18th April 2017 Transatlantic Air Mail – John W Smith

On Tuesday April 18th, the Society welcomed Mr. John W Smith who gave a presentation on Transatlantic Mail. The evening split neatly into two halves, with mail across to South America forming the first half and the North Atlantic routes the second.

The South American routes were developed after WWI: French aircraft manufacturers had been delivering thousands of aircraft during the war and afterward looked to develop civilian uses. The mail route to South America was developed in stages, starting with airmail from France to Morocco before extending on to Dakar where mail was transferred to ship and taken to South America. In a similar manner, airmail routes were developed on the east coast of South America. The next challenge was to fly across the Andes to the east coast of South America, and in 1929 an aircraft was developed that could, in the hands of a skilled pilot, make the journey. By 1930, the South Atlantic crossing could also be achieved by air, and the French carried out such a flight on May 10 1930, the principal aim being to beat the Germans who were planning on starting the Zeppelin on this route. By 1933 newer aircraft allowed an all-air route and in 1936 a weekly seaplane service was running.

The Germans also developed a South America route, via Spain and The Gambia. They tried an all air route with a mid-ocean stop to re-fuel from a ship but technical limitations meant that this method was never adopted. Instead the Germans opted for ship mounted catapults which launched the sea-planes and allowed the mail to arrive a day ahead of the ship.

On the North Atlantic route, ships could do the crossing in five days, but there was still a drive to move business mail more quickly. Catapult mail from the ship could cut a day off the delivery, and the French ran such a service from the liner ‘Ile de France’.

In 1933 the Italians flew a squadron of sea planes across to the Chicago World Fair and mail was carried by them.

By 1939 the Americans and British were ready to develop regular flying boat services using the Yankee Clipper and the Short Empire, using either the Newfoundland-Ireland or the Bermuda route. The Pan Am Yankee Clipper made the first flights in June 1939 and the BOAC Empire followed in August 1939. Both services were cut short by the start of WWII, although the Americans continued to fly across to Lisbon.

To illustrate all of this, John had a comprehensive display of first flight covers, commercial mail, unusual destinations and varied rates, backed up with photographs, including some fine original material, of the aircraft, ships and pilots.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday May 2nd at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre when presentation will be ‘How to display Thematics’ by Brian Sole. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or contact John Davies on 01295 255831.