Accelerated Service-Shipping V-Mail

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First-class mail from military personnel was transported by aircraft from Australia to the U.S.
National Archives (111-SC-172-178530).

Letters swamped post offices and slowed the mail system as the distance between the front lines and home grew. The military transport of mail overseas depended upon space available on ships and aircraft. Ships were larger than airplanes and able to bear heavier cargo but they were also slower and more vulnerable to attacks by enemy fleets. U.S. ships and submarines were susceptible to German U-Boat attacks and if lost, their freight was irretrievable. It was nearly impossible to determine which letters or packages were lost in transport. Without knowing that a special item had not been delivered, senders could be left waiting, and wondering, why they had no response to their mail.

Due to these disadvantages, airmail was the preferred method of transportation. Airplanes provided faster service and were more reliable, but offered less cargo room. Whether it was shipped in microfilm form or as original full-sized letter sheets, V-Mail was ensured air delivery overseas. For civilians, a perk of V-Mail was the savings on the extra cents that standard airmail letters cost. For enlisted men and women, V-Mail was an assured service that brought news from home with speed and frequency.

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This 2 5/8" by 1 1/2" microphotograph was used in the Siege of Paris.

From the public’s perspective, speedy delivery of mail not only boosted the morale of military personnel but also kept the home fires burning. The “Stamp News” article from the October 18, 1942 issue of the Washington Post reported that, “V-Mail has been received from Australia in eight days, from India in 10 days, from the Hawaiian Islands in two days and from the British Isles in five days” (L7). Of course the time between when mail was placed in a mailbox to when it reached the recipient varied greatly for all mail, especially in wartime. V-Mail was no exception and there were the added factors of the extra processing steps.

In addition to insuring speedier shipment, V-Mail delivery was guaranteed. Each microfilmed letter was stored until the airplane carrying the film reels was confirmed to have arrived overseas and the printing of the facsimiles proved successful. Once the confirmation was received the original letters were destroyed.

Though V-Mail shipments were relatively fast, post offices and V-Mail stations experienced significant delays during the months of November and December. To avoid these delays, the Post Office Department recommended that holiday mail be sent as early as September or October in order to arrive in time for the holiday season. See the below image showing a letter with holiday wishes sent in October.

 V-Mail sent by a soldier noticing that his standard letters are not getting home to his parents

This sergeant experiments with V-Mail, noticing that his standard letters are not getting home to his parents.

V-Mail letter written by a soldier stationed in France who understands mail delays and sends Christmas wishes

This soldier stationed in France understands mail delays and sends Christmas wishes home to his boyhood Pastor in October.