Ration Packs Part 1 – Australian Defence Force Combat Ration, One Man

2016 CR1M menu “C” unopened.

The Combat Ration, One Man or CR1M for short, is the standard Australian Defence Force 24-hour ration pack.

The current CR1M ration pack has been developed over a number of decades from its genesis with the British 1950s 24 hour ration packs first encountered by Australian army infantry battalions during the Malayan Emergency in the late 1950s and the Australian CRP of the Vietnam War era.

During WWII, the Australian army had developed and fielded two highly advanced for their time 24 ration packs known as the “04” Field Operational Ration, and the “02” Operation Ration. The 04 Ration was rather short-lived and consisted of three waxed cardboard meal packs containing dehydrated main meals packed into an hermetically sealed tin box. The later 02 Ration was a similar format but was smaller and contained tins of meat-based meals which were ready to eat without cooking or soaking. The 02 Ration was also far more nutritionally-balanced than the 04 ration it replaced. The 02 Ration in particular, while appearing to be little more than three American-style K Ration boxes in a tin, was highly advanced and far ahead of any combat or field ration developed during WWII. With the end of the Second World War, production of these rations stopped and they were all taken out of service by 1947. The whole rations development program was abandoned and British style ration packs were adopted.

The old and the new. a 1944-vintage O2 Operation Ration alongside it’s modern counterpart, a 2015 CR1M menu “B”.

The Malayan Emergency style 24 hour ration packs were known as a Combat Ration Pack (CRP) and these served the Australian army throughout the Malayan Emergency, the Indonesian Confrontation and the war in South Vietnam with little modification or development aside from the addition of some freeze dried components such as rice.  The CRP was phased out beginning in the early 1980s in favour of its successor the CR1M.

The 1980s and 90s CR1Ms used 220g tins for the main meals but beginning in the early 2000s these were gradually replaced by MRE-style retort pouches, or as I like to call them “slop-in-a-bag” meals. Around the same time, or maybe a bit earlier, the iconic biscuits, survival, a type of wholemeal hard tack, were replaced by a vast array of different types of sweet biscuits and by normal cream crackers, which most Aussies know as Saos. Fast forward to the current incarnations of the CR1M and we find a whole lot of commercial foods, from M&Ms to Jack Links Steak Bars to cup a soup, to pouches of tuna. This was an Australian development based on various US Department of Defense research studies which indicated that soldiers and Marines were more likely to eat an item in their combat rations if it was packaged in colourful civilian wrappers and was similar to a snack item they would be likely to purchase and eat in civilian life. It makes a lot of sense and it’s always desirable for a Digger, Pusser or RAAFie to eat all their food out bush because taste considerations aside, it is designed to be a fully balanced  ration optimised for energy and nutrition under even the harshest conditions.

So, what’s in a CR1M? For a detailed look at a typical set of CR1M menus (2008/2009) check out this menu sheet. It’s very similar to what’s available today in 2016 and since I already had the PDF file it saves me photographing, PDFing and OCRing the sheet out of the 2016s rations…

Contents of a 2016 CR1M laid out. Sorry, I’ve forgotten what menu it is. I usually open up ration packs and throw the components into my bushwalking tucker box. When it’s time to go away for the weekend on a foot-borne adventure, I simply grab what I need out of the tucker box. No annoying shopping trips required.

The CR1M covers three meals and a LOT of snacks. You also get sundries such as toilet paper, a soaped scouring pad, a can opener, a plastic spoon and matches among other things. The main meals are slop-in-a-bag and everything else is in foil, paper, plastic sachets or metal tubes. It’s huge. The average person could probably last quite happily on one of these 24 hour packs out bush for 48 hours easily – there’s enough tucker for six small meals with a couple of bits and pieces left over. Highlights are the tubes of vegemite, the can opener, the Werther’s caramels, the spoon which has a handle strong enough to use as a spreading implement, the pre-soaped scourer and the tins of cheese. Avoid the coffee.

CR1M main meal Malay Lamb Curry with some noodles, garnished with a sprig of casuarina on a recent bushwalking trip. Not a bad feed. If you look carefully, you’ll notice there’s something odd about the spoon. It’s a DIY spork put together out of a cheap and nasty KFS set – just shorten the spoon and fork and then rivet them together to make a handy folding utensil. Use your pocket knife as a… um… knife.

You can sometimes find these on ebay or in disposals stores. They are printed with “not for resale to the public”, but I won’t tell if you don’t.

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