P-51 and P-38 openers Australian Army "FRED". Note the spoon shaped end
and bottle opener.The P-38 'Lightning' is also a WWII-era plane. The Walther P
38 is a WWII-era pistol. The P-38 can opener is a small device found in a
C-ration, the canned field rations issued in the United States Armed Forces from
World War II to the 1980s.
Nicknamed the "John Wayne" because he was shown in a training film opening
a can of C-Rations, the can opener is keychain sized and consists of a short
metal blade that serves as a handle (and also a screwdriver to the resourceful),
with a small, hinged metal tooth that folds out to pierce the can lid. A notch
just under the hinge point keeps the opener hooked around the rim of the can as
the device is "walked" around to cut the lid out. A larger version called the
P-51 is somewhat easier to operate.
Official military designations for the P-38 include 'US ARMY POCKET CAN
OPENER' and 'OPENER, CAN, HAND, FOLDING, TYPE I'. As with some other military
terms (e.g. Origin of the term 'jeep'), the reasons for the 'P-38' designation
are not clear. One claim is that, used properly, it requires exactly 38 punches
of the blade to open a C-ration can. Alternatively, the name could allude to the
fast performance of the P-38 'Lightning' fighter plane.
P-38s are no longer used for individual rations by the United States Armed
Forces as canned C-rations were replaced by uncanned MREs in the 1980s. They
are, however, included with US military "Tray Rations" (canned bulk meals), and
are also still seen in disaster recovery efforts and have been handed out
alongside canned food by rescue organizations both in America and abroad in
Afghanistan. The original US contract P-38 can openers were manufactured by
Mallin Hardware (now defunct) of Shelby, Ohio and are stamped "US Mallin Shelby
O.", by J.W. Speaker Corp. and are stamped "US Speaker" and by Washburn Corp and
are marked "US Androck" .
A similar device that incorporates a small spoon at one end and a Can
opener at the other is currently employed by the Australian Army and New Zealand
Army in its ration kits. It is known by the acronym "FRED" (Field Ration Eating
Device). It is also known widely in its derogative term, the "F
ucking Ridiculous Eating Device".
The advantages of a P-38 include:
cheaper to manufacture than a standard can opener smaller and lighter
to carry faster than a normal can opener if the user has sufficient
experience The device can be easily attached to a key ring or dog tag chain
using the small punched hole.
 "The Baby Can Opener" A similar device was included with
British Army 'Operational Ration Pack, General Purpose' 24-hour ration pack and
'Compo' Composite (14 man) Ration pack rations. At one stage they were
manufactured by W.P. Warren Engineering Co. Ltd, 79 Alma Street, Birmingham B19
2RL (021-359-2808). The instructions printed on the miniature greaseproof paper
bag they were supplied in read:
TO OPEN CAN: Place opener on the can with rim of can inside the slot.
Hold between thumb and forefinger and twist forward to puncture. Repeat motion
until can is open.
Their design is similar, but not identical, to the P-38 and P-51 can
 Creative uses List of P-38 Uses By Steve Wilson, MSG
Proponent NCO, Dept of the Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains, The Pentagon
Can Opener Seam Ripper Screwdriver Clean Fingernails Cut
Fishing Line Open Paint Cans Window Scraper Scrape Around Floor
Corners Digging Clean Out Groove on Tupperware lids
Reach in and Clean Out Small Cracks Scrape Around Edge of Boots
Bottle Opener Gut Fish (in the field) Scale Fish (in the field)
Test for 'Doneness' When Baking on a Camp Fire Prying Items Strip
Wire Scrape Pans in the Field Lift Key on Flip Top Cans Chisel
Barter Marking Tool Deflating Tires Clean Sole of Boot/Shoe
Pick Teeth Measurement Striking Flint Stirring Coffee
Puncturing Plastic Coating Knocking on Doors Morse Code Box
Cutter Opening Letters Write Emergency Messages Scratch an Itch
Save as a Souvenir Rip Off Rank for On-the-Spot Promotions Bee sting
removal tool (scrape off w/ blade) Knife sharpener