A World Without Chocolate

Unlike the Italians (and the British, and the French and the Swiss, and most of the rest of Europe), American chocolate fiends had it relatively easy during World War II. Though chocolate was technically rationed, Americans never experienced the kinds of shortages that occurred in much of the rest of the world. This makes sense when you think about it, since chocolate-growing regions in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean were quite convenient to us, regardless of what was happening in Europe and the Pacific. Europeans by contrast were cut off from that supply (as well as that coming up from Africa) by Hitler’s famous “wolf packs”, gangs of U-boats stuffed to the gunnels with torpedoes, ready to sink anything in sight.

What cocoa did arrive came in dribs and drabs via the American merchant marines. Talk about a tough job, those guys were some of the great unsung heroes of World War II. Just like their name implies, they were “merchant” or commercial sailors, civilian volunteers who manned troop and supply ships as they ran the North Atlantic gauntlet from America to Britain. There was no more dangerous job in World War II. Most of the ships in the merchant fleet were unarmed, which meant U-boats could, and did, pick them off by the hundreds. Given that it’s no surprise that the merchant marines had the highest casualty rate of any service in World War II. Later into the war, advances in radar, sonar and weaponry turned the tables against the wolf packs, at which point the most dangerous job of the war became that of a U-boat operator.

But I digress. What most people forget about rationing on the continent was that it didn’t end with V-E Day. By the time the war ended, so much of Europe’s industrial infrastructure had been either destroyed or turned to war-making purposes, it took the better part of a decade to get things back to normal. Britain’s rationing system, for example, was begun in 1939 and didn’t end until 1953, fourteen years later, which is a darn long time to go without a chocolate bar.

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