World War II: Victory Mail (V-Mail)
Victory Mail – A History of V-Mail
Sending and receiving mail was a morale-booster and a lifeline to home for service members during World War II.
However, the ever-expanding volume of mail became difficult for the postal service and military branches to move back and forth. For instance, 150,000 single-page letters took 37 mail bags to carry, and weighed about 2,575 pounds. This took up valuable cargo space on ships and planes – space needed to carry vital supplies and equipment.
In June 1942, the Post Office, the War Department, and the Navy Department implemented Victory Mail or V-Mail. This was a system that had been successfully modeled by the British Airgraph Service for over a year.
V-Mail was a single-page form stationery system available at the post office for free at two forms per person, per day. Kits with the forms and a special black ink were also available for purchase at local stores.
Letters from home were sent through the Post Office to V-Mail Laboratories. Within the continental U.S., these labs were exclusively contracted to the Eastman Kodak Company. The letters were photographed onto 16 or 35mm motion picture film, using Kodak’s specially created Recordak machine.
Letters from service members were first censored for privileged information by the company commanding officer, and then sent to V-Mail laboratories near designated Army Post Offices (APOs) and Fleet Post Offices (FPOs) around the world. These labs were operated by the Army & Navy Postal Services and Signal Corps personnel who used the same process to send letters back home.
At the designated receiving lab, these letters were re-enlarged and printed to about half the size (5 1/2 x 4 1/2) of the original form and sent on to the recipient. Each film roll held 1,800 letters. Suddenly those 150,000 letters now only took one mail bag weighing about 45 pounds.
Advertising campaigns and newsreels, like the ones above and below, were created to encourage the use of this system.
During its use between June 1942 and April 1945, over one billion Victory Mail letters were sent back and forth between military personnel and the folks at home.
View Our Victory Mail (V-Mail) Gallery
- National Archives and Records Administration, “V-Mail is Speed Mail. You Write. He’ll Fight!” National Archives Identifier: 515959, Local Identifier: 44-PA-2251B. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/515959
- “V-Mail.” Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institute, https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/past/the-art-of-cards-and-letters/mail-call/v-mail.html
- “Victory Mail Online Exhibit.” Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institute, https://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/index.html
- War Department. FM-11-150 Field Manual: Photomail Operation. April 1945. Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/FM11-150