Alcohol helped in the war if it was consumed in moderation. This relates to beer, wine, rum, vodka, and, of course, cocktails on the frontlines and in the rear of the Second World War — story in archival photos

Serhii Pyvovarov, Maria Zhartovska
Yevhen Spirin
Alcohol helped in the war if it was consumed in moderation. This relates to beer, wine, rum, vodka, and, of course, cocktails on the frontlines and in the rear of the Second World War — story in archival photos

American soldiers raise a toast to victory in one of the French towns after the successful landing in Normandy, July 1944.

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Alcohol, like coffee, was a constant companion in many wars. And not only in the rear but also at the front. A portion of rum for British military sailors is a tradition that is several hundred years old. For French soldiers, the main drink was wine. Light beer was included in the rations of British and American soldiers during the Second World War. In Great Britain, pubs did not close even during the heaviest bombings, and in the United States, the war actually saved the beer industry. Alcohol in moderate doses helped relieve stress and support morale. And only the Soviet top brass and German military personnel from punitive units in concentration camps stood out for their frank drunkenness. "Babel" recalls the history of various alcoholic drinks during the Second World War, and also asked experts about the most popular wartime cocktails. Bonus: a recipe for one of the military cocktails.

United Kingdom

The British tradition of rum rations for the military, especially for sailors of the Royal Navy, dates back to around the 17th century. "We just kept drinking rum, eventually it became unthinkable to fight without it," one soldier recalled in the early 1940s.

British naval sailors receive their daily ration of rum aboard an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean, June 30, 1942.

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However, during the First World War, the British government tried to introduce dry law both at the front and in the rear. "Booze does us more harm in the war than all the German submarines put together," declared David Lloyd George, the British minister of armaments who became prime minister in 1916.

During the Second World War, attitude towards alcohol in Britain was much more liberal. This, first of all, was due to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who never hid his attitude to drinking. "My rules of life include as an absolutely sacred rite the smoking of cigars, as well as the consumption of alcohol before, after and, if necessary, during all meals and in the intervals between them," he said frankly. Churchill usually started his day with a glass of champagne or diluted whiskey, drank more whiskey with water between meals, and enjoyed wine at lunch and dinner.

Winston Churchill giving a toast, 1946.

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But gradually, rum and whiskey became scarce goods in Britain. Rum was supplied from overseas colonies. And in the early 1940s, German submarines actually cut the sea lanes. In 1943, the situation became so critical that the Admiralty even thought about completely stopping the issuance of rum rations, but never dared to break the age-old tradition. And whiskey producers suffered from strict rationing of grain.

Then beer came to the rescue. Most members of the government supported Churchillʼs position on alcohol. In 1940, British food minister Lord Woolton advocated the importance of beer for the home front. "If we want to maintain at least some semblance of normal life, beer must be produced, even if it is not as strong as connoisseurs would like. The task of the government is to support not only life but also the moral spirit of the country." There was another plus for the government. Beer helped pay for the war, because just in the period from September 1939 to July 1940, the tax on it tripled.

A woman pours a beer for her husband in a bomb shelter in north London, 1940.

Unlike the First World War, pubs in Britain did not close during the Second World War. And a mug of beer has become one of the popular means of combating stress in bomb shelters. However, as the war dragged on, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the flow of beer production. Many London breweries were damaged by German bombers. Finding a place to drink has also become more difficult. By 1943, more than a thousand pubs were destroyed by German attacks.

Beer was popularized not only in the rear but also at the front. In 1942, British brewers created the "Beer for the Troops" committee. They organized supplies for soldiers even to the most remote areas of the Middle East and North Africa. After the successful landing in Normandy in 1944, beer was delivered to the soldiersʼ camps in barrels tied to the wings of airplanes.

The British are filling in a special tank with beer to deliver it by plane to the troops in Normandy, 1944.

It got to the point that in 1944, the British Royal Navy approved a new plan to provide beer to sailors in the Pacific Ocean. With the help of engineers, Bristol breweries developed a plan for "floating breweries" that could produce about 40,000 liters of beer per week. In the summer of 1945, two such "floating breweries" began to be built. However, the war ended. Nevertheless, the first trial brewing of beer in the open sea was completed on December 31, 1945. An English soft ale was produced, which was distributed to sailors and high-ranking officials. After that, the "floating breweries" were dismantled.

British soldiers, freed from captivity, taste beer, May 12, 1945.

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The Second World War, without exaggeration, saved American beer brands. The point is that most of them were founded by German emigrants in the 19th century. And during the First World War, against the background of anti-German sentiments in society, they began to be labeled as "enemies of the people". "We have German enemies not only overseas but also right here in this country. And the fiercest of all our German enemies, the most insidious, the most menacing, are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller," declared Wisconsin Governor John Strange in his speeches during World War I. Breweries gave up the German language on beer labels, and changed their names, but it didnʼt help.

Men pouring beer into New York Harbor during Prohibition in the United States, 1925.

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After the end of the war, a new blow awaited the brewers. Anti-German sentiments played a role in the introduction of Prohibition in the USA. After its abolition in 1933, the breweries began to recover little by little. But the real blooming came eight years later when the United States entered World War II.

Activists tried to launch an anti-alcohol campaign again. But President Franklin Roosevelt, who abolished Prohibition, along with his military advisers, decided that alcohol would be good for morale not only at home but also at the front. This is where brewers came in handy. According to the agreement with the government, they had to supply 15% of their products to American soldiers. The only "dry" concession that Roosevelt made was that the volume of alcohol in beer supplied to soldiers should not exceed 3.2%. Thus, the 3.2 percent American lager became the main beer of the US Army, and the government declared brewing an important wartime industry.

American soldiers line up for beer rations, 1944.
US Navy sailors drink beer on the island of Ulithi in the Pacific Ocean, 1945.

American soldiers line up for beer rations, 1944. US Navy sailors drink beer on the island of Ulithi in the Pacific Ocean, 1945.

The National WWII Museum

This was great news for brewers. From yesterdayʼs enemies of the people, they have turned into a model of patriotism. Manufacturers launched massive advertising campaigns touting their many contributions to victory, including taxes to support war production. And eventually got a huge army of fans, especially among young soldiers who returned from the war.

US Navy sailors drink beer aboard a battleship in the Atlantic Ocean, 1943.

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The leadership of the US Armed Forces tried to provide soldiers with beer rations not only on the fronts of Europe but also in the most remote corners of the Pacific Ocean. And many manufacturers, after consulting with the military, began to paint cans with their beer in an olive-gray color, for camouflage.


The main alcoholic drink in France was wine. At the beginning of the Second World War, the question of whether to provide soldiers with wine was not even discussed. The government reserved a third of the countryʼs rail tanks to transport wine to the front lines. When Germany attacked France in May 1940, 3,500 trucks were supposed to deliver two million liters per day to the troops.

French wine confiscated on the black market during World War II.

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But when the Germans occupied France in two months, the attitude towards wine changed. A common thought was that it makes soldiers "too soft." It got to the point that the hero of World War I, Philippe Pétain, who previously believed that wine saved France, began to talk about drunkenness, which "undermined the armyʼs will to victory". Moreover, he sided with the Germans and headed the occupation government. It was on his initiative that alcohol restrictions were introduced for the first time — it was forbidden to sell alcohol to persons younger than 14 years old.

Philippe Pétain (left) and Adolf Hitler, 1940.

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The most famous wine regions of the country — Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne — suffered painfully from the occupation. Some producers changed the labels on the bottles of the most expensive wine, diluted and even replaced the wine in tubs with water. But it didnʼt help much. The Germans took about 900,000 bottles of wine and champagne per day from the French. The looting was personally directed by one of Hitlerʼs closest allies, Air Force Chief Hermann Göring. In his cellar, there were more than ten thousand bottles of the best wines from France.

German soldiers with bottles of stolen French wine, 1940.

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However, this behavior of the Germans came in handy for the fighters of the French Resistance. They noted that large orders from the Champagne region usually preceded major Nazi offensives. So they were able to predict the beginning of an offensive campaign in North Africa and passed this information to British intelligence.

French leader Charles de Gaulle (left) drinks wine after being evacuated to London, 1940.

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At first, German soldiers were even encouraged to drink alcohol as a morale booster. This attitude changed after the capture of France. Then Hitler, who rarely drank himself, made a statement: "I expect that the soldiers of the Wehrmacht, who succumbed to the temptation to participate in criminal activities due to the abuse of alcohol, will be severely punished".

This statement was picked up by the Nazi government, which raised taxes on alcohol and significantly limited its production and sale. Crimes committed while intoxicated were punishable by death. Doctors were ordered to hospitalize soldiers with alcoholism, and after evaluation by a special commission, they could be forcibly sterilized and sent to a concentration camp.

Adolf Hitler at a banquet next to Hermann Göring, 1939.

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But the farther from the high offices and the closer to the front lines, the more loyal the officers were to alcohol. "Those who did not sleep, did not work, did not play cards and did not write letters, drank alcohol, which was distributed free of charge along with our ammunition. There was plenty of vodka, schnapps and Tyrolean liqueur at the front," wrote one of the German soldiers on the Eastern Front.

German soldiers having fun in the barracks during World War II, 1940.

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The highest level of drunkenness was among German soldiers and policemen who were carrying out genocide in concentration camps. Military personnel from penal units were even given additional alcohol rations. And many of them admitted that drinking became part of their work. One of those who survived Treblinka recalled that almost every day he saw "SS men holding a gun or a stick in one hand and a bottle of schnapps in the other".


In the Soviet army, the dry law, introduced during World War I, was canceled in 1940, when the USSR attacked Finland. Then, due to severe frosts, soldiers and officers were allowed to drink 100 g of vodka per day.

After the German attack on the USSR, soldiers began to be given vodka or diluted alcohol already in July 1941. There were simply no other alcoholic options in the USSR. But unlike other armies, Soviet soldiers were encouraged to drink before an attack, not after, to relax and relieve stress. "I fought since 1942. I remember that vodka was issued only before the attack. The foreman walked through the trench with a mug and anyone who wanted — poured for himself. It was primarily young people who drank. And then they just crawled under the bullets and died. Those who survived after several battles treated vodka with great caution," recalled one of the Soviet infantrymen.

Soviet soldiers drink during a halt, 1942.

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In 1943, vodka was already allowed to be issued only to soldiers on the front line, the rest could obtain it only on holidays. Later, during the retreat, the Germans sometimes deliberately left their alcohol reserves with the expectation that a drunken Soviet soldier would be less effective in battle. But there was so much personnel in the USSR that no amount of alcohol could stop it. And the German civilian population suffered from drunken soldiers.

Closer to the end of the war, more drunkenness spread among the elite of the Soviet army. "We found a dugout covered with a multi-tiered roll on a forest clearing. A projectile will not penetrate such a dugout! I looked into the crack through the frozen raincoat-tent that replaced the door, and saw in the light of the cigarette smoke a drunken general, steamed up, in an unbuttoned gimnasterka. There was a bottle of vodka on the table, lard, sausages, canned goods, and bread. A half-naked and also drunk woman sat by the table," one of the Soviet sergeants wrote in his memoirs.

Soviet, British and American officers at a banquet, August 1945.

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Military cocktails

Mykola Halavka, the bartender of Parovoz Speakeasy bar, is currently in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine:

Great wars also left their mark on what thousands of people drink every day around the world. Sometimes the influence of the war was reflected in the ingredients, due to the availability of certain products, sometimes in the fact that the inventors of the cocktails were emigrants who were looking for a better fate, sometimes the cocktails got their names because of the war. For example, gin and tonic appeared during the British colonial wars in India in the mid-nineteenth century, and rhum agricole began to be mass-produced during the Napoleonic wars. Vodka spread around the world thanks to emigrants from the former Russian Empire after the Bolshevik coup of 1917.

Perhaps the most famous cocktail that got its name from the war is the French 75. This combination of gin, lemon, sugar, and sparkling wine was named after the French 75 mm field gun, which was one of the first examples of modern field artillery and the main artillery weapon of the French army during World War I. Why the cocktail was named after the cannon is unknown. Perhaps because the sparkling wine was uncorked for its preparation, and this sound is similar to the sound of a gunshot. Or maybe because the cocktail got people drunk quickly, because it has gin and sparkling wine, and was effective like a cannon in this respect. Among sparkling cocktails, French 75 is still one of the most popular in the world.

In the interwar period, Tiki cocktails became popular in the USA. Inspired by the culture of Polynesia and the atmosphere of a "tropical paradise", whole chains of tiki bars appeared in America, where bartenders in Hawaiian shirts prepared fresh fruit cocktails with a lot of rum to the sound of the ukulele. One of the most popular tiki cocktails is the Mai Tai, the inventor of which is considered to be Victor Bergeron, aka Trader Vic. According to him, in 1944 he prepared a new cocktail for his friends who arrived from Tahiti. After tasting the drink, they uttered “Mai tai roa ae”, which means "wonderful" or "unearthly" in Tahitian.

For the next several decades, this cocktail was one of the most popular in the world and still remains so. One of the reasons for the spread of tiki cocktails was World War II. Due to the food crisis in Europe, there was not enough grain for alcohol. And cheap rum from Caribbean sugar cane was available and in sufficient quantity.

WWII-themed cocktail party in London, 2014.

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Dmytro Kolomiets, brand ambassador of Diageo Reserve in Ukraine

After World War II, people wanted a holiday, they drank with their eyes — cocktails were served in pineapples, coconuts, with umbrellas. Then, in addition to the Mai Tai, the Zombie cocktail also gained popularity. It is prepared with the addition of three types of rum, including extra-strong rum at 69 degrees. This cocktail was so popular that it was not given more than two in one hand.

Today, it cannot be said that any of the cocktails stand out in terms of popularity. Nowadays, people come to a bar and just order something delicious in a glass. But, perhaps, over time, we will see a boom in cocktail decorations or tiki cocktails in Ukraine as well.

Translated from Ukrainian by Yuliia Pryimak and Anton Semyzhenko.

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