AFTER more than five years of brutal conflict - and the loss of millions of lives - the end of the Second World War in Europe was finally within sight.

The Western Allies had liberated France and were pushing Adolf Hitler's Nazis back into Germany, while the Red Army continued to march into Central Europe.

However, on October 5, 1944, blood was to be spilt once more on the streets of Hampshire - but this time it would have nothing to do with Hitler.

It was just before closing time at The Crown Inn, a pub in the north Hampshire village of Kingsclere, when ten American soldiers from the all-black 3247 Quartermaster Service Company suddenly turned on their own side.

Brandishing automatic rifles, they opened fire on the busy pub, killing an American military policeman, a soldier and the landlady, Rose Napper.

This dark chapter of the Second World War was hushed up by both the British and Americans, and is long forgotten by the history books.

Earlier that evening, there was no warning that the night was to end in bloodshed.

The soldiers, who had arrived at the nearby American base that day, had gone out drinking in the village when they were ordered by the MPs to change from their working clothes into their best uniforms.

The men hitch-hiked back to camp - but not to change. Instead, they stole guns and ammunition and set off back to Kingsclere to get their bloody revenge.

At about 9.30pm rural England took on the appearance of the Wild West as the soldiers walked back into the village, loading their weapons as they went.

They searched pubs until finding the men they wanted to kill at The Crown Inn, just before 10pm.

Knowing their intended victims were inside and that last drinks had been called, they hid in the churchyard opposite and waited.

As an MP and soldier stepped outside, a single shot rang out, followed quickly by a hail of gunfire.

The soldier dived for safety back into the pub, while the MP was hit in the chest.

He somehow managed to get up and run 150 yards to the corner of the road, where he collapsed and died in a garden.

The soldiers continued to fire into the pub, where the drinkers inside dropped to the floor as a volley of bullets flew through the windows.

When the smoke finally cleared the pub was riddled with bulletholes, and two more people lay dead in pools of blood.

One, a soldier who had been drinking with his back to a window, was shot in the back of the head and died instantly.

The other was 64-year-old Mrs Napper, who had been dragged to the ground by her husband.

In a freak accident, a bullet had ricocheted and passed through her left cheek and out through the right side of her neck.

She died at Newbury Hospital in the early hours of the next morning.

In all, 33 empty bullet cases were found by police as they combed the area the next morning.

The first suspects were caught that night, while it took a further 12 days to round up the rest.

At their court martial in Thatcham five weeks later, nine of the men were sentenced to imprisonment for the whole of their natural lives after being found guilty of murder, riotous assembly and absence without leave. The tenth man, found guilty of being AWOL, was sentenced to ten years' hard labour.

They were all sent back to the United States to serve their sentences.

Nothing is known of what became of them, or exactly what drove them to act with such murderous intent.

While the whole affair was hushed up and received little media coverage, General Dwight Eisenhower, who would later become the US President, told his second-in-command to apologise to the people of Kingsclere for the affair.

Today, there is nothing to mark the bloody night. However, the spirit of the dead soldier is said to haunt The Crown Inn.