1919 3¢ Victory Issue Commemorative
Issue Date: March 3, 1919
City of Issue: Washington, D.C.
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Issued at the close of World War I, the symbolic 3¢ Victory stamp is fascinating to both historians and collectors. Rich symbolism captures many element of the conflict, which saw nations around the globe drawn into war, largely because of a series of treaties.
Tensions were brewing before World War I actually began. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated on June 28, 1914, a complex web of international treaties drew several nations into the turmoil.
Having agreed by treaty to defend one another, nations were forced to go to war in support of the Allied Powers (France, Italy, Russia, the British Empire, and the U.S.) or the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, the German and Ottoman empires, and Bulgaria).
President Woodrow Wilson ignored intense pressure and rejected U.S. involvement for over three years, until increased German submarine attacks (U-boats) on American merchant ships prompted a U.S. declaration of war.
American troops poured into Europe at the rate of 10,000 per day. The war raged for about 18 more months, until the Allies were victorious and the conflict officially ended on November 11, 1918.
Issued four months later, U.S. #537 pictures Liberty Victorious against a background comprised of the flags of the Allied Powers. The Russian flag is absent, perhaps because it withdrew from the war in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
Before the U.S. joined the war, the first-class domestic postage rate was 2¢. That rate was raised to 3¢ on November 3, 1917, to offset the cost of the war. The rate was decreased on June 30, 1919. The Victory stamp was the only 3¢ U.S. commemorative issued to pay the first-class letter rate during that period.
German Spring Offensive
On March 21, Germany launched its Spring Offensive in the hopes of tipping the scales of the war before American troops and supplies could reach the front.
German plans for the Spring Offensive began as early as November 1917. The offensive, also known as Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle), was planned and executed by German General Erich Ludendorff, with little input from the German government or Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg.
The operation also didn’t have a major strategy. Ludendorff had privately admitted that Germany couldn’t win a war of attrition, but he was unwilling to give up the land they had gained in the West and East. Ludendorff wasn’t seeking to reach the English Channel, rather he hoped to break through the Allied lines and crumble the flanks, taking whatever ports or railway junctions they could. The goal was to gain as much of the Allied-held ground as possible before the bulk of the US forces could arrive at the front.
The attack began on the first day of spring, March 21, 1918. The first phase of the offensive was Operation Michael, and it began at 4:40 a.m. with the largest artillery bombardment of the war. Over 1 million shells rained down on an area of 150 square miles for five hours.
Though German prisoners warned the British about the coming offensive, they were unable to defend against such a massive attack. British and French troops had prepared and dug-in at some of the more strategic locations. Others were less defended – and this was where the Germans attacked. The Allies were forced into a fighting retreat but still managed to deliver significant enemy casualties. Within three days, the Germans opened a 50-mile-wide gap on the front, the greatest advance for either side in four years.
However, German Sturmtruppen (Stormtroopers) were leading the attacks. These elite soldiers carried few supplies so they could move quicker than regular infantry. But they ran out of ammo and food quickly, eventually resorting to looting or even killing their horses for meat, slowing their advance dramatically.
As the Germans advanced, they began taking towns outside of their primary objectives. After about a week, they refocused on their initial goal and launched a 29-division assault, which was beaten back by the British. The Germans then attempted to attack the French lines near Amiens. But the Allies managed to fight that attack off as well. The Germans then terminated Operation Michael on April 5. While they had gained a lot of ground, it was of little value and they had suffered high casualties.
Days later, the Germans launched Operation Georgette, aimed at capturing the ports of Calais, Boulogne, and Dunkirk. While the Germans saw early gains, the Allies mounted a stiff defense and the operation ended on April 29. This operation was followed by Blücher–Yorck, aimed at drawing French forces away from the Channel. The Germans made it to the Marne River and came within striking distance of Paris, but again they suffered heavy casualties that they couldn’t replace.
Two more offensives would follow – Gneisenau and Friedensturm– but in July, the French launched their own offensive on the German salient. By this point, the German line was lengthened because they had formed several salients into Allied territory, and they didn’t have the manpower to fully fill the line. The Spring Offensive ended in July and shortly after, the Allies launched their Hundred Days Offensive, which would bring about the end of the war. Casualties on both sides of the Spring Offensive were high – about 688,000 for the Germans and 863,000 for the Allies, but the Allies had large numbers of fresh American troops arriving.