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Old 09-10-2015, 03:23 PM   #14
Nick Komiya
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1913 Enough aluminum canteens to go around

I thought readers would find it easier to follow the development when I stayed on the same track for a while, but before the harness got changed to webbing, production of the aluminum canteens finally caught up with the demand and started to create even a surplus. On 13th March, 1913 the miserly 1898 restrictions on the peacetime use of the canteens and mess kits over fire, etc were lifted. This was, because now they had enough canteens and mess kits in aluminum, and also aluminum was now much cheaper than it was back then (about one third of what it used to cost). In addition to that, even in peacetime, soldiers needed to be taught how to cook rice in the mess kits and you couldn’t teach this without putting mess tins over fire!


1915 The aluminum glut

If 1913 was the equilibrium between demand and supply, by 1915 they had gone to the other extreme of overproduction. It is almost comical to read an army memo dated 19th February 1915, which stated they had 500 tons of aluminum base metal, and 300 thousand pieces each of surplus canteens and mess kits in aluminum to sell to any one or any country who wanted to buy them. Japan fought on the side of England and the US in WW1 that was still raging on in Europe, but the Japanese Army had already beaten the Germans in the Fortress in Qingdao, China in November of 1914 and within the coming month the Japanese Navy was also about to score a monumental victory over the Germans by sinking the Dresden. Henceforth the Japanese navy was assigned to the protection of coastal wars off America, which virtually meant a peacetime state had returned. So the letter said Japan should take the opportunity of the continuing war in Europe to sell these items off, as keeping them in stock only meant exposure to oxidization.


Phasing out of the Type 98 Canteen

The canteen would continue to serve the army well past the launch of the new canteen model in 1930 and was retired after 40 years in service just before WW2. A memo dated 27th March 1939 talks about 73000 of these old canteens in inventory at the Kwantung Army to be returned and exchanged with the new model canteens.


The Last Shogun and His Aluminium Mess Kit

At this point let me digress to tell you a funny, but true story. It had more to do with the mess kit, but it does illustrate how the Japanese approached aluminium, a new material not yet familiar to them. In May of 1903 the former Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa (The last Shogun, who had to step down and return the authority to rule Japan to the Emperor, thus ending the reign of the Samurai) made a factory tour of the Osaka Arsenal, which was busy producing the aluminium canteens and mess kits. The new mess kit in aluminium caught his eye and he asked whether he could have one as a souvenir of his visit. He was also shown how to cook rice with the mess kit, and when he tried it at home he thought the rice tasted even better than what his kitchen provided. However, later he would ask the chief of the arsenal as an afterthought whether cooking rice in this aluminium mess kit could have an adverse effect on health. The arsenal had to admit it was still early days for this new innovation for the Army, so they did not have enough track record to guarantee complete safety in comparison to metals like silver. So what did Yoshinobu do? He provided silver to the Osaka arsenal and they made him a silver mess kit, which the former Shogun would use to personally cook his rice.
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