The Type C or C-Ration was an individual canned, pre-cooked or prepared wet ration intended to be issued to U.S. military land forces when fresh food (A-Ration) or packaged unprepared food (B-Ration) prepared in mess halls or field kitchens was impractical or not available and when a survival ration (K-ration or D-ration) was insufficient. After World War II, cost concerns later caused the C-ration to be standardized for field issue regardless of environmental suitability or weight limitations.

Background and Development

"Iron Ration" (1907-1922)

The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the "iron ration", first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three 3-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef boullion powder and parched and cooked wheat), three 1-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper. The ration was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound, and was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food. It was later discontinued by the adoption of the "Reserve Ration", but findings from the development and use of the Iron Ration went into the development of the emergency D-ration.

"Reserve Ration" (1917-1937)

The Reserve Ration was a ration issued during the latter part of World War I to feed troops who were away from a garrison or field kitchen. It originally consisted of 12 ounces of bacon or one pound of meat (usually canned Corned Beef), two 8-ounce cans of hard bread or hardtack biscuits, a packet of 1.16 ounces of pre-ground coffee, a packet of 2.4 ounces of granulated sugar, and a packet of 0.16 ounces of salt. There was also a separate "tobacco ration" of 0.4 ounces of tobacco and 10 cigarette rolling papers, later replaced by brand-name machine-rolled cigarettes. After the war, there were attempts to improve the ration based on input from the field. In 1922, the ration was reorganized to consist of 1 pound of meat (usually beef jerky), 3 ounces of canned Corned Beef or chocolate, 14 ounces of hard bread or hardtack biscuits, coffee and sugar. In 1925, the meat ration was replaced with canned Pork & Beans. In 1936, there was an attempt at variety by having an "A"-menu of Corned Beef and a "B"-menu of Pork & Beans. This was cancelled upon introduction of the new Field Ration, Type C, in 1938.

Field Ration, Type C (1938-1958)

The original Type C ration, commonly known as the C ration, was intended to replace the Reserve Ration as a short-term individual ration designed for infrequent use, and was supplemented by the D-ration survival bar. The first Type C ration consisted of a 16-ounce meat unit or M-unit (usually ham, chicken, or turkey) and one bread-and-dessert, or B-unit. Each daily ration consisted of six 12 oz. cans (three M-Units and three B-units) and an accessory pack, while an individual meal consisted of one M-Unit and one B-Unit. While the initial specification was officially declared obsolete in 1945, supplies of original and revised Type C rations continued to be issued to troops serving in Korea and even as late as the Vietnam conflict.

The C ration was, in general, not well liked by U.S. Army or Marine forces in World War II, who found the ration's menu monotonous after a relatively short period of exposure. When issued to British or other Commonwealth forces formerly issued hardtack and bully beef-type rations, the C ration was initially accepted, but monotony also became a chief complaint after a few days of consumption. Australian forces tended to dislike the C ration, finding the canned food items generally bland, overly soft in texture, and unappealing. Originally intended only for infrequent use, the exigencies of combat sometimes forced supply authorities to make the C ration the only source of sustenance for some troops for weeks on end.

Initially, C ration cans were marked only with paper labels, which soon came off and made a guessing game out of evening meals; soldiers and marines receiving an unpopular menu item several nights in a row often found themselves powerless to bargain for a more palatable one.

The "M" Unit

The M-unit contained a canned entrée originally made of stew meat (a mixture of beef and pork) seasoned with salt, various spices, and chopped onions. They initially came in three varieties: Meat Hash, Meat Stew with Vegetables (carrots and potatoes), and Meat Stew with Beans. "Meat & Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce" was added in 1943. In mid-1944 Chopped Ham, Egg, & Potato; Meat and Noodles; Pork & Rice; Frankfurters & Beans; Pork & Beans; Ham & Lima Beans; and Chicken & Vegetables were introduced; the unpopular Meat Hash and equally unpopular experimental "Mutton Stew with Vegetables" meal were dropped. In the final revision, "Beef Stew with Vegetables" was added in 1945. By all accounts, after the meat hash and mutton stew, the Ham & Lima Beans entree was the most unpopular; nevertheless it continued to appear as an entree item during World War II, the Korea, and the Vietnam conflicts.

The "B" Unit"

The B-unit (bread and dessert portion) contained 5 hardtack crackers, 3 sugar tablets, 3 Dextrose energy tablets, and a packet of beverage mix (instant coffee, powdered lemon drink, or boullion soup powder). Later revisions added orange drink powder (1944), sweetened cocoa powder (1944), and grape drink powder (1945) to the list of beverages. In 1941, the energy tablets were replaced with loose candy, like candy-coated peanuts or raisins, Charms hard candy, or Brachs Chocolate Caramels. Due to spoilage, the loose candy was replaced in 1944 with a candy disk (e.g. Brach's Fudge disk) or a cookie sandwich (e.g., Jim Dandee) and the number of biscuits was reduced to 4.

Another B-unit, consisting of pre-mixed oatmeal cereal, was introduced in 1944 as a breakfast ration that was usually paired with the "Ham, Egg, & Potato" Meal.

The accessory pack

Originally, the accessories and condiments were put in a 12-ounce can. However, their bulk led to the development of an accessory package.

The brown butcher paper accessory pack contained sugar tablets, Halazone water purification tablets, a flat wooden spoon, a piece of candy-coated chewing gum, 3 "short" sample 3-packs or one "long" sample 9-pack of commercial-grade cigarettes and a book of 20 cardboard moisture-resistant matches, a paper-wrapped P-38 can opener printed with instructions for its proper use, and several sheets of toilet paper. The P-38 can openers were generally worn on the GI's "dog tag" chain to facilitate opening the next meal's cans.

In 1945, the accessory pack was modified. Per the order of the Surgeon General, the Halazone tablets were removed and salt tablets were added. Also, feedback from the field revealed that soldiers who smoked often opened up accessory packs just to get the cigarettes and threw away the rest of the items. To reduce waste, the accessory pack was now divided into the "short" pack with cigarettes and matches and the "long" pack containing the other accessories.

Cigarette brands issued included Camel, Chelsea, Chesterfield, Craven "A"-Brand, Lucky Strikes, Old Gold, Philip Morris, Player's, Raleigh, and Wings.

Field Ration, Type E (1946-1948)

After World War II there was an attempt to combine the best features of the C-ration and the K-ration into a new individual ration. Called the E-ration, it was for all intents and purposes the same canned C ration, with the addition of some new components. In field testing, the bread component of the E-ration was found to be unpalatable, so much so that the E-ration was quickly dropped from classification and inventory.

C Ration, Revised (1948-1958)

After the failure of the E-Ration, ration planners decided to save costs by standardizing on a single wet ration, the basic C-ration. Several additions and changes were made to the original C ration specification, these were minor and involved ration variety and content, different sizes and shapes of cans, and improvements in packaging. The decision to rely solely on heavy canned wet rations in postwar Army field operations would prove a serious handicap to foot-mobile soldiers operating in extreme environments. The C-ration series was eventually phased out and replaced by the Meal, Combat, Individual ration in 1958.

Ration, Individual, Combat, Type C, Version 2 (1948)

The C-2 ration was described in TB-QM-53, Department of the Army, dated March, 1948, as an individual ration which consisted of packaged pre-cooked foods which could be eaten hot or cold. It replaced the World War II C ration, and later, the E ration. It could be carried and prepared by the individual soldier. The ration was designed for feeding combat troops from a few days to an extreme of three weeks. Due to the required individual portability of this ration, maximum nourishment had to be provided in the smallest physical unit. The components of this ration were prepared in five different menus.

Each menu included an accessory packet which consisted of essential toilet articles, tobacco, and confections.

Ration, Individual, Combat, Type C, Version 3 (?)

The C-3 ration was composed of five full menus of a greater variety, and in addition to the new and improved “B “(bread) and “M” (meat) units, each menu contained an accessory packet, fruit, and cigarettes. The ration was very heavy, weighing 5 lbs., 8½ oz., and was packed in 8 small cans.

  • Three “M” (meat) components, which offered 10 different varieties of meat entrees.
  • Three “B” (bread) components consisting of:
    • a unit of pre-mixed cereal.
    • a unit of 5 crackers & jam and a cocoa disc.
    • another unit of 5 crackers & jam, soluble coffee and sugar.
  • One 12-ounce can of fruit.
  • The accessory packet: (Gum, toilet paper, a P-38 can opener, granulated salt, and a flat wooden spoon).
  • The cigarette packet: (one 9-pack of cigarettes and a book of matches).

Field cooking equipment was not required for the preparation of this ration. The C-3 ration was more adequate than the original C ration in respect to its nutritional value.

Ration, Individual, Combat, Type C, Version 4 (1954-1958)

The C-4 ration was developed as a modification of the C-3 ration. It included the issue of two 6-ounce cans of fruit for 2 meals to replace the one 12-ounce can issued for one meal in the C-3 ration.

Sample C-4 ration contents

A sample C-4 ration (stamped March 1954) contained:

  • 1 Instruction sheet
  • 2 Cheese bars (1.5 net ounces)
  • 2 "Cereal Class 5" bars (1.5 net ounces)
  • 3 Type XII Style 1 Enriched chocolate bar (1 ounce)
  • 1 "Jelly Bar" (2 ounces)
  • 2 "Fruit Cake Bars" (2 ounces)
  • 3 sticks Topps peppermint chewing gum
  • 3 Domino sugar packets
  • 2 Nestea "soluble tea product"
  • 1 Pure soluble sugar
  • 1 "Soluble cream product"
  • 1 bottle Water Purification Tablets, Individual, Iodine
  • 1 plastic bag

End of the C-Ration

Selecting the C ration for all field issue resulted in limiting troops in the field to a single class of packaged ration that despite meal variances, was not suitable for all field environments. Troops regularly complained of the monotony of a single class of field ration with one or more unpalatable menu items, especially where A and B rations were not available for extended periods of time.

Primarily implemented due to cost concerns, the selection of a heavy canned wet ration resulted in a severe weight penalty for troops marching on foot and forced to carry a multi-day supply of rations. The overuse of the canned wet ration reached a ludicrous extreme during the Vietnam War, where American troops frequently resorted to placing stacked ration cans in socks to save bulk and reduce noise on patrol, while their enemy increased their mobility by carrying lightweight rations of dry rice. The Quartermaster Branch's insistence on canned wet rations for all postwar field issue, and the failure to develop a suitable lightweight dehydrated or other dry ration for jungle and other extreme environments led directly to the hurried development of the LRP ration or Long Range Patrol ration in 1966.


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