WW2 censorship of transpacific mail at San Francisco

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WW2 censorship of transpacific mail at San Francisco

Postby maxsmith » Sat Aug 06, 2016 1:29 pm

I have a registered cover from Calcutta dated 15 November 1941 that definitely caught the last PanAm FAM14 flight from Singapore on 29 Nov, because it was datestamped in San Francisco on 6 December.    My experience suggests that registered mail passed through censorship quicker than ordinary mail, so I am now confident that most ordinary airmail posted elsewhere in India after 15 Nov would not reach Singapore in time.  The last FAM19 flight from Auckland had left on 25 November, so mail by that route would have had to be posted before mid-November too.

Transpacific airmail to the USA & Canada that missed these flights was not returned westwards on the BOAC ‘horseshoe’ route. It continued eastwards and was accumulated at Sydney, where the American ship Mariposa was about to depart for San Francisco. She sailed from Sydney on 17 Dec with the accumulated mails, and arrived at SF on 30 December.  A couple of covers from Australia to Canada are postmarked 3 January 1942 and a postcard from India to the USA has a filing note of 5 January, so were definitely carried on the Mariposa, but none of these items is censored.

After that, a few covers to USA posted in India on 23 & 24 Nov, and a registered cover posted on 4 December, have US postmarks between 2 and 9 February, which clearly indicate a second or third batch arrived by ship.

Covers posted between 20 November and 12 December sometimes have US censor labels, always with San Francisco numbers, but no arrival datestamps. And alongside these, there are many covers with neither labels nor datestamps.

Does anyone know what selection criteria were used for censorship at SF; and when the labels were introduced there? And does anyone know which ships brought transpacific mail to San Francisco after the Mariposa?
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Re: WW2 censorship of transpacific mail at San Francisco

Postby gmark » Mon Sep 26, 2016 4:13 pm

Hello Max
I cannot answer some of your questions but the book by Broderick & Mayo "Civil Censorship in the United States during WWII" quote: San Francisco opened on 13 Dec 41 and had its first full day on 15 Dec (with 80 employees). San Francisco was concerned to a large extent with the airmail to Hawaii (surface mail being viewed as generally unproductive, and most of the incoming airmail from Hawaii being handled in Honolulu), and with international mail to/from the Pacific.

This might suggest that mail arriving by the Mariposa was not considered very important, and if there had been a considerable amount accumulating in Sydney the 80 staff in SF could well have been overwhelmed. Hence only a small proportion was actually examined.

San Francisco censors' numbers initially were 1461 to 1740 per General Order 4, of 19Dec41. More numbers were allocated by General Order 24 of 2Feb42 - 10001 - 12000.

I hope this is a small help.
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Re: WW2 censorship of transpacific mail at San Francisco

Postby dannmayo » Sun Sep 03, 2017 6:32 pm

Hi Max,

With regard to the questions at the end of your post, I cannot add much more than Graham has set out.

As a rule, surface mail received the least attention unless the sender or addressee was on a watch list. Once censorship got on its feet the targets for random examination of surface mail were 50% for outgoing and 25% for incoming mail.

I'm embarrassed to say that I do not know when printed censor tapes were used in San Francisco. The earliest example that Broderick and I listed (nearly 40 years ago!) for the earliest printed tape used in SF (our type L 1.4.4) was January 1942, but we did not say which station (of the 12 that we recorded as having used tapes of this type) had that earliest use.

I am attaching a scan of a cover with such an L 1.4.4 with a SF number used on a service suspended cover posted on Dec. 19. Frankly I am suspicious of this item. I wish I were more versed in the Service Suspended markings. Were this a SF rather than a NY marking, I'd feel better about the censor tape. In any event, that the cover was posted on Dec. 19 does not mean that it was censored anywhere near then, given the confusion attending the start-up of censorship and the possible hope that the service suspension might be lifted in time for the cover to be sent on.

I also attach a scan of a cover relating to the first day of censorship in SF.

And, finally, another scan of a cover from Singapore that clearly got to the US by air even after cessation of the Pan American clipper service.
My reasoning for this claim is as follows:

BOAC was still flying out of Singapore to DEI and Australia until early February 1942, and TEAL was flying Sydney-Auckland. The SF handstamp is known used only in the latter half of December 1941 and perhaps the first week of January 1942. (Dates have to be inferred in some cases; e.g., one example is on a surface mail cover from Hong Kong posted 9 November, with a 4-5 week transit assumed.) PanAm trans-Pacific clipper service ended with the Japanese attacks of December 7. However, for this cover to have traveled from Singapore to SF in 2-3 weeks, surface transit just does not seem to be in the cards. An intriguing alternative is suggested by Boyle, Airmail Operations During World War II: “In 1941 the US Army deployed an air route from Hawaii to Australia.... Air fields were built on Canton and Christmas Island in December 1941.” As official mail between British governmental agencies, this packet could have been given space on one a military flight (as well as the explicitly “not examined” treatment from the SF censor.)

IMO, the information in your post reinforces this supposition.

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