The seeds of World War II were sown in the aftermath of World War I. Extremism, border skirmishes, expansionism, and political unrest erupted in Europe and Asia. By the mid-1930s, Japan was entrenched in Manchuria, Germany had adopted Nazism, Italy had become fascist, and Spain was divided by a bloody civil war. Then on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, igniting the war in Europe. Germany's blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactics were initially very successful, and Germany pushed westward through Europe.
In the Pacific, Japan launched attacks throughout Asia and the Pacific, overtaking Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Burma, and bombing America's fleet in Hawaii. The United States immediately declared war with Japan and a few days later declared war on Germany as well. The European conflict had become a global war that lasted until 1945.
Every aspect of World War II can be tracked with philatelic materials. Eighty-six million Axis and Allied military personnel were activated. Mail to and from these service personnel track troop movements and special projects. Many of the nations in the world imposed strict censorship of the mails and marked letters that had been examined by censors.
Civilian and military prisoners had limited mail service and used very specific formats for the transmission of messages sent and received, usually through the International Red Cross.
Mail service was frequently suspended because of battles or interruption of transportation routes. Patriotic and anti-enemy sentiments were graphically expressed in designs printed on envelopes. Mail sent to soldiers might have been returned to senders with the heartbreaking news that the recipient was killed or missing in action.
All of these postal artifacts help tell the human story of World War II.