Last Modified: January 19, 2011

South Africa's UN Korean Forces Airletters


Jerome V. V. Kasper

This exhibit shows the Airletters provided by South Africa to its forces in the Korean War. During the Korean War, South Africa was one of the countries that sent a military contingent to Korea to support the United Nations. The South African contingent consisted solely of 909 members of the Air Force. Special postage free airletters were printed and provided gratis to these personnel to be used for correspondence home to South Africa.

Copies of the 1 1/2 d Inland Letter Card supplied by the Postmaster General were of two types distinguished by whether the Afrikaans text preceded the English text or vice versa. The Government Printing Office overprinted them in dark blue for delivery to Korea. The overprint consisted of four basic elements:
        Three or four bars striking out the 1 1/2 d value in the stamp;
        Two lines of text, "FREE FORCES MAIL" and "POSVRY VANAF MAGTE";
        An etiquette at the left with "PAR AVION", "BY AIR MAIL" and "PER LUGPOS";
        A solid block obliterating the admonition re postage on the back panel.

The overprinting was performed in four orders of 21,600 each for a total printing of 86,400. The first issue was delivered in November, 1950 and the fourth issue in July, 1952. The issues are distinguished by the number and spacing of the bars striking out the value, and the size of the font used for the two-line text.
        1st     3 bars (31x3.5mm), smaller font: 38.5 mm "FREE FORCES MAIL"
        2nd     4 bars (31x7mm), font same as for 1st issue
        3rd     4 bars (29x8mm), larger font: 42.0 mm "FREE FORCES MAIL"
        4th     4 bars (29x7mm), font with 39.0 mm "FREE FORCES MAIL"

Variations in color of overlay and ink occur. The 3rd issue has three varieties of overprint due to readily measurable differences in positions and lengths of the 4 bars. The two basic forms and the various overprints do not occur in all combinations. The 3-bar overprint is found only on the form with Afrikaans first. The 4th issue also consists of only the Afrikaans first form.

The South African Forces did not have a post office and most mail was routed via the US APO without cancellation. Thus most properly used copies have no cancels. Rarely, a letter was forwarded and received a South African postmark. A few copies have surfaced that received US APO or British FPO cancels.

Postage free privileges were withdrawn in January, 1953 and an unknown quantity of letter cards remaining at that time were recalled and destroyed. Most copies of the fourth printing were likely recalled as few have been recorded.

This exhibit includes mint and/or used copies of all recorded major varieties.

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