Home > Rations > FR13. ORP 2012 ~ UK 24-hour Operational Ration Pack

FR13. ORP 2012 ~ UK 24-hour Operational Ration Pack

British Army troops on pre-deployment training around the time this ORP was issued [© Bob Morrison]

In this feature we look back at the UK 24-hour Operational Ration Pack issued to troops training for, and deployed to, Afghanistan in 2012, writes Bob Morrison.

The bulk of this article was first penned in the autumn of 2012 for publication in the November 2012 issue of the now defunct COMBAT & SURVIVAL Magazine. This reworked article continues a sequence of features showing the evolution of mainstream UK rations packs from the start of combat operations in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, through to the present day 24-Hour and Individual Meal versions.

The 2012 version of the UK 24-hr ORP carried Burn Pit Procedure and Burns First Aid info on the top [©BM]

UK Operational Ration Packs issued to troops on the frontline in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK were tweaked to cater for the logistic supply problems associated with getting fresh water to troops serving in remote and dangerous patrol bases in a desert environment. As those who are following this series chronologically will have realised, when British troops first deployed operationally to Bagram in November 2001 the ration packs of the day were geared primarily to training and operating in the UK and Germany but by 2012 the standard 24-hour pack had evolved quite considerably based on operational needs of the time.

This article actually came about in response to a chat with some squaddies while I was playing the old Hurry Up & Wait game on Salisbury Plain and a couple asked me (a very ancient hack in their eyes) how much better kit really was these days in comparison to what was on issue when I first started seriously snapping and scribbling about the British Army and Royal Marines over three decades ago. My involvement with UK Armed Forces actually goes back to the late seventies, as in a previous life I did some still probably classified design work on the NBC filtration systems for what would become Challenger and Warrior, so I have seen vast leaps forward in kit since I first became interested in the subject, but interestingly for most of the time I have been a snapping scribe on military kit issues the one area where the Brits have been envied by most nations is the quality and variety of their field rations.

A range card was once again printed on the base and nutritional information was printed on one end [©BM]

My personal experience of eating the same scoff, or scran, as the troops goes back to covering exercises on Dartmoor, mostly with Royal Marines and Royal Artillery, and in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine, during the 1980s and then covering the deployment of 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades and the Commando Helicopter Operations Support Cell as part of 1 UK Armoured Division to the Persian Gulf at the end of 1990 and start of 1991, before progressing to the Balkans. Even way back then the rations packs issued to the troops were generally reckoned to be streets ahead of most of our allies and in The Sandpit first time around some US Forces, who at the time were issued with state-of-the-art MREs (soon to be nicknamed Meals Rejected by Ethiopians), would barter almost anything except their rifle for a Limey ration pack.

Looking back into 20th Century rations history, the United States issued canned C-rations to their troops in World War II and these were also issued to many Allied troops, including British and Commonwealth Forces, for the European Campaign. The Americans started to replace the C-ration with the similar canned MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual) in the late fifties, though stocks of the earlier rations were still being issued well into the Vietnam War period, and this style would remain on issue through until the eighties, when the MRE was introduced, even though even in WWII it had been recognised that canned rations were both bulky and rather impractical for field use.

US brown bag MREs dating from 1987 (on top) and 1992 [©BM]

Throughout the seventies the Americans experimented with the retort pouch, a simple aluminium (later aluminium and plastic laminated) sealed bag design, which not only allowed the food to be cooked at lower pressures and more quickly reheated than canned produce, but also reduced weight and bulk. The retort pouch was first issued as a component of the US MRE at the start of the eighties and by the end of that decade Britain had also incorporated this boil-in-the-bag concept to its 24-hour General Service ration packs, just in time for Gulf War One. [Note: I intend looking at US MRE packs once I finish this mini-series on UK rations]

By the end of the nineties the British GS ration pack, and its higher calorific value Arctic ration pack, went through a revamp and the 24-Hour Ration GP (General Purpose) was introduced to replace the former. By this stage the only cans still on issue were small ones containing spreading pate and all main dishes were packaged in retort pouches.

The carton was filled literally to the brim with foodstuffs and sundries – latter in resealable bag on the top [©BM]

The one thing which British 24-hour rations have long been noted for, and to some extent coveted for, is their variety of choice; though in the past a 10-man carton contained ten identical menus and if a section was unlucky enough to be issued several cartons of the same menu things could get very boring. In 2012 each 10-man carton now contained ten different menus and there were two variations of 10-man carton, so in theory if everybody in the unit played fair and nobody pulled rank it is possible to go nearly three weeks without main dish repetition.

The 2012 ORP I have focussed on here is Menu 13 from pack B, primarily because I fancied trying the Chicken Massaman Potato main meal as it was not a dish I was familiar with. Some older soldiers and long-serving Army Reserves personnel brought up on a rations diet of ‘babies heads’ (stew and dumplings) and treacle pudding, may find the more cosmopolitan menu choice of the second decade of the third millennium to be a little bit too adventurous, but as these days even cheap supermarket microwave meals have a truly international feel the taste buds of younger soldiers are much more attuned to today’s offerings.

Clockwise from top left: contents less sundries pack; sundries pack contents; fruit bars for snacking; fruit pocket and sports drink powder [©BM]

The British 24 HR OPERATIONAL RATION PACK or 24HR ORP, as that is its official designation, offers three main meals plus snacks and drinks to keep a fighting soldier fuelled and sustained for a day in combat conditions, with only water to reconstitute the drinks and a field cooker being required in addition to the approximately 250x195x110mm carton of goodies. On top of the carton there were printed Burn Pit Procedures In Forward Operating Areas and Burns First Aid notes, plus the warning that: “Around 10% of all casualties during a recent Op HERRICK tour were as a result of burn pit injuries”. Nutritional data was printed on one end of the carton and the old familiar Range Card was once again printed on the base.

The Nutritional Data informed us: “This 24Hr ORP has been carefully designed to ensure it is well balanced and will meet all of your nutritional requirements. The ration contains a minimum of 4000 kcals. To maintain peak performance, you should consume all of the contents over a 24 hour period. The contents of the ration contain high levels of carbohydrates that are designed to provide a constant release of energy to keep you at the peak of performance.”

Four retort pouches contained, clockwise, Soup, Tuna, Fruit Cocktail and Chicken Massaman Potato [©BM]

There were preparation notes printed beneath which explained how long to heat meal pouches etc. To obtain maximum nutritional benefit one should heat the meals wherever possible, and the cold beverage powders can also be drunk hot, but if necessary all edible components can be eaten cold and should still provide the 4000 calories needed by the average male soldiering under operational conditions.

Essentially each one-day ration could be broken down into Breakfast and Main Meal with supplementary snacks to take one through the day. Menu 13 offered good old Bacon & Beans in a retort pouch for breakfast, but three of the ten Box B breakfast options were cereal pouches (muesli variations) which could be eaten hot or cold. If unable to heat up the breakfast course, most menus contained at least one oat bar in the snacks provided and this could keep the soldier going until they got a chance to stop and cook.

The Menu 13 contents list (and the 10-man box contents list too) showed the soup option as being Tomato & Basil, but my box actually contained Leek & Potato. It is not unusual for the odd item to be substituted with an equivalent from time to time, but it was unusual for the main Dinner course to not be as per the list. There were five soup options and five pasta options (four variants) as Box B starters. My silver foil retort pouch of soup was produced in the UK for Vestey Foods, who were one of the partners in the Purple Foodservice Solutions consortium, which had been the primary MoD supplier since 2006 and had its five-year contract extended until September 2013.

Clockwise: Oat Digestives & Oatmeal Block, Tropical Fruit Mix, Boiled Sweets and Hot Chocolate powder sachet [©BM]

My main dish was Massaman curried chicken, a Thai dish, with potatoes and was very tasty. Although I am quite familiar with Muslim dishes, both from the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, this was actually the first time I had tried a Massaman curry so I cannot vouch for its authenticity. However as it was produced in Thailand for Danish rations supplier OrifO (who I have come across several times when sampling other nations’ rations) it is a fair bet that it is pretty close to the mark.

Other Box B main courses included Lamb, Vegetable and Chicken Curries plus Sweet & Sour Chicken but more European tastes were catered for with Goulash, Stroganoff, Chicken Tomato Pasta, Spanish Meatballs and good old Sausage Casserole. Five of these main meals were supplemented with Plain Rice where appropriate. To heat the meals it was recommended that the unopened retort pouch was placed in water brought to a rolling boil and after eight minutes the pre-cooked contents should be ready to eat.

Sundries included: 3x Beverage Powder; disinfectant wipes, sterilising tablets & soon; windproof & waterproof matches; 3x dental gum [©BM]

The desert pouch in my ration pack was Fruit Cocktail in Pineapple Juice, also produced in Thailand for OrifO, and this had a distinctly tropical bias to it with pineapple, papaya and guava being the main ingredients. Six of the deserts in Box B were either fruit or fruit cocktail, one Rice Pudding, and the other three were cakes.

Eight of the ten menus contained a Tuna retort pouch, in this case Tuna with Light Mayo, which some may have preferred as an alternative starter to soup for their main meal; especially if the weather was hot. However bear in mind that to achieve maximum nutritional benefit one would need to consume the soup at some point in the day.

Jam sachets for a quick energy boost when on the move – just bite off the top and suck out the contents [©BM]

Another snack found in each box was the Fruit Purée pouch with drinking cap, which goes towards the necessary 5-a-day fruit & veg requirement. This might look like a gimmick but it is anything but, so needed to be consumed. There were also concentrated fruit bars, mostly date based, in the rations and these too went towards the essential five portions of fruit and vegetables deemed necessary for a healthy diet. To keep the soldier regular there were oat biscuits, oat bars, and even oat blocks included, and to make these more palatable a couple jam sachets were supplied.

2x Tea, 2x Coffee, 4x Sugar and 4x Creamer [©BM]

On the drinks side, each box contained a sachet of commercial brand Isotonic Drink powder (add 500ml of water), three cold beverage powder sachets in different flavours (add 375ml of water) and a flavoured Hot Chocolate powder sachet (add 300ml of water). Menu 13 contained caramel flavoured chocolate, which tasted like melted Dairy Milk Caramel, but even though I love that particular chocolate bar I have to say that I found the drink way too sickly for my taste buds. There were also two proprietary brand teabags and coffee powder sachets, with creamer and sugar sachets too, to allow for four brews or wets a day. For other sundries check out the accompanying images.

Old school biscuits (top) and new generation fruit and oat bars for snacking [©BM]

Over the last three decades or so I have watched British standard issue Operational Ration Packs steadily evolve and expand in variety to maintain their position as one of best of the best. Unlike heavily processed early MREs they may not be designed to survive for hundreds of years through plague, pestilence and nuclear Armageddon (okay, that might be a slight exaggeration) but as hearty, quality fare with a safe shelf life of a couple of years and as an emergency resource which would no doubt be edible well beyond what MoD has to declare as their Best Before date, I reckon they have few equals.

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{ images © Bob Morrison }

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