There are numerous reports of Russian troops in Ukraine going without food, water, fuel, ammunition and even medical care.  We thought you might enjoy the contrast of the US Navy making floating ice cream factory on a barge for sailors in WWII

In the military, food is a big part of morale. This is especially true in the US Navy where sailors often talk to each other about the best chow they ever ate ashore and afloat. Here in the states, we take for granted just opening the fridge and pulling out a gallon of ice cream for dessert. Aboard ships, however, there is limited freezer storage in the “Reefers,” and feeding several hundred or several thousand sailors three times a day means priority is given to the staple meat, potatoes, and vegetables that are the foundation of meals in the military.  Desserts tend to be warm pies and cakes rather than ice cream so it’s a real treat to get your hands on some for the crew.  In WWII, ice cream was such a prized commodity that if a destroyer or submarine rescued a downed pilot from an aircraft carrier, he would be held ‘ransom’ for 5 gallons of ice cream from the carrier’s much larger cold storage reefers.

To say that ice cream was popular in the navy is an understatement.  When the carrier USS Lexington was left sinking at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship, some of the crew went into the reefers on the mess decks first and ate every drop of ice cream she had before going over the side.

The wonders of this cold, sweet and creamy dessert were not lost on the Then-secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal. Ice cream for the fleet was easy enough to come by back in the states where it was made, but as US Fleets ranged further and further into the Pacific it was getting much harder to get it out to the ships since it had to be shipped frozen and refrigerated holds for cargo ships were very expensive to make. So in 1945, he put an effort to make sure that the US Navy forces would not be without unlimited free ice cream, by building floating ice cream factories.

Mint chocolate ice cream.
Mint chocolate ice cream. (Peachyeung316CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Pacific Theatre

The Pacific Theatre during World War II was a hot battle zone, literally and figuratively. The Japanese and US forces were locked in a grueling war of attrition that was consuming ships, planes, and men at a shocking rate. The unbearable weather, harsh living conditions, and diseases like Malaria and Yellow Fever made the war in the Pacific especially miserable.

The Sweet Idea

The idea of course came from the warzone, with an army hospital personnel making ice cream from scratch in small batches for their patients. They mixed the ingredients in the freezer, and when wounded soldiers tasted them, some cried,  even when they could only give each soldier about a spoonful or two due to their numbers, they found it really boosted the morale of troops recovering in the hospital. Of course, the troops would write home to say they had gotten a mouthful or two of ice cream and how wonderful it was.  This resulted in families writing to the government asking why the military could only give the boys serving overseas a mere mouthful of the stuff.  There were also stories of Air Force crews making ice cream in tubs aboard their bombers flying at freezing altitudes and mixing it by hand on their way to bomb targets. It didn’t take long for the Quartermaster Corps of the US Army to decide that they would supply the necessary ingredients and machinery to produce 80 million gallons of ice cream for these soldiers every year. And so, in 1943, 135 million pounds of dehydrated ice cream mix were shipped to military bases all over the world. By February 1945, the Quartermaster Corps announced that they would build miniature ice cream plants near the frontlines to send ice cream, “right to the foxholes.”

Article about the US Navy’s floating ice cream factory, the BRL (Barge, Refrigerated, Large) that brought Marines a small amount of comfort far from home. (u/GunnyStacker/Reddit)

The Most Neglected Morale Booster

Not wanting to be left out, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal dedicated himself to serving the dessert to the Navy, and he meant serious business. In fact, he considered it the “highest priority” and even said, “Ice cream, in my opinion, has been the most neglected of all the important morale factors.” He wasn’t wrong.

An effort began to produce the frozen dessert in huge quantities, with a vessel employed by the US Navy specifically just for that purpose. We’re not too sure how he did it, but he somehow managed to convince the government to give him $1 million for a concrete barge that they acquired from the US Army. Fitting it out with compressors and freezer compartments, the ice cream barge was able to produce a staggering 10 gallons of ice cream every seven minutes, which is equivalent to 500 gallons per watch shift, seven days a week.  She could also hold some 2,000 gallons of frozen ice cream in cold storage. The barge would be positioned at large forward supply bases like Ulithi Atol and supply ships going out to the fleet to bring them supplies.

Even today, ice cream remains a staple of navy crews but there is no more need of ice cream barges to supply ships.  Just about every sea-going vessel in the navy has a soft-serve ice cream machine on board to make ice cream daily from a stable liquid mixture that is heat-pasturized for long-term storage.  As is the practice of navy sailors to use slang to describe their gear, the ice cream machine is referred to as “the Auto-Dog,” from the manner in which it dispenses the stuff.

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