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The Half Iron Ration
By Jim Pool (Lt.Col., Ret.)

Special thanks to Jim Pool for providing the article below.  Mr. Pool is a well known collector, historian, & author with focus on the topic of WWII German rations items .  He has contributed several articles to this site & we are always excited when we receive a new one as they are always full of great information and images. If you enjoy reading this article, then we highly recommend you pick up his new book, Rations of the German Wehrmacht in World War II.  It is definitely a "must have" for those of us interested in things like this.

From the perspective of the German WWII collector or reenactor the single most important ration has to be the Half Iron Ration (Halb Eiserne Portionen). It was the only ration required by regulation to be carried by the individual soldier at all times. It was strictly for emergency use when the tactical situation prohibited the bringing up of hot food, for 24 hours or more. The authority to consume the ration was given to Company Commander, Platoon Leader or independent Squad Leader when the unit was cut off or isolated. Once the Half Iron Ration was consumed it was to be immediately reported so replacements could be requisitioned and the soldiers replenished.

The Half Iron Ration consisted of the following components:

A.   Hard Crackers - The daily allowance was for 250 grams of hard crackers (Zwieback, Hartkeks or Knäckebrot).
B.    Preserved Meat - The daily allowance called for 200 grams of preserved meat (Fleischkonserve).


Zwieback was described in the U.S. Army ration report as a miniature loaf of bread, with a very slightly rounded top. Two docker holes penetrated each bread piece. The average dimensions were 1 x 0.625 x 0.437 inches. The top was a shiny brown, indicating that some wash was used on top of the pieces. The internal color was creamy and slightly dark. Three or four caraway seeds were evident in each piece. The texture was quite hard, flinty, and difficult to bite through. The moisture content was three to four percent higher than that for the U. S. Army "C" ration biscuits, but the texture was harder, because of the low fat content. It had a flat dry taste and would not appeal to the American soldier. Commercially baked Zwieback was manufactured in other shapes.


Wartime pictures showing the type of Zwieback baked by Field Bakery units and the white fabric Zwiebackbeutel they were packaged in.  Also shown above is a recreation of the same type of Zwieback baked by Field Bakery units.


The majority of the military's supply of Zwieback was provided by the Field Bakery Companies. After it was baked it was placed into 250 gram bags (Zwiebackbeutel). There were essentially four types of bags used by the Bakery Companies. The style most often seen in wartime pictures was of a simple two piece construction, with two closure ties, all done in a white material. According to H.Dv. 320/4 the Zwiebackbeutel was also manufactured from plastic/synthetic materials (aus kunststoffen) and that Zwieback was also packed into viscose foil (Zellglass) and paper sacks by the Field Bakeries. After being filled they were sealed with viscose foil adhesive strips or adhesive tape. Zellglass/viscose foil is essentially cellophane. Cellophane bags marked as “Supplementary Rations for Frontline Infantry” were used to pack Knäckebrot in. Its likely the same style of bag was also used for Zwieback .Recycled Zwiebackbeutels manufactured from fabric were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before they were re utilized. The viscose foil and paper sacks were destroyed. It's likely that commercial firms also supplied Zwieback to the military.


A picture of an original white fabric Zwiebackbeutel.

This style of clear cellophane bag was probably also used to pack Zwieback in.

The Brandt Firm was the largest commercial Zwieback factory in Germany. It’s likely they supplied Zwieback to the military. The content information is glued over the content information on the sack which states "235g to 250g".


This commercially baked Zwieback was taken from a German wartime publication on rations.


Hartkeks or simply Keks is a crunchy, sweet biscuit or cookie. From the information contained in the U.S. Army ration report various brands of Keks were supplied to the military. The most common shapes were square, rectangular, or round. The Keks were supplied in bulk containers, paper bags, card stock containers, wrapped in paper or wrapped in Zellglass. Keks packaged for military use as well as standard commercial packages were all distributed to the soldier.

The picture on the far left shows what may be Hartkeks packed in a Zwiebackbeutel while the pictures on the right show what may be Hartkeks packed for military use. It appears to be over wrapped in paper.

Bahlsens Duve Keks were mentioned by name in the U.S. Army ration report.
In the U.S. Army ration report XOX Keks were described as resembling in texture, the regular sweet dog biscuit.

A carton of Bahlsens Union Keks which the firm produced till the end of the war.

A carton of Bahlsens Leibniz Keks which the firm produced till the end of the war.

A carton of Feurich Keks.


A carton of Bahlsens Heimatgruss Keks which the firm produced till the end of the war.

A carton of Kessen's Keks.

A package of Pecher Keks over wrapped in paper.


The final bread product used to make up the Half Iron Ration was Knäckebrot. The description in the U.S. Army ration report was:" Four rectangular pieces approximately 5.375 x 4.5 x 0.25 inches, were packaged together in a light cardboard carton. Knäckebrot had the appearance of the typical whole rye Swedish hard bread, sold in the U.S. It was somewhat darker in color than the similar American product. It was hard and brittle, with a strong rye taste". The majority of the militarys Knäckebrot appears to have been manufactured by commercial firms. The Knäckebrot was bulk shipped, already packaged in cardstock cartons or loosely wrapped in paper. It’s likely that Knäckebrot was bulk shipped without any wrapping or baked by Field Bakery Companies and packaged in Zellglass bags.

Knäckebrot in both cardstock cartons and wrapped in paper.  The picture on the right shows a soldier carrying Knäckebrot cartons on his Y straps.


Wartime Knäckebrot.


A Feldpost box containing Knäckebrot from the Knäcke-Werke firm.


A carton of Knäckebrot from the firm of Hecke and Co. Hamburg.


A carton of Knäckebrot from the Batscheider Knäckebrot Factory.


Knäckebrot from the Heinis Knäckebrot Bakery over wrapped in paper.

Preserved Meat

The other component making up the Half Iron Ration was a 200 gram can of meat. Meat products were packaged for the military in the following four styles of cans: Weiβblechdosen, Sparverzinntdosen, Schwarzblechdosen WEHRM, and Schwarzblechdosen Lötrand. There is still a question about whether fish products could be substituted for the meat as part of the Iron ration. Fish and meat were interchangeable on the normal ration tables, so technically speaking it was okay. Wartime pictures of soldiers laying out rations show numerous fish products. As a rule I believe that the canned meat was preferred and fish would only be substituted if there was a supply shortage.

This 200 gram Schwarzblechdosen Lötrand can of pork measured 3 inches wide and 2.625 inches high. This style of can was described in the U.S. Army ration report.


This 200 gram Sparverzinntdosen can of pork measured 3 inches wide and 2.3125 inches high. This style of can was described in the U.S. Army ration report.


The Half Iron Ration as carried by the Landser.




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