which was a small packaged ration equal to approximately one-third of the K ration, the life raft ration which appeared in at least five forms, made up mostly of candies and raisins, and a number of others. None of these emergency type, lifesaving rations was satisfactory but their use for the purposes for which they were designed turned out to be infinitesimally small, so the deficiencies in them were of little importance.

The average soldier caloric consumption, 3,468 calories, was less than the soldier had been consuming in previous surveys (4,100 calories supplied and 3,888 calories consumed in 1941-42, and 3,900 calories supplied and 3,633 calories consumed with approximately 365 calories in the post exchange in 1917-18).

The first prisoners of war were received in the United States in May 1942. Their presence in the Zone of Interior posed many questions of feeding. The most important was how much and what items of food should be used in the dietary of the German prisoners of war. Answering this question required the interpretation of that part of the Geneva Convention article pertaining to the feeding of prisoners of war. The Geneva Convention reads, "The food ration of Prisoners of War shall be equal in quantity and quality to that of troops at base camps."  The obvious way to conform to this was to feed prisoners the same items and amounts of food as American troops received. In 1945 four circulars on prisoner of war feeding were published, namely, Army Service Forces Circulars 39, 72, 150, and 191.

All agencies involved in feeding the prisoners of war were ultimately instructed to cut the use of civilian-scarce food to a minimum and to substitute civilian-plentiful food. The Geneva Convention was reinterpreted by joint agreement of the Office of The Surgeon General, Office of The Quartermaster General, and Office of The Provost Marshal General, with concurrence of the Commanding General, Army Service Forces, as follows: The word "equal" does not mean "identical," therefore, if American troops were fed 100 gm. of protein in the form of grade A beef, while German prisoners had to be fed the same amount of protein, it did not have to come from the same part of the carcass.

It was, therefore, agreed to feed prisoners of war in terms of their energy requirements and to feed them low-cost nonrationed foods which were nutritionally adequate, as determined by accepted American standards. (See Army Service Forces Circular 235, 1945.)

In haste, as a stop-gap measure, Army Service Forces Circular 150, 27 April 1945, was written, principally by the Office of The Quartermaster General, and dispatched to the field accompanied by a menu guide for prisoners of war. This circular and menu required that use be made of the following or similar items: pig's snouts, pig's feet, pig's tails, green bones, hearts, and similar items of meat in amounts not to exceed 4 ounces per man per day (this did not mean inedible meat), bread in amounts up to 130 pounds per 100 men per day and flour in addition. They would not eat this much bread. No substitutions were permitted.

Infectious hepatitis, presented a special problem in nutrition because of the anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and loss of weight which are characteristic of the disease. As a result of various diet studies, a special diet which contained 200 or more grams of protein, 25 to 50 gm. of fat and 400 or more grams of carbohydrate was devised for patients with hepatitis. By special arrangements made with the Quartermaster Corps, amounts of lean frozen beef and of dried skim milk were obtained which were adequate to provide the protein component of the diet, and patients with hepatitis had the first call upon all fresh fruits and vegetables procured by the quartermaster. This diet was very successful (if its success can be judged by its consumption) and was relished, with the result that most patients suffering from this disease showed a gain in weight at the time they left the hospital.

Troops were on a diet practically devoid of ascorbic acid whenever they subsisted on unsupplemented C, K, or ten-in-one rations in the cold weather which was general in Europe. This resulted from the refusal to prepare and drink the lemonade which may be made from the fortified lemon or other fruit powders. The deficiency in thiamine and the questionable deficiency in riboflavin in the type B ration was corrected as quickly as fresh items became available.

Beriberi and pellagra were regarded as principal causes of morbidity and mortality due to disease among our citizens who were prisoners of the Japanese.

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