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Somnath Sharma

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Somnath Sharma
PVC
Major Somnath Sharma.jpg
Born (1923-01-31)31 January 1923
Dadh, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
Died 3 November 1947(1947-11-03) (aged 24)
Badgam, India
Allegiance
Service/branch
Years of service 1942–1947
Rank Major
Service number IC-521[1]
Unit 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment
Battles/wars
Awards
Relations General V. N. Sharma (brother)

Somnath Sharma, PVC (31 January 1923 – 3 November 1947), an Indian Army officer, was the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), India's highest military decoration.

In 1942, Sharma was commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment. He served in Burma during the Arakan Campaign of World War II, for which he was mentioned in despatches. He later fought in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947. He was killed on 3 November 1947 while evicting Pakistani infiltrators from Srinagar Airport. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his actions prior to his death.

Early life[edit]

Sharma was born on 31 January 1923 at Dadh, Kangra, then in the Punjab Province of British India, the present day state of Himachal Pradesh. His father, Amar Nath Sharma, was a military officer.[a][2] Several of his siblings served in the military.[1][b]

Sharma completed his schooling at Sherwood College, Nainital, before enrolling at the Prince of Wales Royal Military College in Dehradun. He later studied at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[3] During his childhood, Somnath was influenced by the teachings of Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, taught to him by his grandfather.[2]

Military career[edit]

On 22 February 1942, upon his graduation from the Royal Military College, Sharma was commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment, of the British Indian Army (later to become the Indian Army's 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment).[1][4] During World War II, he saw action against the Japanese in Burma during the Arakan Campaign. At that time he served under the command of Colonel K. S. Thimmayya, who would later rise to the rank of general and become Chief of the Army Staff from 1957 to 1961. Sharma was mentioned in despatches for his actions during the fighting of the Arakan Campaign.[2]

Throughout his military career, Sharma was greatly influenced by his uncle Captain K. D. Vasudeva's gallantry in action. Vasudeva also served with the 8th Battalion, participating in the Malayan Campaign during which he died aiding hundreds of soldiers under his command to survive from the Japanese offensive.[2]

Battle of Badgam[edit]

Main article: Battle of Badgam

On 27 October 1947, a batch of troops of the Indian Army was deployed in response to the invasion by Pakistan on 22 October into the Kashmir Valley, which is a part of India. On 31 October, D Company of 4th Battalion of Kumaon Regiment, under the command of Sharma, was airlifted to Srinagar. During this time, his left hand was in a plaster cast as a result of injuries sustained previously on the hockey field, but he insisted on being with his company in combat and was subsequently given permission to go.[1]

On 3 November, a batch of three companies was deployed to the Badgam area on patrol duties. Their objective was to check the infiltrators moving toward Srinagar from the north. As there was no enemy movement, two of the three deployed companies returned to Srinagar at 2:00 pm. However, Sharma's D Company, was ordered to stay in position until 3:00 pm. At 2:35 pm, Sharma's company was fired upon from the local resident houses in Badgam but counter-fire was not ordered to avoid injuring or killing innocent civilians. Suddenly, a tribal lashkar (English: militiamen) of 700 infiltrators approached Badgam from the direction of Gulmarg. D Company was soon surrounded from three sides and sustained heavy casualties from mortar fire. Sharma realized the importance of holding onto his position as both the city of Srinagar and the airport would be vulnerable if lost. Under heavy fire, and outnumbered by a ratio of seven to one, he urged his company to fight bravely, often exposing himself to the enemy fire as he ran from one post to the other.[1]

When heavy casualties adversely affected the company's firing power, Sharma took upon himself the task of distributing ammunition to his men, operating light machine guns. While busy fighting the infiltrators, a mortar shell exploded on a pile of ammunition near him.[1] Before he succumbed to his injuries, he transmitted a message to his brigade's headquarters which read:

"The enemies are only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to our last man and our last round."

— Major Somanth Sharma, Battle of Badgam, 1947, [1][2]

By the time a relief company, from the 1st Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment, reached Badgam, the position held by Sharma's company had been overrun. However, the 200 casualties suffered by the tribal infiltrators caused them to lose the impetus to advance. This bought time for Indian forces to fly in to Srinagar airfield and block all routes of ingress to Srinagar itself.[2] During the battle, along with Sharma, one junior commissioned officer and 20 other ranks of D company were killed.[1] Sharma's body was recovered three days later. Though it was disfigured beyond recognition, a few pages of the Bhagavad Gita that he always kept in his breast pocket, and the empty leather holster of his Tewari pistol, helped to identify the body.[2]

Param Vir Chakra[edit]

On 21 June 1950, Sharma's award of the Param Vir Chakra, for his actions on 3 November 1947 in defending the Srinagar airport, was gazetted. This was the first time the honour had been awarded since its inception.[2][c] The official citation reads:

On 3 November 1947, Major Somnath Sharma's company was ordered on a fighting patrol to Badgam in the Kashmir Valley . He reached his objective at first light on 3 November and took up a position south of Badgam at 11:00 hours. The enemy, estimated at about 500 attacked his company position from three sides; the company began to sustain heavy casualties. Fully realizing the gravity of the situation and the direct threat that would result to both the aerodrome and Srinagar via Hum Hom, Major Somnath Sharma urged his company to fight the enemy tenaciously. With extreme bravery he kept rushing across the open ground to his sections exposing himself to heavy and accurate fire to urge them to hold on. Keeping his nerve, he skillfully directed the fire of his sections into the ever-advancing enemy. He repeatedly exposed himself to the full fury of enemy fire and laid out cloth strips to guide our aircraft onto their targets in full view of the enemy. Realising that casualties had affected the effectiveness of his light automatics, this officer whose left hand was in plaster, personally commenced filling magazines and issuing them to the light machine gunners. A mortar shell landed right in the middle of the ammunition resulting in an explosion that killed him. Major Sharma's company held on to this position and the remnants withdrew only when almost completely surrounded. His inspiring example resulted in the enemy being delayed for six hours, thus gaining time for our reinforcements to get into position at Hum Hom to stem the tide of the enemy advance. His leadership, gallantry and tenacious defense were such that his men were inspired to fight the enemy by seven to one, six hours after this gallant officer had been killed. He has set an example of courage and qualities seldom equaled in the history of the Indian Army. His last message to the Brigade Headquarters a few moments before he was killed was, 'the enemy are only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and the last round.'

— Gazette Notification: 2 Pres/50, 21.6.50, [8]

Legacy[edit]

In the 1980s, the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), a Government of India enterprise under the aegis of the Ministry of Shipping, named fifteen of her crude oil tankers in honour of the Param Vir Chakra recipients. The crude oil tanker named MT Major Somnath Sharma, PVC was delivered to SCI on 11 June 1984. The tanker was phased out after 25 years service.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The first episode of the TV series on the lives of Param Vir Chakra winners, Param Vir Chakra (1990) covered Sharma's actions of 3 November 1947. In that episode, his part was played by Farooque Sheikh. The episode was directed by Chetan Anand.[10]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes

  1. ^ He retired as a major general while serving as Director General, Armed Medical Services)
  2. ^ His brothers were Lieutenant General Surindar Nath Sharma (retired as engineer-in-chief) and General Vishwa Nath Sharma (retired as the chief of the Army Staff, 1988–1990). His sister was Major Kamla Tewari (medical doctor).[1]
  3. ^ The Param Vir Chakra was established on 26 January 1950 (Republic Day of India), by the President of India, with effect from 15 August 1947.[5] Coincidentally, Savitri Khanolkar, the wife of Sharma's brother, was the designer of the Param Vir Chakra.[6][7]

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Chakravorty 1995, pp. 75–76.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "The soldier who won India's first Param Vir Chakra". www.rediff.com. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  3. ^ "Veer Gatha – The Forgotten Warriors | Major Somnath Sharma". The Frustrated Indian. 18 July 2014. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  4. ^ Khanduri 2006, p. 148.
  5. ^ "11 Facts You Need To Know About The Param Vir Chakra". India Times. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  6. ^ NCERT 2016, p. 12.
  7. ^ Priya Aurora (27 December 2013). "7 Facts Average Indian Doesn't Know About Param Vir Chakra". Topyaps. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  8. ^ "Maj Somnath Sharma, PVC". twdi.in. Archived from the original on 24 September 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  9. ^ "Vessel details for: Major Somnath Sharma PVC (Crude Oil Tanker) – IMO 8224107, MMSI – 8224107". MarineTraffic.com. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  10. ^ Madhu Jain (August 15, 1990). "Mandi House hardsells Kashmir in its serial 'Gul Gulshan Gulfam'". India Today. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]