Other Airmail 1940-41: New Zealand - USA - UK

From July 1940, there was a regular trans-Pacific airmail service (FAM 19) by PanAm between New Zealand and the USA. However, this service was expensive. The airmail rate to the UK was 6s 3d, reducing to 5s 9d in September 1940 and there were alternative (partial) airmail services between New Zealand and the UK via USA. Flights from 1940-41 are described below while flights from 1942-44 are shown later.

New Zealand - UK: (Honolulu - New York leg by air) June '40 - March '41

The Empire Air Service to the UK was suspended in New Zealand on 14 June due to Italy entering World War II. That meant that it was no longer possible for airmails to be flown across the Mediterranean.

It was towards the end of July 1940 before the New Zealand Post Office accepted mail for the Horseshoe Route with the first dispatch being on 23 July and arriving in the UK on 5 September [3].

via Honolulu

In the meantime, the advised route was by sea to Honolulu from where mail would be flown to San Francisco on FAM 14 and then flown to New York followed by sea to the UK. The cost of this service was 1s 9d. If mail was to be flown in addition from New York the rate was 4s 0d [1,5,16].

The first dispatch was on 19 June, but the mail was lost when the Niagara was sunk after hitting a mine later that day shortly after leaving Auckland [15,17].

This cover, franked with 1s 9d, is addressed to the UK and postmarked in Wellington on 24 June, 1940. It was sent via Honolulu on the first successful dispatch [6,14,17] on the Mariposa which left Auckland on 1 July. The arrival of the Mariposa from Sydney had been delayed due to the presence of further mines. The cover was likely flown from Honolulu to San Francisco on 17 - 18 July [13]. In addition, the ferry service across the Cook Strait was cancelled and ordinary mail was flown between Wellington and the South Island.

via Honolulu

The next cover is postmarked in Auckland on 29 June and was redirected in Somerset on 6 August. That gave 19 days between San Francisco and Somerset and the elapsed time was 5 weeks. It has routing instructions via Honolulu & New York.


It was definitely carried on the Mariposa as the next sailing was the Aorangi on 17 July and it did not arrive in Hawaii until 29 July and so there was not sufficient time for its mail to get to the UK by 6 August.

According to [2], this airmail service to the UK remained in operation as an alternative to the Horseshoe for airmail to the UK until March 1941. It was faster with a claimed average transit time of four weeks instead of the average six weeks of the Horseshoe Route.

via Honolulu

This next cover is franked with 1s 9d and is postmarked in Timaru on 21 August, 1940. As it has the routing instructions Per Honolulu New York, it was clearly intended to go via this route. The next sailing from Auckland to Hawaii was the Mariposa on 27 August.

The cover was opened and passed by the censor in Christchurch (censor number 5) [2]. The censor stamp is red rather than the usual purple. Red censor handstamps are usually from Christchurch [8].

The regular Honolulu - San Francisco airmail was established as a leg on the route between USA and the Philippinnes in November 1935. An airmail service from the USA to Hawaii followed by Hawaii - New Zealand by sea had been available since that time [3]. The service in the opposite direction from New Zealand first appears in the Mail Notice of the Evening Post for dispatch on the Niagara from Auckland on 24 January 1939 arriving in Honolulu on 3 February [15].

Two covers addressed to the USA are shown in [4]. The first is dated 12 June 1939 (i.e. before WWII) and has the routing American Airmail via Honolulu and is franked with 1s 6d while the second is franked with 1s 9d and is postmarked 8 December, 1939. Startup [5] in his Appendix A lists the 1s 9d service to UK via Honolulu as available in October 1939 although it is not listed in the New Zealand Schedule of Air Mail Charges for April 1940 that he shows in his Appendix B.

Until the Empire route was broken in June 1940, there would have been little need to use this service for mail to the UK as the Empire Airmail service via Australia provided a fast and cheap route costing only 1½d per half oz between July 1938 and September 1939 and 1s 6d after the outbreak of war.

via Honolulu

This rather crumpled and torn censored cover is franked with 1s 9d and was postmarked in Wellington on 24 September 1940. It was redirected 8 weeks later in London on 19 November and therefore took twice as long as the expected 4 weeks.

via Honolulu

via Honolulu

It just missed the Monterey which left Auckland on 23 September and the next sailing was the Aorangi which left Auckland on 9 October and arrived in Hawaii on 19 October. The next flight from Honolulu to San Francisco was not until 26 - 27 October while the Aorangi had arrived in San Francisco on 25 October. The connection at Hawaii was therefore already a problem six months before the service was terminated.

This cover also has the letter A on the back in purple. It has been suggested that these Alpha Control Marks were concerned with the translation of letters being censored [2], but the contents of this cover do not seem to have been written in a foreign langage.

via Honolulu

This cover is postmarked in Dunedin on 28 December 1940 and has Received 15/2/41 in manuscript on the back. That would make the transit time to the UK to be 49 days.

Connection times via the Horseshoe Route were longer at this period and so it is likely to have been sent on the service via Honolulu. It is franked with 2s 0d and so is overfranked for this service but may be intended to cover internal New Zealand air mail.

It was opened by the censors in Dunedin (censor number 66), but there are no further censor marks. The next sailing was the Mariposa which left Auckland on 13 January 1941 and so would have arrived in Hawaii around 23 January [15]. There was a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco on 25-26 January which gives 20 days for it to get to Dorset [13].

The reason that the service was terminated in March 1941 was that it was no longer possible to make a decent connection at Honolulu [2]. The service is listed in the Mail Notice published in the Evening Post of Wellington of 3 March 1941, but not in the Mail Notice of 4 March [15].

via Honolulu
via Honolulu to Canada
via Honolulu

This cover to Canada is postmarked in Wellington on 9 September 1940 and has an arrival backstamp in Bedford, Quebec 16 days later on 25 September.

As it is franked at the 1s 9d rate, it presumably went by sea to Hawaii and was flown from there. This route was available before the war, but it is not in the list of air mail routes in April 1940 given in [18] although there is a rate of 1s 3d via the Canal Zone and 1s via USA.

Presumably, this service to Canada became available at the same time as the service to the UK in June 1940. The fact that the transit time by sea between Auckland and San Francisco was 17 days while this cover only took 16 days to get from New Zealand to Canada supports the notion that it was flown from Honolulu. The Awatea sailed from Auckland to Hawaii on 11 - 20 September and there was a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco on FAM 14 on 21-22 September [13] which fits with the arrival in Bedford, Quebec on 25 September.

New Zealand - UK: 2s 6d rate flown trans-Atlantic

surface to us
New York - UK leg by air: May - September '41

A new New Zealand - UK (partial) air mail service was introduced on 30 May 1941. The rate was 2s 6d and the route was: sea to San Francisco, rail to New York and then air to UK via Lisbon.

This cover to the UK is postmarked on 22 July 1941 and, as it is franked with 2s 6d, it presumably went via this route. The next sailing from Auckland was the Monterey on 28 July.

The cover does have the inscription Via America in pencil on the front, but it is not clear whether this is a routing instruction or whether it was added later by a dealer. The cover has no censor marks.

After September 1941 the complete San Francisco - UK leg was flown [2].

surface to us
San Francisco - UK leg by air: September '41-'44

From 2 September, 1941 airmail at the 2s 6d rate went by surface to San Francisco and then was flown from San Francisco to New York as well as from New York to the UK. [2]

This censored cover to the UK is postmarked on 27 September 1941, is franked with 2s 6d and was opened and passed by the censors in Nelson (censor number 138) [2]. It has the routing instructions Trans-Atlantic indicating that it was to be sent via the USA. The next sailing from Auckland was the Mariposa on 20 October.

Although this service from New Zealand continued until July 1944 [5], there was a lack of shipping between New Zealand and the USA and so the service provided was erratic.

FAM 19 was terminated in December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor; the Horseshoe Route via Singapore was increasingly difficult due to Japanese advances and was terminated in February 1942. Services to America by sea therefore became more important.

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[1] A Problem Airmail Cover, I. McQueen, The Kiwi, vol 46, pp 75-76, July 1997.
[2] The Postal History of World War II Mail between New Zealand and Switzerland, R.M. Startup and C.J. LaBlonde, 2005.
[3] Airmails of New Zealand, volume 2 compiled by D.A. Walker, Air Mail Society of New Zealand, 1986.
[4] A Problem Airmail Cover, G. Branam, The Kiwi, vol 46, pp 93-95, September 1997.
[5] Airmails of New Zealand, volume 3, R.M. Startup, 1997.
[6] Alternatives to the Horseshoe Route in June and July 1940, R. Clark, The Kiwi, vol 58, pp 42-47, March 2009.
[7] Civilian Postal Censorship in World War II Some Facts and Problems, G. Branam, The Kiwi, vol 43, pp 90-97, September 1994.
[8] Civilian Postal Censorship in New Zealand in World War II, Rodney Stone, The Mail Coach, vol. 25, no. 1, pp 3-7, October 1988.
[9] Wartime Interruptions to Air Mail Routes, W.H. Legg, Air Mail News, vol 47, pp 46-53, May 2004.
[10] Further Wartime Interruptions to Air Mail Routes, Bill Legg, Air Mail News, vol 47, pp 188-192, November 2004.
[11] Airmail Routes and Rates for P.O.W Mail in World War II, G Branam, The Kiwi, vol 38, pp 34-38, March 1989.
[12] World War II Censor Marks, J.A Daynes (editor), The Forces Postal History Society, 1986.
[13] Bridging the Continents in Wartime: Important Airmail Routes 1939-45, H. E. Aitink and E. Hovenkamp, SLTW, Enschede, 2005.
[14] New Zealand Air Mail to the United Kingdom and Canada via the United States in 1940-41: Was it flown within the United States?, R. Clark, The Kiwi, vol 58, pp 128-133, November 2009.
[15] Evening Post Wellington 1916-1945, Papers Past, available at: paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast
[16] Further Aspects of the Horseshoe Route: A New Zealand Perspective, R. Clark, Air Mail News, vol 53, no 211, pp 179-184, November 2010.
[17] The First Disptach to UK via Honolulu at 1s 9d Rate was Lost, R. Clark, New Zealand Air Mail News, no 708, p 4, November 2010.
[18] New Zealand Overseas Airmail Postage Rates, R.M. Startup, 2012.