|The V-Mail –
The US unique way of transmitting a soldier’s
mail in WWII
|by Bob Crookes
One of the most
important points in a field commander’s list
of things to do is make sure the mail gets through.
Getting mail from home, from wives, children, girlfriends
and family plays a very important part towards a soldier’s
morale and is as important today as it was in WWII.
Indeed the setting up of e-mail facilities for troops
in Iraq, so that they might keep in touch with home,
was considered of prime importance.
Before email the handling of thousands of letters
going in both directions from the battlefield to home
was a particularly difficult challenge in times of
with home from their billets was considered
vital for soldiers morales..
Back in the 1940s the US military took advantage of modern
technology to speed up the process of getting mail to and
from the European theatre of war – the technique was
called V-Mail and there’s a thought that this was
short for Victory Mail although a victory was then not assured
and still a long way off.
There was no real secret to the v-mail process; in fact
it was simple, the soldiers wrote their letters on a form
provided and it was then photographed onto microfilm which
was simply flown to the USA. A reel of 16mm microfilm
could contain 18,000 letters and in terms of bulk and
weight the roll of film took up only a fraction of what
18,000 real letters would take. Upon arrival in the USA
the letters were printed from the film and then posted
onward to the addressee.
The printed V-Mail was light
This clever method was employed at the suggestion of
the US Army Postal Director Col. Bill Rose who actually
copied the idea from a system then currently in operation
in the British services which was called an ‘airgraph’.
The process might seem to be laborious with
the collection of mail, the actual photographing of thousands
and thousands of letters and a similar process at the other
end of re-printing the photographs, addressing envelopes and
mailing them on. It did really all boil down to a space issue
and it is on record that for every 150,000 letters microfilmed
like this over a ton of shipping space was saved.
V-mail was also for families to use to send
mail to the soldiers and there were major publicity campaigns
in USA to persuade families that using v-mail was a patriotic
thing to do. Its take up after inauguration in June 1942 was
slow – only 35,000 letters that month - but, a year
later, in June 1943, some 12 million letters were v-mailed.
All corresponsence in both directions still had to be censored
in case sensitive information was conveyed.
Extract from a soldier's
V-Mail to home showing where the Censor has blacked
out potentially sensitive content.
Families were generally quite dubious to start with; they
didn’t like the idea of someone else opening their
mail but there were also rumours that some of the 16mm
reels had been projected in cinemas by mistake –
it was, of course, a myth.
How V-Mail looked when it
arrived in its tiny envelope
which went by air, speeded up the point-to-point delivery
of mail to a week, from USA to Europe, whereas ordinary
mail, which had to go by sea, could take months and
had to be paid for! Great care was also taken to register,
number and track the reels and a master copy was kept
of every reel and the very few times reels were lost
in air crashes, duplicates were issued almost instantly.
One wonders if any of those reels still exist in some
US archive today?
In the European theatre of war the processing
of microfilm was done by the US Signal Corps but back in USA
the Kodak Company had contracts to handle mail. By the end
of WWII there were nineteen military v-mail stations and nine
under civilian contract.
As well as plain letters to home,
some soldiers used the V-Mail form quite creatively
and before long the cartoon v-mail was highly popular.
Today there are avid collectors of v-mail particularly
because every letter is unique. One such collector is
Davy Fitzsimons from Caledon, whose impressive collection
of WWII memorabilia numbers into thousands. He says it
is very rare to find a v-mail sent from home to a soldier
because troops were usually obliged to destroy all personal
material, which might be of intelligence value if captured.
Thus V-Mails had to be destroyed before offensive operations.
Thus the only mail available is that which the soldiers
sent to their loved ones at home.
WWII Collector, Davy Fitsimons
Although V-Mail helped to keep troops in touch with wherever
they called home, it was nonetheless a very common thing for
soldiers to become homesick. This was particularly true of
the US servicemen who came here to Northern Ireland. Many
of them were just teenagers and they were thousands of miles
from home and passing time here on their way to the Normandy
beaches. A frightening situation to be in for anyone.
Davy tells how it wasn't uncommon for rural and country families
to take a soldier into their home and give him a bit of kindness.
Many of the US soldiers who passed through Northern Ireland
were lost in battle but a great number of those who did survive
kept in touch with their "new" families for many
years after returning to civilian life in the USA.
Patrick Morrison - Feb '08
Thank you for posting this information about V-Mail. Yesterday,
out of the blue I received a V-Mail that my father had originally
sent in December 1944. My father was serving on the battleship
USS California which had been in several Pacific battles
in 44 and early 45. In January 1945 his ship was hit by a
kamikaze (killing 44) only a few weeks after this V-Mail
Christmas greeting had been sent. Prior to this week I didn't
know about V-Mails. Thanks again
Bill Senkus - May '07
Thanks for an interesting and informative presentation
on the topic of V-Mail. One correction, though. A single roll
of the microfilmed letters held 1,500 to 1,800 letters. A
single frame on the film measuread about 1 inch square, so
an entire roll was about 120 feet. You can see photos of a
collection of V-Mail material, including the film, at this
URL - http://alphabetilately.com/V2.html - happy surfing.
Laurie Kipp - Apr '07
Is there a museum that is collecting mail and scrapbooks
from WW II? I have many letters that my Dad sent to his mother
and my mother plus pictures, postcards, cocktail napkins from
overseas, etc. that were collected into a scrapbook. Unfortunately,
I didn't find this collection until after my father died two
years ago. Consequently, when cleaning out the attic I came
upon it too late to get his first hand account to tell me
about what I found.
Joe - Mar '07
Thank you so much for this web page!
Anyone who finds a stash of V-mails or letters of the World
War conflicts, will be truly amazed at the memories that are
contained within. Despite sometimes hawkish censors, the important
stuff, of the goals, life struggles, love interests are still
very much there. They read, although almost always with incorrect
punctuation, with more intensity than the best the literary
world has to offer.
So, dust off those old letters, sit in a quiet room, open
them gingerly and wollow a few hours away getting to experience
your grandpa when he was full of life.
PLEASE REMEMBER TO BE CAREFUL AND SEAL YOUR OLD LETTERS IN
A AIR TIGHT CONTAINER, (A BISCUIT TIN CAN BE IDEAL). WE ARE
ALL OBLIGATED TO PROTECT THEM FOR OUR CHILDREN.
Tammi Morgan - Nov '06
My mother has recently passed away. While going through her
things, I founs letters and V Mails from her brother. These
letters are dated from 1941 to 1944. On the V mails, the postage
only has The date, time and NO 3. printed on it. I was wondering
if there was any way that I could find out what V Mail station
they went through? Thank you for your help.
Violet C.Lynch - Nov '06
I am trying to find information about a cartoon Vmail posted
to my Dad Captain Duncan Cook from Cartoonist Phil Benrube
Russell Kirk - Nov '06
I have been doing some research on my grandfather's WWII service.
He was in he 18th v-mail detachment in France. He is now 86
years old and I am trying to get information on his old unit
and their contribution to the war effort. Thanks for your
Janet Barnes - Oct '06
My parents passed away a few months from each other in 2004.
As I was going through their household items I found hundreds
of letters written by Daddy to my Mother from various places
during WWII. The letters had been kept by my Mother for over
60 years. I found telegrams and a number of small letters
but I did not know what they were until I discovered your
website. I now know they are V Mail. I am delighted to find
out what they are. My plan for the letters is to incorporate
them into a book, beginning with my parents as teenagers when
they first met.
Doreen Flahety Morales - July
While going through a filing cabinet I found a folder filled
with old letters - including V-Mail - from WWII. There are
quite a few of them, numerous ones to and from my father and
his three brothers who were also in the service at that time.
There are also many, many V-Mails from family members at home
to my father overseas! From what I have been reading, this
is a rarity. I have letters from here in the states, the trip
overseas, North Africa (5th. Army) Northern Italy/the Italian
Front, Scotland - not to mention the pictures (I don't know
any of these people and only a few are identified).
Bruce Wright - USN WWII - July
I find this very interesting. I censored mail for the U.S.
Navy in World War II, and I'll be giving a lecture about it
at a WW II museum in a couple of weeks. Your text and illustrations
will help, and I just found a WW I - One, that is - censored
post card at an antique shop here!
Jean - June '06
I am currently looking for anyone who has information about
the V-Mail station in Chicago, IL USA during WWII. I am researching
my grandfather and have learned that he may have served at
the V-Mail station in Chicago after being room from the PTO
due to the Sullivan Act. I have found it difficult to find
info on V-Mail or the station.
I have collected a few pieces of V-Mail but really want to
find out if they may have passed through my grandfather's
If you have info or ideas where I might find info please
e-mail at email@example.com
Estelle Evans - March '06
You might be interested to know that my father was the first
to go out to Egypt to inaugurate the Airgraph(British) / V
(American) system .
William Loftin - March '06
I was in the army postal service and I helped process v mail
sent from the United States. We were in New York City.
Brittany Nesbitt - March '06
This was a wonderful web page. I will definitely require this
page for other people who want to learn about V-mail!! I will
be interested in what my history teacher thinks of this page!!
Thank you so much for helping me understand!!!
Sallie Lou Morris Nelson - Feb 06
This is so interesting - I have a v-mail that my uncle sent
me Sat. 27 may 1944. I was 10 years old and had written him
a letter. He talks about the great easter we all had together
and how much bigger it would have been if he could have been
He was a guard working at night and sleeping days. I know
he was in Guam, not sure if he was there when he wrote this
to me. I cherish this v-mail-it has worn well even tho it
is almost 62 years since he sent it.
Sallie Lou Morris Nelson, San Benito TX via Logansport/Deacon
Hester Giddings - Feb '06
My uncle and I had lively exchanges during the war. I was
10 and 11 years old. He wrote long letters and there were
times I'd have to wait for a week or more to get all of the
pages. For his 80th birthday in 1989 I was determined to find
a V-Mail form to send him greetings. I tried the US Postal
Service, the US Army and various military museums with no
luck. Then I went to the Smithsonian Museum--the American
History branch--and found they were setting up a display of
V-Mail for grade schoolers. The museum personnel were kind
enough to send a copy of a form to me and I in turn sent it
to my uncle with appropriate greetings. Thanks for the memories.
Marc - Germany - Feb 06
Great project! Showing people the feelings of soldiers who
had to shoulder so much agony is very important. Especially
in times of computer games and "high tech war" many
people forget that war is different from what the media tries
to make us believe.
Thanks a lot for these mails.
Michael Donahue - Feb 06
My dad, who died in 1983, worked for Kodak in Chicago, and
told me that this was one of the things he did during the
war. He was born in 1911, but my oldest sister was born in
'41; between his age, his child, and his job he was not drafted.
I am very happy to see some information about Dad's part in
the Great War.
Lane Zatopek - Feb '06
Thanks to Buster Simmons for passing this site on to me. I
have my dad's V-mail letters home to his parents and my mother,
but there are no letters to him from home.
Every effort to preserve WWII history is greatly appreciated-
Ima Mae Moreland - Feb '06
Thanks so much for the article. I remember v-mail from my
brothers to my mother during WW 2, but never knew how it was
done. I still have one of the old letters.
Chris Meisenzahl - Feb '06
What a great story and interesting piece of history!
I've read about vmail before but never in such detail. For
those of you that still have some, I hope you are able to
maintain it for future generations to learn about.
Buster M. Simmons - Feb '06
Thanks for bringing to an uninformed generation of people
some of the really "important" history of World
V Mail was a real blessing to the guys away from home. I
know, I was in the ETO for 22 months.
Thanks a bunch!!
Susan L. Rogers - Feb '06
Fascinating! This is the first I have ever heard of this.
Thank you for sharing.
Edward Hoyenski - January '06
Thank you for this website. Our Rare Book Room is accumulating
examples of V-Mail for research ("accumulating"
rather than acquiring since there's no money to purchase!).
This site has helped me in the cataloging of the V-Mail in
our collection, and understanding of the process. We will
be presenting programs on WWII to various school groups, and
showing V-Mail will be part of the program. In going through
the V-Mails we have, I have realized we have a chance to show
these students what life was like through the eyes of the
men who served in WWII. It is quite an experience.
Thank you again.
Rare Book & Texana Collections
Univ. of N. Texas Libraries
David Fitzsimons - Jan '06
Hello and thank you very much to everyone for responding to
my article on v-mail. If any one would like to write to me,
please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org thanks
again. Yours Davy Fitzsimons.
Joanne Popkin - Dec '05
My uncle was one of the first Army personnel to work on V-Mail.
He was stationed in Hawaii. I have a lot of letters written
to him on V-mail, and some V-mail artificats, including:
pictures of him and his buddies working on V-mail a roll of
what he said was the first run of V-mail column from the NY
Post which mentions his involvement in the first V-mail effort
cartoons on V-mail. V-mail in the original envelopes
I think he saved all his letters, so I have what must be hundreds
of letters. I also have letters sent to my father when he
was in Oran and then in the Battle of the Bulge. Some of these
are V-mail. I also have letters sent from my father to my
uncle in which my father expresses doubt about the V-mail
The interesting thing about these two collections is how
it records the war experience all the writers. You can read
about their girlfriends, when they get drafted and where they
There is an absolutely remarkable V-mail that a friend of
my uncle's sent to my grandmother after my uncle was killed
in Hawaii in a traffic accident during the war. In this V-mail
the young man writes about the horrors he has seen in war,
and about the concentration camps he's seen and why it was
so important to fight this war. He ends by saying that my
uncle did not die in vain. (What a different time, what a
I will eventually need to find a home for this collection.
Gary W. Baker - Dec '05
I have a collection of v-mail sent to my late aunt by her
first husband who served as a Naval Officer aboard ship during
World War II. His handwriting is impeccable, his prose romantic,
and his v-mails prolific as I have dozens of them most in
What are they worth? Please post this question to Davy Fitzsimons
and other V-mail collectors.
Barbara Crowder - August '05
I have 2 V-Mail Christmas cards - one from each of my dad's
two brothers who served in WW II - sent, we believe, in 1943.
I recently took the cards to our family reunion to share.
Neither of my uncles could recall the V-Mail process. So I
came home and began searching the internet. I've enjoyed learning
about V-Mail. I look forward to sharing what I've learned
with my family.
Chris Briggs - June '05
If you go on E-bay you can order V-mail.
Joan Hug - May 05
Hi, I have all my Dad's V-mails to my mom - 1944-45. They
are great. I will see if Mom has any sent to him. The ones
with drawings (drawn by US - not Dad) are especially cute.
The Happy Anniversary and Merry Christmas from the 5th Army
etc. And my older brother's 1st birthday card (1945). Wonderful
Sandy Sorenson - March '05
Hello, I recently inherited a couple of V-Mails after my father
died. He was in the US Air Force during WWII & his kid
brother wrote to him from South Dakota to somewhere in Europe.
Somehow my father was able to keep those two tiny letters
& it's a thrill to read about how V-Mail started after
having come across them. Thanks for the great article and
photos about this method of communication during a difficult
time in the world's history.
My brother-in-law sent us several hundred old photos. I spotted
one V-mail, dated May 7, 1944, where my father-in-law wrote
to his mother. Thank you for the information on V-mail. I
guess we learn something new every day.