Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, on 6 June 1944, is still considered one of the world's most complex and extensive logistical challenges. Not the least of the logistical concerns was the food supply for the assault troops. Given the supply difficulties anticipated for the immediate period of the landing and its aftermath, a special ration was devised.
Assault troops (Combat Engineers) aboard an LCI, during May 1944 pre-invasion training at Slapton Sands, Devon, England.
The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, both in the United States and in the European Theater of Operation (ETO), contributed to the success of the Operation Overlord supply plan by providing Quartermaster items in sufficient quantities and in time to meet the needs of the invasion forces. Lt. General Edmund Gregory, Quartermaster General for the period April 1940 to January 1946, reported on details of the preparation of rations for Operation OVERLORD and eyewitness reports from the time still survive, information from which this page is derived.
The basic plan was to load enough rations to last eight days, plus one day of emergency combat rations, on the LCIs with the troops. For the first day of land operations, each soldier was issued one day's emergency combat rations, described below. Subsequently, field kitchens were in operation, and hot food was served.
The first phase of the assault began with parachute drops behind the beach to secure key transportation junctions and other objectives. The heavily loaded paratroopers carried rations for 48-72 hours (in the form the three days supply of K rations and two of D rations) plus and an emergency ration consisting of chewing gum, bouillon cubes, instant coffee with sugar and creamer, Hershey bars, Charms candy, tobacco, and water purification tablets.
High Energy Ration for the Assault Troops
The Quartermaster Corps furnished a special high energy-content ration to keep invasion troops at peak energy before the landings. This was based on the B ration, with high energy foods substituted for low energy foods. Such foods included grapefruit juice, tomato juice, canned milk, roast beef, corned beef hash, coffee, tea, coca, canned peas, canned tomatoes, jams, string beans, sliced pineapple, potatoes, canned peaches, fruit cocktail, sugar, and corn. It was very difficult to maintain supplies of rations for the masses of troops as they moved from inland bases toward the embarkation points, transitioning from A rations (mess hall) to field and assault rations in the process.
For the crucial first day of combat, three K rations and three D rations were issued as the "emergency ration".
Some assault troop also were issued the 10-in-1 group rations, canned C rations and/or additional D ration bars. As a supplement to improve and vary the taste of the C ration, the troops were supplied with a condiment kit packed in water-proof containers and issued to small units. This contained salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, and lemon powder.
For warming rations, several types of heating units were issued. These included the wax candle unit developed by the Office of the Quartermaster General for heating C rations, and the immersion type water heater which, when dipped in a GI can of water, will heat to the point where it will sterilize mess gear and sill not show a flame to give away a position to the enemy.
Kits for D-Day Casualties
Nurses of the 13th Field Hospital, first to land in Normandy (arriving on Omaha-Beach 7 June 1944), take a break for a meal.
A special ration was furnished for issue to D-Day casualties as they were returned to England. The Quartermaster Corps also procured and distributed a special medical kit for issue at forward field dressing stations for use by the wounded. The kit was packaged like a K ration and contained 100 bouillon cubes, 600 cigarettes, and 30 packages of matches.
Logistics of Food After D-Day
On D-Day and for ten days after, packaged combat rations were delivered on skids in sizes that could be handled by smaller craft, trucks and equipment available immediately after the invasion. For the longer term, much more efficient methods were required involving shiploads of rations (and other supplies) needed for the ever increasing numbers of U.S. troops ashore in Europe.
Cargo destined for troops in Europe was loaded in the United States for direct delivery on the Continent in loads of mixed supplies, already in the correct proportions for the types of units at the destination. This improved logistic methodology eliminated intermediate handling and storage, but depended on careful analysis of the exact blend of supplies to be delivered.
Type-loaded cargoes were available in Europe starting on D-Day plus 31 days (D+31). Two types of ration loads (called "bricks") were decided on, one for delivery from D+31 through D+60, containing 57 percent balanced B ration components, 23 percent 10-in-1, 10 percent C rations, and 10 percent K rations, plus supplementary D rations and heat units. The second type, for the period D+61 through D+90, contained increased B rations to 68 percent, with 14 percent 10-in-1, 9 percent C rations, and 9 percent K rations, plus D rations and heat units. Each brick weighed 500 tons; the first type contained 210,000 rations, the second 220,000. A similar procedure was followed for clothing and equipment.
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