Priyanka Dutta, Kolkata: India’s highest gallantry award is not handed out on a platter. It has to be earned. Only 21 people have thus far been awarded this medal reserved for the bravest of the brave. And the first among them was Major Somnath Sharma of the Kumaon regiment.
Major Somnath Sharma was born on 31 January 1923 at Dadh in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. His father, Amar Nath Sharma, was a Major General in the Indian Army who later became the first director general of India’s Armed Medical Services.
Major Sharma’s family had a long tradition of military service – his uncle, Captain K D Vasudeva, had died defending a bridge on the River Slim against the Japanese during the Malayan Campaign in World War II. On February 22, 1942, Somnath Sharma was formally commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment) of the Indian Army (then British Indian Army).
Somnath Sharma was serving as a Major in the Delta Company of 4th Kumaon regiment when the Pakistani invasion of Jammu and Kashmir began on October 22, 1947. By the next morning, the first troops and equipment had begun being airlifted from Delhi’s Palam airport to Srinagar. Major Sharma’s company too was airlifted to Srinagar on October 31, 194
At that time, Major Sharma’s right hand was in a plaster cast due to a fracture he had suffered while playing hockey. Though he was advised rest due to his injury, the major insisted on being with his company in the battlefield and was given permission to command his unit.
Two days later on November 3, the enemy had reached Badgam, a small town just a few miles away from the Srinagar airfield. On learning this, Brigadier L.P. ‘Bogey’ Sen, commander of the 161 Infantry Brigade in Srinagar, immediately dispatched Major Sharma and his company to Badgam.
Major Somnath Sharma reached Badgam at first light on November 3 and ensured that his troops took up a fighting position immediately. It was 2:30 PM in the afternoon when a 500-strong force of tribal lashkars (raiders ), supported by powerful mortars, attacked the 50 Indian jawans of Major Sharma’s company.
Surrounded by the enemy from three sides, 4 Kumaon began sustaining heavy casualties from the ensuing mortar bombardment. Outnumbered by 7 to 1, Sharma immediately sent a request to Brigadier ‘Bogey’ Sen for reinforcements.
Realising the gravity of the situation, he ran from post to post, often exposing himself to danger as he urged his company to fight bravely. Two forward platoons had already fallen but Major Sharma ensured that his company clung to its position tenaciously, even under heavy fire.
Other than skillfully directing the fire of his troops onto the ever-advancing enemy, Major Sharma himself took up the task of filling magazines and issuing them to the light machine gunners. Even though he himself was hindered by his fractured arm, he wanted to make sure that the casualties didn’t affect the speed and effectiveness of his light automatics gunners.
The last message Major Sharma sent to the headquarters stated:
‘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.’
Soon after, Major Somnath Sharma was martyred in a mortar shell explosion, fighting till his last breath to stem the tide of the enemy advance.
The sacrifice of this heroic warrior must forever be remembered with gratitude by the country . On his 69th death anniversary, we salute India’s first Param Vir Chakra recipient.