Issue Date: May 31, 1993
29¢ Turning the Tide
World War II
City: Washington, DC
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
World War II was the most significant event of the 20th century. The U.S. Postal Service began planning for the war’s 50th anniversary in 1985. It wanted to honor key events of the war effort as well as the various endeavors that contributed to the Allied victory. But how to do that without producing a thousand stamps?
The solution was a series of sheetlets, one for each year of the war, that consisted of a large center map framed by five stamps on the top and five on the bottom. Five years of commemorating World War II yielded five sheets and a total of 50 stamps – enough for an honorable tribute and enough to accomplish Postal Service goals.
The world maps are masterpieces of thumbnail summaries. They call attention to the major military and political developments of the year and include events not featured on the individual stamps. Color coded for easy identification of friend and foe, they’re “a year in summary” at a glance. Entitled “1943: Turning the Tide,” U.S. #2765 is the third sheet in the series of five.
Throughout World War II Britain’s survival depended on shipments of food, war materials, and other supplies from the United States. As Germany tried to destroy these shipments, Britain struggled to keep its shipping lanes open.
The greatest threat to these precious shipments came from the “Unterseeboote”, German submarines more commonly referred to as “U-boats.” During the early years of the war, these submarines became the terror of the seas as they prowled the Atlantic, torpedoing any Allied ships they spotted.
At first the Germans seemed to be winning the Battle of the Atlantic. Each month they sank thousands of tons of Allied shipping. Gradually, the Allied forces overcame the threat of U-boats. Using a convoy system of cargo ships which sailed in large groups escorted by war ships, shipments of guns, tanks, and planes were successfully received by the British.
In addition, improvements made to radar and sonar allowed Allied forces to locate German submarines, which were then bombed when they surfaced. By 1943, the Allies were sinking the U-boats faster than Germany could replace them, and the crisis in the Atlantic had passed.
Military Medics Treat the Wounded
In almost any war, medics are the unsung heroes and World War II was no different. Risking their own lives, doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to save the lives of others. Looking back through a diary he had kept, one doctor who served during the war noted that he and his comrades had often worked 36-hour days.
Although the hospitals set up in tents on the battlefronts sometimes seemed more of a hell than a haven, the care of U.S. combat soldiers had drastically improved. New techniques and antibiotics along with the availability of anesthetics and blood plasma greatly increased a wounded soldier’s chances of survival. Miracle drugs, such as sulfa, streptomycin, and penicillin, saved countless lives, and the threat of infectious diseases was drastically reduced by inoculations. In World War I, only 4 out every 100 wounded servicemen were expected to live, however by World War II that number had jumped to 50 out of 100.
Using a leapfrog strategy, the hospitals were rotated to provide the troops with freshly rested doctors and nurses. As the troops moved forward, the last hospital in line would “leap” forward, allowing the first hospital, which had been actively helping the wounded, to rest and replenish their supplies.
Amphibious Landing Craft on Beach
The main wartime disagreement among the Big Three - Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt - concerned the Allied invasion of western Europe. Although it was agreed a second fighting front should be established in western Europe, Roosevelt and Churchill could not agree on when and where to invade.
F.D.R. wanted to take northern France as soon as possible; Churchill felt an invasion of France before Allied forces were fully prepared would be disastrous, and opted for invading Italy instead. In January of 1943, the two met in Casablanca, where they agreed to invade Sicily. It was hoped that this move would make the Mediterranean safe for Allied ships, as well as drive a war-weary Italy out of the war.
On July 10, 1943, Allied forces embarked on “Operation Husky”, the largest amphibious operation in history. Ignorant of the enemy’s plans to attack Sicily, the Axis forces were ill-prepared on that fateful day. Coastal defenses, manned mainly by Sicilians unwilling to turn their homeland into a battleground, rapidly collapsed.
On July 25, Mussolini fell from power and Italy’s new premier Pietro Badaglio began secret peace talks with the Allies.
B-24s Hit Ploesti Refineries
Oil and the ability to move it to the places where it was most needed played a critical role in the success of both the Allied and Axis forces throughout World War II. A high priority for the Allies, the U.S. kept streams of oil moving from the mid-west and southwest to loading terminals in the East. From there, the precious fluid was transported to the battlegrounds, where mobile pipelines followed the troops as they moved through Europe and North Africa.
The Axis however, depended upon reserves built up in peacetime and supplies seized in occupied countries. To win access to these great oil regions became a matter of life and death. When German U-boats began attacking tankers carrying oil from Venezuela and Texas, the Allies retaliated by striking hard at the Axis' main sources of oil.
On August 1, 1943 American planes took off for an attack on the Ploesti oil refineries - the most important source of oil available to the Axis. A city located in southeastern Rumania, Ploesti was home to one of the first oil refineries in the world.
Eventually, the Nazi's lack of oil for gasoline, rather than a lack of planes, allowed the Allied forces to gain air superiority and win the war.
V-Mail Delivers Letters from Home
Prior to the war, mail intended for an overseas destination was transported by ships and airplanes that operated on regularly scheduled routes. A friendly Europe saw to their safe and speedy delivery under the terms of the Universal Postal Union.
The outbreak of World War II changed all this; ships no longer sailed on a regular schedule and enemy submarines lurking in the water made it impossible to guarantee delivery. Planes had to fly a roundabout route, which meant using more petroleum - already quite scarce. Since less flights were made, cargo space became extremely valuable.
Recognizing that correspondence to and from the Armed Forces in battle zones was vital to the war effort, the Postal Department introduced its V-Mail Service. Letters written on special forms were transferred to microfilm, which was then flown by plane to its destination. Upon arrival, the letters were reproduced in miniature on photographic paper for delivery.
While a mail bag containing 1500 letters weighed 20 lbs., a roll of film containing the same amount of letters weighed only four ounces. During 1943, V-Mail reached its peak - in one month 20,120 rolls of film containing 33,355,554 letters were handled.
By late July of 1943, the island of Sicily had fallen to the Allies. The Germans had retreated and escaped to the mainland. Spurred on by the success of the Sicilian campaign, Eisenhower favored an amphibious assault on the Italian mainland.
Although Mussolini’s successor, Pietro Badoglio was secretly holding peace talks with the Allies, Albert Kesselring, Commander of German Forces in the Mediterranean, was prepared to fight for control of Italy. On September 3, Italy secretly surrendered. Fearing German retaliation, the Italians asked that the surrender be kept quiet until the Allies attacked. Hoping to surprise the Germans, Eisenhower agreed.
On September 9, Allied forces swarmed onto the beaches of Salerno, which was secured after nine days of fighting. Encouraged, the Allies pushed north to Naples. Although they met little resistance, they found the port in shambles. Following Hitler’s orders, German troops had demolished the city, reducing it to a mere shell of its former self.
Believing the Germans would continue to steadily retreat north, Eisenhower decided to go for the glittering prize of Rome. However, German forces south of the city held the Allies at bay for six long months.
Bonds and Stamps Help War Effort
Although the U.S. government paid for the costs of World War II in several ways, the most popular method was selling war bonds and war stamps to individuals and businesses. This form of borrowing, together with collection drives, special taxes, and rationing, joined Americans on the home front together in a morale-boosting enterprise, giving them a sense of participation in the war.
In addition to covering the phenomenal costs of the war, bonds and stamps also helped fight inflation by soaking up excess wages at a time when there were severe shortages of most consumer goods.
Initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, war bonds and stamps were extremely successful. To promote the program, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau recruited help from Madison Avenue, comic strip heroes, and big-name entertainers. Advertisers donated space and radio time worth an estimated $400 million and the popular actress, Hedy Lamar promised to kiss anyone who purchased $25,000 worth of bonds.
In all, Americans purchased $135 billion in bonds during the war. Using nickels and dimes, children alone contributed more than a billion dollars.
“Willie and Joe” Keep Spirits High
Following his 1940 enlistment in the Army, Bill Mauldin was shipped with his division to Sicily in 1943. There he joined the Mediterranean division of the Stars and Stripes. Although he covered fighting in Salerno, Sicily, and other locations throughout Italy, France, and Germany, he is best remembered for his cartoon characters, Willie and Joe. Two American G.I.’s., they accurately portrayed the plight of the World War II combat soldier. Keeping their spirits high, this disheveled pair helped many soldiers caught up in the horrors of war keep their sense of humor. Even after the war was over, Willie and Joe continued to give enlisted men a laugh as they accurately pictured the soldier’s difficult transition back to civilian life. In 1945 Mauldin received a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
The Stars and Stripes - the paper in which Willie and Joe first appeared - had its beginnings during World War I. A small publication, it went out of business following the war and was purchased by the National Tribune - a newspaper started in 1877 by Civil War veterans. Keeping the “Stars and Stripes” name, the paper continued publication throughout WW II. Today the paper continues to serve both active-duty and veteran soldiers in the U.S. military.
During the early days of World War I, Service Flags, which were displayed from homes, businesses, churches, and schools, bore a Blue Star to indicate the number of individuals from each family or organization that were serving in the Armed Forces.
As the war progressed and the number of men and women killed in combat increased daily, it was suggested that a Gold Star be used to signify the memory of an American soldier. It was felt that the Gold Star would not only bring glory and honor to the individual who had offered his life for his country, but that it would also give the family a feeling of pride in their sacrifice rather than a sense of personal loss. For every man or woman who died in the line of duty, a Gold Star was placed over the Blue Star. During World War II and the Korean War, this practice was continued.
In 1928, a group of 25 mothers met to organize the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. Open to any mother whose son or daughter has died in the line of duty or from wounds sustained in such service, this organization has chapters in all fifty states and continues to work closely with all veterans organizations. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers Day.
As the Allied forces slowly gained control in Europe and northern Africa, they turned their attention to winning the Battle of the Pacific. Using a strategy developed by Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, the Allies hopped from island to island across the Central Pacific towards the Philippines.
Rather than capture every island held by the Japanese, the Allies by-passed Japanese strongholds and invaded those islands that were weakly held. Each captured island then became a base from which to strike the next target. This strategy, known as island hopping or leapfrogging saved both time and lives.
In November of 1943, the Allies decided to put their revolutionary strategy to the test. Admiral Nimitz selected the Gilbert Islands as the first main objective in his island-hopping campaign. Early in the morning of November 20, the Marines invaded Tarawa - an atoll of the island of Kiribati.
Although they were met by heavy fire from the Japanese, they persevered, inching slowly forward. Finally, after four days of brutal fighting, the Allies were able to capture the tiny island. Learning from the mistakes made at Tarawa, the Allies leaped north to the Marshall Islands.