Victory Mail of the Second World War


Encouraged to write letters to service members overseas, Americans heeded the call and sent massive amounts of mail to their loved ones. The U.S. Postal Service was quickly overwhelmed as the volume of correspondance skyrocketed. So in 1942 the government decided to implement Victory Mail, or V-Mail as it was known, which was a version of the British “Airgraph” system. The Smithsonian explains how the British came to develop Airgraph.

Later to become “V-Mail” when adopted by the United States, the Airgraph Service was first developed by the British Post Office in response to the Italians closing of the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea to Allied forces. Seaborne traffic was rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope. This 12,000 mile detour could mean delays of anywhere between three and six months for mail destined for British soldiers stationed in the Middle East and the Far East. Alternatives to the route around the Cape were considered, eventually settling on transport by aircraft-however, space in any aircraft was extremely limited. Microphotography was deemed the best solution to the problem of space.

A person who wanted to send a letter by airgraph or V-Mail would obtain the standard, pre-printed form from the local post office or five and dime store on request. The form contained space for a letter of about 100 to 300 words, the address of the serviceman or -woman to whom the letter was to be delivered, the address of the sender, and a circular area for the censor’s stamp of approval. Once the message was written, the form was to be folded and sealed. It then made its way to a processing center where the form was re-opened and fed through a machine that photographed the letters on 16mm film. A continuous roll of this film (100 feet long by 16mm wide) could hold up to 1700 messages and, with the metal container it was housed in, weighed 5.5 oz (154g). A sack of mail holding the same number of regular letters would have weighed 50 lbs. (22.5kg). When the V-Mail reached the destination, it was sent to a local processing facility that reversed the process, printing photographs of the letters to be sent to the intended recipient in a three inch by four inch envelope.

Email is amazing and all, but nothing is better than getting a physical letter. The process of Airgraph and V-Mail really intrigues me. The idea of putting massive amounts of mail on microfilm (3000 lbs of physical mail would be 45 lbs of Victory Mail), flying them all over the world and reprinting them is amazing. Further reading about V-Mail at the National Postal Museum.










Comments on “Victory Mail of the Second World War

    wayne pate on August 7, 2009 9:44 AM:

    Great post Michael, first thing I read this morning. It’s incredible the amount of thought and effort that was put forth to get these men their mail from their loves ones. Considering it was the only connection you would have to your family and critical for keeping up morale. Without that effort things could’ve been quite different I would imagine.

    wayne pate on August 7, 2009 9:46 AM:

    I forgot to mention how freaking great the V Mail logo was. Incorporating Morse Code within it. Brilliant.

    B on August 7, 2009 9:46 AM:

    Wow, this post is exactly what brings me to your page. Truly exceptional. I’m frequently transported by clicking over to your page. Americana Post office nostalgia on a Friday morning…doesn’t get better than that!

    Josh Money on August 7, 2009 12:25 PM:

    What is that strange squiggly writing they used to use? It’s like they were too lazy to pick up the pen to start a new letter. Great post. Great Branding/Marketing opportunity for Kodak, another iconic part of Americana. $

    Mac on August 7, 2009 3:06 PM:

    Thank you for this. It is good to see how ingenious our fellow Americans are. I feel like I learned more from this post than I have in quite some while. I agree with Wayne wholeheartedly, the V Mail logo is fantastic.

    Thank you for your website, I visit it daily.

    Michael Williams on August 7, 2009 4:12 PM:

    Thanks Mac! Credit is really due to the Brits for this. Let’s not over look that. I also want to say that most every morning I wake up to a lot of nasty comments from readers in the UK. Not sure what it is (and I don’t want to generalize), but there is some nasty shit coming out of there these days. -ACL

    wayne pate on August 7, 2009 8:42 PM:

    Those unsavory types are probably in denial that the British Empire days are over. If it wasn’t for us they’d be speaking…OK, I’ll stop right there.

    Vic on August 9, 2009 5:28 PM:

    Terrific post. You just converted me into a daily reader.
    (btw, i wanted to send this around to a few people… ever thought of adding an “email a friend” function?)

    the.mez on August 10, 2009 4:34 PM:

    Re. Wayne’s post above:

    It wasn’t the Yanks who stopped the UK being invaded during WWII, it was the RAF in August 1940 (‘never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’) when they stopped the Luftwaffe destroying the UK’s air force prior to a land invasion.

    The USA didn’t join the war effort until December 1941. The US government reserved caution until they were directly affected at Pearl Harbour and also realised that trade with Europe would suffer under the Nazi government (good ol’ capitalism).

    I’m curious, if you think about it, what language would Americans be speaking if it wasn’t for the British?

    Expect this post to be deleted, although Wayne’s will stay on the board.

    Michael Williams on August 10, 2009 4:39 PM:

    No I’m going to leave your comment Mr. Mez to prove how delusional you are. Your argument is so stupid I can’t even dignify it with a rebuttal. —ACL

    the.mez on August 12, 2009 1:54 PM:

    Freedom of speech. Just not on ACL.

    Michael Williams on August 12, 2009 2:18 PM:

    ACL is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship and we (I) persecute people that act like assholes. Besides, what would you (as an Englishman) know about freedom?

    Dick Muldoon on August 12, 2009 3:02 PM:

    Where can I buy a good steak?

    leyo on August 12, 2009 3:02 PM:

    The mez is not delusional, he has some details right but refuses to see the gand schemes of things. Delusional would be Deathers or birthers or someone who thinks blacks haven’t fought in any US wars… I read a lot of nasty ass uptightness here… no need for it. I will say however that the brits are indeed sicker, fater and drunker than ever. Someone needs to explain that one.

    Chris on August 12, 2009 3:49 PM:

    I have family over in England and I am the product of some ex-pat who, for religious reasons or otherwise came over here a couple of centuries ago. Yes, for our family, that Englishman spoke English. Imagine that?! So, yes because one of my very distant relatives had the gal to get on a boat and stake his claim here I will forever hear the same stupid, “What language would Americans be speaking if it wasn’t for the British?” for many more years to come.

    Sam on August 12, 2009 3:58 PM:

    Let’s have a Town Hall meeting to discuss this and see how it goes.

    the.mez on August 12, 2009 5:08 PM:

    Read Wayne’s post, it doesn’t take a genius to see he’s implying that the British would be speaking German if it wasn’t for the USA, yes?

    That simply isn’t true and is a statement made to provoke a response, which it suceeded in doing.

    For a country that seems so dismissive of Britain colonial past America doesn’t seem to be doing much to ingratiate itself with the rest of the world.

    Britain is one of America’s only true allies. Nearly 200 British troops have died this year helping America’s dream of Freedom yet the threat of a terror attack on British soil is greater than ever. How terribly sad.

    With regard to freedom, believe it or not at 29 years I had very little involvement with things that happened 200 years ago and the UK is not in the habit of invading countries. Thinking about it, how man countries has the USA invaded since 1945?

    At least you make good TV shows about it. Generation Kill was excellent.

    Michael Williams on August 12, 2009 5:34 PM:

    We really only invade countries to inspire our TV writers, M*A*S*H being my personal favorite.

    Jay on August 14, 2009 1:49 PM:

    Whoa! An ‘innocent’ post – and comments that go down like HMS Hood. @ The.mez: get your facts together: – the USA were not at war yet, but they provided a lot of supplies already – if I remember correctly, RAF planes were built in the States (or at least partially)… Hard to tell how much impact that had, but in the days of the battle of Britain literally each plane and pilot counted…

    MW: thanks for this post! Interesting! In the Kodak ad they ‘suggest’ in the headline it was a US invention – only to give the UK credit in the body :-) But, opposite to what you write, military personnel was supposed to use the system – not the people back home… Maybe they had another ad for the homefront?

    On the Postal Museum site I learned that although very useful, the amount of ‘real’ letters (Priority) dwarfed the photocopied ones – weird, as one would expect they completely abandoned the paper letters because of logistics.

    PS: install the plugin to get notified about comments on this post – keeps your readers coming back for some more vitriol….

    Isaac Buie on August 15, 2009 1:05 AM:

    All BS aside, this kind of eclectic underground americana makes ACL the OG. Posts like this make MW the master he is. No flattery intended…truly brilliant.

    Jay on August 15, 2009 6:52 AM:

    Another thing: as Wayne mentioned, the morse-code in the logo – however, no morse was used in/for V-mail? Odd :-)

    Rick @ Olympic Maple Leaf Coins on September 9, 2009 8:27 PM:

    I enjoyed your post, very informative. I’m learning a lot from your site.

    Matt on November 27, 2009 8:01 PM:

    These “v-mails” reduced the mail load by 2/3…allowing much more mail to be sent back and forth. Go to a local archive and look at them, you can’t believe how small they are.

Comments are closed.