End of Pan American Service, Dec 1941

There were only three flights from San Francisco to Auckland via Fiji and two flights from Auckland (either 13 [1] and 27 November [1, 4] or 12 and 25 November [2, 3]) before the New Zealand - US service was suspended until 1946 due to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (8 December NZ time). The reports in the contemporary New Zealand press state that the last flight left Auckland at 4.30 am on 25th November [7].

An interesting postscript is that the Australian and New Zealand governments had at last agreed in late November to the extension of the FAM 19 service to Australia. That had always been Pan American's aim when they set up the route to New Zealand. The proposal was that the service between Auckland and Suva would operate on alternate weeks over the route [5]:

However, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, this service did not materialise.

Last flight before Pearl Harbor

New Zealand to Switzerland

Cover postmarked in Christchurch on 21 November 1941 and is addressed to the Red Cross in Geneva. It would have been flown from Auckland to San Francisco on the last FAM 19 flight on 25th November.

Because there was an outbreak of plague in New Caledonia, the clipper only stopped there for an hour and flew on to Fiji where it arrived that evening [7].


The flight arrived in San Francisco on 30th November. The mail was then flown to New York before being flown trans-Atlantic to Lisbon.

The cover would initially have been sent to the censor in Christchurch, but has a Wellington censor number (31). It has an alpha control letter (E) and the number 16 on the back. They were used as internal communication codes within the NZ censors’ office when special action was being taken.

Australia to USA

The cover is postmarked 18 November 1941 and was flown from Sydney to Auckland on 23 November [6]. It was then flown on the last flight from Auckland to San Francisco on November 25.

The flight arrived in San Francisco on 30 November [2] (or 1 December [3]). The cover is addressed to a company in Richmond, Virginia. It appears that this company recorded the arrival of mail which explains the date of 3 December on the front.

The postal rate from Australia to the USA was 4s 0d and so the cover is correctly franked.

There is a red number 2 on the left of the censor tape indicating that it was opened by the censor in Sydney. An interesting point is that the censor tape has been cut back so that it does not obscure the stamp on the left. At first glance, it appears that the stamp is on top of the censor tape.

Australia to UK

This cover is postmarked in Adelaide on 12 November 1941 which is the date on which the second last flight left New Zealand. After being flown trans-Tasman by TEAL, it would therefore have been flown on the last flight on 25 November.

The cover is correctly franked with 5s 10d and the censor tape has censor number 4 which was the code for Adelaide. I have seen another cover to the UK flown on the last flight that has a cachet on the back stating that it was received at the Air Ministry on 14 December.

Although there was one more flight to New Zealand, the clipper did not return across the Pacific, but instead returned to the USA via Australia and Africa. The trans-Pacific route was considered too dangerous after Pearl Harbor.

UK to New Zealand


The second flight via Fiji left San Francisco on 17 November and the third on 1 December, arriving in Auckland on 8 December.

This cover is postmarked in Bucknell on 7 November and is addressed to Wellington. Mail dispatched from London to Lisbon on 31 October - 9 November connected with the transAtlantic flights to New York on 10 and 11 November arriving on 11 and 13 November. However, due to the high demand on the London - Lisbon mails, it is unlikely to have made these flights and connect with the second service via Fiji.

Mail dispatched from London to Lisbon on 12-13 November connected with the transAtlantic flight to New York on 16 November which arrived in New York on 18 November. So, even if it was sent on that service, it would not have managed to connect with the second service via Fiji.


The next cover is postmarked in Newcastle on 13 November and is addressed to Wellington. It is over-franked by 6d.

Mail dispatched from London to Lisbon on 15 - 20 November connected with transAtlantic flights to New York on 19, 21 and 23 November. Because of the high demand of the service to Lisbon, some mail from UK to North America was sent to the USA by sea, but even if that were the case, both these covers would have a good chance of getting to San Francisco by 1 December.

It is therefore very likely that both these covers were sent from San Francisco to Auckland on the last trans-Pacific service before Pearl Harbor.

Missed last flight to USA


The third flight via Fiji arrived in Auckland on 8 December (New Zealand time) which was of course 7 December Hawaii time, i.e. the day of Pearl Harbor.

This cover is postmarked in Wellington on 6 December 1941, i.e. before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and so is clearly an ordinary commercial letter to the UK that was intended to go on the next flight.

The clipper waited in New Zealand for orders of what to do next. Meanwhile letters were posted assuming that it would return to the USA by the regular route.


This rather scruffy cover is postmarked in Auckland on 6th December and is addressed to Washington D.C. It would also have missed the last flight.


It was redirected in Washington and has a datestamp on 4 January 1942. That indicates that it was sent by sea from New Zealand very soon after (or even before?) the cancellation of the air mail service on 18 December. The Mariposa sailed from Sydney on 17 December and arrived in San Francisco on 30 December, but reports are that it did not stop on its way to USA although Wikipedia states that it sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco on 26 December - 1 January.

I have the scan of a registered air cover from Perth, Australia postmarked on 2 December 1941 addressed to Vancouver with a Sydney air transit on 4 December that has a Montreal transit on 3 January and a Vancouver backstamp on 4 January 1942 As it did not go by sea to Vancouver, it must have gone either to USA or Panama. If it had gone to San Francisco on the Mariposa, it would likely have been flown from there to Vancouver. As it went via Montreal that suggests it went to Panama and was flown from there via Miami. An extra point about the cover is that it was opened by the censors in both Perth and in Canada and has a Vancouver Registration Branch datestamp on 18 January with a winess signature that it was officially repaired.


The next example airmail is dated 13 December 1941 and carries routing instructions indicating that a flight to San Francisco was still expected as the suspension of the service was not officially announced until 18 December.

I have also seen the scan of a similar cover that had a manuscript addition stating that it was received in the UK on 28 January 1942. Also one postmarked in Australia on 15 December with a Sydney Air transit on 16 December. It was addressed to Vancouver and was backstamped there on 27 January. There was a scheduled trans-Tasman flight on 17 December and so it was likely sent by sea from New Zealand.

The Pacific Clipper left Auckland on December 15, but, instead of returning to the USA via Fiji, it headed west and returned to the USA via Australia, India, Africa and South America. It arrived in New York on 6 January 1942. This was the first circumnavigation of the globe by a commercial airliner. No mail was carried.

Suspension of Flights

suspended suspended

The two articles were published respectively in the Sydney Morning Herald [8] and the Evening Post of Wellington on 19 December [7] and report statements in London and Washington on 18 December suspending the service.

The report from London announces that mail to New Zealand would be sent by the Horseshoe Route. Given the problems with the Horseshoe Route, a more likely alternative from New Zealand would be to go by sea to San Francisco and be flown from there.

Mail from UK that missed the last Pacific flight


The next cover was postmarked in UK on 16 December and is addressed to Australia. It was intended to go via USA and New Zealand and must have started on its journey as similar mail posted a week later was returned to the sender.

It would have been flown to Lisbon and from there sent to the USA by Pan American , but the trans-Pacific air mail service had been suspended when it arrived there.

The report from Washington states that mail for Australia and New Zealand was being held up until the route was decided. The cover has Received 7-3-42 in manuscript and so was held up somewhere along the route for a long time.


The Overseas Mails Branch Report 89 on 24 May 1941 reported that a new service from Britain to the Burma, Ceylon, Dutch East Indies, India, Malaya and Thailand via the fortnightly Transpacific air service to New Zealand or Singapore had been established at a rate of 5s 0d [9].


It is not clear if any mail for Malaya was actually sent via New Zealand.

This cover is postmarked in Aberdeen, Scotland on 10 December and is addressed to Malaya. It was likely got as far a the USA, but did not arrive until after the Transpacific air service to New Zealand and to Singapore had been suspended.

It was eventually returned to the UK where the two cachets on the front and the Army Post Office cachet on the back were applied. The reason why 3s 9d was refunded was that the cover had been flown from the UK to the USA and the rate for that was 1s 3d.

Legg shows two covers from the UK to Malaya with the same three cachets. The first was postmarked in Greenock on 20 November and has 3s 9d refunded [10]. The second had been sent via the Horseshoe Route on 20 October 1941. It has a Durban censor mark and the air mail fee refunded was 1s 1½d [11]. The fact that the two covers were sent to Malaya round the world in opposite directions and have the same cachets show that the cachets must have been applied after the covers returned to the UK.

Surface mail


The charge of 4s 0d for airmail from NZ to the USA was a significant surcharge on the ordinary surface rate of 3d. Most mail therefore continued to be sent by sea.

The shown censored New Zealand surface letters to the USA were sent just before the last airmail flight of 25 November. The USA entered World War II while these covers were in transit.

The first cover is postmarked 20 November 1941 and so The censor mark was applied in San Francisco and the censor re-sealing tape is plain brown with no inscription. I assume that this is because it is a very early US WWII censored cover and official tape had not yet been produced.

Postage due

The second cover is addressed to New York and is postmarked 24 November 1941. Again the censor tape is plain brown. It is likely to have been opened by the censor in San Francisco as the censor stamp is the same. However, in addition it has a censor number in manuscript within the inner circle.

This cover is only franked with 2d rather than the required 3d. It therefore has a To Pay Tax 20c Deficient Postage handstamp. The international postage due rates were marked in centimes and 20c corresponded to 2d being due, i.e. double the deficiency. That corresponded to 4c US and that is shown on the purple handstamp and in the value of the US postage due stamps.

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All scans were made by the author.
[1] O.R.J. Lee, Australia and New Zealand to Great Britain (Wartime Services 1939-1945), Aero Field 1961.
[2] J.E. Krupnick, Pacific Pioneers, PH Publishing, 1997.
[3] H.E. Aitink and E. Hovenkamp, Bridging the Continents in Wartime: Important Airmail Routes 1939-45, SLTW, Enschede, 2005.
[4] R.M. Startup, Airmails of New Zealand, volume 3, 1997.
[5] P. Wingent, Extracts from the Air Ministry Civil Aviation Intelligence Reports Summaries, West Africa Study Circle, 2010.
[6] W.H. Legg, Wartime Interuptions to Air Mail Routes, Air Mail News, vol 47, pp 46-53, May 2004.
[7] Evening Post Wellington 1916-1945, Papers Past, available at: paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast
[8] Australian Newspapers 1803-1954, Trove, National Library of Australia
[9] Overseas Mails Branch Weekly Reports Nos. 69-120, 1941, POST 56/77, Royal Mail Archive.
[10] W.H. Legg, A Tale of Two Covers, Air Mail News, vol 51, pp 274-276, February 2009.
[11] W.H. Legg, When the United States went to War: Two British Air Mail Problem Covers, Air Mail News, vol 53, pp 62-64, May 2010.