What would you pack for war? (A gun and some underwear come to mind.) The standard issue for an American GI in World War II included the following: a weapon, clothing, and chocolate.
But this chocolate didn’t taste like Snickers, KitKat, or anything like that. It tasted like soap.
The chocolate was a survival ration known as “Field Ration D”: Eat only in dire emergencies. It was a special-order chocolate that the US Army had commissioned Hershey to make. The specifications were that it had to weigh 112 grams, contain high caloric value, withstand high temperatures, and should taste “a little better than a boiled potato.”
How the US Produced More Chocolate than Rifles
In the end, these D-Ration bricks were made from chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk powder, and oat flour. The bland taste was to encourage soldiers to reserve the bars for survival only. And it worked. Most servicemen found the bar so awful and tough to chew that they had to shave off slices with a knife before biting into it.
In 1943, Hershey’s followed up with a second (slightly more palatable) military snack, the Tropical Bar, which could survive the muggy weather in the Pacific Theater without turning into paste at the bottom of your sack.
In total, Hershey’s produced more than 3 billion specialty bars for the army during WWII. For comparison, there was more military chocolate than rifles and carbines, but less chocolate than ammunition.
Dear Ann, “Send Skittles”
As a popular WWII slogan puts it, “Candy is fighting food.” Small, portable, and lightweight, candies were a quick source of energy on the field.
Not only were they useful calorically, but sweets also boosted fighting morale. Even soldiers admitted it’s true. Writings from soldiers from all conflicts dating back to the Revolution have mentioned the consumption of sweets and the comfort it provided.
That’s why even when sugar and other dessert ingredients were rationed, Americans were still encouraged to send sweet treats to GIs overseas.
The newly invented chocolate chip cookie rose to fame during the war years. These cookies became a staple in many care packages to the troops. Soon, the chocolate chip cookie was a symbol of American culture and patriotism.
And despite how war rationing made candy manufacturing very expensive, half of the country’s candy production was sent to the military.
The importance of candy as fighting fuel has not been forgotten today. The current official MRE rations (Meals Ready to Eat) for the US Armed Forces contain a variety of sweets, cookies, cakes, and candies, including iconic treats like Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, and M&M’s.
Born of war
Forrest Mars Sr. (maker of the Mars bar) created M&M’s specifically for WWII soldiers stationed in tropical climates.
A Military Barge Devoted to Ice Cream
Imagine an ice cream machine of military-grade might: massive, frozen, and capable of immense frosty dessert-firing power.
This machine actually existed in WWII—it was part of the special ships of the US Navy. Made of concrete and fully refrigerated, this ship cost over one million dollars to build.
When cranked to the max, it could produce ten gallons of ice cream every seven seconds.
The barge had no engine of its own and required towing services from other ships. But immobility was not a problem: its sole purpose was to pump out ice cream for American sailors in the Pacific region.
While countries like England and Italy banned ice cream production completely during the shortages of the war years, American ice cream was a morale booster and a symbol of patriotism (thanks in part to industry lobbying).
In 1943, the US Armed Forces became the largest ice cream manufacturer in the world. A medal, please.
When the war ended, dairy and other rationing was lifted. Americans celebrated—with ice cream. They consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person in 1946.
Would Ya Like Some?
In addition to energy and morale, sweets provided another military advantage: spreading goodwill.
During both world wars, American soldiers were known to share sweets with civilians they encountered, including concentration camp survivors of WWII.
During the Berlin airlift of 1948—when Americans delivered vital supplies to the city under Soviet occupation—US plane crews dropped about 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum, and other candies to the city’s inhabitants.
This practice of sharing candy as a sign of goodwill has endured to modern times. The media reported soldiers giving candy to Afghan children during US operations in the region.
For the past century, colored sugar drops and crinkle-wrapped chocolate bars have provided soldiers with a special kind of ammo: energy, morale, and a sign of friendship that required no translation. We hope that next time you go to war, you’ll remember your stash of Cadbury and Kinder Surprise too.