K-Rations Powered the Speedy Liberation of Europe
September 2014 | by Dieter Stenger, Curator, CMH
Troops of the 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division,
in late August 1944, marching down the Champs-Élysées. Photo: U.S. Army
On August 29, 1944 - after more than four years of German occupation of France - the U.S. Army 28th Infantry Division paraded from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées as the final act of the liberation of Paris. The German military governor surrendered the city on August 25th after the 2nd French Armored Division and the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division entered the city a few days earlier.
U.S. Army Corporal Julian H. Aull, a member of the 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, came ashore at Normandy one month earlier. The 28th Division entered the hedgerow struggle north and west of St. Lô, and speedily advanced across France and into Luxembourg. The Germans captured Cpl. Aull in Luxembourg and held him as a prisoner of war at Stalag VIB, Mühlberg, Germany, until freed by Soviet forces in April 1945.
These K-rations belonged to Cpl. Aull. K-rations were issued for the first time in the winter of 1941 - colored packaging appeared in 1943. The breakfast, dinner and supper provided 2,830-3,000 calories for the individual soldier. The rations in the box weighed 1.2 lbs. The box measured 7 x 4 inches and the box read: "Supper Ration Type K --- Open inner bag carefully. It may be used as a waterproof container for matches, cigarettes and other items. For security, hide the empty can and wrappers so that they cannot be seen." The back label reads: "Meat: eat cold or after heating by boiling can in water, or after frying in its own fat with added biscuit crumbs. Assorted Biscuits - Bouillon add to two-thirds canteen cup of hot or cold water – Confection – Cigarettes - Chewing Gum." On the bottom: "Notice-Mosquito bites cause malaria. If you are in a malaria zone keep your shirt on and your sleeves rolled down, use mosquito repellent when out of doors between sunset and sunrise." The supper packet included a canned meat product, biscuits, bouillon powder, confections and gum, soluble coffee, granulated sugar, cigarettes, a can opener, and spoon. The biscuits, beverages, sugar, fruit bar, confections, gum, and spoon were packaged in a laminated cellophane bag while the canned meat and cheese product were put in a chipboard sleeve-type box. The two units were assembled and sealed in a waxed carton enclosed in a non-waxed outer carton labeled with the K-ration design and color.
In May 1942, the first million K-rations were ordered, followed by millions more. More than 105 million rations were procured by 1944 - the peak year of production. By the end of the war, K-rations were eclipsed by the superior C-rations, and in 1946, an Army Food Conference recommended discontinuing the K-ration. The Quartermaster Corps Technical Committee declared it obsolete in 1948.
Cpl. Aull's K-ration is part of the U.S. Army historical collection held in the 82d Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, NC.