Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Makeshift Cooking, German Army, WW2

Makeshift Cooking (behelfsmässiges Kochen), German Army, WW2

     Having recovered from a recent bout of influenza, and after a long period of acquiring and translating much research material, I'm finally ready to begin writing about German military cooking of World Wars 1 and 2. In this post we'll take a look at Wehrmacht makeshift cooking, and how to make goulash without the Gulaschkanone ("goulash cannon", German slang for a rolling field kitchen). I'll be posting more German Amy recipes in the near future.
     German Army publications recommended the pooling of resources and cooking fuel, as opposed to cooking individually. Mess kit cooking was recommended for groups of about 5 men. With makeshift cooking appliances, groups of 10 to 20 men could be accommodated.
     When using the mess kit, cover while cooking to protect against contamination by dust or soot from the cooking fire. If using the mess kit lid as a cover during cooking, do not place the lid tightly on the body of the mess kit as it can make removal difficult from a hot mess kit. If using the lid for other cooking (such as frying), cover the mess kit body with a temporary cover of wood or metal.
     Depending on the recipe, the volume of the mess kit is sufficient to prepare a dish for one or two men. For example, the meat or stew component of the meal for two men could be prepared in one mess kit, and the starch food (potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.) cooked in another. 
The Kochgeschirr 31 type mess kit. 
 In a field environment, measurement by volume becomes a necessity. The body of the mess kit had a capacity of 1.71 liters and the lid, 0.54 liters. The indentations on the side were marks for 1/2 liter measurements. Most wartime production models had no measurement marks. 
A full mess kit lid was calculated to hold the approximate weights of the following ingredients: legumes or groats=425 g; rice=500 g; sugar=425 g. 
      The capacity of the mess kit spoon was approximately one US tablespoon (1/2 fluid ounce, or approx.15 ml.). The mess spoon could hold: flour=15 g; liquid fat, milk, sugar=20 g; salt=25 g. 
Kochgerät 15 (Cooking Equipment 15)  for feeding units of  up to 15 men.
It consisted of 3 nesting pots of 9, 10½ and 12 liter capacity, plus lids,
 chains and hooks for suspending over a  fire, and other accessories. 

The spoons had a 20 ml capacity.
Using wooden sticks or iron rod, a makeshift apparatus
can be created  for cooking in several mess kits at one time.

(In case you were wondering what the notch at the top of the handle was for)
In this example, I have fashioned a spit from iron rods bent into shape.
It also allows one to pick up and carry several mess kits at one time.
  For mess kits, a trench may be dug in the ground or constructed above ground with stones or bricks to shield the cooking fire from wind. For larger cooking implements, two pieces of angle iron would be laid across a cooking pit to hold the pan, as shown below.

Fire pit dug into the earth    Fire pit built of stone
Pan for small quantities   Metal can as a makeshift pot
Roasting pan for large quantities
Goulash (with fresh meat), German Army, 1942
Beef or pork, or a combination of the two, were the normal meats utilized for German Army goulash. However, any foraged meat could be utilized (including mutton, veal, or wild game), although German Army manuals cautioned that any locally procured animals needed to be inspected by a veterinary officer prior to preparation. There was even a version using canned meat (see below). The amounts given in the recipes are scaled for one serving. These amounts may of course be adjusted as necessary.

US                              Metric             Ingredients
4½ oz                          125 g               beef, pork or a mix of half beef and half pork
1 oz                             30 g                 yellow onion
1/2 oz (1 tbsp)             15 g                 flour
1 fl oz (2 tbsp)             30 ml               fat (vegetable oil, lard, etc.)
to taste                        to taste             salt
to taste                        to taste             pepper
to taste                        to taste             paprika

1.      Wash meat and trim excess fat.
2.      Cut into 1” (2.5 cm) pieces.
3.      Season the meat with salt and pepper.
4.      Cut the onion into small pieces.
5.      Heat the fat in the mess kit lid.
6.      Add the meat to the hot fat and cook until the meat is browned. Add a little water now and then to prevent scorching.
7.      Meanwhile, in the mess kit body, heat the rest of the fat. Add the onions and cook until golden.
8.      Add the browned meat and juices from the cooking.
9.      Add enough water to cover the meat.
10.  Simmer until the meat is tender (1½-2 hours for pork, 2½-3 hours for beef*). Add additional water if necessary.
11.  Mix the flour with a little water to form a batter.
12.  When meat is nearly cooked, add the batter and stir.
13.  Cook until thickened.
14.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
15.  Accompany the goulash with boiled potatoes or boiled pasta.

 *German Army recommended cooking times. 

Goulash (with canned meat), German Army, 1942

US                              Metric             Ingredients
4½-6 oz                      125-175 g        canned meat
1 oz                             30 g                 yellow onion
1/2 oz (1 tbsp)             15 g                 flour
1/2 fl oz (1 tbsp)          15 ml               fat (vegetable oil, lard, etc.)
14 fl oz**                    425 ml**         water or broth
to taste                        to taste             salt
to taste                        to taste             pepper
to taste                        to taste             paprika

1.      Cut the onion into small pieces.
2.      Heat the fat in the mess kit body.
3.      Add the flour and onions and cook until light brown.
4.      Add the water or broth and stir well. Heat to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened.
5.      Add the canned meat and cook only until the meat is heated.
6.       Season to taste with salt, pepper and paprika.
7.      Accompany the goulash with boiled potatoes or boiled pasta.

Der Feldverpflegungsbeamte, Dr. Hohne, Verlag Bernard & Graefem Berlin, 1939

Merkblatt 61/15, Kleines Feldkochbuch für behelfsmässiges Kochen, vom 20.7.42

Der Unteroffizier als Küchenbuchführer, Küchenunteroffizier und Offizierheimfeldwebel, Oberfeldzahlmeister Deickert, Berlin, 1941

H.Dv.86, Feldkochbuch, vo 16.8.1941, Berlin, 1941, English Translation by John Baum

For those wishing to engage in further research of Wehrmacht cookery, I highly recommend John Baum’s excellent English translations of the Feldkochbuch (Field Cookbook) and Feldkochbuch für warme Länder (Field Cookbook for Warm Countries), available for purchase at
There you will also find English translations of many German manuals on weapons, tactics and equipment.


  1. The German rolling kitchen is mentioned in this post, and here is a link to the Society of the Military Horse thread which depicts lots of different rolling kitchens:

    Interesting information. I was not aware that German rations favored a joint cooking approach, but it makes sense.

  2. I don't know where to make a general comment about the whole blog but I love it. As the sign in the grocery store says, everybody loves to eat, and this just dovetails so nicely into my general interest in soldier's lives, having also been one myself (in the distant past). I haven't read that much here yet but it is fascinating. It's interesting how differently different armies do things.

    I just acquired, by the way, a French 4-man boiler (marmite). It was manufactured post-war (post WWII, that is). I've never seen a photo of one later than WWI. I'm not sure how I'm going to make use of it yet. Also, have you noticed that virtually all army mess kits except one are based on what is essentially a pot for boiling things in. The single exception is the old US pattern, which is based on a frying pan.

  3. Thank you for this information. I have searched all over for several years, as I am writing a novel about german soldiers in ww2 on eastern front, mainly, and haven't found anything as thorough and helpful as this on their daily eating situation. I'm also interested in how they slept in different conditions,hot in summer - cold in winter, so if you or anyone knows about that, I'm interested. Noonandottir

    1. The German Army also had pre-made rations (mostly canned meats and hard crackers, the infamous "Iron Ration") but there were also dehydrated and condensed canned items, such as tomato soup and milk. I actually tried "Erbswurst" (literally, "pea sausage", dehydrated pea soup wrapped to look like sausage- pretty good). Check out a cool site w/ reproduction rations and a bit of history on how they were used.
      As far as sleeping, the Germans tried to accommodate themselves as comfortably as possible, dependent upon their tactical situation (sleeping under the stars when offensive, bunkers w/ homemade furniture/ bunks and/or local houses and barns when in the defense). Soldiers were equipped with a shelter half which doubled as a poncho, and half the required stakes/ poles to make a tent. Thus, eating AND sleeping were done in groups. Wool blankets and straw filled mattress covers (if available) were used, and gear for a pillow. Hope this helps.

  4. Thanks for the comment and your interest. I'm glad to have been of assistance. Please bear in mind that the primary method of cooking in the field throughout the war remained the Gulaschkanone. Bread was also a critical component of the Wehrmacht diet, as in most European armies of the time: a daily ration of 750g under normal conditions (usually Heeresbrot, aka Kommissbrot, a 100% rye bread).
    Kind regards,

  5. Hi Peter, great article, very informative. I don't suppose you have a recipe for Zwieback do you? Contains, flour, sugar, yeast, salt, seasoning, and water but I don't know the measurements? Thanks.

    1. Hi Jamie,
      I've been trying to find definitive info on Zwieback for some time now, with little success. If it was produced in the bakery company (usually found at divisional level), my guess is that it would likely be something akin to twice-baked Heeresbrot (aka Kommissbrot), which was normally made from rye flour, water and salt. Leavening was provided by what we would refer to as a sourdough starter, using the "old dough" method. Some German POWs commented that American army bread was more akin to cake, and American POWs often disliked the coarse texture and high fiber of German army bread. It was normally rye flour, but the Wehrmacht would often use captured or locally procured stores of wheat or other flours for bread-making.
      Thanks for commenting,

  6. My father was a POW in Germany for almost a year in WWII and spoke well of German bread, saying it "had strength." I guess he meant it was particularly nutritous. But he called ordinary American white bread "light bread" and for obvious reasons. However, other sources state that Americans would not like the taste of rye bread but it is available in stores that have a lot of German imported foods.

    1. Heeresbrot (German army bread, aka Kommissbrot) was a 100% rye bread. A 100% rye bread is dense and heavy in comparison to most American breads. Rye breads that you find here in the US are considerably lighter in texture, as they normally contain a large proportion of wheat flour. Heeresbrot was made only from rye flour, water and salt. Personally, I prefer a heavy bread, pure rye included. I agree with your father, as 100% rye bread is quite filling and satisfying.

  7. I've always been curious about something regarding German combat rations in WW2. What were the main types of food that the encircled German 6th Army received in the Stalingrad pocket during the Stalingrad Airlift? I've found a web site that gives the tonnage of food flown in each day, but haven't been able to find out the types of food. Thanks & really enjoyed the info shared on this web site!

    1. Hi Joey, Thanks for the kind words.
      I never looked into it in detail and can’t confirm it, but I suspect that normal rations would have been flown in on whatever space was available. Of course much of what left the airfields didn’t make it to Stalingrad. Fuel (at least initially) and ammunition were also priorities. That certainly didn’t translate into a lot of tonnage for food, when one also takes into account the anecdotes about occasional ineptitudes in the supply system that resulted in summer uniforms, vodka and condoms being flown in.
      As tin for cans was in short supply throughout the war, Germany developed many types of dehydrated foods such as tomato, cheese, applesauce and soy powders. Dehydrated foods greatly reduce the weight and bulk of fresh foods, making them particularly suitable for air resupply.
      After January 23, 1943, there were no more air landings in Stalingrad; ammunition and food were air-dropped. This could have been parachuted, or as US intelligence noted in German technical press reports, “ a standard 30-pound (approximately) so-called vegetable “bomb” containing an assortment of compressed dried beans, peas, carrots, cabbage, spinach, onions, and potatoes. These rations are designed to be dropped from airplanes to isolated German units.

    2. Peter, thank u so much for the quick reply & the info. I wish I had found ur web site a long time ago & I could've saved myself countless hours of internet surfing. I had also heard that Von Paulus had ordered his men to slaughter all of the horses that transported their supplies originally so that more space could b allotted on the transport planes for fuel & ammunition, & that he would request food only after that had been done. Also, I've read reports of possible cannabalism in the German army as well. It was criminal for one of the finest armies in history to b forced into doing that (if those reports were accurate). Again, thank u so much for all of the info u sent, & I will b asking more questions in the future.

  8. Great Blog!! That was amazing. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome. You are really a master.
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  9. Learn some thing new all the time, this is no exception.

  10. In the 60's I worked with an electrical engineer who was a US Army radioman who went into southern France (Marsailles?). He said they pursued the fast retreating German forces who were abandoning southern France as quick as they could. He said the US Army units were living off German rations and using German gas for their jeeps/tanks. He said the Germans had a delicious Honey and Margarine canned spread that made their black bread taste great. He also said they captured and used a lot of German combat rations that were in "self heating" cans that you didn't have to build a fire to heat up. He thought the German food was great. He also said that the German weapons were better but we had so much more of everything that it didn't end up mattering that much.