Military mail

Military mail
US Navy sailors sorting mail at Fleet Mail Center Yokohama

A primary feature of military mail systems is that normally they are subsidized to ensure that military mail posted between duty stations abroad and the home country (or vice versa) does not cost the sender any more than normal domestic mail traffic. In some cases, military personnel in a combat zone may post letters and/or packages to the home country for free, while in others, senders located in a specific overseas area may send military mail to another military recipient, also located in the same overseas area, without charge. Additionally, military postal systems in a host nation may have special agreements with that host nation's postal service allowing military postal customers to send mail to addresses in that host nation at the military's domestic postage rate using their own postage and currency. Merchandise and other goods sent via military mail systems may also enjoy duty-free privileges in accordance with Status of Forces Agreements. (This is a good description of U.S. Military overseas mail; however, there's no evidence that domestic rates apply in any other country.)

The first known use of military mail was by the Egyptian army in 2000 B.C.[citation needed] Modern military mail is used by various armies, and in some nations may even vary depending on the branch of service.


British Forces Post Office (BFPO)

The origins of the BFPO can be traced back to Saxon times. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle make mention of messengers being sent by King Edward the Elder (899-924) to recall members of the Kent fyrd,[1] but it is generally regarded that the origins of the postal services stem from the Kings Messengers (Nuncii et Cursores) of medieval times. In paricular the Royal Post established in the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83) to support his troops engaged in a war against Scotland.[2]

In 1795 Parliament granted the penny postage concession to soldiers and sailors of the British Army and Royal Navy.[3] Four years later, in 1799, the Duke of York appointed Henry Darlot, an ‘intelligent clerk’ from the General Post Office (GPO) as the Army Postmaster to accompany his expedition to Helder.[4]

Thomas Reynolds, as the British Post Office Agent in Lisbon, Portugal was made responsible for coordinating the exchange of the British Army’s mails at the port during the Peninsular War (1809-14). Two Sergeant Postmasters were appointed to work with Reynolds. The sergeants reported to the Duke of Wellington’s the Superintendent of Military Communications, Major Scovell and later Lieutenant Colonel Sturgeon.[5]

After complaints about the mail services to the British troops fighting in the Crimean War (1854-56) the Postmaster General authorised the secondment of GPO staff to organise and distribute mail in the theatre of war. A Base Army Post Office was established in Constantinople and a field post Office with the Army Headquarters at Balaklava.[6]

The provision of a mail service to soldiers was a very ad hoc affair until 1882 when the Army Post Office Corps (APOC) was raised from 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers to accompany the British Expeditionary Force sent to Egypt in the same year. Its task was to perform "Postal Duties in the Field". The 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers was recruited entirely from the staff of the British General Post Office, and was commanded by Lt Col JL du Plat Taylor, whose idea it was to have a Postal Corps.

Air Mail Letter Card postmarked Poczta Polowa 111 on 4.11.1943. which at the time was located in Julis Camp near Qastina, Palestine.[7]
1968 censored letter from an Israeli soldier. The triangular frank depicts Israel Defense Forces logo (Sword wrapped by an olive branch) and denotes sender's military unit postal identification. Red inscription on sticker at right denotes the letter was inspected by the Israeli Military Censor.

In 1913 the Army Post Office Corps was re-organised to form the Royal Engineers (Postal Section), under a Director of the Army Postal Service (DAPS), Lt Col W Price RE. The service remained part of the Royal Engineers until it was transferred to the Royal Logistic Corps on its formation in 1993.

At the end of World War I (1914-18), the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) along with the Royal Air Force (RAF) helped to pioneer international airmail services, by setting up airmail routes between Folkstone, England and Cologne (Köln), Germany to service the British Army of the Rhine.

During World War II (1939-45), they popularised the aérogramme, when they adopted it as the Air Mail Letter Card in 1941 to reduce the bulk and weight of mail so that it could be transported by air.

In 1962 the Royal Engineers (Postal & Courier Communications), took over the responsibility for handling the Royal Navy’s mail and thereby became a provider of a tri-service facility based in the old Middlesex Regiment's Depot at Mill Hill.

German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr)

The Bundeswehr's military mail system is known in German as Feldpost; all mail to or from missions abroad is sent to Darmstadt (near Frankfurt am Main), where outbound mail is sent via land or air to the Bundeswehr's overseas stations, and inbound mail is dispatched to German domestic addresses, or to foreign destinations. These include Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. Feldpost addresses consist of the word "Feldpost" and a four-digit number beginning with "64" followed by two additional digits denoting the specific mission (e.g., 6401, etc.). Postal rates for the Feldpost are the same as domestic German postal rates. The Feldpost offers the same service to its customers as the Deutsche Post does within Germany.

Indian Army Postal Service Corps

Largely based on the system followed by the British Indian Army in the 19th century, the Indian Military provides the services of the Army Postal Service Corps which handles the mails for the three defence forces (Army, Navy, Air Force). The Corps however is part of the Indian Army, and is staffed by volunteers from the civilian Indian Postal Service. Mails written to soldiers on field posting do not contain their regular postal address, but their number, rank, name, and Unit number ending with a suffix - "c/o xxx A.P.O". Soldiers are also not allowed to send mails from regular civil Post Offices even if their area of duty have such facilities. For more information, visit the APSC website.

U.S. Military Postal Service (MPS)

Marines from 4th Marine Division set up a post office to distribute airdropped mail during the Battle of Iwo Jima

The MPS is required to adhere to United States Postal Service (USPS) rules, federal laws, and various international laws and agreements for movement of military mail into more than 85 countries. The individual military services (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force) budget, and pay the bills, for manpower, facilities, daily operating costs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in second destination transportation (SDT) costs. This is why the military services maintain Command and Control (C2) over all assets, both overseas and in the United States.

Letter To Home by Stephen H. Randall, U. S. Army Vietnam Combat Artists Team VII (CAT VII 1968)

The MPS also supports mail delivery for U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad and to deployed personnel in combat zones worldwide. Most USPS extra services, such as Certified Mail, registered mail, delivery confirmation, insured mail, certificate of mailing, return receipt, restricted delivery and return receipt for merchandise are available to the MPS. Signature confirmation may be available in the future. Mail sent from one military post office (MPO) to another MPO can be sent for free as inner/intra-theater delivery service (IDS) as long as it does not transit the United States. Military postage rates are equivalent to U.S. domestic postage rates because the Services pay the second destination transportation (SDT) costs to, from, and between MPOs. The postage paid on mail to/from MPOs only covers the cost of transporting the mail within the U.S. All military mail between the U.S. and overseas locations is subject to customs inspection in the country of destination, and customs declarations must normally be attached to packages and larger mail pieces. Some host nations may restrict or prohibit the importation of certain items, such as adult oriented material, meat products (especially pork), firearms, tobacco, etc., via the MPS. The complete list of restrictions is published in the Postal Bulletin (Overseas Military Mail), published on Other host nations (e.g., Germany) may have a special interchange agreement with the military postal service allowing for the mailing of articles to host nation civilian addresses.

MPOs operated or supported by the Army or Air Force use the city abbreviation APO (Army Post Office or Air Force Post Office), while Navy and Marine Corps use the city abbreviation FPO (Fleet Post Office).

Recently USPS added Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) as a valid overseas address effective January 18, 2009. The city abbreviation is DPO. As of March 2009 there are sixteen U.S. embassy locations known as DPOs. The other approximately ninety overseas U.S. embassy post offices fall under the management oversight of the Services and so are known as either APOs or FPOs. However, many will be switching to the DPO address.

Three "state" codes have been assigned depending on the geographic location of the military mail recipient and also the carrier route used for sorting the mail. They are:

  • AE (ZIPs 09xxx) for Armed Forces Europe which includes Canada, Middle East, and Africa
  • AP (ZIPs 962xx - 966xx) for Armed Forces Pacific
  • AA (ZIPs 340xx) for Armed Forces (Central and South) Americas

Classified information

Military mail was subjected to censorship when it was the primary means for deployed servicemen to communicate with their families. The following text was printed on the message (non-address) side of standardized postcard "Subron 4 Standard Form No. F14 471-A-S/M Base. PH-7-15-41-20M." distributed to naval personnel at Pearl Harbor to communicate with their families following the Attack on Pearl Harbor:[8]

NOTHING is to be written on this side except to fill in the data
specified. Sentences not required should be crossed out. IF ANYTHING

   I am well                               (sick     -(serious
   I have been admitted to hospital as     (wounded  -(not serious
   Am getting on well. Hope to return to duty soon.

                                (Letter dated _____________________
   I have received your         (Telegram dated ___________________
                                (Parcel dated _____________________

   Letter follows at first opportunity.

   I have received no letter from you
              (for a long time.

Signature __________________________________________

Date _____________________


See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ 'The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles' - Edited by Swanton M. Phoenix, London. 2000. 
  2. ^ Edward Wells (1987). 'Mailshot – A history of the Forces Postal Services' p. 11. Defence Postal & Courier Services, London. 
  3. ^ Edward Wells (1987). 'Mailshot – A history of the Forces Postal Services' p. 12. Defence Postal & Courier Services, London. 
  4. ^ Edward Wells (1987). 'Mailshot – A history of the Forces Postal Services' p. 13. Defence Postal & Courier Services, London. 
  5. ^ Edward Wells (1987). 'Mailshot – A history of the Forces Postal Services' p. 14-16. Defence Postal & Courier Services, London. 
  6. ^ Edward Wells (1987). 'Mailshot – A history of the Forces Postal Services' p. 18-25. Defence Postal & Courier Services, London. 
  7. ^ History of the Polish Army Postal Service, Ryszard Wagner, 1992
  8. ^ *Backus, Paul H. (1981), "Why Them and Not Me?", Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute (Annapolis, Maryland) (Vol. 107, No. 9, September 1981): 55, ISSN 0041-798X 

Further reading

  • Entwistle, Charles R, A priced checklist of British Army & Field Post Offices 1939 - 1946, 1998, ISBN 1-872744-15-X.
  • Rossiter, Stuart, History of the East African Army Postal Service, c1983
  • Wells, E, Mailshot - The History of the Forces Postal & Courier Services, 1987, ISBN 0 951300903

External links

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