As I mentioned in the last post, Babe’s letter postmarked July 29, 1943, was his first to his parents on V-mail. I mentioned Dave Kent, editor of the Military Postal History Society Bulletin, in an earlier post. In my correspondence with him, he also mentioned V-mail.
“You might also run into an interesting World War II type of mail called ‘V-mail’ (as in ‘V for Victory’). V-mail letters were written on a special form and then photographed on microfilm. Only the film was sent back to the states, where it was developed and used to make a photographic copy of the original letter. These photograph letters were then mailed in a small envelope with a window in the front to show the address.”
The National Postal Museum website says a roll of the film containing about 1,700 messages weighed 5.5 ounces, compared to the 50 pounds a sack of the same mail would weigh.
About half the remaining letters from Babe will be on V-mail. The rest will be air mail.
The postal museum says that in its day, V-mail “played the same role 60 years ago that email is playing today in keeping lines of communication open between loved ones.” The museum’s web page on the subject of V-mail describes its origins:
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.
The article says V-mail was in use by the U.S. military from June 15, 1942, until April 1, 1945, a little more than a month before Babe was killed. The postal museum said the first large-scale overseas V-mail processing center was opened right where Babe was located, in Casablanca, on April 15, 1943, about three months before he got there.