U.S. Military P-38 and P-51 Can Openers

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Above, how to use a U.S. Shelby Can opener.

Add a P-38 and P-51 Can Opener to your Survival Kits!
Stash military can openers with survival kits:

  • Put a P-38 can opener on your key chain, but be sure to wrap
    the blade in a bit of duct tape or use a rubber band. Also, it  
    remember that TSA will confiscate it as it's considered a
    deadly weapon.

  • Affix a P-38 can opener to your bugout bag.

  • Slide a P-38 can opener into your wallet or purse. Just
    remember that it won't pass metal detectors and TSA may
    confiscate it.

  • Stuff Christmas stockings with canned bacon and tape on it a
    P-38 can opener. Other canned food novelties include canned
    butter, canned cheese, or bread in a can.

  • Place a P-51 can opener in the glove compartment or trunk of
    your vehicle.

  • Bring a P-51 can opener to work and amaze your coworkers.

  • Tape P-51 can openers to your #10 cans of emergency food.

  • Slip a P-51 can opener in your tackle box. It could help you if
    your fishing reel gets jammed. You might even use it to gut
    and scale fish!

  • Give a P-51 can opener to the homeless. Veterans especially
    will appreciate and make good use of this tool.

  • Include a P-51 with cans at your next food drive. Tape some
    to the cans.

  • Show the scouts how to use your favorite military can opener.
    Have them open chili or canned peaches and make a cobbler.

An important side note about these can openers is that they won't
make it through security checkpoints.

Happy endings...
Some say that the Shelby Co can opener is the U.S. Army's
greatest invention. They'd be right! Have plenty of can openers on
hand for an emergency. That includes taping these U.S. Military
Shelby P-51 can openers to the freeze-dried cans in your food
storage, so that you'll always be able to open them. Remember too
that the homeless will appreciate them.

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Can Openers
Military Can opener
P-38 and P-51 U.S. Military Can Openers by Shelby Co.

U.S. Military P-38 and P-51 Can Openers:
Manufactured in the U.S. by Shelby Co. for the U.S. Military, and
originally issued in World War II as openers for C-rations, the
very basic and failure-proof steel design of P-38 and P-51 can
openers is legendary. These small can openers have functional
and sentimental value.

Historically prized by veterans, the P-38 can opener is a simple
can opener and multi-tool. Use the flat edge of this clever
hinged design as a screwdriver and much more. Good to own, a
genuine Shelby Co. P-38 or P-51 can openers are as close as
you'll get to the original can openers.

Below is everything you ever wanted to know about U.S. Military
P-38 and P-51 can openers...

U.S. Military Can Openers
The original P-38 can opener was known as the "Penny Pocket"
because it cost about a penny and you could put them in your
pocket. The real deal was rugged and virtually never lost its

Created for the military to sever the lids of combat rations,
called C-Rations*, this little hinged device was like a meal
ticket. Soldier's learned how to use P-38 can openers in military
training and if they didn't pay attention, well, they'd go hungry!

The P-38 also got the name "John Wayne," because the actor
John Wayne trained soldier in these military training videos how
to use them.

Production of this military gem stopped around 1980 when
Meals Ready to Eat came into favor with the U.S. Military. MREs
are field rations that come with water-activated heaters and
there are no cans to open.

    *C-Rations were military combat food of canned meat and bread that
    included paper-wrapped P-38 can openers. K-rations were three
    separately boxed meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Look for the U.S. Shelby Co. Stamp.
Be sure to have a genuine, U.S. Military issue Shelby Company
can opener or you may have an inferior chromed sheet metal.
The U.S. Shelby Company can openers are the best military can
openers still available and the ones cherished by veterans,
military enthusiasts and preppers.

Made of stainless steel, the authentic U.S. Shelby Co. can
openers are much thicker than the varieties made by other
countries and they have a more durable blade. Original military
specifications required heat-treated carbon steel and a tin plate
to prevent corrosion.

Distinguishing features of a real Shelby:
  • U.S. Shelby Co. Stamp (Made in the United States)
  • Non-reflective metal mouldings
  • You won't be able to bend it with your bare hands.

Also, you'll want to have several of these can openers handy
because while they are good for use, like any over used tool it
will eventually give way. You might think of them as disposable
can openers. We sugest you tape military can openers to the
top if your #10 cans to ensure you always have a way to open
your emergency food supplies.

The P-51 is the larger version of the P-38 and was often used
by mess hall cooks to open the big trays and large cans of
chow. The P-51 is a full 2in long. The added length affords more
leverage and doesn't require as much thumb pressure to use.
Some prefer them over the P-38s because a P-51 will open cans
much easier and faster and will last much longer than the P-38.
We recommend having one in every car, on every key-ring and
included in every emergency survival kit. Pack of 4.

Look for genuine made in the United States military can openers
by Shelby, not the made in China kind. The real deal will bear a
Shelby stamp. The distinguishing features of a Shelby can
opener includes the stamp.

What's the difference between P-38 and P-51?
There are two kinds of U.S. Military can openers and it all boils
down to size as the distinguishing factor.

  • P-38 Military can openers (smaller). The smaller and
    original military can openers (P-38) are lightweight and
    ideal for your bugout bag. Size, being a factor of
    portability, is the reason to get the P-38. How did it get
    the name? They're called a P-38 because during World War
    II it took 38 cuts or punctures or perforations to open the
    typical military ration can. That's the standard explanation,
    although coincidentally it measures around 38mm. The
    original manufacturers during World War II were Bloomfield
    Co., Chicago, Illinois; Speaker Corp, Milwaukee Wisconsin;
    and Washburn Company, Rockford Illinois. Around a dozen
    manufacturers made them for the government with the
    lowest bidder winning, but not much more information is

  • P-51 Military can openers (larger). The larger military can
    openers (P-51) will fit your hands a bit better and offer
    more leverage for opening cans. Developed much later, the
    P-51 doesn't require as much thumb pressure. Most military
    veterans preferred the P-51 for opening their C-Rations.
    The original use of the P-51, which is about 51 mm, was to
    open T-rations. These were bulk canned meals intended to
    feed 16 people.

Not Sure which kind is right for you? If you're unsure of what
kind of military can opener is best for you, get them both to try.
Set of P-51 and P-38 survival can openers is relatively
inexpensive and a fun prep!

Why do Military Can Openers have a eyelet hole?
You may think that Shelby can openers have a hole so that you
can put them on a key chain. You'd be right, but that's just part
of the story. Soldiers could affix them to their dogtag chains as
an essential field weapon thanks to the blade. Clever soldiers
would wrap a rubber band or tape the P-38 to their dog tag to
protect themselves against the blade. This would also prevent
the annoying rattling. Imagine having the blade pointed toward
your chest if you were a soldier hitting the ground and you can
understand the importance rubber band or tape.

The first can opener was taped to emergency parachutes with
bailout rations for the Air Force crews.

Another reason for the hole...
Having a hole in the P-38 or P-51 can opener will help you keep
the can opener handy for when you need it, but it's also for
cleaning! Soldiers would affix a wire or string to the hole of the
openers to submerge the tool into boiling water to clean them
between use. Now that you know, be sure to have wire handy
with your military can openers to sterilize them.

The original instructions on the paper packaging of original
issue suggested heating the can opener with a match before

How to use a U.S. Military Can Opener
The ingenious design of the U.S. Shelby Co. can opener is the
little hook cut blade that's forged into the side edge of the
opener. This blade grabs the corner of the can and acts as a
fulcrum for the lever handle. You hook it into the lip of the can.

It's very easy to use a military can opener and you can see the
video at the bottom of the page, but here are the general

To open a can with a P-38 or P-51:
  • Open the blade flap.
  • Place the opener at the lip of the can vertically. Ensure
    the blade is pointing down at the can.
  • Twist down to puncture a slot. Using thumb pressure,
    take a small bite into the can.
  • Advance the opener with a rocking motion. Rock away
    from original bite until you reach flexibility for opening.
  • Sterilize the can opener before reuse! Tie a string or wire
    through the hole int he opener and dip it in boiling water
    to clean between use. Alternatively hold the cutting blade
    over a match just before re-using the can opener.

More ways to use a military can opener:
These simple, but handy tools were developed for the military
by Shelby Co., not only open cans, but as a field tool. Soldiers
could use them as a screwdriver in the field and for many
situations beyond the original intent.

The list of ways soldiers used the tool was endless:
  • Box cutter
  • Flint striker
  • Screwdriver
  • Marking tool
  • Pan scraper
  • Pick
  • Wire stripper

A prepper could come up with more urban survival ideas, too:
  • Cut vent holes in the bottom of cans improvise a stove.
  • Carve emergency messages on doors.
  • Deflate tires in wartime situations.
  • Rip seams, cut into zip ties or paracord.
  • Scale and gut fish.
  • Bartering.

Now, if you've never used an P-38 or P-51 can opener, know
that it will take some practice to get a clean cut. Here's how to
open cans using a U.S. Military can opener.
Shelby Can openers with chain
Bits of plastic in your water
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