Victory Mail in World War II

US poster promoting use of V-Mail during WWII. Read more: "Victory Mail in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog.Letters in World War II

During World War II, letters were essential to the health of a relationship. Soldiers and sailors who shipped overseas couldn’t make phone calls, and of course, e-mails and text messages hadn’t been invented. That left letters.

The average soldier wrote six letters a week. Those letters took anywhere from 1-4 weeks to cross the ocean to the United States. Each letter received at home assured loved ones that their serviceman was still alive and well when he wrote that letter. And each letter received on the front reminded that serviceman why he was fighting.

Victory MailUS poster, World War II

The US military knew that letters from home were the single biggest morale booster, and a force with high morale fights better. However, mail bags took up valuable space on cargo ships and planes. For example, in 1945 the US Army handled over 2 billion pieces of mail.

The solution was Victory Mail, or V-Mail. Letters written on pre-printed forms were photographed and reproduced onto microfilm. The rolls of microfilm were transported overseas, where the letters were printed again at one-quarter size and mailed to their destination.

V-Mail was never mandatory, but it was successful. A letter on microfilm took up about one-thirty-seventh of the space of the same letter on paper. In the first two years of the program, the military estimated that V-Mail saved room for 5 million pounds of cargo.

V-Mail Stationery

V-Mail stationery was a single page, printed front and back. The back contained instructions as well as space for return and mailing addresses. The letter was written on the front within the margins, boldly and in dark ink so it would reproduce well. The return and mailing addresses were repeated at the top. The form was folded in half, sealed, and sent off.

V-Mail Processing

At the V-Mail processing center, each letter was censored and photographed. The original letters were stored until confirmation was received that the shipment had been received—a nice insurance policy in case a cargo ship was sunk by a U-boat or a cargo plane went down in bad weather.

V-Mail had its disadvantages. Letters had to be short. No enclosures were possible. The scent of perfume did not photograph. And lipstick prints gummed up the scanning machines—dubbed the “Scarlet Scourge” by postal workers.

A V-Mail received in California during World War II. Note smaller size in relation to envelope. Read more: "Victory Mail in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog

A V-Mail received by my husband’s aunt during World War II. Note smaller size in relation to envelope.

Victory mail and regular letters helped couples communicate. The danger of wartime lent urgency to correspondence. No one knew if that letter was the last one they’d write or receive. Couples regularly expressed feelings usually saved for special occasions.

My source for this post was the excellent on-line display on V-Mail at the Smithsonian Postal Museum: http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail

5 Responses to “Victory Mail in World War II”

  1. Christian

    Sarah: Love your site! I’m an Archivist and Historian with the fed gov’t. We have quite a number of V-Mail letters (with some of the microfilms that were made from them) going to the Roosevelts from members of FDR’s family. I have one posted on my Twitter & FB pages. Best regards

  2. Kathy West

    I didn’t realize microfilm existed then. I don’t recall seeing any such letters among my parents’ things, but I do remember my mother’s diary. On nearly every day she wrote, “Wrote to my honey!” Thanks for this, Sarah. These WW2 details are fascinating.

  3. Paula S

    Hi, Sarah! Did I tell you that my Mother still has my Dad’s letters and envelopes from China, Burma and India in a large scrapbook? I think my sister is going to try to archive them. Blessings, Paula