Tag Archives: military-grade

Ration D-day: Chocolate’s role in Warfare


When you think of warfare, you probably think of soldiers, tanks, or guns; you probably do not think of chocolate, however, chocolate played an integral part in World War II. The military in the first half of the 20th century had a problem. Men were fighting on the front lines were in conditions where field kitchens could not be established. Sustenance would have to be shipped in and it would have to be compact and portable. It was to this end that Captain Paul Logan, of the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General, turned to chocolate. He met with William Murrie, then president of Hershey Chocolate Corporation, and Sam Hinkle, his chief scientist, in 1937 about developing a chocolate bar emergency ration that could stand up to the rigorous military standards required for field rations[1]. Chocolate was uniquely qualified as a choice for rations as it is not only lightweight and portable but it is also is a stimulant, provides a quick burst of energy and is fairly nutritious. There were, however, some technical issues that need to be dealt with before chocolate was ready for duty on the front lines.Nestle's 1943 Ad

As anyone who has left a chocolate bar in their pocket on a summer’s day knows, chocolate tends to melt in moderately high temperatures. This gives chocolate its wonderful mouthfeel but also makes it a challenge to transport it hot climates. This is due to one of chocolate main ingredients; cocoa butter, which has a melting point of 78 degrees Fahrenheit[2], turning any chocolate above that mark, whether in your mouth or in your pocket, from a solid bar to a mushy mess.


Furthermore, as it was to be an emergency ration, this chocolate couldn’t be the tempting treat you usually think of when you think chocolate bar. According to Sam Hinkle, chief scientist at Hershey at the time, “Captain Logan said that he wanted it to taste not too good, because, if so, the soldier would eat it before he faced an emergency and have nothing to eat when the emergency came,” Hinkle said. “So he said, ‘Make it taste about like a boiled potato.'”[3]

chocolate propaganda

Hershey scientists and the US Army Quartermaster Corps set out together to engineer a chocolate that could stand up to the military’s exacting standards. As Joel Glenn Brenner states in her book, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, “The result was the famous Field Ration D, nutrition-packed “subsistence” chocolate made from a thick paste of chocolate liquor, sugar, oat flour, powdered milk and vitamins …it could withstand temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and contained 600 calories in a single serving.” (Brenner 8). That was all well and good but the military needed to make sure that these Ration D bars could stand up to the challenge of the harsh environment of war. According to the Hershey Community Archives, “The first of the Field Ration D bars were used for field tests in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, the Texas border, and at various Army posts and depots throughout the United States. These bars also found their way to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd’s last expedition in 1939. The results of the test were satisfactory and Field Ration D was approved for wartime use.”


Once assured of these chocolate bars being up to snuff, the military put them into production. In her book, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo describes the packaging process: “The finished bars were sealed in foil and then paper-wrapped in sets of three, for a total of 1,800 calories, enough to sustain a man for a day. (Later, when foil became scarce during World War II and the use of chemical weapons seemed imminent—mustard and chlorine gas had been used frequently in World War I—waterproof cellophane and wax coated boxes were used [to prevent any deadly chemicals from leaching into the soldiers’ food]). By the end of 1945 Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week[4].


As for what the soldiers thought of them, their thoughts can be seen in the nickname they gave it; “Hitler’s secret weapon”. In his article, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”, Terry W. Burger interviews John Otto, a platoon leader in Company A of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Regiment, for his experience with the Ration D bars, “They were awful,” “They were big, thick things, and they weren’t any good. I tried ’em, but I had to be awful hungry after I tried them once…. Whatever they put in didn’t make them taste any better.” Nevertheless, the Ration D bars kept the soldiers alive on the battlefield and in other precarious situations. Not only that, because chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, it kept the soldiers awake and alert, which was vital to their survival and success, especially in hostile territories like Nazi-occupied France. Some of the soldiers dislikes of the bar may have stem from their quick consumption; the instructions clearly stated the bars are to be eaten slowly (in about half an hour the label says), so a soldier on the move who consumed his Ration D bar a little too quickly may have experienced quite a bit of gastronomic distress.

1943 chocolate Life Magazine

Either way, the Ration D bars served also as a diplomatic tool, turning many starving Europeans into friends of the United States[5], as described by 82nd Airborne Veteran John Otto, “People wanted them, You’d give them to kids. In some places they were very hungry. And they sure helped relax people about American soldiers.”


Chocolate has been part of the military ever since. In 1943, Hershey created the Tropical Bar, the Ration D’s ever-so-slightly better tasting cousin, for consuming in the hot and humid Pacific[6]. This bar saw action during the Korean War (1950-53) up through the early days of the Vietnam War[7].  In 1990 Hershey created the Desert Bar, which tasted like an original Hershey bar but could withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit[8]. Not that Hershey was the only game in town; Forrest Mars introduced M&M’s in 1940; just in time for the chocolate candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” to be added to soldiers rations[9]. Today soldiers receive chocolate in a variety of places, whether it’s in a MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat)[10] ration or a care package that boosts their spirit and gives them a little taste of home.



[1] Hershey Community Archives

[2] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 11

[3] Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”

[4] Hershey Community Archives

[5] Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”

[6] Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87

[7] Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87

[8] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 10

[9] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 46

[10] John C. Fisher and Carol Fisher, Food in the American Military, page 183

Works Cited

Marx de Salcedo, Anastacia. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat. Penguin. 2015.

Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey And Mars. Random House, Inc. 1999.

Fisher, John C., and Carol Fisher. Food in the American Military: A History. McFarlan & Company, Inc. 2011.

Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!” America in WWII, Feb. 2007, p. 36+. General OneFile, libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GPS&sw=w&u=ntn&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA400957701&asid=4593f3eb2321afb7732288b7e5322620. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

“Ration D Bars” Hershey Community Archives. http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.

Schumm, Laura. “The Wartime Origins of the M&M”, June 2, 2014.  History.com. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm. Accessed  3 Mar. 2017.

Butler, Stephanie. “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War”, June 6, 2014. History.com. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war. Accessed  3 Mar. 2017.

Graber, Cynthia and Twilley, Nicola. (2017, Jan 30). We Heart Chocolate. Gastropod. Podcast retrieved from https://gastropod.com/we-heart-chocolate/

Image Credits

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An Army Marches on its Stomach: A History of Chocolate in the Military

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “an army marches on its stomach.” The famous French Emperor was also said to have carried chocolate on his many military campaigns to provide energy. Unlike much of chocolate’s decadent history, the story of chocolate in the military is utilitarian, putting practicality before pleasure.  The development of the functional use of chocolate parallels and contrasts its evolution as an indulgent treat with broader implications on social roles and taste.

Military use of chocolate can be traced to antiquity, with the Aztec army’s use of cacao and chocolate documented by various sources. With chocolate consumption restricted to certain social groups, the army occupied a high class in Aztec society and was crucial in ensuring the state’s continued prosperity. Given their critical roles, Aztec warriors were among the few who were given the right to eat chocolate, able to purchase it in public markets in addition to receiving it on their military campaigns (Presilla 19).  Fray Diego Duran gave particularly descriptive accounts of cacao’s use as a military ration, which was made into pellets, wafers, and balls and distributed to each soldier (Coe 98). While chocolate was typically consumed as a beverage during this time, these solid forms were easier to carry and could be shaved into pieces or dissolved in water.

Aztec Warriors
Aztec Warriors from the Codex Mendoza

Old World soldiers were among the earliest to encounter chocolate, and they initially showed an aversion to its bitter taste. Greater exposure over time as well as a hybridization of flavors improved receipt among conquistadors, with one “gentleman of Hernan Cortes” asserting in 1556 that “the drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else” (Coe 84).

For the next two centuries, chocolate spread throughout Europe. From the late 17th century on, chocolate could be found in public coffee-houses, the caffeinated drinks fueling political debate. Chocolate houses came into their own in the mid-1700s, and these meeting houses nurtured political ties and talks of revolution. Chocolate played a role in Europe’s revolutions, but it was not yet listed among standard military provisions.

In the late 1600s and 1700s, chocolate made its way back across the Atlantic to British colonies in America. As early as 1755, chocolate was used as a ration for troops during the French and Indian War, as it that could be transported without spoiling. Benjamin Franklin himself helped to supply chocolate to officers serving under General Braddock (Snyder). Chocolate rations were also distributed by rank to Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary war (McKay). As the war stretched on, chocolate was limited due to British interception of imports and occupation of chocolate production centers (Grivetti and Shapiro). With dwindling supplies, Massachusetts even forbade its export as it was needed “for the supply of the army” (Snyder).

American military use of chocolate proved to be long-lived, playing an important role in feeding troops and boosting morale in every war and conflict thereafter. During the Civil War, Union soldier Henry Pippitt of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry wrote of the capture of rebel supplies, saying “we were quite surprised to find what our enemy subsisted upon. Aside from similar particulars including hard tack and smoked meats, it appears our southern brethren quite prefer the taste of peaches… bologna links, and milk sweetened by what appears to be chocolate.”

Industrial revolution and the turn of the century brought greater organization surrounding the transportation and distribution of food products, both at home and overseas. After the outbreak of WWI, R.F. Mackenzie, president of the National Confectioners Association remarked that “The world must have its sweets. As the wise man has said, ’Candy’s fair in love and war.’ The lover demands his package of bon-bons with which to propitiate his sweetheart; and the veteran of the tranches requests his strength-renewing tablet of chocolate” (Kawash).

Organizations such as the YMCA set up canteens to provide treats and entertainment to soldiers, including hot chocolate which was said to make the soldiers feel “like new men” (McKay). YMCA canteens supported soldiers in both WWI and WWII, and as one canteen girl wrote, “we had ministered to the boys’ souls in the morning, fortified the inner man with free hot chocolate at six o’clock, now we were going to finish out the day by satisfying their romantic cravings with a film drama of love and adventure” (Morse).

YMCA Canteen Girls Distribute Hot Chocolate During WWII

The military officially sanctioned chocolate as part of the standard ration in 1937, working closely with Hershey to develop a special bar for hard-traveling, calorie-expending soldiers. The bar was designed to be heat resistant, high in food energy, and low on sugar and taste so as to prevent soldiers from snacking on the chocolate in non-emergency situations. Field Ration D, coined the Logan Bar after the Army Quartermaster Captain who helped develop it, was broadly disliked. These brick-like chocolate rations were distributed to the Allied troops across Europe, and spurred other chocolate manufacturers such as Cadbury and Nestle to target soldier consumers.

war chocolate poster
Nestle WWII Campaign

On the home front, chocolate was often rationed during WWII, and occupied countries especially saw very little of it. Chocolate, then, was used by soldiers to exchange for other goods and foods or to build good-will with foreign populations, fueling both fighting and diplomacy.

Soldiers Donate (Delicious) Chocolate to Children at Christmas

Continuous refinement of the military-grade bar, from the Logan Bar, to the high-heat resistant Tropical Bar, to the much later desert bar in the from the 1980s, showed efforts to improve the flavor of the bar, particularly by adding sugar, while preserving its long shelf-life and heat-resistant qualities. Still, the bar was far from artisan. Globalized military use of chocolate became increasingly common in the 20th century, with chocolate included in standard military rations or Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) as a treat that provides sustenance as well as morale.

Scandinavian MRE chocolate comparison. Denmark was unanimously voted least edible. #MRElivetweet pic.twitter.com/WWIc3y3k

— Filet mignon (@momecat) December 30, 2012

To the military, chocolate’s function is largely practical in giving troops energy to fight. But its use in war is also multipurpose, as a soldier’s ration, a morale boost, a method of diplomacy and good will, and sometimes as one of its spoils. Military-grade chocolate, while very different than that sold to the public, shares some aspects with its commercial counterpart. Even on the battlefield, chocolate serves to bring moments of happiness and forge friendships, adding some sweetness to an otherwise serious, somber world.


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