The Mountain Ration (or "M-Ration") was a United States military ration developed for use by U.S. troops operating in high-altitude or mountainous regions of the European theater of operations (ETO) during World War II.
Origin, development, and use
The components of what would become the Mountain ration were developed in 1941-42 by U.S. Army officers in experimental mountain warfare companies, largely consisting of former ski instructors, forest rangers, and other experienced alpine travelers. Based on their recommendations, the Mountain ration was finalized and packaged for use by mountain and alpine troops by personnel at the Quartermaster Corps' Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois.
In order to make the rations suitable for high-altitude climates, the Mountain ration was designed as a specialized compact ration that was easier to prepare in high-altitude environments, have enough roughage to be capable of slow digestion and enough bulk and quantity when heated to satisfy four men in one day at high altitude, weigh less than 40 ounces (1,100 g), and contain a total of 4,800 kilocalories (20,000 kJ) per man per day. The ration was formally adopted in November 1942.
The Mountain ration was produced from 1942 to 1943, and issued to soldiers of several elite U.S. and British Commonwealth forces then in training for alpine or winter combat, especially the 10th Mountain Division, and the First Special Service Force. As packaged, the Mountain ration was sized to serve four men for one day (three meals per man). It was normally prepared at the platoon or squad level, though 10th Division troopers were also taught to prepare it individually. The 1st Special Service Force first tried out the Mountain ration on November 28, 1942 during a training patrol to MacDonald Pass, Montana:
"At 1400 hours all company commanders and one other officer from each company and a few others left by truck for MacDonald Pass to try living under winter conditions and try a new mountain ration... On arrival at the selected spot the party broke up into groups of four and built shelters and fires of many different types. The Mountain ration, which comes in four varieties, is packed in boxes, each box containing the rations of 4 men for 3 meals, this proved to be more than the average man could eat. They included powdered soup and milk, canned meat and butter, cereal, chocolate, biscuits, compressed fruits, sugar, tea and coffee and powdered lemon."
However generous the portions, as a specialized and significantly costlier field ration, the Mountain ration was intensely disliked by the Quartermaster Command, headed by Quartermaster General Edmund B. Gregory, whose organization had to procure, store, and ship it. To bolster their argument, Quartermaster Corps and Subsistence Branch staff heavily criticized the Mountain ration for its weight, although for its caloric content a day's ration was lighter than alternative canned C rations, and it had nearly 2,000 kilocalories (8,400 kJ) more than the K ration.
The Mountain ration was also criticized for its involved preparation times; the Mountain ration required heating, which was difficult to accomplish for ordinary infantry soldiers without individual or squad-level cooking stoves, though this did not affect mountain troops such as the 10th Mountain Division, who had such equipment. In common with the alpine troops of other countries, the 10th's officers recognized the distinct benefits of heated, easily-digested foods at high altitudes. However, the noise and bulk of heating equipment and additional cooking utensils was disliked by some 10th Mountain troopers, who viewed the mountain ration as better suited to bivouac areas or mountain strongholds not subject to sudden enemy assault. Significantly, diagnosed cases of malnourishment and vitamin deficiency, which had been reported among other light infantry units of the U.S. Army in the ETO who had been forced to consume the K ration for extended periods of time, did not arise among troops of the 10th Mountain Division, who received a wider variety of food rations including the Mountain ration, K ration, C ration, and 10-in-1 group ration while in the field.
By early 1943, less than three months after adoption, the Quartermaster Corps' Food Services Branch was already requesting the Army to abolish all non-standard lightweight individual rations except for the K and D rations. To the immense relief of the Quartermaster Corps's Food Services branch, the Mountain ration was discontinued and production terminated in 1943, though supplies continued to be issued well into 1944. The 10th Mountain Division, which was issued the ration while in training, did not deploy to combat until January 1945; in the last months of the war, with supplies of the Mountain ration exhausted, most of the 10th's troopers serving in combat were issued the K ration, the C ration, or the 10-in-1 ration.
At war's end, after the shortcomings of the C ration (monotony and weight) and the K ration (malnourishment and vitamin deficiency) had become apparent, the Quartermaster Corps attempted to shift responsibility for individual ration inadequacies. Contravening their earlier statements, the QC now asserted that overuse of the K and C rations (beyond two or three days) had caused the problem. Having successfully obtained the discontinuance of suitable alternative packaged rations, the QMC's Historical Summary report was conspicuously silent on how Army commanders could have observed this new ration restriction for troops in daily contact with a determined enemy. Surprisingly, even with this new admission, the QC still refused to abandon their prior recommendation for standardization on a single type of canned wet individual ration, a recommendation that was eventually adopted.
At war's end, rather than introduce a new and improved lightweight ration designed for prolonged use, the K ration was itself promptly discontinued (along with the 10-in-1 small group ration, which had proven somewhat useful in boosting nourishment levels for men living for extended periods on C or K rations). Instead, the C ration, still designated for "infrequent use", went though a series of largely unsuccessful minor revisions.
The mountain ration contained:
- Carter's spread (A butter substitute)
- Cereal (three different variations)
- Corned beef
- Dehydrated baked beans
- Dehydrated cheese
- Dehydrated potatoes
- Dehydrated soup
- D ration bars
- Fruit bars
- Granulated sugar
- Chewing gum
- Hard candy
- Lemon-juice powder
- Pork luncheon meat
- Pork sausage meat
- Powdered milk
- Precooked rice
- Soluble coffee
- Toilet paper
In addition to the basic components listed, the 10th Mountain Division's officers and NCOs, many with a pre-war background in high altitude and alpine cooking, were known to significantly augment the Mountain ration with a stocked supply of numerous additional ingredients and spices.
- Koehler, Franz A., Special Rations for the Armed Forces: Army Operational Rations - A Historical Background, QMC Historical Studies, Historical Branch, Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C. (1958) http://qmfound.com/army_rations_historical_background.htm
- Earle, George F. (Capt), History of the 87th Mountain Infantry in Italy, p. 6 http://www.10thmtndivdesc.org/87th%20History.pdf
- War Diary of the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion, Canadian Army, 28 November 1942
- Koehler, Franz A., Special Rations for the Armed Forces: Army Operational Rations - A Historical Background, QMC Historical Studies, Historical Branch, Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C. (1958): The Quartermaster Corps was not pleased that combat officers went outside the Army chain of command for ration specifications: "In the history of rations, it was nowhere better demonstrated than in small-group rations that there should be clear-cut lines of central authority for evaluation of needs before ration development was begun...This was evident during the early days of World War II when three small-group rations made an almost simultaneous debut because diversified groups sought special rations for unusual but not clearly defined military purposes."
- Kearny, Cresson H., Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute (1996), p. 291
- Imbrie, John and Evans, Hugh M., Good Times and Bad Times: a History of C Company, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, Tenth Mountain Division, Interview of Charles Page Smith, Vermont: Vermont Heritage Press (1995) http://www.smithtrust.com/htmlpages/Goodtimes.html
- Field Survey, Essential Technical Medical Data, North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army for December 1943, 27 January 1944, Appendix V: A survey of troops in the forward areas and evacuation hospitals of the Fifth U.S. Army serving in the Italian campaign noted that almost all soldiers questioned in infantry, engineer, and other mobile forward units said they had lost weight since the beginning of the Italian campaign. Surgeons commented upon a noticeable decrease in body fat and wasting of muscle, requiring copious feeding and rest, as well as ascorbic acid deficiency.
- Koehler, Franz A., Special Rations for the Armed Forces: Army Operational Rations - A Historical Background, QMC Historical Studies, Historical Branch, Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C. (1958)
- U. S. Army Quartermaster Museum, Army Operational Rations - Historical Background, Article: While specifications were not declared obsolete until 1948, the Mountain and Jungle rations were in reality ended with the termination of production in 1943.
- Field Survey, Essential Technical Medical Data, North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army for December 1943, 27 January 1944, Appendix V
- U. S. Army Quartermaster Museum, Army Operational Rations - Historical Background,Article: At its introduction, the QMC stated that the lightweight K ration was intended for "infrequent use", "for not more than 15 consecutive meals". After the war, in light of K ration malnourishment reports, the QMC had shortened that period even more - "for a period of two or three days only."
- Longino, James C. (Col.), Rations in Review, The Quartermaster Review, May–June 1946: In 1946, Col. Longino noted that the early 'C' wartime ration was designed for only three days' continuous use, while a new Type 'E' (revised Type 'C') ration was in then process of production with a continuous consumption limit of twenty-one days. This ration plan was deemed adequate by the QC in spite of the fact that many U.S. troops in frontline combat operations during WWII had existed by necessity on continuous or near-continuous consumption of 'C' or 'K' rations for periods of up to four months.
- Pogue, Forrest C., Pogue's War: Diaries of a WWII Combat Historian, University Press of Kentucky (2001), ISBN 0-8131-2216-3, ISBN 978-0-8131-2216-8, p. 117
- Ruth, William B., Roetgen, Germany and the Siegfried Line, 3rd Armored Division History, 12 September 1944 - 16 December 1944: Field kitchens serving 'A' or 'B' rations, even when located on reverse slopes or behind masking terrain, were a favorite target for German artillery observers, who waited for the men to queue in lines before calling down a barrage of shellfire.
- U. S. Army Quartermaster Museum, Army Operational Rations - Historical Background