By Joshua Boyle
“An Army marches on it’s stomach.”Napoleon Bonaparte
A problem that has perpetually plagued armies throughout history is the subject of keeping troops fed. If troops are fed poorly, or not fed at all, it can lead to low morale and even mutiny. A problem of reenactors is how to replicate these foods. In this article, we will explore the seemingly elusive subject of rations for the Romanian Army.
During the Second World War, most armies still operated off the basic system of one hot meal a day, supported by cold rations in the morning/evening. These rations would be cooked behind the lines by company or battalion mess units, in large portable field kitchens, and either the food would be deposited directly into the mess tins of the troops, or into large insulated containers.
These containers would be then transported to the front to feed troops, and generally the troops would not go for more than 24 hours without a hot meal. In certain circumstances, where troops may be highly mobile and kitchens may not be bale to be set up, or fresh food would could not be brought forward due to combat or logistical problems, soldiers would often have a supply of food with them.
By the 1930s, most Armies had developed the concept of an emergency ration; the Germans their eiserne portionen, the Americans their K Rations and other nations. When attached to German units they often received subzistenta germana, the German Iron Rations, although when operating alone, they did not recieve these. Instead food would be procured by an officer and distributed among men, with lower ranks receiving lesser quality rations than their officer counterparts, something which often caused in unit fighting and was often commented as one of the main driving factors for desertion by attached German units. Food, water and firewood would all be procured and given to the field kitchens, which would cook hot meals and distribute to troops. Often they were meagre in size, with the idea being soldiers would fight in order to procure more food, buy some from local farmers, or steal/poach food themselves. Upon victory, they were often presented with a litre of wine in celebration.
Due to the varying conditions, and procurement options available, there are multiple different accounts of what food was given to troops. One veteran recounts their daily issued rations being 1⁄4 fresh bread (about 150g-200g) or 5-6 pieces of dry ‘Pesmeti’ bread, a piece of raw bacon or dry smoked meat, roughly half the size of a hand, about 50g butter, One onion, Water and enough loose tobacco for about 3 cigarettes. The troops were expected to then supplement their rations with potatoes, other root vegetables, occassionally kasha and rice when availiable. Often when units were detached, or thinly spread, troops would cook their own food over an open fire in a large pot, or in their own individual mess tins.
Another source, taken from the war diaries of the 14th Infantry Division at Stalingrad in October 1942, paints a much bleaker picture.
In the morning: black tea, sugar, marmalade
Lunch: soup flakes, pearl barley, hotchpotch meat, margarine, artificial honey, butter
Dinner: hotchpotch, sour cabbage, canned fish, cheese, coffee surrogate, sugar
So what might you receive at an event? Below are some examples of the kinds of food you might receive at an event, as well as some other eating and leisure paraphernalia.
Mess tin, enamel mug, spoon, knife, fork, butter dish, rolling papers.
340g rye bread, some potatoes, some carrots, an apple, 175g rice, 70g cheese, 50g butter, 7g trophy tobacco, loose tea, salt, sugar, can of minced meat, onion.