AT DAYBREAK on November 27, 1943, the Gestapo surrounded the Lille hideout of British agent Michael Trotobas.

The 29-year-old was one of the most wanted men in France having led the Resistance against the Nazis in the region.

But he had finally been tracked down and the Germans were taking no chances.

Trotobas was outnumbered and outgunned. But with his girlfriend upstairs, he drew his pistol and opened fire, taking down a Gestapo officer and wounding others.

With his ammunition low, a flurry of machine gun bullets cut him down. And as he drew his final breath, he took his tale of heroism and bravery with him.

Stewart Kent, whose mother Yvonne Baudet helped Trotobas during the war, has been researching his story for more than 20 years.

In his new book, with co-author Nick Nichola, he tells the story of the agent from his Brighton beginnings to his bloody end.

Trotobas was born in 1914 in North Place, Brighton, to a French father and Irish mother.

She died when he was young and he was sent to school in France, after which he joined the army.

When war was declared he was sent to France to force the Germans out. But it was hopeless, and with the evacuation of Dunkirk he was badly wounded.

After recovering at home, he was scouted for a new secret unit that would operate deep behind enemy lines.

His quest for adventure and fluent French made him the ideal candidate.

He was to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE), known as Churchill's Secret Army, which the Prime Minister had tasked to "set Europe ablaze".

Through means of sabotage and espionage, the unit would organise and arm resistance groups and lead the fight back against the Nazis in Europe.

On his SOE training course, his superiors soon spotted his talent but also warned of his potential recklessness.

Describing him as having "guts and determination" his report card reads: "intelligent and keen. A quick thinker...very agile..has shown slight tendency to be impulsive."

By the Autumn of 1941 he was ready and under the cover of darkness was parachuted into France in what was one of the SOE's earliest drops.

But it was a disaster and within hours many of his colleagues had been captured and in some cases tortured. Just days later he too was arrested and inprisoned near Bergerac.

Given the nature of the SOE prisoners, they were planning their escape within days of their arrival.

Trotobas, a keen athlete, took charge of getting the men fit for a break out, while contact was made with the outside and a sympathetic wheelchair bound priest smuggled in a radio transceiver.

They contacted London and the escape was coordinated with local resistance groups.

In mid July 1942 they were ready and in the dead of night Michael led the men over the wire. All went to plan and by the time the alarm was raised they were on their way towards the Pyrenees and safety.

Mr Kent said: "At this point he could have taken a desk job and had an easy war. But he was desperate to get back.

"His father had been a prisoner at the hands of the Germans in the First World War and they treated him badly. I think that had an affect on him. He wanted to get back to France and do what he could."

It was a risk sending someone who was already known to the German. But Trotobas was determined and in November 1942 he was parachuted into the industrial north around Lille.

His mission was to set up a circuit, codenamed FARMER, that would organise, arm and train members of the French Resistance to carry out sabotage missions.

But first he had to get the Resistance on side. Tensions were understandably high and despite all having the same goal, there were different factions.

But through his knowledge of the language, the people and his charisma, he managed to unite the Resistance to the point where they would die for him.

Within months, Trotobas built up his circuit by an estimated 800 to 1,000 fighters, all of whom followed his every words.

He planned and helped carry out countless attacks on soldiers, train yards and key infrastructure.

Known to the French as Le Capitaine Michel, he was respected - even adored - by the Resistance. To the Nazis he was a nuisance and the Gestapo wanted him dead.

Michael knew this and his reckless streak - which he could not resist - was very nearly his downfall.

He often drank too much, smoked too much and was something of a playboy, chatting up woman at local bars of an evening.

Often after a few drinks he would head out into the street with his Sten gun and fire off a few rounds to get the Germans in a panic.

Mr Kent said: "There is one fantastic story my mother told me. They were spending time together in Lille when she spotted some earrings in the window of a jewellery shop.

"He felt sorry for her because so many of her family had died so he rang the bell and the owner opened the door. Inside was a high ranking German officer. Michael turned to the owner and in full English said 'we would like to look at those pearl earrings please'.

"The officer's jaw hit the floor. As he turned, Michael opened his jacket to reveal two revolvers as if to say 'if you go for your gun mate, you're dead.'

"The German officer let him be and they left. My mother was horrified but Michael had that in him."

Perhaps Michael's greatest success while running the circuit in Lille was a raid on the locomotive works in the Fives district of the city.

It was the second largest of its kind in France and the RAF had tried on numerous occasions to knock it out from the air. Given the heavy anti-aircraft gun cover, it had been near impossible to get at.

In the summer of 1943, Trotobas was tasked with destroying it. He dressed as a factory worker and assumed the role of a clueless new employee to scout the area before plans were drawn up.

To take the factory by force would have taken hundreds of men so he hatched an ingenious plan. They were to pose as policemen with himself a Gestapo officer.

His men were armed to the teeth with explosives, pistols and rifles, but Michael had called for the operation to be carried out with "finesse" and for not a shot to be fired if they could help it.

As they approached the entrance Michael soon got into character and shouted a torrent of abuse at the guard, causing him to panic and let them through.

With his small band of Resistance fighters, he did the same at the other checkpoints, telling the guards they were there to investigate terrorist activity.

Guard and after guard opened their doors and Trotobas's men went around plating their charges before making a hasty exit.

As they made for their safe house the whole place went up. They had achieved in just 30 minutes what the RAF had spent years trying to do.

The Germans issued a reward of 400,000 francs but Michael went to ground.

After he taunted the Nazis by handing out leaflets bragging of the success, they upped the reward to a million francs.

But Trotobas's luck was about to run out.

One of his inner circle, another agent called Reeve, with whom he had a falling out, was captured and interrogated.

SOE members were instructed to withstand whatever torture inflicted for 24 hours to enable other agents to disappear.

But within a couple of hours of being knocked about by the Gestapo, Reeves gave away Trotobas's location.

At 6.45am on November 27, a number of Gestapo vehicles pulled up outside Trotobas's girlfriend's house where he had been staying.

They surrounded the building and emptied their magazines on the helpless 29-yer-old, who went down fighting.

The Gestapo then dealt his girlfriend - who was rumoured to carrying his child - the same treatment.

Resistance fighters in the north of the country went into mourning. Their Capitaine Michel had been killed.

Back in his home town, Brighton, nobody blinked. Other than perhaps his childhood neighbours, the name Trotobas meant nothing to them.

Mr Kent said: "The French were calling for Reeve's head but he claimed he didn't know Trotobas would be at the house.

"After the war it wasn't really spoken about. The suggestion he had been betrayed by a fellow British officer would have been extremely damaging so I believe it was swept under the carpet.

"He was recommended for the Victoria Cross but didn't get it and he was forgotten about in this country."

But not in France, where he united a people and led the fightback.

On the first anniversary of his death, 14,000 turned up to pay their respects. And even to this day, the name Trotobas is respected and celebrated in Lille.

Perhaps now it is time for us to do the same here in Brighton and Hove.

Agent Michael Trotobas and SOE in Northern France by Stewart Kent and Nick Nicholas is out now in bookshops and online.