SOLDIER FOOD
You Don't Eat - You Can't Fight!

Napoleon supposedly said it - An army travels on its stomach. True then and true now. But as to what those men (and now women, too) put in their stomachs to keep on truckin', that is a wholeeeee other story. Military rations have evolved dramatically over the centuries, from basically nothing (you were expected to hunt/kill/gather/cook all of your own food) to today's cooks-itself-in-the-bag delicacies that can feed an individual or an entire group a hot meal in minutes.

I've always been fascinated with military rations of all kinds. Why? Who knows. Best not to dwell on my thought processes.

Recently I decided to dive in with some actual taste tests and evaluations of my own (others on the web have done a much more thorough job) and see if what soldiers were and are getting to keep them going is up to the job. I was helped along immensely by Repro-Rations*, a small company that tries to reproduce, as closely as possible, World War I and II rations using modern components with authentic-looking labels. They have offerings from a number of countries, and I decided to look at meal kits - a box that contained enough food for either one meal or an entire day.

Great BritainBritish 24-hour ration pack, outside box. - World War II

First up are the British 24-Hour Rations. These were supplied to Commonwealth troops right before the D-Day invasion of France in World War II. Each consisted of a small waxed cardboard box and were issued two per man, per day. They were sized to fit in the square mess tins the troops carried.

Repro-Rations offers four menus. At least six were actually produced, the good folks at Repro-Rations tell me.

It's worth noting that some of the food in these rations needs to be cooked in order to be palatable (such as oatmeal and soup), but the only way most of the assault troops had to do so were small solid fuel tablet "stoves" that were really only good for warming up a canteen cup of liquid. You simply can't boil water using solid fuel tablets (which are basically alcohol) - there isn't enough heat energy in one tablet, let alone a whole boxful (which nobody had anyway). So a lot of this food was eaten cold, or lukewarm at best. If you felt like eating at all.

24-Hour Ration - SpamBritish 24-hour ration pack, Spam, full contents.

Contents: 

Spam - 1 can, 13.3 ounces

Plain Biscuits - 5, 1.6 ounces

Chocolate - 1 square, 0.5 ounces (vitamin fortified)

Boiled Sweets - 5 pieces (what we call hard candy in the US)

Tea-Milk-Sugar drink mix - 2 packets

Sweet Biscuits - 1, 0.4 ounces

Oatmeal - 1 packet, 1.1 ounces

Meat Broth - 2 large cubes

Chewing Gum - 2 packets, 8 pieces (the US equivalent is Chiclets)

British 24-hour ration pack, Spam, as packed.Latrine Paper - 4 4x9-inch sheets

Paper Matches - 20, 0.2 ounces

Instruction Sheet and Menu Suggestions

Weight Overall: 23.0 ounces - 1.4 pounds

Weight of Food: 17.4 ounces

Packaging: 24% of total weight

(Above) When you open the box you find out how tightly packed it is.

British 24-hour ration, Spam, breakfast. British 24-hour ration, Spam, lunch. British 24-hour ration, Spam, dinner. British 24-hour ration, toilet paper and gum.
Suggested Breakfast

 Box of tea opened to show the tea-sugar-milk mixture inside. You're supposed to share the hard biscuits between breakfast and dinner.

Suggested Snack Lunch or Tea

 I used two cups of water to make the soup. This photo shows a box of the tea mix. This was the sugar rush meal, between the chocolate and the sweet biscuit.

Suggested Dinner

 I thought the hard candies would be needed to wash down the salty taste of all that meat and another bowl of soup.

The Final Bits

 Nothing like ending your day with a mouthful of gum and a trip to the latrine. I snacked on the other pack of gum all day. All contents of ration now accounted for!

Comments:

Breakfast was OK. Not very filling, but at least it was hot. There are no directions on the "instruction leaflet" included with the ration on how to cook the oatmeal (or anything else), but they are included on the packet inside the brown paper overwrap. No sugar or salt for the oatmeal, bummer. The plain biscuits are rather hard, with a vaguely sweet flavor. I saved three of those for dinner. The instant tea-milk-sugar combo is, well ... it's not coffee. I'll be charitable and say it's an acquired taste - but I can't imagine drinking this stuff lukewarm, let alone cold.

Lunch was mostly sugar, with the chunk of chocolate and the single "sweet biscuit," which was like a thin wafer bar with a nominally sweet, thin frosting-like layer in the middle. The chocolate was a good milk chocolate, I suspect far tastier than what the Tommies got in WWII. The paper-wrapped cube labeled Soup was a very large beef-flavored bullion cube, but it dissolves much easier than the small cubes you find in US grocery stores. It made two cups of richly-flavored liquid which was hot, but again, not very filling. What could be better than Spam on crackers??? Spam on crackers with tea! AND beef bullion!The menu called this lunch-tea-snack ... I would rate it a snack, at best.

Dinner is the largest suggested meal of the day, since it centers around the almost 1-pound can of a Spam-like meat product. All of that, three plain biscuits, and another 2-cup bowl of beef broth, made the only genuinely filling and satisfying meal of the day. The remaining hard candies helped chase away the salty taste of the Spam and bullion. I made the other mug of tea, and drank it, for which I should get some kind of medal. Or at least a certificate of participation.

Spam was an American invention that quickly became a staple for troops (and sometimes civilians, the US shipped millions of cans of it to Russia, among other allies) and hence entered culinary "fame." Since it was easily portable, had a long shelf life and was relatively high in protein, it was served almost daily in stateside mess halls, overseas mess halls, front line mess tents, in foxholes - you get the idea. Which was OK, unless that was all that was served. Spam for breakfast ... Spam for lunch ... Spam for dinner ... seven days a week ... could easily become a recipe for madness. 

As far as the cooking goes, I cheated. Although I have a small folding metal stove and a goodly supply of solid fuel tablets, this is about seeing if it tastes OK and is filling enough. Hence the electric kettle to boil water for the oatmeal, tea and soup.

For some reason this ration didn't include one of the little pocket can opener/spoon utensils, maybe because the Spam can be sliced and eaten with your combat knife? The Spam can opened with an old-fashioned twist key (I'm amazed Repro-Rations can still find those).

24-Hour Ration - HamBritish 24-hour ration, ham, full contents.

Contents:

Ham Chunks - 1 can, 6.7 ounces

Plain Biscuits - 5, 1.6 ounces

Chocolate - 1 square, 1.0 ounces (vitamin fortified)

Boiled Sweets - 5 pieces (cherry, lemon, orange, grape and, ummm, green)

Tea-Milk-Sugar - 2 packets

Sweet Biscuits - 2, 0.8 ounces

Oatmeal - 1 packet, 1.1 ounces

Meat Broth - 2 large cubes

Sugar - 1 packet with 6 lumps, 0.8 ounces

Chewing Gum - 8 pieces

Latrine Paper - 4 4x9-inch sheets

Paper Matches - 20

Pocket Tin (Can) Opener - 1, 0.6 ounces, (combination can opener/bottle opener/spoon)

Instruction Sheet and Menu Suggestions

Weight Overall: 17.9 ounces - 1.1 pounds

Weight of Food: 13.1 ounces

Packaging: 27% of total weight

British 24-hour ration, ham, breakfast. British 24-hour ration, ham, lunch. British 24-hour ration, ham, dinner. British 24-hour ration, toilet paper and gum.
Suggested Breakfast

 You're supposed to share the hard biscuits between breakfast and dinner. Plenty of sugar to go with the oatmeal in this box - yay!

Suggested Snack Lunch or Tea

 Beef-flavored soup again. The chocolate square is quite good, and there are TWO sweet biscuits in this ration box. Still. it's mostly sugar.

Suggested Dinner

 Took some work to get the can of ham chunks open with the dinky little can opener that comes with the ration. The tea is starting to lose its luster. Or something.

The End

 Nothing like ending your day with a mouthful of gum and a trip to the latrine. As for the latrine paper's quality ... well, best not to "go" there. In a manner of speaking.

Comments:

Breakfast was better, because this ration box had sugar for the oatmeal! Four lumps of sugar made a real difference in the taste and materially increased the eating experience, although trying to use the tiny spoon included in the ration box detracted from it. I decided to use the remaining sugar for the other mug of tea at dinner - maybe doubling the Oatmeal, biscuits and a mug of alleged tea starts the day out right.sweetness would help mask the taste of the tea? The slightly-sweet biscuits are filling, so I ate three of the five for breakfast, and topped it off with a hard candy. While a hot meal is a good way to start the day, this was not really a lot of food.

Lunch was another bowl of beef broth, this time made using one cup of water. That was a mistake, it was incredibly salty. Which the square of chocolate and the vanilla-flavored sweetBritish 24-hour ration, reproduction can opener/bottle opener/spoon. biscuits helped you forget about. Sort of.

Ham was the main course for dinner in this ration. Eaten cold, it wasn't awful, just a little salty. The remaining plain biscuits helped give it some bulk, the other 2-cup beef broth creation, not so much. The interplay of flavors between salty ham and salty beef broth was "interesting." Using the remaining sugar lumps that came with this ration significantly helped the taste of the tea-milk-sugar mix. I would rate this mug as palatable. And having yet more candy helped dilute the salty taste of all the meat.

A filling meal, but only if you weren't planning on any strenuous activity.

The included reproduction can opener will open a can ... with a great deal of effort and vigorous application of selected swear words. It leaves a wickedly sharp serrated edge along the top rim of the can, perfect for snagging your finger as you eat the meat with the minimalist spoon at the other end of the can opener. I didn't have a bottle handy to try that opener, but it appears functional.

24-Hour Ration - ChickenBritish 24-hour ration, chicken, full contents.

Contents:

Chicken Chunks in water - 1 can, 6.3 ounces

Plain Biscuits - 5, 1.6 ounces

Chocolate - 1 square, 1.0 ounces

Boiled Sweets - 5 pieces

Tea-Milk-Sugar - 2 packets (enough for two 12-ounce mugs)

Sweet Biscuits - 2, 0.8 ounces

Oatmeal - 1 packet, 1.1 ounces

Meat Broth - 2 large cubes

Sugar - 1 packet with 6 lumps, 0.8 ounces

Chewing Gum - 8 pieces

Latrine Paper - 4 4x9-inch sheets

Paper Matches - 20

Pocket Tin Opener - 1

Instruction Sheet and Menu Suggestions

Weight Overall: 17.7 ounces - 1.1 pounds

Weight of Food: 13.5 ounces

Packaging: 24% of total weight

British 24-hour ration, chicken, breakfast. British 24-hour ration, chicken, lunch. British 24-hour ration, chicken, dinner. British 24-hour ration, toilet paper.
Suggested Breakfast

 Having learned from the ham ration, I used two lumps of sugar for the oatmeal and saved the rest for the tea. Two of the biscuits with breakfast, the rest for dinner.

Suggested Snack Lunch or Tea

 Beef-flavored soup again (I was hoping for chicken). The chocolate is very sweet, and the sweet biscuits are crunchy and sweet. It's a lot of sugar for one meal.

Suggested Dinner

 Saving three biscuits helped make the chicken chunks go down a little easier. The tea could have used four lumps of sugar per mug, or even all six.

Last Hurrah

 I really, really hope that the combat troops got more than these four rather diminutive sheets of rough and very flimsy paper ... The candy pieces are to give it some scale.

Comments:

Breakfast was - surprise - oatmeal. Again. Either the Brits loved this stuff or the Ministry of Defense thought it was the cheapest way to give the troops a hot breakfast (I suspect the latter). Still trying to find a balance between feeling full and going hungry all day, I ate two of the plain biscuits with the oatmeal, saving the other three for dinner. Two lumps of sugar went into the oatmeal, two lumps for the tea (which helped, kind of), with the remaining two lumps for evening tea.

The "snack lunch or tea" hardly merits the term "lunch" - it's basically all carbohydrates in the form of sugar. But that does help cancel out the salty taste of the beef broth! I unwrapped the broth cube to show how big it is, basically the size of four of the bullion cubes you see on US grocery store shelves. It's rich tasting, and it has a nice flavor, and it's hot ... but it's still basically flavored water, and I can't imagine it has a lot of calories or nutrition.

The chicken chunks for dinner were surprisingly good - all white meat and not too much fat. Some salt and/or pepper in the ration sure would have been nice, though. Combined with the remaining plain biscuits, it was one of the more filling dinners. The abundance of hard candy helps get rid of any unpleasant aftertastes. By now, though, the big-bowl-o-broth for lunch and dinner was starting to get old. I have the luxury of an electric kettle to boil water quickly - I can't imagine what this broth would taste like made with lukewarm water heated up over fuel tablets, and don't think I want to go there.British 24-hour ration, tuna, contents.

24-Hour Ration - Tuna

Contents:

Tuna in brine - 1 can, 6 ounces

Plain Biscuits - 5, 1.6 ounces

Chocolate - 1 square, 1.0 ounces

Boiled Sweets - 5 pieces

Tea-Milk-Sugar - 2 packets

Sweet Biscuits - 2, 0.8 ounces

Oatmeal - 1 packet, 1.1 ounces

Meat Broth - 2 large cubes

Sugar - 1 packet with 6 lumps, 0.8 ounces

Chewing Gum - 8 pieces, 0.4 ounces

Latrine Paper - 4 4x9-inch sheets

Paper Matches - 20

Pocket Tin Opener - 1

Instruction Sheet and Menu Suggestions

Weight Overall: 17.2 ounces - 1.0 pounds

Weight of Food: 12.6 ounces

Packaging: 27% of total weight

British 24-hour ration, tuna, breakfast. British 24-hour ration, tuna, lunch. British 24-hour ration, tuna, dinner. British 24-hour ration, tuna, chocolate and TP.
Suggested Breakfast

 Box of tea opened to show the tea-sugar-milk mixture in its plastic packet. Two of the hard biscuits gave the meal some bulk, and there was a lot of sugar added to the tea.

Suggested Snack Lunch or Tea

 More beef broth for lunch! I changed things up a bit and added just the sweet biscuits, using the gum throughout the afternoon.

Suggested Dinner

 Beef soup and tuna ... only the Brits could dream up this combination. The remaining hard biscuits made this a satisfying meal. Except for the tea ...

Exit Lines

 I decided to end this day's ration with a chocolaty flourish. It helped. Kind of. At least it left a pleasant taste behind.

Comments:

I decided to pull out all the stops, or lumps, for breakfast tea - four lumps of sugar. That made a real difference, but it left only two lumps of sugar for either the oatmeal or theBritish 24-hour ration, tea-milk-sugar boxes. You get two of these per ration box. evening tea. Decisions, decisions. I decided to have the oatmeal plain and use the rest of the sugar for the dinnertime tea.

Lunch was kind of skimpy, since it consisted of a bowl of beef broth and the two sweet biscuits. I decided to spread out the sugar load and save the lump of chocolate for the end of the day. The chewing gum flavors last a surprisingly long time, and even when that runs out, it does give your mouth something to work on, to distract you from the fact that it's not food you're chewing.

Dinner entailed another session with the minimalist can opener included with the ration. If you're trying to open a can with any kind of liquid inside, using this can opener pretty much guarantees you're going to make a mess doing so. But the tuna was tasty even eaten cold.

I am puzzled why the British didn't put any kind of seasonings in these rations - even a little packet of salt would have helped. And although you do get a pack of matches to start your pocket stove or light a cigarette, they aren't waterproof and would quickly become useless if they got even a little damp.  

The tea-milk-sugar combination might be OK, if you like milk and sugar in your tea (if you didn't you were evidently out of luck), but mixing instant tea, powdered milk and sugar in the same mug of hot water just doesn't ... work. It is, to me, a jarring combination of flavors whose only redeeming quality is ... sorry, can't think of one. But it is hot, so it might give you a little morale boost while waiting for whatever came next.

Final Thoughts on the World War II British 24-Hour Rations:

British 24-hour ration instructions and sample menus.You have to wonder what officials back then were thinking when they stated in the instructions, "All food in this ration can be eaten cooked or uncooked." I don't know about you, but uncooked oatmeal isn't my idea of fine cuisine. Cold Spam is nothing to raise any flags over either. Cold ham and chicken are tolerable. Just. The only one that tastes good cold is the tuna. That, and the fact that no seasonings other than sugar were included in any of the boxes, makes for an overall bland eating experience.

The Repro-Rations cardboard boxes are not waxed to be totally authentic, but that's OK with me because it's less messy. They measure 6-1/4-inchs long by 4-3/4-inches wide by 2-1/4-inches high and are sealed with two strips of brown paper tape on the bottom edge. Four of them would fit in a largish shoebox.

The only indication as to contents is a large capital letter stamped on one end of the carton, so I assume the troops would open the cartons and trade amongst themselves to get their favorites. The Spam was stamped with an A; ham with a D; chicken, E; and tuna, F. The good folks at Repro-Rations tell me that the B ration contained canned cheese, jam and meat (probably a pâté) in a squeeze tube, impossible to find these days; the C ration had sardines, and those tins are all made with pull tabs now so it wouldn't be historically accurate to use them.

Oddly, only the tuna ration can is marked as to its contents (it was also the only unpainted one). The Spam, ham and chicken rations are in plain painted cans. You can guess which one's the Spam by its shape, and maybe the ham was color-coded red and the chicken green ... or maybe not. Maybe it truly was "mystery meat" until you managed to saw the can open with that delightful little opener. Just another wrinkle in the combat dining experience!

One thing that carefully weighing these rations showed me - a lot of the weight is the packaging. The troops were having to carry these, and extra weight means extra work, but when up to 25 percent of the weight of each ration box was packaging, that seemed to partially defeat the purpose of passing out these boxed rations in the first place. These four boxes, two day's worth of food for a Tommie waiting to wade ashore in Normandy, weigh 4.7 pounds; the various packing materials are 1.2 pounds of that! Although all the paper and cardboard could be used in a soldier's pocket stove to warm up water or a can of food, I suppose.

A note about the chewing gum packed in these reproduction rations: The brand, Canel's, is imported from Mexico. It has several interesting flavors, including "violet" and tutti-frutti, along with more traditional ones like peppermint, spearmint and cinnamon.

But for getting a real-life feel for what troops about to hit the beaches at Normandy got to eat, these Repro-Rations British 24-hour ration boxes are hard to beat.

United States - WWII

10-in-1 Ration - Lunch, Menus 3 and 4

US 10-in-1 ration lunch menu items outer boxes.Tackling a different part of the dining experience, I decided to partake of lunch in the combat zone for the US World War II meal by sampling offerings that would have appeared in the 10-in-1 Ration. The 10-in-1 was a vast improvement over the previous C- and K-Rations, having more varieties of food and sometimes even decent quantities of certain items. The ration was delivered in one large box designed to feed 10 men for one day - hence the name - and contained mostly canned and/or dehydrated components for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

While the breakfast and dinner menus were designed for some minimal preparation in group feeding situations and with sharing things like rehydrated scrambled eggs, bread, beef stew, etc., lunch was a "portable" meal that could be eaten on the move ifUS 10-in-1 ration M-Unit, chicken. necessary. It was basically the K-Ration repurposed so an existing production line could continue to be used.

A note about nomenclature - in the 1940s, what we today call "lunch," the noontime meal, was more commonly referred to as "dinner" and it is so labeled on these boxes.

Contents: 

M(eat)-Unit - Menu 4

Chicken Chunks in Water - 1 can, 6.3 ounces

Wooden Spoon - 1

Partial Dinner Unit - Menu 3

Bullion - 1 packet, 0.2 ounces

Crackers - 4, 0.5 ounces

Sugar - 1 box, 0.6 ounces

Instant Coffee - 1 packet, 0.1 ouncesUS 10-in-1 ration Partial Dinner Unit contents.

Candy - Charms brand, 10 pieces (grape, cherry, lemon, grapefruit, orange, lime and, ummm, green {apple?} flavors), 1.2 ounces

Gum - Wrigley's brand spearmint, 1 stick, 0.1 ounces

Paper Matches - 20, 0.2 ounces

Pocket Can Opener - 1, 0.2 ounces

Weight Overall: 10.4 ounces - 0.6 pounds

Weight of Food: 7.9 ounces

Packaging: 24% of total weight

Once again Repro-Rations came through with the goods to have an authentic WWII-style dining experience. The components arrived in two small cardboard boxes with realistic-looking printing on them.  The Partial Dinner Unit components were shrink-wrapped in cellophane, as was the practice back then, while the can of chicken and its diminutive spoon were loose in their box.

The chicken was all white meat, in small chunks, and thankfully packed in not too terribly salty water. Quite tasty. Opening it with the GI can opener was a snap, although like the British opener in their 24-hour rations it leaves a wickedly jagged edge. But - trying to eat the meat with the included wooden "spoon" was an exercise in frustration I soon gave up on.

US 10-in-1 ration M-unit chicken can being opened with P-38.The four crackers added a little bulk, but not much, and together the chicken and crackers definitely left me wanting more to eat.

The instant coffee was very strong, so I used most of the sugar to tone it down. It would have been more palatable (to me at least) if I'd used more water instead of the recommended 6 ounces. Not having any creamer in this ration kind of sucked. There was about three heaping teaspoonfuls of sugar in the small packet.

I ended up with chicken-flavored bullion, although Repro-Rations says beef was the usual flavor issued. Although it was hot, it wasn't very filling. As I understand it, a lot of troops in WWII used the bullion packets to give more flavor to some of the canned meat rations (hardly anyone used it to make soup, because the saltiness created a raging thirst that the soldier might not have enough water on hand to wash down).

Keeping in the spirit of things, I thought I'd try using a GI-issue heat tablet from Repro-Rations to heat up the drinks. Each tablet weighs 1.2 ounces in its foil wrapping, and you're supposed to use at least one-third of a tablet to heat up a canteen cup of water or a can of rations.

Righttttttttttttttttttttttt. Using six ounces of room-temperature water in my GI canteen cup, with one-third of a heat tablet in my Esbit folding stove, the water got heated to ... maybe a tad more than room temperature. Probably because that small bit of tablet burned up in less than three minutes. Using the remaining two-thirds of a tablet, and fresh room-temperature water, I managed to produce a canteen cup of ... lukewarm water. Hmmmmmm. Burning every scrap of paper and cardboard that came with the two rations, including the outside candy, gum, sugar and coffee wrappers, I ended up with a cup of OK-I-can-tolerate-this-to-make-coffee water. Suffice it to say, if I was a GI in WWII and wanted hot food, I'd be carrying around a whole lot more of these heat tablets. At the expense of ammunition. No, wait ...

The only thing missing, according to the printing on the Partial Dinner Unit box, was a "can of dessert" from the main 10-in-1 Ration box. So I improvised, and ordered a roll of "chocolate malt tablets" as found in the British WWII Composite Ration (their equivalent to the US 10-in-1) from Repro-Rations. I figured that was something US troops might trade for with neighboring Commonwealth units. British compo ration replica chocolate malt tablets.

The tablets come in a paper-wrapped roll of 19 that weighs 2.4 ounces. According to Repro-Rations, three tablets provide 15 calories, 4 grams of sugar and 4 grams of carbohydrates. Repro-Rations uses US-made SweeTARTS candy as a substitute for importing expensive malt tablets from across the pond, and it was a welcome and even somewhat filling addition to what was in the boxes. Combined with the included Charms candies and chewing gum, it's about 225 more calories.

Final Thoughts on the World War II US 10-in-1 Ration Lunch:

US P-39 can opener wrapper, front.Each ration component comes in a thin cardboard box that measure 3-1/2-inches long by 3-5/8-inches wide by 1-1/2-inches high (both have anti-malariaUS P-38 can opener wrapper, back. warnings printed on the bottom, showing these rations were used worldwide). 

I have to say, this is not a lot of food, especially if the soldier eating it was doing any strenuous activity. There is probably adequate protein with the canned chicken, but not really enough carbohydrates to give you the "full" feeling Americans are used to. There was almost too much candy between the Charms and the chewing gum, but then, that could have been eaten throughout the afternoon to provide modest sugar boosts.

Making this a hot lunch would not really be an option unless you were also packing some heat tablets, as I discuss above. Even if you used all of the cardboard and paper wrappings to fuel a small fire, which I tried, it wouldn't be enough to heat up water for coffee, let alone the canned chicken.

A couple of oddities stand out: First, why pack the can opener in one box and the can that needs to be opened in another box? Even though many GIs had a can opener on the dog tag chain around their neck or on their key ring, it seems like tempting fate to separate the main can of food from its opener.

Second, why not include even a miniature bona-fide spoon instead of the pathetic wooden paddle-like thing? Surely the Quartermaster Corps could have dreamed upUS P-38 can opener. something at least remotely adequate to eat solid food with, as the British managed to do with their ingenious can and bottle opener/spoon utensil (see British 24-hour rations above).

Speaking of can openers, the one included in the Partial Dinner Unit box, aka the P-38, is surely one of the great inventions of WWII. Cheap, simple, durable and reliable, the P-38 was conceived and designed in just 30 days in 1942 by Maj. Thomas Dennehy at the US Army's Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago. It was used by the US Army for the next 50 years, until canned rations were replaced by the soft pouches containing Meals, Ready-to-Eat. That amazing lifespan shows just how evolutionarily perfect the P-38 was from the get-go.

Germany - WWII

Combat Ration for Paratroopers

German WWII paratrooper jump ration, outer box.The Germans were never really on board with the concept of unitized rations during WWII, only coming up with something that vaguely resembled US and  British boxed rations towards the end of the war (after a lot of griping from their troops about how much better captured enemy rations were). The basic German "iron ration" was a can of some type of meat (anything from beef, to horse near the end of the war) and a packet of hard bread or crackers - hardly enough to keep one going all day long, even in multiples. Plus, it got real boring, real quick.

There was little attempt to do much beyond hope that the unit's field kitchens could keep close enough to the advancing/retreating troops to provide some kind of soup, stew, oatmeal or similar large group-feeding type of hot meal. Failing that, the soldiers had to depend on whatever military-issue cans of various types they themselves could carry.

So things tended to be a hodgepodge. Which complicated my desire to evaluate meal "kits." Repro-Rations to the rescue again, with its Combat Rations for Paratroops, as issued to those specialized troops only when going into combat.

Contents:German WWII paratrooper jump ration, complete set.

Ham Chunks - 2 cans, 12.7 ounces

Cheese Spread - 2 cans, 17.5 ounces

Crisp Bread - 5 pieces, 2.4 ounces

Chocolate Substitute - 1 bar, 1 ounce

Bonbons Candy - 6 pieces, 1 ounce

Lemon Hard Candy - 5 pieces, 0.9 ounces

Powdered Coffee and Milk - 2 packets

Solid Fuel Tablet - 1

Weight Overall: 41.7 ounces - 2.6 pounds

Weight of Food: 30.6 ounces

Packaging: 27% of total weight

Comments:

This is not a lightweight ration. At 2.6 pounds, I can see Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) discarding some of the food so they could carry more ammunition. On the other hand, this might be all they got to eat for a day - or longer - depending on how the tactical situation was evolving.

The ham chunks are tasty, if a bit salty, and probably have a lot of protein. Combined with the Knäckebrot crisp rye crackers topped with canned cheese, you'd have at least one filling meal. The cheese was interesting. For one thing, I didn't know they made canned cheese. It had a surprisingly good flavor - kind of a mild, cheddary taste, a creamy white color German paratrooper jump rations contents - canned ham, rye crackers and canned cheese.and a fairly firm texture. You definitely need a stiff knife to pry it out of the can and spread it.

The "milchkaffee," a powdered milk/instant coffee combination, wasn't bad. You get two servings, each making a little over a cup of coffee. Although the directions say you can drink it hot or cold, I highly recommend drinking it hot. Or at least warm. I tried heating a US canteen cup full of water over my German-made Esbit folding metal stove, using the supplied Flammo heat tablet. It burned for about eight minutes and got the water warm. Not boiling, but tolerable enough to make instant coffee with.

Then there is the candy! Three different kinds! All of it good! The bright yellow lemon hard candies were kind of chewy in the middle, which was different. The bonbons candy was six pieces of a vaguely fruity-flavored chewy candy imported from Germany, and the chocolate was a good solid hunk of milk chocolate (the WWII kit had artificial chocolate). Enough to give you a sugar high that would carry you into the next day!

Final Thoughts on the World War II German Combat Rations for Paratroops:

This doesn't appear to be a lot of food at first glance, but then, you have to remember what it was designed to do - get a paratrooper through those first few critical days of combat, when he might, 1) Not have time to cook anything, 2) Be too tense to eat, or 3) Both. The best part of the ration for addressing those issues is probably all the candy. Somebody at the German high command showed some common sense with that decision.German WW II Kokos survival rations and ersatz chicory coffee.

That said, it's all surprisingly filling, especially the cheese. The overall weight of the ration includes the cardboard box Repro-Rations shipped it in. I'm not sure that's how it was done during the war, but it seems reasonable. The German markings certainly add an air of authenticity.

I also indulged and bought a few extras, things that a paratrooper might have added to this ration. One was a box of Koko's Energy survival food, three coconut-flavored bars in a small box that were supposed to provide 18 hours worth of calories. These were also packed in Luftwaffe (German air force) aircrew survival kits. Not sure what Repro-Rations used to make these, but mine were rather dry and crumbly. They did have a vague coconut smell, however, which was an odor that supposedly permeated German paratrooper's gear as well.

The other item was something I've wanted to try for some time, ersatz "coffee" made with chicory. Ersatz coffee was big in the German armed forces, simply because the nation's supply of real coffee had been mostly cut off by the Allied naval blockade. I found it to have a denser flavor than American-style coffee, more of an espresso-type taste, but with a distinct nutty aftertaste. The only down side - no caffeine in chicory coffee! So much for adding that to my morning routine.

USSR (Russia) - WWII

Boxed Front Line 24-Hour Ration

Russian 24-hour boxed daily ration.The USSR did not develop anything like the unit-type rations (think 10-in-1, compo-ration, etc.) that the United States and Great Britain put together until well into the war. What food was initially available for issue consisted of random cans of things like beets, sprat (kind of like sardines) and Spam (from the US) or Russian "mystery meat" (tushonka); small paper sacks of cracked wheat or other grains (for porridge); cloth bags of sunflower seeds; very strong, coarse black tea in a cloth sack or waxed paper; tinned condensed milk if you were really lucky; miniscule amounts of sugar and salt in twists of waxed paper; and lots and lots of the never-popular hardtack (concrete masquerading as bread) wrapped in paper.

By 1943, though, things were looking up (relatively speaking ... this was the Eastern Front and things were never, ever 'good'). Lend-Lease was funneling mountains of foodstuffs to the USSR from the United States and Great Britain, with lots of Spam and US canned/Russian labeled meat stews (but never horsemeat, which the Russians more than occasionally foisted off on their troops). Along with flour, sugar, salt, cooking oils, canned fruits and vegetables, etc., etc. ... If you could stuff it into a Liberty ship, the Russians were eating it.

This ration, assembled by MRE Mountain, uses authentic period labels on modern Russian foods to show what kind of 24-hour boxed ration items Russian soldiers were getting in the field as their logistics got ironed out. There was no set list of contents, it depended to a large extent on what the factory had available on that particular day.Russian 24-hour boxed ration contents. (Although the Russians did have very comprehensive criteria for what the troops should be getting to eat every day. On paper).

Contents:

Army Biscuits (crackers to us Yanks) - 2 sleeves, 64 crackers, 11.6 ounces

Pork Stew - 1 can, 14 ounces

Russian 24-hour boxed ration first look.Loose Tea - 1 box, 1.1 ounces

Pea Soup Mix - 1 package, 6.3 ounces

Millet Porridge Mix - 1 package, 6.3 ounces

Weight Overall: 46.2 ounces - 2.6 pounds

Weight of Food: 39.6 ounces

Packaging: 14% of total weight

(Above) There is plenty of space for additional items in the box. This reproduction ration left out a few things, such as two Airship-brand chocolate bars, and sugar and salt packets.

Comments:

The first thing you notice about this ration is that it is very, very basic. No frills of any kind. The second thing you notice is that unless you can make a fire, you're going to have a very subpar eating experience since both the porridge and soup mixes require boiling water to make them edible; the canned stew would probably be much preferred heated up, but it can be eaten cold with your traditional Russian Frontovik's wooden spoon. In a pinch. The calories are here, but none of the comforts of home.

The stew - свинина тушёнка, or "pork" and "braising" in Russian - is marked as coming from the US Lend-Lease program, with the equivalent of "Pork Stew" in Russian Cyrillic lettering at the top of the can and the rest of the label in English. I'm surprised we didn't put a tiny American flag on the painted-on label; the politics of not wanting to offend Comrade Stalin probably figured into that.     

The "army biscuits" are the same size as regular American-style saltine crackers, only about twice as thick and unsalted. That was actually a smart thing the Russians did - being unsalted, a handful of these can give you a full feeling without your brain telling you to eat all of them at once, as it does when you have salted food in hand. How many of us have consumed an entire sleeve of saltines in one sitting? You know you have ... Taste-wise they reminded me of the pilot crackers we used to take hiking in Boy Scouts and got served at summer camp a lot. Those came in large cardboard boxes with multiple waxed-paper sleeves of crackers in each box, and had a no-nonsense, baked cracker taste  and heavy-duty crunchiness that I remember to this day. The instructions on the biscuits are interesting. Courtesy of Google Translate, soldiers are told that, "It is better to use biscuits in a soaked form, for which they fall into a glass or mug of water. At a water temperature of 15o, the biscuits get wet within 5 minutes and become soft and ready to eat. Wetting of biscuits is accelerated if they are dipped in hot water or tea." All text is in Russian Cyrillic lettering, pretty cool from the authenticity standpoint. As noted in the contents, you get 32 crackers to a waxed paper sleeve.

Russian 24-hour boxed ration breakfast, millet porridge.The small square packet of millet is intended (I think) to be made into a porridge - which means you'll need a fire and water and a cup or a pot ... that'll be fun on the Eastern Front in December. The instructions tell you to "Pour the mashed half-tablet into hot water (1 glass) and boil for 10 minutes. In the absence of the possibility of boiling, pour the mashed half tablet into a glass of boiling water and let it swell for 15-20 minutes." Sounds lovely *cough* but the proof is in the eating.

The pea soup purée is a small, dense square brick, provided by the "People's Commissariat for Milk and Meat Industry of the USSR." That's a mouthful right there. Google Translate mangled the instructions, which tell you to "Take the tablet, pour mash water in the amount of 1.8 liters (9 stacks) and boil for 15 minutes with stirring." I think we get the gist of it, but I'm still trying to puzzle out what a "stack" of water is.

Last but not least - this is Russia, they love the stuff - is the tea! You get about three-fourths of a cup (0.9 ounces) of very, very coarse black tea leaves wrapped in wax paper, inside a small paperboard box. The box is what caught my attention. It's gaudily colorful, with a bucolic scene of women working in the farm fields with mountains in the background. I guess even the Red Army couldn't be allRussian 24-hour boxed ration lunch, pea soup. business, all the time.    

Breakfast was a mug of tea and porridge. There is no "tablet" of millet inside the paper wrappings - it's one cup of loose grain. So I experimented with half a cup of millet and half a cup of boiling water, dumped in a pot and heated over the stove for 10 minutes. That ... wasn't enough water. Another half-cup of water was needed since the millet quickly absorbed the first offering. But when it was done it was highly satisfactory - a nice-sized bowlful of hot cereal, with a bit of a crunch and a vague buttery popcorn-like flavor. Very filling. A little salt made it more palatable. A teaspoon of sugar and some butter and you'd be set, but both were always in short supply at the front.

Russian 24-hour boxed ration pea soup concentrate.The tea is dark and strong, as befitting the large, loose leaves. The trick to drinking this kind of tea is to strain the leaves out with your teeth as you sip it. Without sugar, it's adequate. I'd guess you can get about a dozen 8-ounce cups of tea out of the box, which seems like enough for the day. In the summer. In the winter, when a hot drink might be all that kept you going from day-to-day, I'd want a lot more tea available. I didn't have any sweetened condensed milk on hand to try it that way, but then the soldiers didn't have it a lot of the time either.

The lunchtime pea soup was another adventure. Again, there was no "tablet" of soup, just a square, solid brick of peas and bits. I followed the directions to boil 1.8 liters of water ( 7.6 cups) and then add the soup brick and continue boiling. Note to self - I'm sure soldiers would have known this, but it took me awhile to realize the brick wasn't breaking apart. Mechanical assistance - in this case a potato masher - was needed to get it broken up small enough so it would actually start cooking.

When it was finally done, the soup turned out pretty good. A little salty, but it had some body to it, as well as bits ofRussian 24-hour boxed ration dinner, pork stew. carrots, onions, herbs, and lots of whole and spilt peas (not the small dark green split peas Americans are used to). Paired with some of the biscuits and another cup of tea, it was Russian 24-hour boxed ration pork tushonka.a very satisfying and filling meal. And since this makes almost eight cups of soup, there were leftovers galore.

I almost skipped dinner. Decanting the can of pork stew into a pot to warm it up presented me with something that strongly resembled the insides of a freshly road-killed rodent. But I persevered despite appearances.

Once the stew was warmed up it looked ... a little better. I for one can't imagine eating this glop cold, but if you were hungry and had no choice ... The fact that it is basically random chunks of cooked pork and a generous measure of lard doesn't help the appearance, but it's apparently something Russians are used to since this was recently manufactured and re-labeled to look like WWII fare. The actual taste was OK, it had a pork flavor, but it was pretty salty, somewhat greasy and needed a lot of tea to wash it and the final biscuits down.

Final thoughts on the WWII USSR (Russian) boxed front line 24-hour ration for front line troops:

I wasn't able to find definitive information on whether the USSR actually used these small cardboard boxes to get a days worth of food to its soldiers in WWII, but it makes sense from a logistics and transportation angle. Each box is 8-inches square by 4-inches high, so you could pack quite a few into a wooden case before it got tossed into the back of a truck for its trip to the front lines. And the cardboard could fuel a small fire to warm up your can of Lend-Lease stew!

As far as nutrition goes, this ration is basically all carbohydrates:

So ... somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,650 calories, which is OK by today's health-conscious standards but inadequate for a soldier doing strenuous activities, especially in cold weather. Maybe that's why there's so much tea in it, the hot drinks would help you keep going. If you could make a fire, and had the time to boil water, etc., etc.

This ration is assembled in Belarus, a former Soviet-era territory, using local ingredients, so you are getting a very close approximation to what WWII Russian soldiers were eating. The period labels and packaging really lend an aura of authenticity.

I can't resist ending with a little trivia about Spam: The cans sent to Russia had five different labeling schemes over the course of the war - a plain painted can (color varied); the regular, colorful US civilian label; a two-color "austerity" US wartime civilian label; a black-and-white Russian military label; or a three-color Russian civilian label. Any combination of these could be found in the individual Russian soldiers' kit from late-1942 on. Years after the war ended, Nikita Kruschev publicly stated that Russia would have lost the war if it had not been for Spam from America. Spam won the war! How cool is that?

A word of caution about ordering Russian rations from MRE Mountain: You may not always get all of what you order, at least as of May 2023. My two modern Russian Federation Armed Forces 24-hour rations were opened by US Customs and Border Protection in New York and all the meat products were removed, even though current regulations specifically allow importation of canned meat for personal consumption. Blame Russia's current war against Ukraine, I guess. MRE Mountain did refund the cost of one ration after I asked, since I was basically left with two boxes of snack foods. The recreated WWII USSR ration reviewed above was lacking the advertised Airship-brand chocolate bars, one of the main reasons I had ordered it. MRE Mountain justified the missing chocolate by stating it was a "limited time offer," but did refund the shipping charges after several e-mails. US, British and German rations I've ordered from them have arrived complete and in a timely manner.

Great Britain - Current

24-Hour Operational Ration Pack- Menu 18, Sausage Casserole and Bean and Pasta Salad main dishes

British 24-hour operation ration pack, outer box.Oh what a difference 70-plus years makes! The 24-hour ration for British troops now comes in a single cardboard box, and there are, as of this date, at least 20 different menus. Wow. Although it's worth noting that one of these ration boxes weighs almost as much as the four WWII British 24-hour ration boxes evaluated above.

Still, it is a vast improvement over what Tommies were issued in that war. I got this box from MRE Mountain. There is definitely a lot more variety and much closer attention to things like nutrition, calories and hydration (i.e., something besides just water or tea). Let's proceed with the eating to see if the taste end of things holds up. 

Contents:British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18 contents.

Cinnamon Bun - 1, 4.4 ounces

Bean and Pasta Salad - 1 pouch, 11.6 ounces

Sausage Casserole - 1 pouch, 11.3 ounces

Chocolate Brownie - 1, 3.4 ounces

Hot Pepper Sauce - 1, 1.2 ounce glass bottle

Mango/Banana/Apple Fruit Puree - 1 squeeze pouch, 3.4 ounces

Oat Digestive Biscuits - 4, 1.9 ounces

Smooth Peanut Butter - 1 squeeze pouch, 1.5 ounces

Cheddar Cheese-Flavored Spread - 1 squeeze pouch, 1.5 ounces

Cranberry Cereal Bar - 1.9 ounces

Sesame Seed Bar - 3 pieces, 1.9 ounces

Mixed Nuts - 1 bag, 2.8 ounces

Apple Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Orange Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Tropical Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Cola Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Hot Chocolate Mint Flavor Powder - 1 packet

Chewing Gum - 8 pieces

Tea - 2 bags, Ty-Phoo brand and English Breakfast (generic)

Instant Coffee - 2 packets, Nescafe and Rombouts

Sugar - 4 packets, 0.1 ounces each

British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18, first look.Creamer - 4 packets, 0.1 ounces each

Wet Wipe Cleaning Cloth - 2

Tissues - 10

Water Purification Tablets - 6

Waterproof Matches - 5, plus striker strip

Plastic Spoon/Fork (Spork) - 1

Zip-Close Plastic Bag - 8 3/4 x 15 inches

Contents List

Feedback Sheet - win the latest iPod Touch from the MOD if your entry gets picked in the drawing!!!

Weight Overall: 67.3 ounces - 4.2 pounds

Weight of Food: 55.7 ounces

Packaging: 17% of total weight

(Above) This box is not nearly as tightly packed as the British WWII rations. I'm not sure carrying around something that rattles and makes noise is good tactical sense, though.British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18 entrees, cinnamon bun, sausage casserole and beans and pasta salad.
 
Comments:

There are no menu suggestions, so you are free to eat what you want, when you want. If bean and pasta salad is your idea of a smashing good breakfast, here's your chance! So I decided to take photos of the main meal groupings and then do individualized taste tests.

Breakfast started out with the "shelf stable" cinnamon bun. No, it's not going to be light and flaky like a fresh-baked bun, and it's rather flat because it's in a vacuum-sealed pouch, but this one was pretty good, even eaten cold: definite overtones of cinnamon without too much of a processed food taste. Paired with a cup of instant coffee (I tried the Rombouts brand because I'm not familiar with it) and the fruit puree squeeze pouch, it's not a bad way to British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18, drink mixes.start the day.

The cinnamon bun was made in the US (I think by a company that makes US military Meals-Ready-to-Eat) and the puree came from Belgium. Talk about international. Being able to have coffee, and being able to choose whether or how much cream and sugar to add to it, is a huge improvement over the WWII British tea-milk-sugar combo packets troops back then were issued. Or so it seems to this Yank.

The Ministry of Defense definitely takes hydration more seriously these days - there are FIVE different drink mixes for soldiers to liven up the water in their canteens. Which works outBritish 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18, condiments and snacks. nicely because you only get SIX water purification tablets in the ration box. If you drank all of these in one day, that's about 10 cups of water (there are 16 cups in 1 US gallon). Toss in two cups each of tea and coffee, and that's a lot of fluids from one ration box.

It seems another purpose is to sneak in vitamins, rather than using pills. The apple drink mix has extra vitamin B1; and the orange, tropical and cola flavors, extra vitamin C. The hot chocolate mix has extra protein included.

All tasted good when mixed with the recommended amount of water. The apple had a nice, vaguely tart green apple flavor and wasn't too sugary. It was touted as an energy drink, but didn't have appreciably more carbohydrates than the other mixes. The tropical flavor was more of a citric acidy-taste with no real fruit overtones, an odd yellow color, and wasn't overly sugary. I liked it the least. The orange flavor tasted like oranges, was a little too sugary for my taste, and had a milky-white color when mixed, which was a little off-putting.

I was curious about the cola-flavored mix. It was more reluctant to dissolve in cold water, although it did have an appealing brownish cola color and syrupy texture. There was a cola taste, but it was overshadowed by the ascorbic acid added to boost the vitamin C. And, OK, I cheated with the hot chocolate mix, using the electric kettle instead of solid fuel tablets to heat the water. So sue me. It had an OK texture, a little watery, and it was MINTY. As it, "We thought it'd be a good idea to dissolve an entire peppermint patty into this cup of hot British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18, coffee, tea and accessories.chocolate mix" minty. But I drank all of it.

Lunch was the bean and pasta salad, eaten cold right out of the pouch with the provided spork, with the oat digestive biscuits (had to look up what those are) and cheddar cheese-flavored spread. British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18, beans and pasta salad.

Although the salad supposedly had chili flavoring in it, it seemed a little bland to me so - out came the mini-bottle of hot sauce included with the condiments. THAT certainly livened things up. The mix of two kinds of beans, some corn, and pasta in a light tomato sauce was flavorful, but kind of gooey texture-wise. I thought it tasted fine eaten cold. Although I have to admit that it did look like, ummmm, fresh vomit.

Only two of the biscuits were intact, the rest were broken up or just crumbs, a consequence of being tossed into the box loose rather than being packed in, I guess. They have a slightly sweet taste with noticeable oat overtones. The cheese spread, made in the US and probably another MRE item, was very flavorful and went well with the biscuits.

There are enough snack items to keep almost anyone from feeling hungry during the day. I thought the cranberry cereal bar was quite good, lots of berry flavor and chewy, not rock hard like some bars. The bag of nuts was a mix of peanuts, almonds and cashews and wasn't salted, which I happen to prefer. The three sesame seed bars had a nice honey flavor but were a bit gooey (mine were all stuck together, probably due to heat). The creamy peanut butter was a perfect topping for them. It was made in the US, I suspect by another MRE contractor because of the brown packaging used.

Dinner was excellent, the sausage casserole package had three English-style sausages in it, along with big chunks of potato, peas and carrots and a rich brown gravy. Heated up, it tasted very good, and the portion size filled you up. Paired with the shelf-stable chocolate brownie (which was the size of my hand), it was more than enough for a satisfying dinner. The brownie was a little dry and crumbly, however, unlike the cinnamon bun.British 24-hour operational ration pack, Menu 18, sausage casserole.

Final Thoughts on the British 24-Hour Operational Ration Pack:

The ration comes in a plain brown cardboard box that is 9 3/4-inches long by 7 3/4-inches wide by 4 1/4-inches high, held closed with a strip of clear packing tape. This is a lot of food - more than 6,500 calories in a box that weights a little more than 4 pounds. Everything tasted good to me, although I am not a terribly picky eater to begin with. There was enough variety in the entrees, and with all the snack foods there's little chance of feeling hungry during the day. As with the WWII British rations reviewed above, though, you'd think the military would find more ways to minimize the weight of the packaging.

Although a few waterproof matches are included, there is no pocket stove and solid fuel tablets, or flameless heaters as some countries put with their soldier's rations. So that's an issue. Although the cardboard box could fuel a small fire, enough to heat up a mug of tea. Maybe. If the weather was dry. Another omission - no toilet paper. Yeowwwwww. Although maybe that's what the 10-pack of tissues was intended for, which is hardly adequate. Nor was there any salt and pepper (but the hot sauce is plenty potent). The Brits seem to have an aversion to seasonings.

The spoon/fork (spork) turned out to be a little too flimsy to do a good job of scraping food out of the bottoms of the stiff plastic pouches, and it wasn't really long enough, either. If I had to eat these on a regular basis, I'd want a longer, metal spoon.

A nice touch is the large clear zip-close plastic bag, which is big enough to hold all of the food, or when you're done for the day, all of the trash. My only complaint about some of the pouches is they don't have tearing notches and are impossible to open without a knife or scissors. I did find it odd that some of the pouches were a shiny metallic silver, or red in one case. Not very stealthy.

As far as long-term storage goes, if I was going to squirrel these rations away for a rainy day, I'd remove the fruit puree and the hot sauce - liquids just don't last.

The most amazing thing about this ration pack? The feedback sheet. The Ministry of Defense actually wants to know what the soldiers who have to eat this stuff think about it! Heck, they'll enter you in a drawing for a new iPod just for filling out the feedback sheet and sending it in. Someone at the MOD should get a special medal for thinking that up. Even if they never act on the feedback, it's a nice gesture.

United States - Current

24-Hour First Strike Ration - Menu 6, Apple Turnover, Seasoned Barbecued Pork Wraps and Garlic and Herb Chicken Fillet main dishes

US First Strike Ration, Menu 6I decided to skip the obvious and not do a review of one of the US military's current Meal, Ready-to-Eat offerings, since who hasn't heard or read something about them? The First Strike Ration can be viewed as the "anti-MRE" because it is a direct result of soldiers stripping out what they deemed the "unnecessary" parts of MREs to reduce the weight and bulk they would have to carry on their backs. This resulted in a lot of waste (to the horror of the bureaucrats) but also fewer calories for the soldiers.

The US Army's solution? Gas station food! Or close to it, using a lot of convenience store-type foods, along with shelf-stable (read: MRE) pocket sandwiches and wraps, for what they called an "eat-on-the-move feast" *cough* during the first 72-hours of combat. A single FSR (24-hours worth of food) is about half the size and weight of three MREs (also 24-hours worth of food), and about 900 fewer calories. It took five years to develop, test and implement production, but by late 2007 the FSR was in the field. There are currently nine different menus (because there are nine varieties of the main entree, the pocket sandwiches and wraps). This one comes from, again, MRE Mountain.

Contents: 

Wrap, Seasoned Pork with Barbecue Sauce - 1, 5.3 ounces

Chicken Breast Fillet, Garlic and Herb - 1, 4.7 ounces

Plain Bagel - 1, 2.2 ouncesUS First Strike Ration menu 6 contents.

Apple Turnover - 1, 3.9 ounces

Chocolate Pudding, Caffeinated - 1 squeeze pouch, 4.9 ounces

Cheddar Cheese Pretzels - 1 bag, 2.1 ounces

Cranberries - 1 bag, 2.5 ounces

Teriyaki Beef Stick - 1, 1.3 ounces

First Strike Energy Bar, Apple Cinnamon - 1 bar, 1.6 ounces

Cheese Spread - 1 squeeze pouch, 1.1 ounces

Mocha Dessert Bar - 1, 1.4 ounces

Tropical Punch Drink Mix - 2 pouches, 4.0 ounces

Strawberry-Banana Shake Mix - 1 pouch, 2.8 ounces

Mint Chewing Gum, Caffeinated - 5 pieces, 0.6 ounces

Cinnamon Chewing Gum - 2 pieces, 0.1 ounce

Tabasco Sauce - 1 bottle, 0.7 ounces

Salt - 1 packet

Paper Matches - 1 book (20), 0.1 ounces

Moist Towelettes - 3, 0.3 ounces

Toilet Paper (20 sheets) - 0.2 ounces

Plastic MRE-type Spoon - 1, 0.2 ounces

Plastic Zip-Top Bag, 9.75x12.5 inches - 1 (not shown in photo)

Weight Overall: 41.8 ounces - 2.6 pounds

Weight of Food: 35.3 ounces

Packaging: 16% of total weight

US First Strike Ration Menu 6 entrees.Comments:

The tightly-packed heavy-duty plastic bag that holds this ration is the first clue that you're in for something "interesting." Unlike some other countries' modern rations, which frequently use civilian products with the attendant bright/loud- crackly/attention-getting packaging, First Strike Rations repackage everything in the ubiquitous brown plastic pouches theUS First Strike Ration Menu 6 snacks and spreads. US Army uses for all of its rations. Which makes sound tactical sense.

The main thing to remember with FSRs is that they are designed to be eaten on the move, with no cooking necessary. This makes sense from the standpoint of soldiers in a tactical environment not spending a lot of time in any one place, or being in a hurry to get where they need to go. Although there is a book of matches included if you want to make a fire to heat something up.

There are four main parts of each FSR: the entree items, the wide variety of snack foods, the drink mixes and the accessory packet. I took photos of each main grouping before diving into the taste testing. All of the packets were clearly labeled as to contents and nutrition, except the chicken breast. That was in a plain green wrapper with the contents and nutrition info on a separate small piece of card stock; I'm guessing because the chicken is also included in several MRE rations.

Since all the food is in one bag, you can eat what you want, when you want to (the main point of the FSR) but I tried to stick to traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner groupings.

US First Strike Ration Menu 6 apple turnover and dried cranberries.For breakfast I had the shelf-stable apple turnover, cranberries, the First Strike energy bar and the dairy shake - might as well start out with a bang, right? The turnover, typical of most shelf-stable offerings, was a little dry and pasty-tasting, but also had plenty of apple chunks in a semi-gooey filling without too much cinnamon or sugar flavorings. It was acceptable, eaten cold right out of the bag. The double handful of sweetened dried cranberries gave things a vaguely healthful overtone and had a solid and not-too-tart flavor. The First Strike energy bar was, literally, two bites of thick, sticky brownish apple-cinnamon goo. Careful study of the small print in the label informed me that this was the "mini" version of the popular First Strike bar - 1.2 ounces compared to the normal 2.3 ounces. Why the Department of Defense chose to save a few ounces in that manner is a mystery. However, along with the dairy shake, it was a satisfying amount of food. US First Strike Ration Menu 6 pork barbecue wraps.

But no coffee. At all. Aaughhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Lunch was my first experience with the FSR wraps, basically a couple of smallish flour tortillas wrapped around some kind of meat filling. Getting two wraps was nice, since each one was about three bites worth. The barbecued pork had a good tangy flavor, not overly sweet or hot, and it had a firm, meaty texture. Surprisingly, the tortilla wraps didn't feel or taste overly greasy, despite being in a bag for who knows how many months. Heated up, they would have made a decent entree, but they tasted fine cold. I didn't think they needed any help from the miniature bottle of Tabasco Sauce included in the ration.

I filled out lunch with two of the snacks, pretzels and a beef stick. The cheddar-filled pretzels were very good and there was a nice amount; none of them were crushed and there was almost no "pretzel dust" in the pouch, which I am going to chalk up to careful manufacturing. The teriyaki-flavored beef stick was a commercial item, but still had a brown plastic overwrap to hide its festive red label. I thought it had an OK flavor, but the texture was greasy, mealy-tasting and, well off-putting. The tropical punch drink mix (discussed below) added nothing to what was a better than OK but not really great lunchtime dining experience.

Afternoon snack was the mocha desert bar, and it was great. Dense. Chocolaty. Sweet but not horribly so. There just wasn't very much of US First Strike Ration Menu 6 chicken breast, bagel and cheese spread.it.

Dinner was my attempt at an open-faced sandwich, using the chicken breast and half of the shelf-stable bagel. Probably not practical for in the field, for the simple facts that the bagel isn't pre-sliced in half and the chicken breast is much larger than the bagel. But hey, you have to improvise. The other half of the bagel was covered with the cheese spread. The breast was a nice size, with a good texture and not too dripping wet from the juices in the pouch. There was a pronounced garlic flavor with only a hint of the lemon, oregano, basil and other spices. I thought it was pretty good overall. The cheese spread was the standard MRE Cheese Whiz flavor, not really cheddar, not reallyUS First Strike Ration, Menu 6, snacks and mocha chocolate dessert bar. anything else, either. But it looked and smelled like cheese and tasted OK cold.

Dessert was chocolate pudding in a large squeeze pouch. With 220 milligrams of caffeine added for some extra kick (a cup of coffee has about 100 mg, for comparison). It was creamy and thick, with a mild chocolate flavor that reminded my of the old Hunt's Snak Pack pudding cups I had in my school lunches as a kid, when they came in the small aluminum pull-tab cans. The other drink pouch of tropical punch rounded things out.

The beverages were a mixed bag - the drink-it-from-the-bag pouches are convenient but the shape is kind of awkward to handle. Although the dairy shake helped make the apple turnover seem more like a true "breakfast" meal, it failed to rehydrate all the way despite vigorous shaking and ended up fairly lumpy. There was a nice strawberry flavor without too much sweetness, but it could have used a lot more of the milk flavoring.

US First Strike Ration tropical punch drink mix.I was less enamored with the tropical punch (no fruit juice added) simply because I don't care for that flavor. And once I got past the ghastly color (courtesy of Red Dye 40, a known human carcinogen), I had a hard time identifying what the actual flavor was ... it wasn't horribly sweet, there was a tang from the citric acid, but other than that ... I suppose it could be refreshing on a really hot day, or if you had absolutely nothing else at all to drink. Which is probably why I got two of these in my ration - the normal allocation is one. I read that the drink mixes were seen as one way to get the troops more maltodextrine for sustained energy. Somebody needs to rethink that premise if this is all the better they can make it taste.US First Strike Ration, Menu 6, drink mixes.

The seven pieces of gum were a nice touch. Two of the small square pieces come in the separate Accessory Packet, either peppermint or cinnamon. I got cinnamon and it was great. The other five pieces were mint-flavored Military Energy Gum in a separate packet, which has 100 milligrams of caffeine per piece (equivalent to a cup of coffee). I had to laugh at the directions to chew a piece for 5 minutes, and if you can't feel it kicking in, chew another piece, but to NOT chew more than four pieces a day if you're a civilian. For soldiers, you're good for up to ten pieces a day. That's a lot of caffeine.

The remainder of the accessory packet was the seasonings, towelettes, matches (odd since there's nothing to cook) and the world's smallest packet of what the Department of Defense optimistically calls toilet tissue. But no drink mix of any kind. That seems like a rather serious oversight, since the modern military is all about hydration to help keep soldiers functioning in top form.

Final Thoughts on the US First Strike Ration:

You have to hand it to the Army, with the First Strike Ration they're finally giving their soldiers the kinds of foods they would buy for themselves to take into the field. When you have an all-volunteer force, things like this matter.

And by and large the FSR succeeds on that count. The one thing troops in the field said they wanted out of their rations (besides decent taste) was more protein, and this ration delivers, with 80 grams total (the average adult male needs 50-60 grams per day). The average of 2,900 calories packed into the FSR left this sedentary adult male feeling full ... but not sure it would be quite enough for a soldier doing lots of soldier things during the course of a day.

The food to packaging ratio is more favorable with the FSR than any of the other modern rations I reviewed, with only 16 percent of the ration's total weight being packaging thanks to the fact that virtually all of it is either plastic or the multi-layer plastic and Mylar food pouches. I suspect that sealing these rations in heavy plastic bags (without a handy tearing notch) is one way to discourage soldiers from field-stripping out what they consider non-essential.US First Strike Ration Menu 6 accesory packet.

Speaking of packing, the actual contents of my ration deviated from the current Department of Defense lists. Menu 6 is supposed to have two drink mixes, the dairy shake and one other, and none in the accessory packet. I got two of the same kind of drink mix in addition to the dairy shake. Instead of smoked turkey nuggets, I got the teriyaki beef stick - the turkey might have tasted better.

The lack of coffee is, to me, a major failing of this ration. There are A, B and C versions of the accessory packet - all include chewing gum, towelettes, matches, salt and toilet paper. But only the A packet has coffee, creamer and sugar. B gives you a lemonade, raspberry or cranberry/grape drink mix, and the C, as discussed above, gives you no drink options at all. Sure, the soldiers can pack their own coffee and creamer ... but why should they have to? There are times when the FSR's caffeinated chewing gum, pudding or applesauce just ain't gonna' cut it, and you need that hot cup of coffee. Or two ...

US First Strike Ration toilet paperAnother odd exclusion is water purification tablets. All of the drink mixes require water (duhh) but the soldier will have to rely on what's in their canteen. It seems non-sensical and cheap that the Department of Defense couldn't throw in a strip of purification tablets. They could add the purification tablets and toss the diminutive packet of toilet paper, which isn't worthy of the name and barely qualifies for use as facial tissue.

The three towelettes give soldiers some ability to clean themselves up after every meal, always good. I'm not really sure why the FSRs include a spoon since everything can be eaten right from the pouch - must be a holdover from the MREs, which definitely need a spoon.

The heavy gauge brown plastic zip-closure bag that can hold the abundance of wrappers and trash from an FSR is a nice touch (I'm equally sure those sturdy bags get put to a lot of other uses their makers never envisioned).

Germany - Current

24-Hour Individual Combat Ration - Menu 5, South American Vegetable Chili and Dumplings with Vegetables in Tomato Sauce main dishes

German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, outer box.Unlike in WWII, the modern German army is fully on board when it comes to 24-hour ration packs and boxed rations - and as you would expect from the Germans, they do a thorough, workmanlike, and at times very clever job of it (although there are also some curious omissions). I wanted to try a different type of ration, so got one of their vegetarian menus. There are at least 12 menus all told. As with the modern British rations, this one comes from MRE Mountain.

For such a small carton, the variety and quality of food is amazing. Truly. Good-bye to the bad old days of iron rations (canned meat and bread and not much else) day after day after day. Please bear with some of my translations, the last German I had was in high school, which was ... a long time ago. And I took the liberty of converting grams into ounces.

Contents:

South American Vegetable Chili - 1 container, 11.1 ounces

Dumplings with Vegetables in Tomato Sauce - 1 container, 11.3 ounces

Tuna with Lime and Pepper - 1 package, 3.3 ounces

Instant Chocolate Muesli - 1 pack, 3.5 ounces

Instant Apple-Apricot Dessert - 1 packet, 1.7 ounces

Chocolate Cookie Bits - 1 pouch, 1.2 ounces

Canned Rye Bread - 6 slices, 8 ounces

Hard Crackers - 12, 4.6 ounces

Black Currant Jam - 1 carton, 1 ounce

Sour Cherry Jam - 1 carton, 1 ounce

Cream Cheese Tomato/Paprika Spread - 2 cartons, 3.7 ounces

Sesame Seed Bars - 3, 1.8 ounces

Chili Pepper Spread - 1 squeeze pouch

Coffee - 2 packets

Tea - 2 packets

Cappuccino - 1 packet, 0.6 ounces

Sugar - 4 packets, 1 ounce

Creamer - 2 packets

Salt - 2 packets, 0.2 ounces

Exotic (Tropical) Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Grapefruit Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Orange Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Lemon Flavor Vitamin-Fortified Drink Powder - 1 packet

Dried Fruit Mix - 2 ounces

Chocolate - 2 bars, 1.8 ounces

Chewing Gum - 12 pieces

Water Purification Tablets - 4

German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, first look.Multi-Purpose Paper - 2 sheets,  7 1/2 X 7 3/4 inches

Wet Wipe Cleaning Cloth - 1, 5 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches

Wooden Safety Matches - 20 with striker strip

Contents List - in German, English and French

Weight Overall: 72.1 ounces - 4.5 pounds

Weight of Food: 62 ounces

Packaging: 14% of total weight

(Above) Tightly packed! No loose bits rattling around in this ration box.

Comments:

German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, breakfast items.Breakfast started with the instant chocolate muesli cereal and the instant apple-apricot dessert. Both are commercial freeze-dried products and the directions said you could use warm or cold water to rehydrate them. I opted for hot water for the muesli and room-temperature tap water for the dessert for comparison. Unlike many American-made freeze-dried meals, these didn't have a zip closure top, so unless you fold the stiff envelope top over, hot food gets cold quickly. And the accordion fold on the bottom of the envelopes, designed to help them stand upright, made it rather maddening to try and pry out bits of oatmeal and fruit. 

Both items were ... OK. Like most freeze-dried foods, it seems like there are always some little bits that refuse to rehydrate properly. The muesli was very chocolaty, and seemed to consist of nothing but oats and cocoa powder, but it was filling. The dessert would have probably done better with warm water - most of the fruit bits were still chewy despite soaking for about 10 minutes. Paired with a mug of the instant coffee, though, it was a filling breakfast. Thankfully the Germans know how to make a good cup of coffee. It's a little stronger than Americans are used to, but you get enough creamers and sugar to tone it down.

The snack items were all tasty and filling, almost a couple of meals by themselves. The German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, side dishes and snacks.dried fruit mix of cranberries, bananas, papaya and mango and was quite good, if a bit sugary; all of the pieces were very small, however. The sesame seed bars were stuck together (seems to be an issue with these things) so I ate them as one single bar. Gooey with a distinct honey flavor.

The chewing gum (made in France, which is kind of funny when you think about it, but that's NATO for you) had a nice spearmint flavor and came in a nifty little zip-closure pouch. And the two small hard chocolate bars, well ... the Germans know chocolate! There should have been a dozen of these in the ration box.

The rye bread was quite good, considering it was canned. The slices were thin, but had a solid, rather grainy texture and a nice smooth taste. They were moist enough that you didn't need a topping on them, but I tried the tomato/paprika cream cheese and they went really well together. The two cartons of spread were more than enough for all six slices of bread.German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, main entrees, and Feline Research Assistant!

The only disappointment was the crackers, a dozen thick 2x2-inch shortbread-like things that had gone rancid. Even though the foil packaging was still sealed, they had definitely gone bad. This was one of numerous commercial food products in the ration. I had to try the two jellies on my own pieces of toast. Each had the required fruity taste, but they both wanted to come out of their little tins as one solid glob. I liked the black currant better than the sour cherry, which was very sour.

German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, drink mixes.The drinks were a highly varied lot, showing that the modern German army also takes hydration seriously. The instant coffee was stronger than Americans are probably used to; the instant tea was good, but a little flat tasting and wouldn't satisfy a true tea lover. Having four packets of sugar helped with that. The instant cappuccino was adequate on its own (no extra sugar needed), but the packet only brewed a little over a mug's worth.

The drink mixes intended for a soldier's canteen all made a little over a pint (two cups) and were fortified with a lot of different vitamins, which is a more sensible way to get those vital nutrients than telling people they have to take a huge pill every day.

The exotic mix was a whitish-orange color, and had a vague citrus taste with coconut overtones. Why does everyone think that putting a few drops of coconut into something makes it "exotic"? It was OK, but I liked it the least of the four mixes. The grapefruit mix was a little sugary, a whitish-yellow color, and tasted vaguely of citrus but not really like grapefruit. I thought the orange drink would be, well, orange, but I guess the Germans aren't as big on food colorings as the Americans, because it was also a milky orangish color. But at least it tasted like actual oranges. As did the lemon drink, which was a brighter yellow and so looked the most appealing. It was also the most refreshing of the drink mixes, with a zesty lemon taste and even a bit of lemon rind aftertaste. I liked that one the most.

German 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, snack items.I tried something different with the two "ready-to-eat meals" that are the main entrees. Rather than pairing them up with other ration items, I ate each one separately as a meal in its own right, to see how filling they would actually be.

I tried the dumplings with vegetables in tomato sauce entree cold, to see if the claim that "Meals can also be eaten cold without any loss of nutritive value and without substantial reduction in taste" would holdGerman 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, South American Vegetable Chili up, and it does. By and large. The six large dumplings in the aluminum tray would surely have tasted better hot, but the entire thing was palatable, if a little salty and rather slimy-looking. I'll have to take their word for it that there were any vegetables swimming around in all that greasy-looking bright red tomato sauce, though, because all I could make out were some tiny reddish bits. It did make for a filling lunch.

Heating up the vegetable chili was problematic, and highlighted one of this ration's biggest failings - it's both awkward and time consuming to heat up these entrees in a mess tin of boiling water, try to fish them out without burning one's hands, and then wrestle the foil lids off without risking more burned digits. Other nations have developed better or at least safer systems. The heating up was accomplished with some element of risk; the actual eating was very satisfactory.

The entree was tasty, if a little bland, but squeezing the entire packet of chili pepper spread into the middle of things resolved that issue, and it made for a very filling hot meal. That said - I grew up in the American Southwest. Anyone who called this concoction "chili" would be either soundly beaten or run out of town on a rail no matter how it's seasoned. It's just ... wrong ... to see corn, kidney beans and *gasp* green beans in anything called chili. But since this rather grandiosely-titled South American Vegetable Chili comes from Germany, I can forgive them not knowing any better.

As an aside, my dedicated and hard-working FRAs (Feline Research Assistants) gave two claws-up to the remnants of both entrees, leaving the gold-colored aluminum ration containers shiny clean. Honestly, there's enough food in this box to make five or even six meals for a normal adult, although I can see an active and engaged soldier consuming every morsel and still being hungry.

Final Thoughts on the German 24-Hour Ration Pack:

The German ration comes in a thin gray cardboard box, hinged at the top, measuring 9 3/8-inches long by 7 1/4-inches wide by 3 5/8-inches high. As noted above, it is much more tightly packed than the British 24-hour ration box (but also much flimsier). As is the British ration above, this one is loadedGerman 24-hour individual combat ration, Menu 5, accessories. with calories, almost 7,000. And every single food item tasted good, to me at least (excepting the crackers, as noted above. Even I have limits). The two vegetarian entrees were surprisingly filling, enough so to distract you from the fact that they didn't contain any meat.

That said, it has some shortcomings. The major ones are, 1) No spoon or eating utensil of any kind, 2) Water purification tablets for only two canteens worth, not enough for all of the drink mixes included, and 3) No ability to heat the rations except by building a smallish fire with all the wrappings. The odd-looking wooden safety matches included are packed in a waterproof packet but aren't waterproof themselves. You can eat all of this stuff cold, but ... would you really want to?

The lack of any dedicated toilet paper is another concern, although the two included pieces of "multi-purpose paper" would do. In a pinch. The included wet wipe was a nice touch, but I'd like enough to use one after every meal.

As with all modern rations, there is an abundance of packaging, but I think these German rations do the worst job of protecting the main entrees and some of the condiment items from rough handling. The soft aluminum trays and foil coverings are very vulnerable to bending or crushing, then leaking, or to punctures, much more so than the usual pliable plastic envelopes most other nations use for their troop's rations. It just seems like a rather old-school way to do things, and I don't think it will last as well under long-term storage conditions.

This ration did not include the clear plastic zip-top bag that was included on the contents list, an odd omission considering the Germans are good at quality control.

Russia - Current

(UNDER CONSTRUCTION - and it's going to stay that way until they get their butts out of Ukraine and Crimea.)


* Sadly, Repro-Rations closed in 2020. Their constantly-evolving and creative offerings of WWI and WWII rations will be missed, as will the people behind those offerings.


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