A FRENCH AIR FORCE
FIGHTER PILOT WITH THE RESISTANCE
Born in Marseille on May 14th 1914, Robert Thollon entered the
French Air Force Academy in October of 1936. After successfully
obtaining his pilot license as well as his aerial observer license,
he graduated from the fighter pilot school in Romilly first in
his class with the rank of Second Lieutenant.
In March 1939, he was assigned to fighter group GC (groupe de
chasse) I/8 in Marseille-Marignane, a unit under the command of
Major Colin. It was with this group that he distinguished himself
in May and June of 1940, achieving 8 confirmed victories (including
4 on an individual basis) becoming the top scoring Bloch 152 pilot.
On the 5th of August
1940, Major Colin wrote in his campaign report the following appreciation
about Robert Thollon: "Young
and brilliant Officer, first in his graduating class, has shown
since the first aerial engagements that he possesses the qualities
of a first class fighter pilot. Conservatively daring, he has
been a great help and a role model for his fellow pilots in his
unit by giving them judicious advice. He constantly demonstrates
determination, and a magnificent spirit of sacrifice. In six weeks,
he has been credited with 8 victories which deserved him 5 citations
in the order of the French Air Force. Additionally, on May 17th,
he brought back a repaired airplane from an abandoned airfield
under enemy machine gun fire ".
Disheartened and refusing to accept the defeat, Robert Thollon
asked to be put on leave under the stipulation of the armistice
so that he could continue " his " own fight. On October
1st 1940, he joined an organization created by the
Vichy Government called "Jeunesse et Montagne" (Youth and Mountain)
under the direction of general d'Harcourt the former inspector
general of the fighter arm. This organization had for purpose
the regrouping of French Air Force cadres without assignments.
Based on the German youth organization concept, it progressively
became a center with other purposes.
The contacts with the resistance networks were beginning to become
organized, mainly under General Carayon the secretary of Air defense.
But in Vichy, surveillance was re-enforced and 138 French Air
Force officers were arrested between 1943 and 1944. Some of them
were deported, and Major Colin was shot by the Gestapo firing
squad in February 1944. It was without any doubt the event that
strengthened Robert Thollon's determination to resist the Germans.
As the "Jeunesse et Montagne" center was moved to Murols in the
heart of the Auvergne region in April 1943, Thollon now promoted
to Captain in September took charge of the resistance organization
for this region in May 1944. It was around this period that he
was promoted to Major.
The school under the direction
of Thollon joined the "maquis" (the underground) on June 3rd,
three days before the D-Day invasion. Its 160 men came to enlarge
the ranks of the Renaud group. But, they only had at their disposition
a total of 19 sub-machine guns, and a few hundred ammo. On July
6th, thanks to two airdrops, the group's force now
up to 4 companies and 350 men was finally ready for engagement.
It was Robert Thollon who led his men in combat on August 7th
along National Highway 122 between Aurillac and Murat, not far
from Vic-sur-Cère. There, he set up an ambush for the German garrison
from Aurillac that was moving towards the Northeast. The combat
would last for five hours with the Germans receiving artillery
and heavy machine guns re-enforcement. The group retreated after
killing about thirty German soldiers, but losing three of its
men in the process.
The German garrison having resumed its evacuation towards the
East was again harried between the 11th and the 13th
of August at the foot of the Lioran mountain pass, about 10 kilometers
from Murat. The German column was finally disengaged from battle
with the intervention of the Luftwaffe (probably by the group
"Bongart" flying Reggiane Re.2002s). There was ten dead on the
French side, but it was estimated that the German lost were four
to five times greater, and most importantly, the column had been
brought to a halt for more than 72 hours, permitting other resistance
elements located further East to get ready to "greet" them.
Then, the group Renaud participated to the operations that ended
with the surrender of the German garrison from Rueyre on August
19th. This success incited the military command of
the Cantal region to surround Saint Flour, despite a garrison
of 500 men well equipped with heavy material. But, the Germans
having at their disposal lories equipped with machine guns caused
this daring attempt to fail.
Renamed "colonne rapide" (fast moving column) number 6 of the
Auvergne region's underground, the group Renaud was integrated
with the Lyon assault section on September 11th. Thollon
and three officers of his command would be the first to enter
the Lyon courthouse on the 3rd of September.
Thollon would again participate in the difficult battles of Decize,
and would also take an important part in the surrender of 18,000
Germans to the Americans in the evening of September 11th.
In November, Robert Thollon left the underground and rejoined
the French Air Force family. On November 22nd 1944,
he arrived in Toulouse to take command of GC II/18 Saintonge,
derived directly from the underground fighter group FFI Doret.
There, he would participate in several offence missions over the
Pointe de Grave and the Atlantic pockets.
On January 9th 1946, while still leading GC II/18,
he was summoned by the personnel service, informing him that he
was now assigned to the department of "sports aériens" (sport
flying)! Infuriated, Thollon intervened directly to general Bouscat
and was transferred as second in command of the 6th
Wing. In May 1946, he arrived to the 3rd Wing based
in Germany as the second in command, and then he was promoted
to Wing leader in December 1946.
Unfortunately, on February 24th 1948, Robert Thollon
fell while vacationing in the mountains and was killed instantly.
Pilot Officer / Second Lieutnant
10.05.40 (2) He 111 Château-Salins 
10.05.40 (4) He 111 Trondes [B]
15.05.40 (1) Do 215 Dinant [B]
03.06.40 (1) Bf 109 Roye 
03.06.40 (2) Ju 88 Cocherel 
06.06.40 (1) Do 17 Amiens 
06.06.40 (3) Do 17 Chaulnes 
15.06.40 (1) Ju 88 Jargeau 
(X): total number of pilots participating to the destruction of
the enemy airplane.
[XX]: geographical French department.
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