On June 6, 1944, some 150,000 American, Canadian, and British soldiers landed on the coast of Normandy in France during what was known as D-Day Invasion. In their pockets were an essential tool of survival: bars of chocolate.

Hershey’s chocolate is one of the leading chocolate brands in the market. You often see these chocolate bars and kisses just before checking out your grocery items. These delightful treats also surprisingly played a vital role during the Second World War, and here’s how:

Anything But a Boiled Potato

Army Capt. Paul Logan “demanded light field rations for paratroopers during their long field deployment. The meal needed to be indestructible, pocket-sized, heat-resistant, and highly nutritious,” as The Vintage News wrote. So in April 1937, he met with the president of Hershey’s Chocolate, William Murrie, and Sam Hinkle, their chief chemist, to discuss making these rations possible. According to Sam Hinkle, the US government wanted the chocolate bars to weigh 4 ounces, withstand high temperates, provide high energy, and “taste a little better than a boiled potato.” They wanted to make it palatable instead of tasty so that soldiers would only eat them in emergency situations and not when they are craving sweets. 

Only the Army would specifically ask for chocolate that doesn’t taste good to give to their own troops.

Doesn’t-Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chocolate

The result was called “Field Ration D.”

A bar of Field Ration D.

According to hersheyarchive.org, Field Ration D “is a highly concentrated food intended for emergency use only. One ration consists of three chocolate bars for carrying in the soldiers’ pockets. Hershey was the first to produce this ration. A similar product is supplied to the Marine Corps.” It is made from chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, vanillin, and a lesser amount of sugar. Four ounces of this bar have 600 calories.

Captain Logan was pleased with the final product. As for the soldiers, some of them would rather eat boiled potatoes. I mean, why would they prefer a bitter, brick-hard, jaw-breaking food? The soldiers even called it “Hitler’s secret weapon” jokingly, as it would cause constipation due to its high cocoa content. A complaint made about MREs even today.  Perhaps the greatest feat of chemistry in the D-Rat as it was called, was that it didn’t melt into goo in the heat like just about any other chocolate bar would.

Tropical Bars

Later on, in 1943, they tweaked the formula and added thiamine hydrochloride as a source of Vitamin B1 to combat beriberi, a disease that’s usually caught in tropical countries. The improved taste boosted the troops’ energy and morale without suffering from its painfully bitter taste or constipation. This version is known as the Tropical bar, and 380 million of these were sent to the troops.

Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar.

In Europe, the D Rat was a form of currency that along with cigarettes could buy you almost anything from a population that had not seen chocolate in years in many countries. A D Ration would get you a good bottle of wine or champagne, or a night’s stay in a hotel in some places.  A second bar could get you a girlfriend for the night as well.

Three Billion chocolate bars made in a couple of years made for quite a significant contribution to the war effort. Hershey’s Chocolate Corporation. In August 1942 Hershey’s was awarded the prestigious “E” Production Award. The award came with a flag to fly above the chocolate plant. A lapel pin was also given to each employee. Hersheyarchives.org wrote, Major General Gregory noted the company’s achievements stating, ‘The men and women of Hershey Chocolate Corporation have every reason to be proud of their great work in backing up our soldiers on the fighting fronts.’”

There is no doubt that chocolate bars for victory helped our troops survive the harshest of situations in the war zone and the legacy of the Emergency Ration continues even now.  MRE’s all contain a high-energy bar with hundreds of calories packed in a few ounces.