K Rations were developed in 1941 when the U.S. War department tasked Dr. Ancel Keys with designing a non-perishable, ready-to-eat meal that could fit in a soldier’s pocket as a short-duration, individual ration. Keys did his research at a local supermarket, choosing foods that were inexpensive but high in caloric content. He purchased hard biscuits, hard candy, dry sausages and chocolate bars. His initial k ration weighed in at 28 ounces and packed a whopping 3,200 calories. The rations were tested on soldiers who gave uniformly low ratings for their taste but said that they did relieve hunger and provide energy for the days tasks. Due to the lack of balance in these meals, they were intended for short duration activities only. In fact, they were recommended for a maximum of only 15 meals before the soldiers were to be put on the more balanced ‘A’ or ‘B’ field rations.

The makeup of the K ration evolved and was first put in use in 1942. At that time, they were assigned to U.S. Airborne troops on an experimental basis. Initial reports of this evolved K ration were favorable. The tests were held in a variety of conditions for three day periods. After the testing, the soldiers were tested and found to be healthy. Based on these findings, the use of the K ration became widespread through the armed forces. (It should be noted that these tests were performed on optimal conditions -without the stresses of rugged terrain, heavy packs or combat conditions so that the decision to roll out the K rations was based on conditions that an adventurous hiker might encounter rather than a soldier under fire.) As the war geared up for the United States, the idea of a K ration as a short term ration for soldiers fell by the wayside and became a staple of many soldiers fighting on the front lines.

As WWII continued and winded down, it became obvious that the K ration had problems – especially when used as a long term food source by the soldiers. Problems included the lack of vitamin content and the fact that even these high calorie levels were insufficient for a soldier working all day in combat conditions. The other problem was the monotony of the meals. K rations were all the same so soldiers were forced to eat the same identical foods day in and day out. In spite of these issues, the K ration remained the common food source for the military for the duration of the war – including for troops fighting in the most extreme of conditions.

So what was actually in a K ration package?

K ration packages were broken into three containers – one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner.

Breakfast Unit: canned entree (chopped ham and eggs, veal loaf), biscuits, a dried fruit bar or cereal bar, Halazone water purification tablets, a 4-pack of cigarettes, chewing gum, instant coffee, and sugar (granulated, cubed, or compressed).

Lunch Unit: canned entree (processed cheese, ham, or ham & cheese), biscuits, 15 malted milk tablets (early) or 5 caramels (late), sugar (granulated, cubed, or compressed), salt packet, a 4-pack of cigarettes and a book of matches, chewing gum, and a powdered beverage packet (lemon (c.1940), orange (c.1943), or grape (c.1945) flavor).

Supper Unit: canned meat, consisting of either chicken pate, pork luncheon meat with carrot & apple (1st issue), beef & pork loaf (2nd issue), or sausages; biscuits; a 2-ounce D ration emergency chocolate bar, Tropical bar, or (in temperate climates) commercial sweet chocolate bar; a packet of toilet paper tissues; a 4-pack of cigarettes; chewing gum, and a bouillon soup cube or powder packet.

The K rations were produced by the Cracker Jack company and fit in a box about the same size as a commercial Cracker Jack box. Each box contained all three meals and represented a caloric intake of between 2,830 and 3,000 calories depending on the components that were used. K rations were so integrated into the Army’s food plans that the U.S. Army M-1943 herringbone twill (HBT) fatigue uniform had simplified, but large, pockets that were designed to be able to hold a K-Ration box.

Due to its nutritional deficiencies, the K ration was abandoned after WWII in favor of more varied and nutritionally balanced rations. But during the war, it did serve its purpose in keeping U.S. soldiers fed on a daily basis under battlefield conditions. Author Resource:- World War II was a true World War with fighting and involvement from most countries. It was a long and hard fought war.

For true unadulterated stories of the war taken at the front lines, you need to check out the WWII Newsreel Collection, delivering hours of actual footage of events of the war.

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