The Supreme Sacrifice of Major Somnath Sharma for Kashmir
This is a tribute to Major Somnath Sharma, the first recipient of Param Vir Chakra, who, on 3 November 1947, saved Srinagar airport (and Kashmir) at the supreme cost of his life.
A little background first. In 1947, the Pakistani government sent heavily armed tribals, experts at employing guerrilla tactics, from Pakistan to the Pakistan-Kashmir border. A large contingent of Afridis, Mahsuds, Wazirs, Swathis and regular soldiers of the Pakistan army ‘in mufti’ began to enter Kashmir.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India, did not take allow action since the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, was not signing the Instrument of Accession to India.
During the night of 22 October, the ‘raiders’ burnt the town of Muzaffarabad. They then overran Uri and captured Mahura, the electric power station fifty miles from Srinagar. The city of Srinagar was plunged into darkness.
Under the extreme circumstances, Sardar Patel’s aide, V P Menon, rushed to Jammu and got Hari Singh’s signature on the printed Accession Form.
He rushed back for the historic meeting in Delhi with India’s governor general, Lord Mountbatten, in the chair. The meeting drifted without direction until Sardar Patel lost his temper and asked the prime minister: “Do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?”
Nehru replied, “Of course, I want Kashmir,” and on Patel’s insistence, gave the orders.
As a part of this operation, the D Company of the Kumaon regiment was airlifted to Srinagar on 31 October 1947.
Major Somnath Sharma was part of this Company but was not supposed to go as he had fractured his arm while playing hockey, and his right hand was in a plaster cast. In other words, he was technically unfit for active duty in war. He was permitted to go after the Major insisted on being with his Company in combat.
On 3 November, the Pakistani raiders reached Badgam, a few miles from the Srinagar airfield, the only lifeline between the Valley and the rest of India.
It was an emergency as it was evident that the airport would be lost and Kashmir would become a province of Pakistan if the enemy advanced any further. The commander in Srinagar immediately dispatched Sharma and his Company to Badgam.
At around 2:30 pm, a 700-strong tribal force attacked the Indian jawans with the help of 3-inch and 2-inch mortars. Under Major Sharma’s leadership, the Company was outnumbered by 7 to 1.
He immediately sent a request for reinforcements. His last wireless message to the headquarters stated: ‘The enemy is 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”.
The Major indeed kept his word. The Company held back the enemy and prevented them from advancing an inch for a long and crucial time. The Company had suffered over 50 percent casualties but inflicted much heavier losses to the ‘enemy’ who lost 200 men and the airport and Kashmir.
A mortar killed Major Somnath Sharma, but his Company did not yield an inch to the enemy, thus setting a rare example in Indian military lore. His body was recovered three days later. It was mutilated beyond recognition, but a few pages of the Gita that he always kept in his breast pocket helped to identify the body.
Major Somnath Sharma was awarded the first Param Vir Chakra, the highest Indian gallantry award (the Indian equivalent of the Victoria Cross).
The Citation for His Param Vir Chakra 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 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 airport 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, 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.
Realizing 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 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 his death was, ‘The enemy is 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.
Some Snippets of His Life:
Date of Birth: 31.01.1923
Awards: First recipient of the Param Vir Chakra
Favorite Pastime: Listening to his grandfather on the Bhagavad Gita.
Influenced by: Captain Krishna Dutt Vasudeva, his maternal uncle who died defending a bridge on the River Slim in Malaya against the Japanese, allowing hundreds of jawans to cross over to safety.
Father: Major General Amar Nath Sharma was also a military officer (retired as Director of Medical Services (Army)
Lt. General Surinder Nath Sharma (retired as Engineer-in-chief)
General Vishwa Nath Sharma (retired as Chief of Army Staff, 1988–1990)
Sister Major Kamla Tewari (Medical Doctor)
📎 Related Articles
1. Wikipedia: Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948
2. Wikipedia: Kumaon Regiment
3. Wikipedia: Hari Singh
4. Wikipedia: Vallabhbhai Patel
5. Super 30: Anand Kumar’s Journey to Empower Underprivileged IIT Aspirants