29¢ Turning the Tide
World War II Sheet
Issue Date: May 31, 1993
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.
Sinking Of The SS Dorchester
On February 3, 1943, after the SS Dorchester was sunk, the Four Chaplains sacrificed their lives to protect the other men on their boat.
The U.S. Army Transport Dorchester (formerly a coastal liner) left New York on January 23, 1943, with 904 passengers and crew aboard. Among them were four men who had met at Army Chaplains School at Harvard University – Methodist Minister George L. Fox, Protestant Minister Clark V. Poling, Catholic Priest John P. Washington, and Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode.
The Dorchester was one of three troop transport ships in a convoy. The crew was on high alert because German U-boats had attacked American ships in the same area near Newfoundland. Because of the concern of attack, the men were ordered to sleep in their clothes and wear their life jackets. But many ignored the command because they found it hot and uncomfortable. Shortly after midnight on February 3, the Dorchester was hit by a torpedo. The blast knocked out the electrical system, and left passengers trapped below deck in darkness.
Chaos ensued, but the four Chaplains calmed those on board while organizing the evacuation. As they passed out life jackets, they found there weren’t enough for everyone, so the four Chaplains gave theirs away to other men on board. After helping as many of the men into lifeboats as they could, they linked arms, said prayers, and sang hymns until the ship eventually sank.
According to one survivor, “As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.” Of the 904 men initially aboard the ship, just 230 were rescued, as hypothermia took countless lives.
In December 1944, the four Chaplains were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart. Members of Congress hoped to award the chaplains the Medal of Honor, but because they were not under fire at the time of their bravery, they didn’t qualify. Instead, Congress created the Four Chaplains’ Medal. In 1961, President Eisenhower presented the new medal to the Chaplains’ families. Congress further honored the Chaplains in 1988 by proclaiming February 3 as Four Chaplains Day.
In the years since the sinking, the Chaplains have been honored in a number of ways. These include several chapels and stained glass windows, sculptures and plaques around the country, as well as books and a documentary, which you can watch here. In 2002, survivors of the Dorchester and the German U-223 that attacked it, met in a reconciliatory meeting.