Army C Rations: 21 Cool Facts

In today’s post, I’m going to educate you about Army C Rations.

Try bringing up the word C Rations if you are in the company of any United States Army veterans and you will probably see looks of disgust. While veterans essentially hated C Rations, they did sustain them while they were in combat operations.

Now the Army gives soldiers what is known as an MRE or Meal, Ready to Eat. It is my understanding that MREs are much more palatable then the older C Rations. They are also much lighter in weight because of the type of packaging.

army c rations

Army C Rations: 21 Cool Facts

Let’s look at these C Ration facts:

# 1: 1938 Development

During World War I, United States Army soldiers were provided with what was known as Iron Rations and then changed to Reserve Rations which were completely insufficient for a soldier’s needs to sustain them for a longer period of time. A Rations was fresh food supplied to the Army, while B Rations was unprepared packaged food used in field kitchens and mess halls.

But what about the soldiers who were spending hours and days in situations where they did not have access to a field kitchen?

In 1938, the Quartermaster Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois began developing a ration that would be more nutritional and would keep for longer periods of time. They developed what would be known as the C Ration. Many called it the Combat Ration.

They also received many requests for C Ration varieties. I will tell you more on those further down in this post.

# 2: 1940

In 1940 during, these new Army C Rations were tested during the Louisiana Maneuvers. Troops from multiple States converged in Louisiana to prepare for war. They were separated into a Red and Blue armies and enacted possible war situations.

During this time the soldiers ate Army C Rations to sustain their bodies. Not only were these soldiers preparing for World War II in training, they were also getting adapted to what they would be ingesting. They were given one pound of meat in the C Rations.

# 3: Changes And Ingredients In The Original C Rations

After the Louisiana Maneuvers, they dropped the meat portion to 12 ounces in the M – Unit, and soldiers were also issued a B – Unit which was a can containing bread and dessert.

Each soldier would be issued 3 M -Units and 3 B – Units daily. They would also be issued an accessory pack.

# 4: 3 Variations

Each soldier had a 1 in 3 chance of predicting what flavor of C Ration they would receive.

The original Army C Rations came in only three variations, which were:

  1. Meat and vegetable stew
  2. Meat and beans
  3. and, Meat and potato hash

Keep in mind these would only be eaten while in combat operations. There would be field kitchens where the food would be easier to eat too.

# 5: Paper Labels

C Rations were given paper labels which would often come off leaving soldiers playing a guessing game as to what they were actually getting. It took the Army a long time before they started having the cans permanently stamped with the ingredients.

If you have an old C Ration can with a paper label intact, they are quite valuable.

# 6: Round Cans

The Army C Rations were issued in cylindrical cans. It was slightly over 4 inches tall and 3 inches round.

This made it quite difficult in packing and soldiers requested over and over that the cans be made flat similar to sardine cans, but they were denied because there was a shortage of machines capable of making the flat cans.

Soldiers learned to pack their ration cans in socks and such to cut down on the noise the cans may make.

# 7: Blandness

I once heard a veteran describing the original three variations of C Rations and he used terms that always made me think I would go hungry before eating one.

He described the flavors as:

  • Dog shit
  • Mule shit
  • and Elephant shit

Most soldiers would say that the C Rations were quite bland and difficult to eat. Experts even stated that C Rations should not be eaten for more than three continuous days, but soldiers were still forced to eat them much more often.

Was the flavor really that terrible? If you have eaten them, tell us about it in the comment section at the end.

c ration production

# 8: Added Varieties

The Army heard the needs of new flavors. In 1943 and 1944, they added several other varieties of C Rations. While they may still have been bland, at least there was some new variety.

They included:

  • Meat and spaghetti in tomato sauce
  • Beef stew
  • Chopped ham, egg and potato
  • Chicken and vegetables
  • Meat and noodles
  • Ham and Lima beans
  • Pork and rice
  • Pork and beans
  • Frankfurters and beans

This helped soldiers at least have something different to expect at each meal. The most unpopular was the Ham and Lima beans. And soldiers greatly appreciated the addition of the Breakfast-like flavor of the chopped ham and eggs.

# 9: Issued Long After Production Stop

C Ration production stopped in 1958, but because of enormous supplies, C Rations were issued to soldiers in the Korean War and even in the Vietnam War.

It seems that so many were produced that it took years to deplete the supply.

# 10: B Unit Contents

The original B-Unit that came separate from the M-Unit consisted of:

  • Crackers
  • A packet of instant coffee, lemon drink mix or bouillon soup powder
  • 3 sugar tablets
  • and 3 dextrose energy tablets

In 1944, they added orange drink, grape drink and cocoa powder to the list of drinks. The energy tablets were replaced with hard candy and then chocolates.

# 11: Accessory Packs

When the original Army C Rations were started, everything was put in one can. It was determined to be too bulky, and an accessory pack was developed.

The items in the accessory pack were:

  • Sugar tablets
  • A few sheets of toilet paper
  • Water purification tablets
  • A P-38 can opener
  • A small wooden spoon
  • And, a book of waterproof matches
  • A piece of chewing gum
  • 9 cigarettes

# 12: The E Ration

For a short time during World War II, Dr. Ancel Keys developed what was known as the K Ration for paratroopers.

Using what they thought was the best parts of the K Ration and the C Ration, they attempted to develop the E Ration.

The bread was so terrible, that the idea was quickly dropped.

# 13: C2 Ration

From 1948 to 1951, the Army issued the C2 Ration. This had more nourishment than the original C Ration, and soldiers could eat it hot or cold. It came in five varieties.

# 14: C3 Ration

From 1951 until 1953, the Army issued the newer C3 Ration which weighed more.

At over five pounds the C3 had even higher nutritional value than the C2 and provided a larger B – Unit.

While many soldiers loved the better variety, they hated the extra weight it entailed.

# 15: C4 Ration

The Army wanted to give their soldiers the best they possibly could. From 1954 to 1958, they issued the C4 Ration.

An example C4 Ration included:

  • 2 cheese bars
  • 1 bottle of iodine
  • 2 cereal bars
  • 3 coffee packets
  • 4 packets sugar
  • 1 packet cream
  • 3 chocolate bars
  • 1 jelly bar
  • 2 fruit cake bars
  • 3 sticks chewing gum

This, along with the meat, entre, and bread pack made for a quite heavy Ration portion.

# 16: Until 1980

Even though C Rations were replaced in 1958, the rations issued to soldiers were still called C Rations up until 1980, and even after for a short time.

I remember entering Basic Training at Fort Benning in the early 1980’s and being told by my Drill Sergeant that the meal of the day would be C Rations. I managed to “choke it down,” but I would have to be near starving to eat another one.

Various Adjustments To C Rations

There were several ideas using the basic C Ration formula. The Army was adamant in finding the “perfect” combat meal for soldiers.

Here are some of them:

# 17: The 5 in 1

The 5 in 1 Ration was developed by the Quartermaster’s Corps Subsistence Laboratory. Instead of carrying individual Rations, one larger portion was made to feed 5 soldiers. The 5 in 1 was used with great success in operations in North Africa.

# 18: The 10 in 1 Ration

The Army recognized the success of the 5 in 1, and since Great Britain used a 14 in 1 that worked quite well, they decided to develop the 10 in 1.

While the 10 in 1 was somewhat successful, the end of World War II created a large surplus of these 10 person rations. The humanitarian group CARE were tasked with using these as Care Packages to help feed starving people in Europe.

# 19: The Mountain Ration

This Ration was developed by request of those who were serving in high altitudes. Personally, I would say this was one of the best ideas ever, but because of cost, bulk, and the fact that these meals needed to be heated, they were discontinued. One Mountain Ration served four soldiers.

An example Mountain Ration consisted of:

  • Biscuits
  • Toilet paper
  • Butter substitute
  • Tea
  • Cereal
  • Coffee
  • Cigarettes
  • Salt
  • Corned beef
  • Rice
  • Dehydrated baked beans
  • Powdered milk
  • Dehydrated cheese
  • Pork sausage
  • Dehydrated potatoes
  • Pork lunch meat
  • Dehydrated soup
  • Lemonade powder drink
  • D Ration bars
  • Candy
  • Fruit bars
  • Sugar

5 in 1 ration

# 20: The Jungle Ration

In a similar way to the Mountain Ration, many soldiers were in extreme jungle conditions. They needed lightweight rations that could be carried in high humidity circumstances.

Because of costs, the Quartermaster Corps began replacing many of the lightweight items of good nutrition with less expensive, but heavier and less nutritious items. This did create problems with soldiers serving in dense jungles.

An example of a jungle ration is:

  • Toilet paper
  • Biscuits
  • Cigarettes
  • Salted Beef or canned meat
  • Sugar
  • Porridge
  • Instant coffee
  • Fruit bars
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Chewing gum
  • Raisins
  • Candy
  • Powdered milk
  • Dried apricots
  • Salted peanuts
  • Dried peaches
  • Cocoa powder
  • Lemon powder

# 21: 1958 Replacement

Maybe by changing the name, soldiers will fall in love with it.

The facts say that C Rations were discontinued in 1958. The new meals issued to soldiers in the field would be he MCI which stands for Meal, Combat, Individual ration. But nothing really changed.

Yes, there were a couple of new items added, and the packaging slightly changed to reflect the new name but essentially, these were still C Rations with a different name. These, along with surplus C Rations were issued up until 1980.

Since 1981, The United States Army has issued soldiers MREs, which are Meal Ready to Eat. Developments of MREs had been taking place since the early 1960s. They are much lighter than the older C Rations and they carry high nutrition levels.

As time moves forward with technology, we will probably see even better designs and improvements. But no matter what, don’t count on rations to ever taste like Mom’s home cooking.

Final Thoughts

Did you ever eat Army C Rations? I would love to hear any veterans thoughts on if the rations they were issued were much worse than the rations issued to soldiers today.

I distinctly remember eating the Chili Mac rations during bivouac in Georgia in he early 1980’s and it wasn’t all that bad. Plus, I probably would take it over hospital food.

So let’s hear your thoughts on C Rations, MCIs, and MREs. What were your favorites and least favorites? You can post all comments, questions and more below. Thank you.

Other posts you may enjoy:
  1. Army 922A Warrant Officer: Food Service Technician
  2. Army 640A Warrant Officer: Veterinary Services Food Safety Officer
  3. Weight Loss Programs & Diet Plans: The 35 Most Popular
  4. The Top 20 Most Needed Army Military Occupational Specialties
  5. Army MREs
Shop on Amazon
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

Suggested Resources:

  • Drop the Belly Fat Today! Decrease cravings. Lose weight and feel great. Learn how.
  • The # 1 Health Product you need, but haven't heard of before! Get the info.
  • The # 1 Side Hustle for 2024 & Beyond! Daily Pay. Take the free tour.

21 thoughts on “Army C Rations: 21 Cool Facts”

  1. While I was at Khe Sanh we went 78 days with nothing but C’s to keep us alive. After Khe Sanh we spent another month in the field eating C’s. There were a lot of calories packed into a c-ration can and if you ate three full c-rations meals in a day you could get fat. Most of us picked our way through what we were given by the Gunny. I don’t know that I learned to love C’s but I certainly did look forward to them as a break in the day. We never had enough heat tabs but we learned to make do. Breakfast of a tiny loaf of bread our of a can sliced and toasted on a K-bar and then spread with peanut butter was a good way to wake up. Pears is heavy syrup was a treasure I saved for after dinner. The pound cake and the pecan roll were also favorites of mine. The date was stamped on the bottom of cans. Mostly we ate from 1946 . So some of the C’s were older than the Marines I served with. I would love to try a C-ration meal today.

      1. When I was a kid in the sixties my dad was in the Navy and he would bring cases of the rations at home I love them that’s pretty much what I ate especially the spaghetti and beef stew I love to find some more of these came from the late 40s and early 50s

        1. Johndel Callora

          The good old C’s were the like the happy meal of the military. You can see the big smiles of the troops when they are lined up to get it. You just need to get creative to enjoy it more.

    1. Ate lots of C-ration in Vietnam . You had to get creative with them. I was one of the few that actually liked Ham and Lima beans, and of course there was the coveted peaches and pound cake. I still eat it today!

  2. Susan LaLone

    Ate my share of C’s between 1968-71. In Vietnam while on perimeter watch our only chow was one box of C’s issued out about midnight. I never had any trouble eating them, including ham and mothers****s or the scrambled eggs. Most didn’t care for these. While on fires years later ate MRE’s. They were OK, particularly when hungry but I think I prefer the old C’s.

      1. I was in Vietnam in 68 69 ate tons of cs liked the the b3 a rations cause they had fruit in them didn’t have to worry about heating tabs, I was a demo man so I had plenty of c-4 cooks cs real good. Liked the ham and m-fers reference tho

  3. I had both C-rats and MREs. I know many will disagree with me but I liked everything to eat in both. No, they were not Momma’s cooking, not even close, but they were quite edible and I was always a bit hungry looking for fuel and both had a lot of calories and protein. I was a Grunt in the Marines and Airborne Infantry in the Army and, as hard as we worked, I was hungry all the time. Worked well for me. Some guys did throw some of the food away because they didn’t like the taste but I never understood that. My feeling was it’s food/fuel, you are gonna need the energy, why not just hold your nose and eat it?

  4. Marcus A Coleman

    When I used to go out in the field, I actually enjoyed the MRE’s. If it is your only meal you was getting, you got used to it. We would heat up our meals on the pot belly stove that ran on gas. We were too far out in the woods for chow to be provided to us so we were on teams and you had to go and sign out your case of C-rats from supply. It wasn’t that bad really.

  5. Went through Basic Training at Fort Benning/Harmony Church May-Aug 1986. I remember the Senior Drill Sergeant saying that the MCI C rations had recently been phased out. After a mock attack on an enemy patrol base, we were issued MRE’s for the first time. The Drill Sergeants watched us as we curiously opened the meals. I don’t believe any of us had seen an MRE before that. Those MRE’S were of the early type, in the dark brown bags. The main entrees consisted of hotdogs, beef stew, chicken ala king, dehydrated beef patty, ham slice. The deserts included maple, fruit, and chocolate chip nut cake. I liked the food items that you could stuff into a cargo pocket and eat while on the move, especially during a road march. I have tried the latest so-called MRE sandwiches (made by Bridgeford) and I believe these are a step in the right direction. The Army needs to focus on putting more food in the MRE’s that can be simply unwrapped and eaten quickly. Do away with those items that require preparation of any kind. And why not double the portion sizes of the main course items? Field stripping an MRE (tearing it apart and taking only what is needed) is nothing new. We were doing it back in the 80’s. A soldier will always evaluate what he needs and what he dosen’t when he must carry everything over long distances. Get rid of the gimmicks, concentrate on the food that will keep you going.

  6. As a Nam vet, I loved the Beef slices with potatoes and gravy. You could heat them quickly with a small square of C-4, or pour off the grease chunks and eat them raw. The boned chicken was also a good can to carry. Especially good was the mixture of fruits in a heavy syrup. If you loved ham & Lima beans there was plenty to go around, but it was not a top choice as a meal. When you did get a hot meal, it was special. Our cooks flew out to our bivouac area and really laid out a nice spread. They were great people! We made sure they were packed and out before 3pm. Also make sure you have a P-38 attached to your dog tags. A bayonet would work, but you ran the risk of spilling your food or cutting yourself.

  7. One time, about 40 years ago, after a extremely grueling high altitude exercise in the pickle meadows mountain warfare training center, we went 2 days with out any rations at all. Luckily there was plenty of snow to melt for water so we did okay. When we got back to base camp we were offered all the Cs we cared to eat. Our plt sgt advised us to take it easy and eat only one. I threw caution to the wind and fired down two compete C-rats. An hour later I vomited, it took me 4 days to have a B M . It completely ruined my liberty in Reno.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *