IT was an accident of war that happened in a split second. But 75 years on people will gather to pay tribute to three RAF pilots who died in a training accident.

The Spitfire pilots were killed instantly when their planes collided above the Hampshire countryside on July 22 1944.

Eyewitness Stan Upton, just 14 years old, is due to attend the memorial event on Monday June 22 on Folly Hill, Abbotstone Down, near Winchester.

Local historians will join the Royal Air Force Association to commemorate the tragedy.

They plan to install a display poster inside Itchen Stoke church to explain what happened.

Longer term, the Alresford Historical and Literary Society want to place a permanent lectern-type, walled memorial on Folly Hill so visitors can visualise the incident.

Seventy-five years ago farm boy Stan Upton was helping to plant mangels.

Overhead they heard the sound of Merlin engines, and looking up saw pairs of Spitfires manoeuvring hard, their black and white D-Day recognition stripes bright against the sky.

Suddenly the sound changed - a sickening “crump” as three aircraft collided was followed by the scream of two planes plunging into Big Walk Field while the third, port wing torn off, “spun like a sycamore seed” into Lousy Crates Field.

All three pilots, F/Lt H.W. Adams, F/Sgt J.G.L.Hughes and F/Lt B. Lees were killed. They were from 26 Squadron, which was not an interceptor unit but serving in the army co-operation role, based at Lee-on-the-Solent.

From May 1944 two RAF, four Fleet Air Arm and one US Navy squadron shared a pool of Seafire L.III (navalised Spitfire) and Spitfire L.F.Vb aircraft, spotting for the naval guns during the early stages of the Normandy invasion.

The Spitfires were a relatively old model at this stage of the war.

Frequently referred to in the RAF as “clipped, cropped and clapped”; the beautiful ellipse of the Spitfire wing clipped by having the wingtips shortened to give higher speed and a faster rate of roll, the impellers cropped to optimise the engine for low level performance, and the airframes having seen hard use.