Final Flight in Linn’s Stamp News
Review by Ken Lawrence – SPOTLIGHT ON PHILATELY
Award Winning Featured Columnist for Linn’s Stamp News
Abridged from Linn’s News July 18, 2021 (pgs 54 to 89 with Illus.)
Pan American’s Final Flight by Jon E. Krupnick, published in 2023 by Minuteman Press of Toledo, Ohio, tells the story of trans-Pacific airmail from the first survey flight in 1933 up to December 1941, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor abruptly halted Clipper flights beyond Honolulu Hawaii. A
brief postwar coda includes the final Pacific Clipper flight in April 1946.
Final Flight comes in two editions: large and small. The larger 11-inch-by-17- inch format matches the page dimensions of Krupnick’s airmail, exhibit, which is the central feature and organizing principle of his book; readers can view actual size reproductions of his covers. The smaller 7 ¼ - inch-by-11-inch format is easier to hold and fits better on most bookshelves, but for readers with aging eyesight, the small type might pose a challenge.
Buy the large edition to savor the illustrations. It can also serve as a coffee-table book that might tempt your guests to take an interest in aviation progress, airmail and postal history collecting. Buy the small one if you want it only for your private pleasure ad your bookshelf, and if your vision is keen enough to read small type comfortable.
Final Flight is Krupnick’s third book on this subject, a sequel to Pan American’s Pacific Pioneers (1997) and Pan American’s Pacific Pioneers: The Rest of the Story (2000). The two earlier books include an abundance of philatelic material, but they also include every sort of Pan Am personnel profile, memoir, memento and paper ephemera.
The new book is more explicitly devoted to aerophilately, particularly to the author’s 80-page, 10-frame large gold medal and grand award-winning competitive exhibit “Pan Am Clippers Conquer the Pacific.” But at age 81, Krupnick thinks this might be his last book, so he has included tributes to his family, friends and associates who have shared and enjoyed his collecting adventure.
Krupnick also has hoed the weeds and harvested the fruits of his exhibiting experiences, sharing tidbits that might nurture others who have not yet pursued that challenge, or who have not yet indulged it to the fullest.
Readers who expect a conventional postal history study might consider those features to be distractions, but I think they enhance the book’s appeal for potential recruits to airmail collecting and exhibiting.
After introductory acknowledgments to the memory of Roger Schnell, who had encouraged Krupnick to exhibit his airmail treasures; to his family; and to two of his enthusiastic supporters – the musician Jimmy Buffett, who contributed a foreword, and the investment tycoon, Warren Buffet, who sent a complimentary letter and a recollection of his failure as an investor in mint U.S. postage stamps (the two Buffett’s are friends but not kin) – the book proceeds chronologically and ends with an index.
Several covers pictured here will illustrate the breadth and appeal of Final Flight.
Krupnick’s exhibit and his narrative begin with covers flown on survey flights that tested each proposed step as the project of crossing the vast Pacific Ocean by air took shape, beginning with a unique August 1933 mail piece carried from Hong Kong to Manila and back.
Construction for the route that became Foreign Air Mail (FAM) route No.14 from San Francisco, Calif., to Manila, Philippine Islands, began 1935. Each prospective leg – San Francisco to Hawaii, Hawaii to Midway Island, Midway Island to Wake Island, Wake Island to Guam, and Guam to Manila – needed to be evaluated by flights that confirmed its feasibility.
Actual FAM 14 service began November 1935, represented by inaugural flight covers. In 1937 the FAM 14 route was extended to the Asian mainland with terminals at Hong Kong and Macau. In 1941 it was further extended to Singapore, Straits Settlements. Meanwhile, Pan Am explored a proposed South Pacific route from California to Samoa and New Zealand.
The Figure 1 March 9, 1937, survey flight cover from Los Angeles to Kingman Reef is not only rare (two of the three known are in Krupnick’s exhibit), but it also has sentimental value to Krupnick because it kindled his interest in the subject that became his life’s passion. In 1974 he bought it at auction, and from that beginning his collection grew.
The route via Kingman Reef and Samoa proved too perilous to pursue. When Pan Am finally inaugurated FAM 19 service in 1940, the route went from California to Hawaii, to Canton Island, to New Caledonia, to New Zealand. In 1941 Fiji was added as an additional call. By connection at Auckland, New Zealand, to Tasman Empire Airways Ltd., known by its TEAL acronym, service extended to Australia.
As those routes were being built and extended, war erupted in Asia, Africa and Europe, which disrupted intercontinental airmail services. Before the war, one could send a letter from the United States to Madagascar by a Pan Am FAM 18 trans-Atlantic flight to France, and from there to its destination, for .59 cents per half-ounce postage. But after German forces overran France and Italy invaded and closed air traffic across the Mediterranean, those letters had to be rerouted westward across the Pacific by a FAM 14 Pan Am Clipper flight and onward by British Overseas Airways.
Krupnick’s Nov. 1, 1940 airmail cover in Figure 2 represents that revised route, mailed at the short-lived .85 cents per half-ounce rate that had ended one day earlier, but was tolerated here because the sender could not have known of the increase to .90 cents. It combines a seldom-seen destination, a scarce postal rate and an improvised route.
The letter took longer to travel by ship from Mozambique to Madagascar than it had taken to fly from California to Hong Kong and from Honk Kong to Mozambique.
The wartime route reflected by the Dec. 2, 1940, airmail cover from French Indochina to France in Figure 3 illustrates a switch in the opposite direction. Previously airmail letters from Indochina to France had flown by British or Dutch aircraft westward across Asia to Europe. With that route broken, the alternative was an eastbound Pan Am Fam 14 flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, a U.S. domestic transcontinental flight to New York, and a Pan Am FAM 18 flight to Europe.
As a memento of a significant Pan Am inaugural flight extension without advance notice to collectors, the May 5, 1941 cover in Figure 4, from Midway Island on the first, FAM 14 flight that terminated at Singapore, is one of Krupnick’s rarest showpieces. That route existed for just seven months before war came to America.
Krupnick’s figure 5 airmail cover, mailed at New York City on Dec. 4, 1941, was in the air aboard Pan Am’s Anizac Clipper en route to Singapore when Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7. For safety’s sake, the Clipper was diverted to Hilo, Hawaii, 250 miles Southeast of the carnage, where mail was unloaded and later conveyed to Honolulu for censorship and onward dispatch.
Krupnick’s Figure 6 airmail cover, mailed Dec. 19, 1941, at Albany, N.Y., flew on a Pan Am Fam 14 flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. It passed censorship and was in transit to Hawaii as the Wake Island defense forces were losing their fight to fend off Japanese invaders. The U.S. Navy commander at Wake surrendered on Dec. 23. The cover probably reached Hawaii on the Dec. 26 China Clipper flight that brought Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to take command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Those fateful events meant that neither the Figure 5 cover nor the Figure 6 cover, nor any later mail for the duration of the war, could be sent farther west than Hawaii by the FAM 14 route. Both of those letters went back to the U.S. mainland.
The Figure 6 cover was returned to the original sender, but the Figure 5 cover was rerouted to the Pan Am FAM 22 trans-Atlantic route for an eastbound trip to Singapore. Evidently it did not get that far before Singapore’s British commander surrendered to superior Japanese forces on Feb. 15, 1942. The cover returned once more to the United States, this time to the original sender.
Krupnick ended his exhibit with December 1941 covers that represented the suspension of civilian trans-Pacific flights west of Hawaii but in his book, he added the Figure 7 postwar April 8, 1946 airmail cover that was carried on the final commercial flight of a Pan American Airways Clipper flying boat, bringing his story to a logical end and providing its title.
The United States Official Postal guide states clearly that each trans-Pacific airmail rate “includes the transportation to and from the air-mail routes – instead of an air-mail fee plus regular postage.” By my analysis, the best explanation is that the Figure 8 letter probably weighed more than one-half ounce but no more than 1 ounce. In that case, the required airmail rate for one segment of the trip was .50 cents, so .22 cents postage due was correctly charged to the recipient.
Final Flight combines a gallery of extraordinary 1933-41 and 1946 trans-Pacific airmail covers with what amounts to a handbook on how to collect, organize and display them. I recommend it without reservation. Besides that, Krupnick’s infectious enthusiasm for his subject and his generous acknowledgments to everyone who has enhanced his knowledge and accompanied his adventure make his book a treat for readers at every level of interest.
To Order FINAL FLIGHT for delivery in U.S. visit Jon Krupnick’s new website: PanAmClippers.com. For Foreign delivery Buy on eBay – search: Final Flight Krupnick.
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