on campaign, German soldiers during World War Two were
served hot meals once a day from their company or
battalion field kitchens. Ideally, while the troops
were marching from one mission to another, the
unit’s kitchen personnel (which included the mess
sergeant or Feldkochunteroffizier and his
cook’s assistants or Küchenbullen) would
start the fires in the mess wagon trailer or Gulaschkanone
early, so hot water for tea or coffee could be
served out, especially during cold weather.
Normally, Landsers would be issued their
bread ration for the day (Kriegsbrot, a dark,
multi-grain bread), and would draw cheese (Käse),
jelly or preserves (marmalade) and perhaps hard
sausage (Dauerwurst) for their morning meal.
The hot coals in the Gulaschkanone would
be kept going all day to cook stew or Eintopf
for the mid-day meal, normally the largest meal of the
day. The evening meal would look much like that of the
morning, using the remainder of the bread issue, with
perhaps the addition of instant soup or Wehrmachts-Suppekonserve).
the tactical situation prohibited the bringing up of
hot food for 24 hours or more (which occurred
frequently), commanders could authorize soldiers to
consume their iron or half-iron rations (eiserne
Portionen or halb-eiserne Portionen).
The iron or half-iron ration, which consisted of
canned meat and packaged crackers, was similar to the
American Army’s K-Ration, though it was packed more
simply and lacked many of the sundry items (such as
cigarettes, chewing gum and instant coffee) that G.I.s
were accustomed to.
This ration was carried in the bag on the
Landser’s assault pack (Beutel zum Gefechtsgepäck)
and was normally placed inside the Zwiebackbeutel.
The full Wehrmacht iron ration consisted
of 300 grams of hard crackers (Zwieback, Hartkeks
or Knäckebrot), 200 grams of preserved
meat (Fleischkonserve), 150 grams of preserved
or dehydrated vegetables (Gemüse) or pea
sausage (Erbsenwurst), 25 grams of artificial
substitute coffee (Kaffe-Ersatz), and 25 grams
of salt (Salz).
The halb-eiserne Portion carried by Landser
in their Gefechstgepäck consisted of the
canned meat and crackers only.
Dr. Hoehne's Der Feldverpflegungsbeamte (The
Field Food Service Official) published in 1939, a book
which serves as the cook’s version of the
Reibert’s manual, the rules governing the use of
iron rations are covered in Chapter VII, Section C,
Paragraph 3. It
stated that "Whenever supplies and local
procurement are not available, troops must utilize
their iron rations…To prepare for cases such as
these, two iron rations will be kept on hand for men
and one ration of fodder for the horses.
Regarding the two iron rations, the reduced
ration (i.e., the halb-eisernes Portion) will
be carried by each man. It consists of Zweiback
and canned meat and is intended to be consumed in the
case that rations cannot be provided by the field
“full” iron ration (with canned vegetables, salt,
coffee, etc.) was stored in the field kitchen wagon or
on the truck carrying the field stove. In addition to
the components of the halb-eiserne Portion,
there was also Wehrmachts-Suppe, or condensed
soup, and coffee, which allowed the cooks to issue
warm liquids as a supplement. These items were used
only in the case where food supplies from the issue
point [note: at regiment or battalion level] to the
company field kitchens could not make it through.
Also, prior to beginning a tactical march or a
movement to contact, troops were issued an additional
day's issue of iron rations if sufficient numbers were
of this allotment and the iron rations was the duty of
the food service officer or Feldverpflegungsoffizier.
At battalion level this duty was normally
carried out by the Stabsintendant, who also
served as the battalion’s logistical officer.
The iron ration was to be always carried by the
troops, who were supposed maintain the rations in
perfect condition. These items were only allowed to be
consumed when the normal ration could not be issued
and could only be eaten upon the expressed order of
the troop commanding officer, i.e., the company
doubt, many a hungry Landser received several
days of close arrest for eating his iron ration
did the eiserne Portion look and taste like?
While few examples of the canned meat are known
to have survived the war and the lean postwar years
that followed, we do have some detailed descriptions
left by the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps, which
conducted exhaustive tests on German rations from 1945
to 1947. The
report, published in May 1947, reviewed everything in
the German soldier’s diet literally from soup to
nuts and compared them to similar
and subsistence items.
Fortunately, the reviewers conducted tests of
canned meat products and the various types of crackers
issued on a routine basis as part of the iron ration.
example, the standard meat portion of the iron ration
came packed in a can that measured 3 inches high by 2
⅝ inches wide.
Weighing between 190 and 200 grams net, the can
was normally packed with various pork or beef
products, including the German version of Spam (Schinkenwurst)
or corned beef hash (Labkaus).
The use of horsemeat was also common at the
had to be kept to a minimum in order for the can to
fit inside the A Frame bag on the assault pack.
The cans were usually not labeled, since they
were issued directly from the box or crate, which
would have had a descriptive paper label glued to the
few markings that seemed to have been used were
stenciled directly on the lids of the cans, consisting
of codes such as “66
or “WEHRN –
18 T H
– 10 – 43”.
Certainly nothing to indicate what exactly was
inside the can! The
can itself was normally unpainted tin though some were
known to have been coated with a thin layer of varnish
to inhibit rust.
did the meat portion of the ration taste?
According to the U.S. Army laboratory’s taste
testers, the canned pork “was excellent in both
appearance and flavor…packed solidly, with just
enough fat to fill the spaces completely.”
The canned beef, which came in a similar-sized
can, was “of excellent appearance and
palatability…the quality was comparable to that of
good American beef.
The flavor would have been improved by the
addition of salt.”
Once the order had been given to consume the
meat ration, the Landser would have opened his
can using a privately purchased can opener of with the
tip of his bayonet if nothing else was available.
If he had one in his possession, and if
security conditions permitted, he might also have
heated it using his Esbit stove.
The contents of the meat ration could easily be
consumed in one sitting, leaving the hungry Landser
with the bread portion of the ration to tide him over
for the rest of the day or until normal issuing of
rations was resumed.
cracker portion of the iron ration offered a bit more
variety, though its taste apparently left something to
be desired. Depending
upon what was available from
food service industry, the Landser could have
received 300 grams of Hartkeks, Knäckebrot,
Zwieback, or plain crackers.
They could have been issued individually or
pre-packed in paper or cardboard boxes.
Again, it would have had to fit inside the A
frame bag or inside the bread bag or Brotbeutel.
Knäckebrot, or crisp bread, was similar
to the Swedish crisp bread available at any modern
came packed four to a carton, with each piece
measuring 5 ⅜ inches by 4 ½ inches by ¼ inches
to the taste testers, it “was somewhat darker in
color than the similar American product.
It was hard and brittle, with a strong rye
package contained “only 13 calories per cubic inch,
while the average U.S. K Ration biscuit had almost 3
times as many calories…from a palatability
standpoint, the American soldier would not have liked
the whole rye taste.”
were another substitute for bread that found its way
into the iron ration.
This item came in a package of six, with the
contents wrapped in clear cellophane with colorful
lettering on the outside.
One example of Hartkeks was XOX Kraft
Keks (a company which still manufactures crackers
and cookies today), which was essentially a hard
biscuit fortified with vitamins and other nutrients.
Although each package contained well over 1,000
calories, American taste testers were skeptical,
stating that “the flavor of the energy biscuits is
difficult to describe, since it was utterly unlike any
American commercial biscuit or those types packaged in
U.S. Army rations.
It can only be said that they resembled in
texture the regular sweet dog biscuit…”
common substitute for fresh bread in the iron ration
was Zwieback, or the common cracker (which bore
no resemblance to the modern baby teething Zwieback
in the baby food section of your local grocery store).
These were often issued loose, directly from a
tin box or wooden crate, and measured 2 ⅛ inches
by 2 ⅛ inches by 3/16 inches thick.
According to the taste testers, “the crackers
were a very hard, dense hardtack made from a very
low-grade flour…they were made from flour, salt and
water and had unlimited keeping qualities.”
No doubt these were a direct descendant of the
same kind of hardtack used by the Kaiser’s armies
during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War!
There were also sweetened round crackers called
Duve Keks that came packaged 18 crackers (which
measured 2 3/16 inches in diameter) to a heavy paper
carton that weighed 100 grams net.
Three cartons would constitute a full iron
ration of bread, though a Landser on the move
would have trouble finding a place to put it.
These were manufactured by H. Bahlsen Keks
“the taste and appearance were considered good.”
German manufactured items were in short supply,
substitute items from occupied or neutral countries
could be issued, such as Italian canned meat
(nicknamed Alte Mann or old man) or Portuguese
or French crackers would be issued as well.
The key concern was that the items were of
equivalent weight and ruggedness in order to survive
the rigors of being carried into the field.
Larger cans of meat products were issued as
well, but due to their size, they would probably be
issued in bulk during a halt in operations, since they
were too large to be carried in a soldiers assault
pictures showing canned meat depict the larger can,
which would have been sufficient to feed two or three
soldiers at a time.
This larger can, however, cannot be considered
the same as the smaller tin that constituted the meat
portion of the iron ration.
the German iron ration lacked the sundry items and may
not have provided the variety that similar American
rations did, they did what they were supposed to do
– provide a day’s worth of food when cut off from
the field kitchen or when normal subsistence had been
his iron ration was eaten, there was still one more
ration for each man in the company’s kitchen
the recreation of the new German Bundeswehr in
1956, German Army field rations have considerably
evolved to the point where they are now comparable in
flavor and nutrition to modern U.S. Army rations; but
for the hungry Landser of World War Two, the eiserne
Portion was the most he could hope for without
resulting to foraging to fill his belly when cut off
from his beloved Gulaschkanone.