Today in AFJ History

December 1, 2013  

1944: Smoke ’em if you…never mind

In July 1944 on Peleliu, Marine Pvt. 1st Class Douglas Lightheart (right, holding a 30-caliber machine gun), paused for a smoke. (DoD photo)

From the archive: December 2, 1944

Editor’s note: The cigarette industry saw a great boom during World War II. Cigs were distributed in troops’ rations and smoking rose on the homefront — except in December 1944, when there were shortages at home and abroad. Half a century later, one columnist calculated that War Department cigarettes may have sent more U.S. soldiers to early graves than did Axis bullets.

Cigarette Shortage

Lt. Gen. Brehon Somervell, commanding general of the Army Service Forces, 30 Nov. issued an order forbidding immediately any sales of cigarettes in commissaries. Reports from overseas to ASF Headquarters indicate that there has been considerable pilferage of cigarette supplies, probably amounting to carloads. This is in a way understandable, as supplies unloaded at beachheads must of necessity be delayed at that point, priority being given to critically needed ammunition and supplies. This, as explained by the War Department, has often caused the delay in getting cigarettes to the men in the battle lines. It also would explain cigarettes remaining for considerable time in unprotected storage.

As the House Agricultural Committee started inquiring into the shortage this week it developed that there is an 18-month supply of cigarette tobacco in the United States. A spokesman for the Senate War Investigating Committee said that a preliminary report on the shortage would probably be made within the next few days.

The War Department has stated during the past six months cigarettes supplied from depots in this country for use in the European theater were roughly equivalent to the amount which would supply one and one-half packs of cigarettes per man per day.

It has been reported that German prisoners in the European theater are still getting a plentiful supply of cigarettes, in line with the carrying out of promises extended to them in leaflets promising treatment comparable to that of American troops in the event of their surrender.