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The Alphabet Soup of Army Rations

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between C-Rations and K-Rations? During WWII, US military officials had to find a way to feed the troops when they weren’t near a mess hall. Rations were prepackaged meals, easy to prepare, and intended to be eaten in the field. The Unit History of the 63rd Infantry Division breaks down some of the different types of rations that fueled troops and helped Allies win the war. 

American journalist Ernie Pyle eating C-Rations

A-Ration: A-rations were the most preferred by US fighting forces and consisted of fresh, refrigerated, or frozen foods. The meals were prepared in kitchens or field kitchens and generally served in permanent dining halls.

B-Ration: B-Rations were prepared by trained cooks in a field kitchen while on the move. Ingredients consisted of canned and dehydrated foods that did not require refrigeration. Thus, the food could be kept in a truck or wagon for months without spoiling.

C-Ration: Often called C-Rats, these rations were designed for individual combat troops and consisted of precooked food in tinplate cans that opened with a key. Initially, officials calculated that C-Rations would only be consumed for no more than three days at a time and produced just three varieties. As fighting forces relied more on C-Rations, they quickly tired from the lack of variety, and the military eventually expanded the offerings. C-Rations could be eaten cold but tasted better heated and included an entrée, such as pork and beans, or spaghetti and meat sauce. They also contained biscuits or crackers, gum or candy, and cigarettes.

Soldiers load trucks with rations 1944

D-Ration: The D-Ration was a heat-resistant, fortified chocolate bar intended to provide high energy in a small package that soldiers could carry in a pocket. Formulated with help from Hershey Food Corporation, the 1,800 calorie D-Ration contained concentrated chocolate, vitamins, and other ingredients meant to sustain a soldier during an emergency. It did not taste appealing, preventing soldiers from nibbling on the bar unless necessary.


K-Ration: Originally developed for paratroopers by a University of Minnesota physiologist Ancel Keys, the K-Ration had lightweight but durable packaging. Three K-Ration meals provided 2,830 calories but proved inadequate for some soldiers who required more calories per day based upon their strenuous output. A sample supper ration included a meat product, biscuits, a chocolate bar or caramels, bouillon, coffee, sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, chewing gum, and a packet of toilet paper.

In addition to the rations above, the military had additional field rations and modified existing rations throughout the war. What stories have you heard about WWII military rations? Search Fold3® to learn more about military rations and see our complete WWII records collection.


  1. Katrina says:

    Thank you so much for this information. My stepfather served in four campaigns in WWII and I once saw his 3 purple heart medals. He spoke of the rations briefly, but seemed to have a sense of humor about them. As a military wife myself, I fully understand the sacrifices our Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and others who served have made. Those rations, to my mind, kept our troops as healthy as could be in unimaginable situations. Okay, so everyone loved the chocolate, but my children and I are the only ones that ever ate Spam…and it had to be fried. In the 1960s, I tried various ways to fix it. Cloves and cinnamon did not help for my husband.

  2. Sherryn Marshall says:

    As kids, my brother and I loved Spam … it was like being daddy.

  3. Karen says:

    My neighbor made spam jerky. He sliced it, marinated it, and put it in a food dehydrator. I thought it was actually pretty good.

    I heard the Rations we’re not so good.

    • Karen German says:

      My Dad was always hungry when he was in the Army. He told us how small the servings were and how bad they tasted. What made him really angry one time was when he opened a can of what was supposed to be beef stew and there was nothing but a chunk of gristle in the can. I guess thee wasn’t any quality control back then. He survived the war though and never was hungry again. My mother fed him well when he came home!

    • Karen says:

      I can’t even begin to imagine!

  4. Dan Markert says:

    My father got a purple heart and an oak leaf cluster for his 2 woundings. He said you only got a 2nd purole heart when you were killed .Is this true ?

    • Katrina says:

      Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that one. I only know that I saw the three my stepfather had, and he was very much alive. Of course, each had its paper accompaniment. He served in the Hell on Wheels Division under Gen. Patton. These were during WWII. Perhaps things have changed?

    • Katrina says:

      Dan, I decided to investigate the medal. quite a history to it. One of the items answered how many one can receive, Although my stepfather’s were for wounds, there are “hidden” wounds, such as brain injury, that are and should be recognized.
      Copying here the answer to how many.
      “How Many Purple Hearts Can You Receive? Who Has the Most Purple Hearts?”
      Service members can receive multiple Purple Hearts throughout their military career.
      Curry T. Haynes currently holds the record for the largest number of Purple Hearts bestowed upon a single service member.
      Haynes, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, was awarded his first Purple Heart after an ambush in the jungle, where he was shot in the arm. After surgery in Japan, he returned to the front where his actions would later result in being awarded his nine additional Purple Hearts. In the span of one assault – which involved dodging multiple grenades – Haynes sustained a series of injuries, including the loss of two fingers.
      He later received nine Purple Hearts – one for each wound – and passed away in July 2017 from cancer.

      -This story was first published on in 2018. It has been updated in 2021.

    • Patt Hansen says:

      I have a dear friend that is still living that received 2 Purple Hearts during Vietnam. So maybe things changed between WWII and Vietnam??

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