26 Jul V-Mail: Communicating During World War II
The major problem came in transporting the mail across the Atlantic Ocean. Mail sent via cargo ships was slow to arrive, taking up to a month. But the alternative of sending mail via cargo planes, taking less than two weeks, was expensive. Cargo space on these planes was at a premium, and letters were bulky both in weight and in the space that they took up. In searching for a way to address this problem, the military postal service turned their eyes to the British “Airgraph”.
The US military postal service adopted this process renaming it “Victory Mail”, or “V-Mail” for short, and it proved extremely effective. The savings of this system were enormous; 2500 pounds of paper letters in 37 mail sacks could be condensed into only 45 pounds of film in one mail sack. In turn, this freed up room for more materiel to supply the war effort. The US further reduced waste by only printing the letters at 60% scale. The use of V-mail also inadvertently deterred espionage; as only photocopies of letters were being sent, invisible ink and microdots were rendered useless. In addition, letters could not be “lost” in transit; every letter carried a serial number and new copies could be printed if necessary. After being introduced in mid 1942, V-Mail became the primary method of communication for US soldiers stationed abroad until the end of the war in 1945 with over a billion letters going through the system. As such, it was a staple not just of a soldier’s life, but of Americans back home as well.