Army Quartermaster Museum - Fort Lee, Virginia

Subsistence Supply in Korea
By LT. COL. Alex N. Williams, Q.M.C
Quartermaster Review January-February 1953

A new concept of subsistence supply has evolved in Korea. This article, written in the midst of the campaign, makes no attempt to chronicle an evolution which is still continuing. Its purpose is to record the departure, in Korea, from what has long been accepted as the lot of the soldier in the field.

Changes in the ration are vital and far-reaching. Gone are three-way beef, high-salt hams and bacon, dehydrated eggs of limited keeping qualities. Almost in the limbo of the forgotten are the field coffee-roasting plants and attendant personnel. Gone are the old "impossibles," vanished the old taboos, and-most arresting fact of all-gone the old reliance on the tin can.

The central feature and striking difference in ration supply in Korea, is that the ration served is an A ration. It requires a far stretch of the imagination to visualize a breakfast, in the field, of fresh oranges, cereal with milk, fried eggs and bacon, toast, sweet rolls, oleomargarine, fruit jam, and coffee; or a supper of chicken noodle soup, fried chicken a' la Maryland, giblet cream gravy, green peas, fresh baked potato, salad of spring onions, radishes, cucumbers, lettuce, hot rolls or biscuits, ice cream and bananas and lemonade made with fresh lemons. But menus like these are served in Korea.

The basis of rationing in Korea is an operational B ration based on the standard B ration promulgated by the Department of the Army Supply Bulletin 10-495, 5 September 1950. This standard B ration, calculated to yield approximately 4,200 calories, is revised, with consideration for troop acceptance in Korea and availability of items from national production. The result is the basic Operational B Ration, Korea.

The changes in this B ration from the old field ration are striking in themselves. Bacon, canned, now is in convenient slices, more acceptable than the high-salt "overseas" type bacon. New standard meat items since World War II include canned boned chicken and canned pork link sausage. Eggs, dried, whole, acidified, containing less moisture, and packed in inert gases, are a far more stable and useful product than their earlier counterpart. Coffee, roasted and ground, canned, is an outstanding item. Vacuum-packed and roaster-fresh, it eliminates the logistical problem presented by bean coffee, with the need for roasting plants and personnel for processing. Tomato paste, canned, introduces new flavor combinations.

Into the basic operational B ration the Quartermaster in Korea has introduced fresh subsistence on a previously unheard-of scale. This is the most important change in the ration. This is the change that has done most to make the ration in Korea a source of justifiable pride to Quartermasters responsible for subsistence support and to the many who have contributed so much to the development of new products and techniques. This is the change that has elicited the heartfelt praise of the soldier, and the enthusiastic comment of the Eighth Army Commander, General James A. Van Fleet, in a letter to Maj. Gen. George A. Horkan, The Quartermaster General, U. S. Army, to the effect that ". . . the Eighth Army soldier today rates as the best fed . . . fighting man in United States history." This is the change that will evoke, in old campaigners, warm and pleasant memories of their Korea ration long after the discomforts of rice-paddy mosquitoes, the interminable dust-choked roads, the biting cold and searing heat of Korea are forgotten.

In Korea, perishable meats, poultry. and fish are served 59.5 times a month for dinner and supper meals. Fresh vegetables and fresh fruits are provided regularly. Shell eggs are served for twenty-one breakfast meals per month. Quartermasters who are familiar with subsistence supply in previous campaigns will realize the import of these words.

To supply this ration, modern refrigeration and transportation facilities are being used to the maximum possible extent. Swift refrigerator ships carry the perishables from the zone of the interior direct to Korea at a rate of one vessel every ten days. In Korea, extensive use is made of portable "walk-in" refrigerator boxes, which are banked at strategic locations in the base depot, at supply points, and in major forward elements. These are supplemented by the use of commercial ice plants, where available and by the use of refrigerator barges for offshore storage and coastal transport. Refrigerator cars, both U. S. and Korean, provide daily transport along the main rail lines. Refrigerator vans are used extensively and have been of inestimable value in moving perishables between forward supply points and from supply points to forward elements.

The list of freeze items-meat, poultry, and fish-is a varied one. In practically all cases improvements in cutting, processing and packaging have so contributed to ease of handling and holding of freeze as to make distribution highly practical.

Four-way boneless beef provides twenty-eight meals per month. This important items has been improved through careful selection of cuts and careful trimming. Those who have had experience with three-way beef will appreciate the separate packaging of all tender cuts of roasts and steaks. These cuts constitute 29 per cent of the packaged beef. Beef roasts and steaks for pot roasts and swiss steaks, constitute 21 per cent; diced beef for stew, 12 per cent; and ground beef for hamburgers, 38 per cent.

Veal, fabricated, semi-boneless (another Quartermaster-developed "first"), appears on the menu three times per month. All bones except those in the veal chops have been removed. By careful selection, cuts of this fine item have been segregated to provide 40 per cent roasts, 30 per cent chops, and 30 per cent stew.

Poultry is completely eviscerated and ready to cook. Chicken fryers are served three times per month, chicken roasters, once a month, and turkey, three times per month.

Fish, fresh, frozen, supplied in cut steaks or fillets and ready-for-the-pan, is provided twice a month.

Ham, smoked, permits issue of baked or sliced ham 4.5 times per month, while pork loins, served as roasts or chops, appear twice monthly.

Two meals of beef liver are provided each month. New specifications under which this item is purchased have created a new acceptability in Korea.

Sausage frankfurters appear on the menu once a month. One cold-cut meal of bologna and liverwurst is also provided.

The fresh fruits and vegetables are equally varied. Packaging in polyethylene bags preserves the condition, quality, and cleanliness of the most sensitive items. Bags are crated against rough handling through the long lines of supply. Carrots so packaged arrive at the farthest points of the supply line waxy and bright in color, firm, crisp, and clean.

Standard vegetables on the menu include fresh cabbage. carrots, crisp celery, onions, and potatoes. Fruits supplied are fresh apples, oranges, and lemons. Lemons provide color and flavor on menus for garnishing, baking, and cooking. The normal issue factor is ten two-pound issues per hundred rations per month In hot weather this is increased to thirty-six three-pound issues per hundred rations per month, which permits the making of fresh lemonade. Although the supply of ice is extremely limited, this item is far more acceptable than the beverage made with synthetic lemon crystals.

Foremost in desirability among the standard chill items are fresh shell eggs. Fresh fried, boiled, or poached eggs, on the breakfast menu twenty-one times a month are proving an incomparable morale boost-in Korea. Eggs are provided at the rate of two per man, plus a 5 per cent breakage and loss factor.

To the standard perishable items already described, airlift from Japan has made possible the supply of additional fresh vegetables raised by hydroponic process in Japan. Hydroponic vegetables grown in sterile gravel and chemical solutions have been highly developed by Quartermaster in Japan as a method of providing fresh green salad items to troops in the Far East, where soil-grown vegetables are subject to contamination by "night-soil." The hydroponic farms in Japan provided millions of pounds of vegetables for Korea.

Hydroponic items include lettuce, green onions, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, and green peppers. Priority in distribution is given to hospitals and front-line troops.

Another item which airlift from Japan has made possible is fresh bananas. Bananas were supplied to Korea on a test basis in 1951. They were received in excellent condition and met with an enthusiastic reception. As a result, bananas are being served twice monthly to all troops in Korea during the warm-weather months. The bananas, grown in Formosa are shipped green to Japan by water transport, conditioned and ripened by Japanese processors and are then airlifted to airfields in Korea adjacent to Class I issue points for easy and rapid distribution at a ready to-eat stage of ripeness.

In addition to the above changes, subsistence supply in Korea is exceptional in other ways.

Ice cream has been supplied to troops consistently since early in 1951, the rate of issue being increased during the hot-weather months. The product is manufactured from powdered ice-cream mix by machines conveniently placed in corps and division areas and at Quartermaster Class I supply points. The product is transported from place of manufacture to front-line troops in insulated containers.

Army bread always has been a source of pride to the Quartermaster and a satisfaction to the soldier. Korea is no exception. However, a new idea that may well be adopted for garrison use has been developed in Korea. Fresh bread is supplied for two meals only and bread ingredients are provided for the third meal. This arrangement makes it possible for units to add variety to the ration by baking hot rolls and hot biscuits, and extra pastries.

The grim Korean winters have made food even more important to the soldier than during normal operations. In Korea the additional calories required by the human body under conditions of severe cold are provided by a caloric supplement to the ration consisting of extra bread, oleomargarine, oatmeal. Milk, potatoes, and jams and jellies. This supplement made available to all troops operating under sub-zero temperatures. The regular menu is also augmented in winter with ingredients sufficient to supply hot soup daily. Coffee-the old standby of the soldier-is issued in increased quantities to forward elements operating under conditions of severe cold.

Other ration supplements which have been of untold value in the Korean campaign have been the hospital supplement and the ration supplement sundries pack.

A hospital supplement based on Supply Bulletin 10-495 provides additional food to meet requirements for special nutrition and diet therapy, including standard menu items and non-standard items. Many of these items are now being issued in the form of the ration supplement pack, hospital. Light food and beverages for use in clearing stations in treatment of shock and the promotion of comfort and general wellbeing are provided in the form of the ration supplement pack, aid station.

The ration supplement sundries pack rounds out the ration with toilet articles, cigarettes and tobacco, and candy. This pack is issued to troops to whom post exchange facilities are not readily available, or who by reason of their position in combat cannot take advantage of such facilities.

This, then, is the subsistence picture for Korea-a picture of which the details can only be appreciated at close range in their effect on operations and troop morale. The most significant fact about the Korean campaign, for the student of subsistence supply, is the large-scale proportion of fresh foods introduced into the ration. The extent to which this has been possible, in a land of forbidding terrain and harsh climate, constitutes a valuable lesson in the possibilities inherent in the use of modern refrigeration facilities, rapid transport, and processing and packaging methods.

The campaign in Korea is, indeed a milestone in the supply of subsistence to troops. The ration currently being fed here will set a precedent and an example for future campaigns. The triumph of technique achieved here, and the resulting contribution to troop morale, will never permit a return to large-scale use of canned or packaged rations, except under the most arduous conditions of warfare.

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