Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Mess Tin Primer, Part III

Bowls, Boilers and Meat Cans
In this post we will delve into the subject of non-Kochgeschirr type mess tin design in the 20th century. Mess tins followed many different design paths as a result of the requirements dictated by field feeding systems, methods of transport in individual equipment, manufacturing capabilities, and availability of materials.

Austro-Hungarian Mess Tins and Descendants

Austria -Hungary produced two distinct designs of mess tin, the M1899 and the M1912. Their service life in the Austro-Hungarian army was cut short by the end of WWI and the breakup of the Hapsburg empire, but their descendants served on in the armies of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.


The M1899 was a bowl with an inverted lid that served as a plate Originally produced in tinned steel, during WWI it was manufactured in enamelled steel.

Austro-Hungarian M1899 - enameled steel
After WWII, Bulgaria produced an aluminum version that was nearly identical to the original M1899.

A later version of the Bulgarian mess tin contained two plates and eliminated the two hinged strap loops on the side.

Czechoslovakia designed a mess tin similar to the M1899, but with a wire handle that also served to secure the lid when folded. This Czech mess tin entered production in 1925.
( http://www.digitaltmuseum.se)
The post-WWII Czech mess tin was a further development, with the addition of  an insert with a folding handle. The larger container has a capacity of 1.25 liters, the smaller has a capacity of 0.85 liters, and the lid 0.3 liters. It was apparently produced for quite a number of years: I have 2 in my collection, dated 1951 and 1972.

Post-WWII Czech mess tin. 
Post-WWII Czech mess tin. 

Prior to WWII, Yugoslavia produced their own variant with a lid and insert.
The Austro Hungarian M1912 was one of the most unusual designs of mess tins, consisting of a rectangular base with a handle that folded to one side, and a plate/lid with a folding wire handle. It was intended to replace the M1899.

The original version of the M1912 was enamelled steel.
Hungary later produced the 34M, an aluminum version of the M1912. 
The Hungarian 34M was replaced post-WWII by the 65M (refer to Part II for a description of the 65M).
There was no model number assigned to this pre-WWII Belgian mess tin. It was offically named the "Aluminum mess tin for infantry". A shortened version of previous models, it was designed to fit the model 1930 backpack.

Belgian mess tin.

The Chinese produced a mess tin similar to the Japanese Type 38. It was unusual in that, unlike other boiler-type mess kits, it had no integral metal handle for the body or lid. Instead, it was equipped with a rather cumbersome system of a fabric belt that was atrached through two wire loops on either side for carrying, with a leather strap permanently attached to a metal loop in the back for holding the lid in place during transport.

The only photos I have seen of this type of tin have been unpainted. As the seller of this example said that it was originally part of a set of German individual field gear from WWII, it was quite possibly painted before being reissued as was the case with many captured mess tins.

Danish pre-WWII mess tin.

One of the earliest French individual mess kits was the gamelle individuelle modelle 1852. It was in essence a tapered bowl with a lid. A short chain attached the handles to the lid. In World War I, French soldiers often removed the chain as it was not conducive to proper noise discipline. In WWI the modèle 1852 was issued with a plate that fit inside of the mess kit bowl, under the lid. A detachable handle allowed the plate to be used as a frying pan.
Modèle 1852( http://www.digitaltmuseum.se)
The M1852 was superseded by the M1935 mess tin. The M1935 followed the Kochgeschirr-type configuration with an insert, but was unique in having a rectangular shape.

Modèle M1935
Modèle 1935 with lid removed and insert.
Modèle 1935 rear, showing the lid handle.
French mess kit design went through another radical change with the Modèle 1952. 
The three component pieces on the left can be stacked to make a compact package for transport, as shown to the right in the photo.
French modèle 1952 stowed for transport.

Great Brtiain

The British D-shaped mess kit possibly holds the record for the longest service record. Making its first appearance in 1813, it underwent few basic changes until the introduction of the British Army's Pattern 37 individual field gear. The Pattern 37 mess tin was a completely new design, consisting of two rectangular containers, one slightly larger than the other to allow the smaller tin to be stowed inside. It was simple, compact, and versatile. The Pattern 37 mess tin continued to serve long after WWII. Initially made of aluminum, with the advent of WWII and wartime shortages the pre-war Pattern 37s were withdrawn, melted down and replaced with tinned steel versions. After the war, aluminum production resumed.

British Pattern 37 Mess Tin. This example is a mismatched set, the larger tin manufactured in 1941, the smaller in 1942. Both are constructed of tinned steel. The top photograph shows the tins with handles folded and stowed for transport.
Comparison of WWII tinned steel P37 (left, 1941/1942), with an aluminum post-WWII (right, 1952).

In the post-WWII era the Pattern 37 was copied, often with modifications, by several nations.
The two tins of a Pattern 37 type mess tin nested together for transport.

Australia manufactured a highly modified version based of the UK Pattern 37 design. It had approximately the same width and length, but was shallower (~1.5 inches vs. ~2.5 inches) and had two handles that folded to the sides:


The Modello 1896 mess tin was the last in a series of mess tins that began with the Mod.1872. All were similar "D" shape designs of tinned steel. 
Italian Mod. 1896
 The Modello 1930 was a departure from earlier designs in that it was constructed of aluminum. There were two versions: a large version, primarily intended to be used by Alpini (Alpine troops), and a smaller version for regular units. Including the lid, the large version was 13.8 cm high x 19.5 cm wide, the small version 12.8 cm high x 16.0 cm wide.

Mod.1930 (large)
Mod.1930 (large)
 A post-WWII model has an interesting design consisting of a body and two lids. Each lid has a wire handle and a stud on the opposite side, with the handles and studs on reversed sides for the two pieces. This allows the two lids to be placed over the top and bottom of the mess tin body and the wire handle to be looped over the studs on the other lid. The dimensions are the same as the small Mod.1930.

Italian Post-WWII Mess Tin
Italian Post-WWII Mess Tin

Comparison of Italian post-WWII mess kit (left) and Modello 30, large version. 

Japanese soldiers in the field were for the most part responsible for the preparation individual rations while in the field, resulting in their mess tin nomenclature of han-gou ("rice cooker"). The Type 38 (1905) mess tin was apparently derived from Western models. Although kidney-shaped as in the Kochgeschirr, it was an austere design: no handle on the lid, only one strap loop on the front, and stud-type handle lugs that closely resembled the Swiss design, although it did have an insert as in the British D-shaped mess tin.

Reproduction Japanese Type 38.

Type 38 lid and insert.
The Japanese were unique in issuing their officers a completely different type of mess tin. It was rectangular, with a lid and insert.
Earlier pattern Japanese officer's mess tin.

Imperial Japanese Army officer's mess tins. The later pattern on the left is longer, narrower and lacks the bail of the earlier pattern on the right.
The modern Korean mess tin is a close copy of the Japanese Type 38, with the exception of the gold-colored interior.

The Dutch Model 15 mess tin was in use at the start of WWII. It was a rather simple conventional design of tinned steel. 

Dutch Mess Tin Model 1915 (etensblik M.15).
Nederlandse eetketel model 1915 (etensblik M.15).


Post-WWII, the Dutch manufactured a close copy of the British Pattern 37 mess tin of a corrosion resistant steel alloy:

Soviet Union
Prior to the adoption of the more familiar M36 previously discussed, the Soviet Union produced a simple bucket-type mess tin, the M24. It had a rather large capacity of 2 liters and was constructed of tinned steel. The M24 continued to be manufactured into the 1950s. A shorter version, the M27, was manufactured for the Soviet Navy. It was made of aluminum, with a steel wire bail.  
Soviet M24 Mess Tin, post-WWII manufacture.

As we saw in an earlier post, Sweden designed some rather handsome mess tins in copper. In 1895 they were replaced by a less expensive aluminum mess tin, the m/1895. A tinned steel version was produced during WWI. 
Swedish m/1895.
The lid handle had a slot which fit over the strap loop, and had two folding rings into which a stick or a bayonet could be inserted to extend the handle's length when using the lid as a frying pan.

The m/1895 was replaced by the stainless steel Kokkärl m/40. It was shorter than the m/1895 and the shape changed from "kidney" to oval.  Due to costs an aluminum version, the m/44, entered production in 1944. In my sometimes-not-so-humble opinion, the Kokkärl m/40 is the Mercedes Benz of mess tins. Not only is it nearly indestructible, it was issued with a well-designed set of accessories: windscreen, alcohol stove, fuel bottle, cup, eating utensils, etc.
Kokkärl m/40
Stainless steel Kokkärl m/1940 (left) and aluminum m/1944 (right).
The two versions may be easily identified by the ridges near the top of the body: the stainless steel version has one ridge, the aluminum has two.
Kokkärl m/1940 with windscreen, alcohol stove and fuel bottle.
United States
The US Army approved adoption of the first standard mess kit in 1874. Offically dubbed the "meat can", it was essentially a frying pan with a folding handle and a lid that doubled as a plate. It eventually evolved into the M1910 Meat Can. The M1910 was slightly larger than the 1874 version, with a shallower lid, and was made of aluminum with a galvanized iron handle.

M1910 Meat Can with M1910 Utensils
 In 1918 the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) recommended a deeper top plate on the Meat Can. The M1918 was similar to the M1910 except that the lid was 1/2 inch deeper and with a redesigned handle to accomodate the lid. In addition to US-made aluminum M1918's, approximately 500,000 were produced in France in 1918 for US forces. The French M1918s are generally made of tinned steel, and were stamped with "FRANCE" under "1918" (year of manufacture) on the handle.

Comparison of M1910 (left) and M1918 (right) Meat Cans.
The M1918 pictured here is of US-manufacture, aluminum. 
In 1932 the US Army's meat can underwent a change in the design of the lid, which was deepened and divided into two compartments. When closed, the handle fit into the groove between the compartments. When opened, the ring in the lid was passed through the handle, and the lid set atop the opened handle. This allowed the mess kit to be used as a three-compartment tray for serving meals, and which could be held in one hand. The M1932 had a handle similar to that of earlier models. As large surpluses of M1910 and M1918 meat cans were still available, the M1932 was not manufactured in any quantity until the US entry into WWII. M1932 meat cans can be easily identified by the cast iron handle with a round hole and compartmented lid.

(left to right) M1910, M1918, M1932 Meat Cans
With the onset of WWII, the M1932 meat can was redesigned to simplify production and lighten the weight. The major design change in the M1942 meat can was in the handle, which was now made from stamped steel. The body and lid of M1942 meat cans could be tinned steel, corrosive resistant steel (CRS), or from late 1942 onwards, in aluminum.
M1942 Meat Can (year of manufacture 1944)
M1942 Meat Can
In 1955 the entire meat pan, including the handle, was manufactured in CRS and was re-designated as "Pan, Mess, CRS". During the Vietnam War, meat pans began to be manufactured in stainless steel.
Comparison of M1942 Meat Cans (left to right): 1942 manufacture, tinned steel;
1944 manufacture, aluminum; 1966 manufacture, stainless steel.   

Evolution of the US Meat Can (left to right): M1910, M1932, M1942

Well, there you have it. Three posts, 24 countries and 100 years, but we've barely scratched the surface on the subject of 20th century mess tins. In a later post we'll look at some of the accessories that accompany the mess tin, or meat can, and together make up the set of equipment known as the mess kit.


All photographs not cited are mess tins from my personal collection.


  1. When I was in the National Guard in the 1980s, our unit still had one of the M1918 mess kits still in the inventory. Of course, one AT it disappeared, some soldier probably noting that it was different and that it had a WWI manufacture date.

  2. I love it how most of the world's mess kits look alike, but we Yanks have a kind all our own. Also, I'm struck how the Japanese officer's tin is essentially a bento box.

  3. I like this post and I hope you have enough material to make a post about the French squad camp equipment (for cooking), which seemed to be unique to the French.

    1. Thanks, I'm glad that you liked it. Not only do I have the materiaI (I have been working on the translation of multiple sources), I also have the actual equipment. Soon I hope to complete my post on "Poilu Cuisine".

  4. Hi Peter

    Love your blog. I caught a two typos "mes" under China and "wolrd" under France. (if only I could learn to see my own typos!)


  5. It seems like the big thing missing from the US kit was a means to boil water, though I assume the canteen cup was considered a part of the "mess kit system" and addressed that issue from 1910 on.

    Love the blog, by the way -- first time replying but have read everything since seeing a link to the mess tin baking entry on another website last year.

    1. Hi James,
      You're correct about the canteen cup being the primary utensil for boiling water, although its capacity (24 fluid ounces/approx. 700 ml) is less than half of most kochgeschirr types. But by WWII the US mess kit had evolved to the point to where it was highly efficient for mass feeding and cleaning & santitation, but hardly useful for cooking beyond heating canned rations or brewing a cup of instant coffee or cocoa.
      Thanks for stopping by and visiting,

  6. Found your blog in my search for something about the responsibility for feeding the troops. I suspect that part of officers' early training is being put in charge of food supply and delivery, in part because of something I read in The Lamp, the post publication at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I remember my late husband, more of a history buff than I, talking about Revolutionary and Civil War officers being responsible each day for being certain that all the troops had been fed, and that the expectation was that the commanding officer did not eat he was certain that every soldier under his command had been fed.

    1. I think it was the same with the British military.

    2. Hi Peg,
      It's just basic good leadership. Early on in my military career we were taught that priority no.1 was the mission, no. 2 was the men, and your own personal welfare came somewhere afterwards.
      Thanks for stopping in!
      Kind regards,

  7. Greetings from Canada.

    Just dropping a comment to let you know that you have done an excellent job with this blog. I particularly enjoy the posts pertaining to national cuisine, but I wonder if you will be covering any periods outside of World War I and World War II.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for stopping in. An interesting query, I haven't had many requests for that. Send me an email at peter.a.sauer@gmail.com and let me know what you'd be interested in seeing. Right now I'm a bit behind on posting. I have a number of posts written, but haven't had time to test the recipes. Nonetheless, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

    2. Judging from what I haven't seen, army manuals that covered cooking in the field were rather late in appearing, probably not until after our Civil War. Apparently in the 18th century and on into the 19th century, rations and food preparation were at a very low level, unit wise, and arrangements were quite basic. But that seems to have been true of the military generally for many things during that period. Regular standing armies do not have a history much beyond the 18th century and purpose built barracks only appear in the mid-1700s. Some are still in use, too.

    3. You're correct about US Army cooking manuals. The first edition of the US Army's first cooking manual, "The Manual for Army Coooks", wasn't published until 1879. There was an earlier manual published in 1862 by the Army of the Potomac, but it wasn't an officlal US Army manual and didn't get the same distribution. The 1879 manual was part of the solution to the high rates of disease and infection, traced to under-nourishment in the US Army during the Civil War. Until he early 20th century, cooking in the US Army (and many others) was done on a rotating basis, much like guard duty or work details. Rations were distributed and it was up to the unit to get them cooked, for better or worse, mostly towards the "worse" end of the scale. The British army began improving things with the Soyer stove in the mid-19th century; the US Army's 1879 manual was a near-verbatim copy of a British manual. Other armies, notably Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary, followed suit with horse-drawn rolling field kitchens in the late-1800s. The French army persisted with cooking at small-unit level until the realities of modern warfare in WWI showed how impractical it was. But at least the individual French soldiers were instructed on-the-job by trained army cooks while in garrison.

  8. Peter,
    I love your mess tin research, well done. I am especially found of the M1912 Austro-Hungarian enameled steel kit. What a find!

  9. This is a great blog I hope you can keep it going. I've shared it with all my war reenactor buddies

  10. Fascinating read. The mess tins the Aussies used seem near identical to those adopted by the South Africans.

  11. Great post, per usual. It's fascinating to watch the progression of tins and different country's versions of them. It would be interesting to see what else soldiers used their kits for or the individual ration heating methods (esbit, trangia, etc.) used in the field. Keep up the great work.

  12. Wonderful! You have amassed a great deal of different mess tins! As a Dane, the reissued Danish pre-wwii mes tin, is a treat! And I must agree with you, the Swedish M/40 is the Mercedes Benz of all mess tins. It is simply the best mess tin I have ever used.
    I can tell you that I was personally issued with the Danish copy of the British patt. '37 mess tin a couple of years ago, when I served in the Danish armed forces. That particular design is still going strong, more than 50 years after its introduction.

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