C-Rations Through WW II

The C ration, with a caloric value of 3700, was intended for operational needs of three to twenty-one days. This ration resulted from pre-World War II attempts to produce a stable, palatable, nutritionally balanced combat ration which would provide the individual soldier with three full meals per day.

C Rations, 1945
C Rations, 1945.

Maj. W. R. McReynolds, first director (1936-38) of the U.S. Army Subsistance R&D Laboratory, proposed to supplement the pre-war "reserve ration" with a complete meal-such as beef stew, beef with noodles, family-style dinner, lamb stew, and Irish stew-packaged in 12-ounce rectangular cans.

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Development of C Rations

By June 1938, the plan for development of C rations evolved into a proposed ration which was to consist of three meat units and three bread units. The six-can proposal was looked upon with favor and its development, as a replacement for the reserve ration, was recommended by the Quartermaster Corps Technical Committee. Historians and others have stressed the fact that only $300 was awarded to the Laboratory for continuation of this original development.

By 1939, the Laboratory had proposed ten varieties of meat combinations for the ration. Also it recommended that the 12-ounce rectangular can be discontinued and that the ration units be packaged in 16-ounce cylindrical cans. Thus increased, the six-can ration contained 4,437 calories and weighed five pounds ten ounces. By September 1939, it was recognized that the suggestion for ten varieties of meat combinations was probably visionary since manufacturing processes were not yet ready to produce untried combinations. It was necessary, therefore, to reduce the variety of M-units to meat and beans, meat-and-vegetable hash, and meat-and-vegetable stew. {Photo, left, is C Rations in 1943.)

This was the form and content of U. S. Army Field Ration C when the revised Army regulation on rations was announced in 1939. It was also the ration procured for the Army maneuvers of 1940 where it was subjected to stern field trials. From that test emerged a range of criticisms: the cans were too large and bulky; the meat lacked variety, was too rich, and contained too many beans. Yet, there was agreement that the new C ration was nutritionally adequate and was "one of the best field rations . . . ever issued to the Army."

As a result of the field recommendations, the 16-ounce can was abandoned and a 12-ounce can adopted as the standard size for the ration. The number of biscuits in the B unit also was reduced and chocolate and soluble coffee added. Production experiences brought improvement in the quality of the meat components. Later changes, effected before the end of 1941, introduced individually wrapped hard candies and chocolate caramels.

The first large-scale procurement for 1,500,000 rations, was initiated in August 1941 as the ration was being readied for the under-fire role it occupied during the ensuing war years as "the chief operational ration . . . in use for tactical situations in which the field kitchen cannot be used."

[From: Army Operational Rations - Historical Background, Chapter 1 of "Special Rations for the Armed Forces, 1946-53", By Franz A. Koehler, QMC Historical Studies, Series II, No. 6, Historical Branch, Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington D.C. 1958]

The use of C Rations continued through the Vietnam war up until the development of new packaging and storage techniques, culminating in the Meal, Ready-to-Eat adopted in the early 1980s.

See also: Heating Individual Field Rations.

Markings on C Rations Cartons

For more details on how C Rations cartons were marked, including the use of the black crescent, go to the Olive-Drab.com page "C Rations: Markings".

Find More Information on the Internet

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