It (the P38 can opener) was developed in just 30 days in the summer lf 1942 by the Subsistance Research Laboratory in Chicago. And never in its history has it been known to break, rust, need sharpening or polishing. Perhaps that is why many soldiers, past and present, regard the P-38 C-ration can opener as the Army's best invention.
The C-ration was one of the three types of combat rations used during the war. It was designed specifically for units in actual combat whre no messing facilities were available and represented the culmination of scientific experiments begun in 1939 to provide rations that could be carried by the individual soldier and provide three satisfying meals a day.
Cs were packed in six small cans, three contained the meat (M items) three the basics (B items). In most instances the ration was served cold, but was designed to be palatable hot or cold. Menu No. 1 M items included Ham, eggs and potato, Meat and beans, or Chicken and vegetables. The B-1 unit included biscuits, premixed and compressed cereal, coffee, cubed sugar and coated peanuts. Menu No 4 M items included Pork and beans, Meat and spaghetti, Ham and Lima beans. The B-4 unit was the same as B-1 except that coated chocolate drops replace the coated peanuts.
The D-Bar ration was an emergency combat ration carried by all men to be used when there was no other food. The four ounce bar was packed with 1,770 calories and all kinds of vitamins.
The original K-Ration was developed for paratroopers because the C, with its can and weight, was not considered appropriate. The K was created to provide a good nutritional ration, light in weight, yet suitably packaged to withstand the rigors of combat. Ks were placed in three units marked Breakfast, Dinner and Supper.
Breakfast consisted of compressed, premixed cereal, biscuits, egg and meat product, fruit bar, coffee and sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, chewing gum, water purification tablets and toilet paper. Dinner included biscuits, cheese product, candy bar, a lemon, orange or grape drink powder, sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, matches, chewing gum and salt tablets. Supper included biscuits, meat product, chocolate bar or caramels, bouillon, coffee, sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, and chewing gum. The egg and meat product was either chopped pork and egg yolk or chopped ham and egg. The cheese product was processed American cheese, process American cheese with bacon, or processed American and Swiss cheese. The meat product included in this ration was canned pork with carrot and apple or beef and pork loaf.
There were other rations in addition to Cs, Ks and D.
Field Rations A were domestic rations, supplied for posts, camps, stations in the United States. A maximum amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats was included.
Field Rations B were overseas rations. All items were non-perishable, preserved by canning, dehydration or other methods. Menus were designed for Tropical and Temperate areas or Frigid areas.
Ten-in-one rations were similar to Bs, but designed for troops in all areas to be used in advance of arrival of field kitchens. Each case provided food for ten men for one day. Items were non-perishable and could be eaten either hot or cold. Five menus were offered, with each ration providing 4,100 calories. Each case included cigarettes, water purification tablets, matches, salt, can openers (The famous P-38), toilet paper, toilet soap and paper towels.
There were also Life Boat Rations and Parachute Emergency Rations designed to sustain fliers downed at sea or forced to bail out. There was also an Air Corps Lunch full of carbohydrates developed for fliers unable to stop performance of their dutes for regular meal.