29¢ 1994 World War II S/S
Issue Date: June 6, 1994
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 “1944: Road to Victory,” U.S. #2838 is the fourth sheet in the series of five.
Airborne Units Spearhead Attacks
A war that touched virtually every nation and was fought on nearly every continent and ocean, World War II required new military, air, and naval strategies. Trained for assault by air, airborne troops, also called paratroops, paratroopers, and sky soldiers, added a new dimension to the war.
Transported to combat areas by plane, these airborne units would parachute behind enemy lines where their primary tasks were to blow up bridges, destroy communications, and cut off supplies and reinforcements. Often taking the enemy by surprise, they would engage in fierce hand-to-hand combat.
Although the Germans first used sky soldiers when they captured the Netherlands in 1940, it was the Allies who made the most effective use of paratroops. Forming a complete army of sky soldiers, they coordinated parachute attacks with other air, land, and naval operations. From the middle of the war until its end, United States Army paratroopers successfully spearheaded attacks in Sicily, Normandy, and the Netherlands. In the Philippines, airborne troops also recaptured Corregidor from Japanese forces. Since World War II, airborne forces have taken part in all major military operations.
Allies Free Rome
Although Italy had surrendered on September 3, 1943, Germany was determined to fight for control of the Italian mainland. In a series of head-on assaults the Allies slowly battled their way up the Italian peninsula to Monte Cassino, 75 miles south of Rome. There, held at bay by General Kesselring’s German forces, Allied troops struggled to break through the Gustav Line.
On January 22, 1944, seaborne troops landed at Anzio. Surprising the Germans from behind, the Allied forces were met with little opposition. However, rather than pushing forward, they attempted to further reinforce their position, allowing Kesselring time to develop a powerful counteroffensive which kept the Allies pinned down at Anzio for four long months.
Finally in May, the Allies were able to break through German lines, and on June 4th they entered the city of Rome. General Clark, who was at the forefront recalls, “There were gay crowds in the streets, many of them waving flags.… Flowers were stuck in the muzzles of the soldiers’ rifles and of the guns on the tanks. Many Romans seemed to be on the verge of hysteria in their enthusiasm for the American troops .…” The fall of Rome marked the final phase of the war. Two days later, Eisenhower’s forces landed in Normandy.
Battle of the Bulge
On July 25, 1944, Allied troops broke through German lines at St. Lo and a month later Paris was liberated after four long years of Nazi occupation. Driving forward, Patton pushed eastward toward the Rhine River, while Montgomery swept into Belgium, capturing Antwerp on September 4th. By the late fall U.S. and British forces had managed to drive the Germans back to their own borders.
Faced with disaster, Hitler made one final attempt to win the war. Pulling together his failing resources, he planned to break through the weakly-held front of Belgium’s Ardennes Forest, severing the Allied forces in two. On December 16th, German forces launched their attack. Taken by surprise, the Allies retreated for eight days before they managed to regroup and push the Germans back.
The Battle of the Bulge, as it came to be known because of the initial dent made in the front line, changed the Allies’ position very little. By January 16, 1945, the Ardennes front had been re-established where it had been a month earlier. Hitler however, suffered heavy losses of both men and supplies. Although there were many weeks of fighting ahead, the last hundred days of the “thousand year” Third Reich had begun.
Battle for Leyte Gulf
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese had invaded the Philippines, forcing MacArthur to retreat to Bataan Peninsula and then Corregidor where he finally surrendered. But by 1944, campaigns in New Guinea and the Central Pacific had brought his forces within striking distance of the Philippines.
Expecting fierce fighting from the Japanese, the Allies assembled the largest landing force ever used in a Pacific campaign - more than 750 ships participated in the invasion. Fulfilling his promise “I shall return,” MacArthur waded ashore at Palo beach on October 20, 1944. It had taken MacArthur more than two and a half years and many brutal battles to keep his pledge made at Corregidor.
The Battle for Leyte Gulf was the greatest naval battle in history. In a desperate last effort to win the war, the Japanese unleashed a terrifying new weapon – kamikazes – suicide pilots who would crash planes filled with explosives onto Allied warships. Before the war ended they had sunk or damaged over 300 U.S. ships.
Despite Japan’s new strategy, the battle ended in a major victory for the United States. The Japanese Navy had been crushed, leaving Japan unprotected and exposed to an assault.
Allied Forces Retake New Guinea
By the summer of 1942, Japanese troops had made a series of landings on New Guinea’s north shore and were steadily pushing inland. The only barrier separating them from the Australian base of Port Moresby was the Owen Stanley Mountains - a jagged, jungle-covered range that reared up two miles high. Although the Australians considered the mountains impassable, the tenacious Japanese troops succeeded in crossing.
An Allied force quickly counterattacked and by November, the Japanese had been pushed back across the mountains. MacArthur then attacked Japanese positions along the north coast in a series of brilliant operations that combined sea, air, and land forces. But New Guinea is the world’s second largest island, and the drive to recapture it would require nearly two more years of brutal fighting.
Moving westward up the northern coast, American forces took Saidor on January 2, 1944, and established an air base there. Two weeks later Australian troops took Sio. Additional airfields were captured and by the end of April the Japanese had begun to retreat. By August, nearly all of New Guinea was in Allied hands, leaving MacArthur free to drive on toward the Philippines.
Early in 1942 the U.S. and Great Britain began making plans for a large-scale invasion across the English Channel. Code-named “Operation Overlord,” the invasion was to be commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower who was ordered: “You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.”
Scheduled for June 5th, rough seas forced Eisenhower to postpone the invasion. Early on June 6th, the largest amphibious force ever seen stormed the Atlantic Wall of which Hitler had boasted, “No power on earth can drive us out of this region against our will.” At 3:32 A.M. New York time, a radio news flash announced Eisenhower’s Order of the Day: “The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory.”
Minesweepers had gone ahead to clear the water, and as the invasion armada headed across the channel, paratroopers and glider units dropped behind enemy lines. At dawn battleships opened fire and troops stormed ashore. Taken by surprise, the Germans fought back fiercely. Troops at Omaha Beach came under heavy fire and barely managed to stay ashore, but by nightfall all five Allied beaches had been secured.
P-51’s and B-17s on Bombing Raids
Before World War II began, aviation experts claimed the long-range bomber was the most advanced weapon in the world, capable of wiping out cities and destroying an enemy’s ability to continue fighting. By the end of the war, their theory had been proven true.
Relying on the cover of darkness to evade the enemy’s fire, Great Britain favored “area bombing” - heavily bombing an area in hopes of hitting a target - a campaign that was both costly and ineffective. In 1942, the United States joined the air war against Germany. Favoring day raids on specific targets, the U.S. used the popular B17 to carry out its bombing campaign. Fitted with heavy armor and numerous guns, these “Flying Fortresses,” as B17s came to be called, were able to withstand fierce fighter opposition.
A year later the U.S. and Great Britain launched a bombing campaign against Germany that lasted until the end of the war. After heavy initial losses however, it soon became apparent that for the raids to be truly successful, long-range escort fighters such as the P51 Mustang were necessary. By the end of the war the U.S. Army Air Force had dropped more than 2 million short tons of bombs and destroyed over 40,000 enemy planes.
Red Ball Express
By August 1944, it was clear the Normandy invasion had been a huge success. Pursuing quickly retreating Germans, the Allied troops had come within 100 miles of Paris. However, the armies faced one basic problem - they had outrun the supply lines linking them to the Normandy beaches. Unless the Allies could bridge the gap separating the supplies in Normandy and the troops, the Germans would have a chance to regroup and Paris would be lost. The solution was the Red Ball Express.
Given the railroad nickname for a high-priority shipment, this long-haul supply system operated over a one-way set of roads to deliver bulk supplies each day to Patton’s and Hodges’ Armies. When the express began on August 25th, it provided 75 tons of supplies per day. As the pursuit continued, the effort was expanded to include 5,400 trucks carrying over 8,200 tons each day over round-trip routes of up to 686 miles.
By mid-November the critical need for emergency long-haul operations across northern France was over, and the service was disbanded on November 16, 1944. During its 81 days of service, the Red Ball Express had provided the 1st and 3rd Armies with 3.5 tons of supplies a minute.
Throughout 1944 American troops continued to advance on two fronts in the Pacific Theatre. While MacArthur fought his way across New Guinea toward the Philippines, Admiral Nimitz’s amphibious forces leapfrogged from island to island toward Japan. After successfully capturing the Marshall Islands, they jumped north to their next target - the Mariana Islands. On June 15th, just nine days after Eisenhower’s successful Normandy landing, U.S. Marine divisions landed on the coast of Saipan.
The Japanese put up a fierce resistance and bitter fighting ensued. But in the end American forces dealt Japan a serious blow - destroying its navy and crippling its air force. On July 9, 1944, after more than three weeks of savage fighting, Saipan was declared under American control. So ominous was the defeat that on July 18th, Japan’s Prime Minister Tojo resigned.
Within a week, American troops also occupied Guam and Tinian. Nimitz was now within striking distance of Tokyo and on November 24th, the first force of B29s took off from Saipan to bomb Japan. Using submarine and air bases on Saipan, Nimitz was eventually able to launch the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa that led to the inevitable defeat of Japan.
Submarines Shorten War in Pacific
During World War II, submarines became the Navy’s deadliest weapon. As sea people, the Japanese relied on their naval power as the key to victory and boasted a massive fleet that included the world’s two largest battleships - the Yamato and the Musashi. Operating chiefly in the Pacific, U.S. submarines played a key role in eliminating the Japanese Navy.
In the early part of the war, American torpedoes were faulty and kills were few. But by the fall of 1943, the problem had been solved and the U.S. went to war with a weapon that would destroy more Japanese tonnage than all other naval and air units combined. In addition, submarines also transported troops and supplies to enemy islands, laid mines in enemy harbors, and performed daring rescue missions.
Yet Americans back home heard very little about the fantastic success achieved by the U.S. submarines. Keeping operations secret was not only crucial to their success, but also to their survival. And despite great pressure to publish play-by-play accounts, the Navy refused, causing the American press to dub this underseas force the “Silent Service.” By the end of 1944, this highly effective force had virtually worked itself out of a job - the Japanese life line had been cut.