*** rationing during World War II

World War II Rationing

World War II food rationing
Figure 1.--Even America introduced food rationing during World War II. Rationing was light buy Europen standards, but many products like bread, meat and sugar were rationed. It was not necessary to ration eggs and dairy products. Here a housewife needs to turn in ration cupons when she makes her purchases. Note that super market self service was not yet common. The lady has to hand over tthe ration book and the clerk tears out the stamps. Stamps torn out of the ration books had no value. Source: National Archives 171-G-3H-1.

World War II required such a gargantian national effort on the part of the principal combatents that it was necessary that everybody did what was in their power to support the war effort. The most prominent way most countries accomplished this was by rationing. Rationing was a method used by the government to ensure that everybody was able to receive equal amounts of raw materials. This way, enough material was used for the war effort, but the public could still have access to these items. To circumvent rationing and price controls, World War II black marketeers traded in clothing and liquor in Britain and meat, sugar, and gasoline in the United States. The Germans sought to limit the need for rationing in Germany iyself by shipping large quantities of seized food in the occupied countries back to the Reich. This created food shortages and even starvation in the occupied countries. It was the children there that were mostvaffected. The German occupation authorities used the rationing system as a means of controlling the civilian populations.


World War II has a tremendous affect on what boys wore and on fashions. Many countries imposed rationing during the War. In some countries, even the ration was not obtainable. The War affected the availability of clothes even in countries that did not impose clothes rationing. The impact of rationing varied greatly from country to country. It had the least impact on America which was relatively untouched by the War. It had the greatest impact in the countries occupied by the Germans such as Poland


Clothing rationing and production policies varies greatly from country to country. The differences occurred because counties entered the war at different times and their success in the War affected rationing regulations. Some countries like America producted much of the material for clothing domestically while other countries such as England imported material. Some countries like Poland actually disappeared and people had trouble getting clothes depending on the policies of the occupping authorities. Other countries such as Germany in the early phases of the War tried to limit rationing so as to keep up civilian morale. The whole process was easiest in the Soviet Union as the Government owned all clothing mills and could easily implement production policies. Available information on individual countries is as follow.


America experienced rationing for the first time in World War II. Some products that were rationed during World War II were sugar, meat, coffee, typewriters, fuel oil, gasoline, rubber, and automobiles. Food rationing probably affected most Americans the most. Each American was issued a book of ration cupons each month. Rationed goods were assigned a price and point value. Families were not restricted to certain quantities of rationed goods. But once their cupons were used up, they could not buy rationed goods until the next month. Families were incouraged to plant victory gardens. These gardens supplied a mjor part of the vegetable supply during the War. Rubber and gas were the most vital product rationed. Limited fuel supplies during the war affected America in many ways. Gas rationing was done differently than food rationing. Car owners had to register and were given windshield sticker based on how the car or other vehicle was used. Pleasure driving was prohibited. We have less information about clothing at this time. I do not believe that clothes were actually rationed, but the availability of civilian clothing was very much affected. Certain fabrics like silk or synthetic fibers were not available for civilian use. Shoes were rationed in America. Stamp 17 in War Ration Book 1 was good for one pair of shoes until June 15. (Probably about every 3-4 months.) Families could pool the coupons of all members living in the same household. Even tennis shoes which had become popular in America were hard to get because that had rubber soles.


The British Government at the outbreak of World War II initiated a strict rationing program (1939) which got stricter as theWar progressed. All imports would be in short supply, as were much of home grown and manufactered commodities. Food and clothing were strictly rationed in Bitain throughout World War II. The British beginning early in the War, because of necessity, reduced domestic consumption far below comparable levels in Germany. In fact consumption levels in Germany remained at high levels until the War began to go against the Germans (1942). German food consumption was maintained because they were shipping food from the conquered territories back to the Reich--despite often disateous consequnces for the people in thise cointries. Even then, British consumption levels were lower than those in German until the disastrous last year of the War. The British had two problems. First the War bankrupted the country. Only American Lend Lease permitted the country to continue the War. Second. shipping was limited and priority had to be given to vital war material. Consumer products like food. Imported products like sugar and coffee had to be strictly rationed. Larger numbers of British children spent several years of their childhood without chocolate, oranges, and bananas. The shipping problem was worsened by the German U-boat offensive in the North Atlantic. The British did not, however, go hungary. Sweets, meat, and fats were in short supply, but there were plenty of starchy foods, bread, potatos, macaroni (pasta), and vegetables so caloric intake was maintained. Rationing was most severe in Britain England, especially after the fall of France giving the U-bpats access to Atlantic ports (June 1940). During the dark days of the battle with the U-boats in the North Atlantic, British officials were not sure that Britain could maintain food supplies, but The Royal Naby anided by the Canadians kept the sealanes pone until America enntered the war. And thriughoy the war, the younger children got their milk. It is the food rationing that is most remembered today, but clothes were also rationed. Rationing in Britain did not end with the War in 1945. It is commonly thought that reason rationing continued was that Britain was so weakened by the War. This was certainly a factor, but it is not the only reason that rationing had to be continued for several years after the War. This is obvious because rationing continued in Britain longer than Germany and Japan which had pulverized by the strategic bombing campaign. The other major factor was that the British people elected a Labour Government in the 1945 General election following VE Day. The result was that large segments of the economy were nationalized and thus became ineffucent and unproductive.


We have few details on rationing in France which was occupied by the Germans from June 1940 through August 1944. Actually the subject uis somewhat complicated as there were several different rationinf systems. The French had a rationing system in the early period of the war (September 1939-June 1940), althogh I am not sure just when it was introduced. After surendering to the Germans (June 1940), France was dived into an unoccupied (Vichy) and occupied zones. The rationig system may have varied in these two zones. Alasace Loraine were formally annexed into the Reich (June 1941). Thus they presumably came under the German rationing system rather than the occupied French system. With the Allied landings in North Africa (October 1942), the Germans occupied Vichy. I am not sure if this affected the rationing system. The Germans used the rationing system as a way to contol the local population. It made it easier to round up Jews and individuals considered hostile to the Germans. These people either had to register or go into hiding without access of their own to food. It also provided lists of people who could be drafted for war work, including work in Germany. French contributors to HBC mention how difficult to obtain clothes during the War or because their parents could not afford clothes after the War because of the war distruction and economic location. After liberation (June-August 1944), the French Priovisional Government issued a series of colorful rationing cupons. The type of product (bread, grease, sugar, ect.) was printed on the cupons. We ghave no specific details on clothes rationing at this time.


The NAZIs wee so successful in the early years of the War that domestic rationing at first was not introduced. Hitler was at first convinced that it would affect public support of the War if a austere rationing program was to be introduced. NAZI popularity was in fact partially due to the fact that Germany under the NAZIs was relatively prosperous. This was in part due to extensive deficit spending for military production. If Hitler had not launched the War in 1939, the impact of the large and growing NAZI budget and trade eficits would have begun to affect the German economy. Once the War began, however, Hitler wanted to main domestic consumption. He felt that food and other shortages had been a major factor in destroying civilian morale during World War I which of course led to overthrow of the Kaiser and other German monarchies at the end of the War. This was a fact a part of the reason that the Germans were so brutal in occupied countries, seizing food and shipping it back to Germany. I am not sure just when rationing was first introduced. Of course when the War began to go against the Germans in Russia and the Allied bombing effort began to affect domestic production, this changed and a very severe rationing program had to be introduced. The system gave extra rations for men involved in heavy industry. Lower rations were accorded to Jews and Poles in the areas annexed to Germany, but apparently not to the Rhineland Poles.


HBC has few details at this time, but has noted reports that Itlalian authorities after Italy entered World War II issued regulations concerning boys' clothing. (Italy entered World War II in May 1940 after France had been esentially smashed by Germany, but before the armistace was signed. President Roosevelt described Musolini's actions. "The hand that held the dagger has plunged it into the back of its neigbor. " Even though France was reeling, Itlalian troops fared so poorly that Musolini had to plead to Hitler for German assistance.) I'm not sure just when clothes ratining and other war-time clothing measures were implemented. Boys 15 and under were to wear short pants. I'm not sure at this time how this was imlemented. It may have been a matter of requiring manufacturers to only produce short pants for boys.

(The) Netherlands

During the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-44/45) clothes and shoes were rationed. Clothing and more important food rations were part of the German control system. You needed coupons for purchasing these items. Yet to get coupons you had to be registered. This is one of the ways the German knew where the Jews were when the roundups began. It also meant that individuals could be called up for labor service in Germany. The supply of rationed goods was limited, especially after the War turned aginst the Germans. A Dutch reader reports, "When there is a severe shortage one doesn't care about style. You take what ever is available. In the beginning of the war we still had decent clothes, at the end most of us were wearing rags. At the end style was not important anymore as long as you had something to cover your skinny body with. In March 1945 I had no shoes anymore. My father had made some 'sandals' out of a rubber car tire for me. Many women started to make clothes themselves, also for their children. My grandmother knitted woollen sweaters for us until she could no longer get wool. I was fortunate to own two pairs of corduroy shorts that lasted nearly the entire war. As I mentioned before, my firts long trousers I got from a Canadian soldier who had them shipped to me from Canada." [Cotati]

New Zealand

New Zealand followed Britain into the War with Germany (1939). The first attempts to stabilize the economy was modest, but officials soon found that a comprehensive approsach was needed. Paricipants at the Economic Stabilisation Conference concluded that the first objective was to stabilise �prices, wages and costs' (October 1940). The Government, however, was slow to act. The Goverment finally implemented a comprehensive rationing system (August 1941). The prices of 38 essential items were controlled (stabilised) (September 1, 1941). This included 17 foodstuffs, 16 New Zealand made clothing and footwear items, streetcar fares, electricity usage, gas, coal, and coke. The price control system involved standard price control methods, including effiorts to reduce costs and compression of margins. The Goverment also considered sunsidies as needed. At the time prices of many food stuffs were still at pre-War levels because of Government price controls. The Government had offered subsidies for sugar and wheat.


Poland was the first country to stand up to Hitler and the NAZIs, although Czecheslovakia would have if England and France had supported them. Poland felt the full impact of the NAZI blitzkrieg in September 1939. For racial and historical reasons, the NAZI occupation policies were especially brutal in Poland, although policies varied in the different administrative areas. Some of Poland was incorporated into the Reich. Some Poles in this area were expelled to the Goverment General to make room for German "colonists". The NAZI goal was to "Germanize" these areas. Many Poles, however, remained in these areas because of the logistics of population transfers. Some were simply reclassified as Germans, although NAZI officials differed sharply on this expedient. The NAZI rations allocated for those classified as Poles were considerably lower than those for Germans. There were different cards depending on a sex and age (men, women, boys and girls). Special cards were issued for babies under 1 year old. The German policies in the Government General were esentially to convert Poles into slave laborers. The rationing system instituted provided only minimal allouances for food, clothing, and other essentials. Regulations were different in the areas of Poland occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939, but the NAZIs also seized this area when they invaded in June 1941. The Soviets liberated Poland in 1944, but shifted the biorders westward. The war time destruction was massive. Warsaw was destroyed. About 25 percent of the population perished. Many children were in rags by the end of the War. Rationing for clothing in Poland continued in Poland after the War until 1947 and even longer for shoes.

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union had a multi-teered rarioning system. The Party elite and important offuicials were largely unaffected. They continued to have access to well-stocked special stores. American Lend-Lease supplies intebded for the Red Army found there way into these stores. The highest rations were assigned to frontline troops. The ration was 2,954 callories, increased to 3,450 for combat duty. This was well short of what was needed, especially during the winter. (British cold weather tations were 5,300 calories.) For the first year or year and a half after the German invasion, Red Army soldiers rarely got there full rations. Red Army field kitches were primitive, but few front-line troops for some times received hot meals from these kitchens. typical Red Army rations were poorage for bakfast, souo fior linch, and breadand pickes for dinner. [Pennington] Dried fish and potatoes sometimes were available. And supply deliveries varied over time created conditions of both oversupply and at times famine. Soldiers learned to forage. Meat in particular was in short supply. Which is why AmericannLend-Lase spam was such aa godsend. Civilians were worse off than the soldiers. Ration cards werte issued, but the stated quantities were aspirations not a guarantee--civiliansrarely git heir full ration allotments. [Pennington]. The only guaranteed food was bread. It was black bread made from various grains. Most Soviets got much of their caloric intake from the brrad ration. The quantity varied depending on one's catehory. The highest ration went to industrial workers. Workers in heavy industry got a bread ration four to five times higher than those in the lowest-priority category. Young children received extra rations. inclusing milk when vailable. Once they reached 12 years of age, however, they were reclassified as 'dependents', the lowest catregory. Teenagers thus sought jobs in factories to qualify for larger rations and the factory canteen. [Collingham, p. 328-29.] The number of Soviet citizens who starved to death is unknown, actually incalcuable. Poorly nourished people are suspectable to dusease and while the actual cause of death was disease, the underlying cause was starvation. The experince of the Dutch Hunger Winter is wll studies. The Soviet people experinced this for 4 years with only dirts somewhat bive the starving Dutch. At least Soviet children were somewhat fed. The Red Army succededed in liberating large areas of the Soviet Union--primarily the Ukraune (1943). While the Ukraine was the agricultural bread basket of the Soviet Union, there was no immediare nenefit. The Germans destroyed whatever they could. And the immediate result was more mouths to feed rather than increased harvests. [Pennington] Overall, the Sovierts survived on far less food than anyoyher combatant nation with the exception of Japan. [Pennington] Obtaining clothes in Russia was not easy even before the War. During and after the War, obtaining clothes of any kind must have been very difficult. The whole process was easiest in the Soviet Union as the Government owned all clothing mills and could easily implement production policies.


Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Cotati, Rudi. E-mail message, July 24, 2002.

Pennington, Reina. "Surviving Total War at Home," World War II Symposium (January 18, 2014).


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