Somnath Sharma

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Major
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 4 KUMAON
Battles/wars
Awards
Relations General V. N. Sharma (brother)

Major Somnath Sharma, PVC, (31 January 1923 – 3 November 1947), an Indian Army officer, was the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest military decoration. He was awarded the medal posthumously for his bravery in the Kashmir operations in November 1947. He died while evicting Pakistani infiltrators and raiders from Srinagar Airport during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 in Kashmir. He belonged to the 4th Kumaon Regiment.

Early life[edit]

Sharma was born on 31 January 1923 at Dadh, Kangra, then in the Punjab Province of British India, present day state of Himachal Pradesh. His father, Major General Amar Nath Sharma, was a military officer (retired as Director General, Armed Medical Services),[2] as were his brothers Lt Gen Surindar Nath Sharma (retired as Engineer-in-Chief) and General Vishwa Nath Sharma (retired as the Chief of the Army Staff, 1988–1990),[1] and his sister Major Kamla Tewari (Medical Doctor). He did his schooling at Sherwood College, Nainital, before enrolling at the Prince of Wales Royal Military College in Dehradun and later joined the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[3] During his childhood, Somnath was influenced by the teachings of Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, taught to him by his grandfather Pandit Daulat Ram.[2]

Military career[edit]

Upon graduation from the Royal Military College, Sharma was commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment)[4] of the Indian Army (then British Indian Army), on 22 February 1942.[1] During his early career, he saw action against the Japanese in Burma during the Arakan Operations in World War II. During this time he served under the command of Colonel K S Thimmayya (later General, and Chief of the Army Staff, 1957–1961). Somnath was also awarded a 'Mention-in-Despatches' for his action.[2]

During his career, he was greatly influenced by his uncle Captain K D Vasudeva's gallantry action; who died defending a bridge on the River Slim during the Malayan Campaign. His sacrifice helped hundreds of soldiers under his command to save their lives from the Japanese offensive. Captain Vasudeva also belonged to the same regiment Somnath belonged, the 8/19 Hyderabad Infantry Regiment.[2]

Incidentally, he was the elder brother of the son-in-law (Lt Gen Surindra Nath Sharma, PVSM, AVSM) of Savitri Khanolkar, who designed the Param Vir Chakra.[5][6]

Battle of Badgam[edit]

Main article: Battle of Badgam

In response to the offensive tribal invasion by Pakistan on 22 October 1947, to forcibly gain control over the Kashmir Valley, which is a part of India, the first batch of Indian troops were deployed on 27 October. On 31 October, Somnath's company, the D company of 4 Kumaon was airlifted to Srinagar. During the time, his left hand was in a plaster cast as a result of injuries sustained in the hockey field previously, but he insisted on being with his company in combat and subsequently was given permission to go.[1]

On 3 November, a batch of 3 companies were deployed to the Badgam area on a patrol, to check the raiders forwarding to Srinagar from northern direction. As there was no enemy movement, two of the three companies deployed were called back to Srinagar by 1400 hours. But the D Coy led by Somanth was asked to man the area till 1500 hours. At 1435 hours, Somnath company was fired upon from the houses in Badgam. But counter-fire was not ordered in view of losing innocent lives. All of a sudden, a tribal "lashkar" of 700 raiders approached Badgam from the direction of Gulmarg. The company was soon surrounded by the enemy from three sides and sustained heavy casualties from the ensuing mortar bombardment. Somnath realized the importance of holding onto his position as both the city of Srinagar and the airport would be vulnerable if it were lost. Under heavy fire and outnumbered to the ratio seven to one, he urged his company to fight bravely, often exposing himself to danger as he ran from post to post.[1]

When heavy casualties adversely affected the firing power of his company, Major Sharma, with his left hand in plaster, took upon himself the task of filling the magazines and issuing them to men, operating light machine guns. While he was busy fighting the enemy, a mortar shell exploded on the ammunition near him.[1] Before he was succumbed to his injuries, His last message to Brigade HQ received a few moments before he was killed was:

"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, [2][1]

By the time the relief company of 1st Battalion Kumaon Regiment reached Badgam, the position had been overrun. However, the 200 casualties suffered by the raiders made them lose their impetus to advance, buying time for Indian troops to fly in to Srinagar airfield and block all routes of ingress to Srinagar.[2] In this battle along with Major Somanth Sharma, one Junior-commissioned officer, and 20 other ranks of the D company of 4 Kumaon were dead.[1]

Somnath's body was recovered three days later. Though the body 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 Tewari's pistol, helped to identify the body.[2]

Param Vir Chakra[edit]

In respect of his actions in the battle, Major Somnath Sharma was awarded Param Vir Chakra for the first time since its inception, on 3 November 1947,[a] posthumously.[2] The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him 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 1100 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 list 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]

In popular culture[edit]

The first episode of the TV series on the lives of Param Vir Chakra winners, Param Vir Chakra (1990) was based on him. In that episode, Major Sharma's part was played by Farooque Sheikh. The episode was directed by Chetan Anand.[9]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ The PVC was established on 26 January 1950 (Republic Day of India), by the President of India, with effect from 15 August 1947.[7]
Citations
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h 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. ^ NCERT 2016, p. 12.
  6. ^ Priya Aurora (27 December 2013). "7 Facts Average Indian Doesn't Know About Param Vir Chakra". Topyaps. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  7. ^ "11 Facts You Need To Know About The Param Vir Chakra". Indiatimes. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  8. ^ "Maj Somnath Sharma , PVC". twdi.in. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  9. ^ 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]