Communication with family and loved ones is vital for military soldiers. Today we easily and quickly communicate by e-mail. During World War II things were different.
The process of using V-mail or Victory Mail originated in England. It was quickly adapted by the United States. Rather than ship letters back and forth, they were microfilmed. The shipping space was thus reserved for war materials.
Letters were written on specially designed sheets which were microfilmed and then "blown up" at the destination. The sheets were a combination of a letter and envelope. People on the home-front could purchase the forms at five and ten cent stores or at the post office. The message was written in a specific space, folded into an envelope, addressed and stamped.
Once the microfilm was received at specific stations, it was developed. Individual facsimiles of the original letters were reproduced. They were about a quarter the size of the originals. They were then delivered.
Eliminating the bulk of letters not only saved on space for military supplies, but also allowed for faster delivery. It is estimated that the time of delivery was reduced by six weeks if going by ship and by twelve days or less by air. The weight of the letters from paper form to microfilm was reduced by 98%. Thirty seven bags of regular mail would contain approximately 150,000 one page letters. V-mail of the same number of letters could be placed in one mail sack. The weight of the same was reduced from 2,575 pounds to 45 pounds.
V-mail written by soldiers was censored. Normally officers censored their own mail. Enlisted men had their superior officers read their messages for anything sensitive, which would be blacked out. This usually pertained to clues as to location and upcoming military strategy.
On April 15, 1943 the first large Army V-mail station was opened in Casablanca, North Africa. It was a makeshift station set up in a field, but continued to operate until September of that year. It is estimated that between June 15, 1943 and April 1, 1945, 556,531,795 pieces of V-mail were sent to military post offices. Approximately 510 million pieces were received from the soldiers.
It is interesting to note that while V-mail was promoted and encouraged, many people still sent first class mail. In the year 1944, Navy personnel received 38 million pieces of V-mail, but also received over 272 million pieces of regular first class mail.
The web page of the National Postal Museum contains interesting examples of V-mail. This is located at http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2d2a_vmail.html
Another interesting web page is Your Place and Mine - Topics - War - V-mail at
Regardless of how a letter was sent, they were priceless at the time and even now. Look for letters that have been saved within your immediate family or those of relatives. Another place to look for V-mail is on eBay or Yahoo Auctions. Also check museums and historical societies which may have received V-mail for their collections.
Was V-mail successful? Letters were received on both ends at a faster speed, plus it saved on cargo space for war supplies. People generally found the forms used for letter writing were limited in space and the reduction in size was not like receiving a personal letter. Fortunately today we can communicate with military personnel quickly and easily by e-mail.
Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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