SOE Resistance Organiser Michael Trotobas

Trotobas with legs astride in prison

Michael Trotobas was known as a lively character with well-developed leadership skills. During his training in Scotland he got drunk and went Salmon fishing with explosives and whilst serving in France he was noted for going out in the middle of the night by himself and firing a burst from his Sten Gun to unnerved German troops. Trotobas volunteered for three missions to France, several months after arriving on his first mission he was arrested and was part of a mass prison breakout by SOE agents and members of the Resistance. (photo Trotobas with legs astride in prison) and during his second mission he distinguish himself as a resistance organiser and leader.  In November 1943 he created the Farmer network with more than 800 resisters based in Lillie and led many sabotage operations and respectfully became known as ‘Capitaine Michel’. In February 1943 he organised the derailment of 40 trains and closed the railway for two days and over the following months Farmer attacked around 20 trains per week which created delays in supplying German forces in the Lillie region. On the night of 27/ 28 June 1943 with forged Gestapo identification papers Trotobas lead 20 men from the resistance dressed as gendarmes and talked his way into the Locomotives sheds in Lille, as well as damaging locomotives they destroyed four million litres of oil and damaged 22 transformers. 

Instead of keeping a low profile Trotobas insisted on taking the same risks as those under his command and personally led many sabotage operations but was eventually denounced by a member of his network.

After his safehouse in Lillie was surrounded by German soldiers it was clear to Trotobas and his assistant, 23-year-old Denise Gilman, they were outnumbered, out gunned and there was no escape, but they decided to make a last stand against overwhelming odds. After a lengthy gun battle inside the flat Trotobas and Gilman were shot and a witnessed later described their bodies being thrown into the street as a deterrent to members of the resistance. Immediately after the death of ‘Capitaine Michel’ Farmer destroyed 11 locomotives at Tourcoing and continued sabotaging high value targets.

By the time France was liberated out of the 800 members of Farmer Circuit more than 300 had been killed in action, executed or disappeared after being transported to concentration camps.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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