COURAGE IS THE CAPACITY TO LOOK DEATH STARING AT YOU AND BRUSHING IT ASIDE, FOR THE TASK AHEAD HAS TO BE COMPLETED COME WHATEVER MAY.
Only a select few, amongst the herd that walks on the face of this planet are truly unique.
Their tales of courage and bravado compels one to ponder ‘How could someone live with such abandon to trivial things, such fearlessness and such conviction in own beliefs and abilities’.
Such is the saga of Major Somnath Sharma’s bravery who holds the distinction of being the first recipient of Param Vir Chakra- the highest military honour in India.
Hailing from Dadh district of Himachal Pradesh, Major Sharma came from humble beginnings. At the ripe age of ten Somnath enrolled into the Prince of Wales Royal Military College before joining his true calling- the prestigious Royal Military Academy. He took to profession of Arms as a fish takes to water. One can argue that he was born into the profession coming from a truly military family- his kith and kin all having served in this noble profession. It was his good fortune that he got commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later 4th Battalion Kumaon Regiment), the very force his maternal uncle Captain Krishna Dutt had the honour of serving with.
His early military career was fascinating to say the least. He had the good fortune of serving alongside Colonel KS Thimmaya (later Army Chief) in WW II in Burma. Major Somnath Sharma showed what he’s made off in his very first posting in Arakan. While fighting the Japanese in Arakan one of the soldiers fighting alongside young Somnath got injured, Major Somnath displayed highest level of courage and comradery, carrying the wounded soldier to a safe place for treatment notwithstanding the heavy firing from the enemy. This act of bravery earned Somnath a ‘Mention in dispatch’ at a very young age. Such experiences greatly influenced and moulded Major Somnath into a true warrior.
Major Somnath’s second tryst with war came on 03rd Nov 1947, when his company was ordered to march to Badgam (a tiny village about 8 miles from Srinagar), to thwart the Pakistani infiltration into Srinagar. Badgam was a crucial area as it contained an airfield, the control of which could provide major tactical advantage to both sides. Prior to this operation Major Somnath had already sustained a fracture to his left arm and was advised to not participate in the operation by a medical team. But again a ‘minor’ fracture was not going to stop this lion from accompanying his troops to the battlefield. Major Somnath refused to step down arguing that he knew the area best and thus could lead his troops in a better manner. Finally Major Somnath was allowed to helm ‘D’ company of 4 Kumaon to Badgam.
As the saying goes there’s always a calm before the storm, the initial hours of battle day were unusually quiet. In fact, Major Somnath reported multiple times to then Brigade Commander that situation in Badgam was quiet and peaceful. Major Somnath along with his company had occupied an elevated area directly overseeing the airfield. The orders were to hold on to the position for another half an hour before commencing withdrawal. As luck would have it the storm arrived in the form of Pakistani raiders, disguised as tribesmen who started encircling Major Somnath’s position from all sides using Nalas. Initially Major Somnath dismissed this movement as routine move by local villagers until the raiders started heavy firing using Light Machine Guns. Soon Major Somnath’s position was being bombarded by mortar from a depression towards the west side of his position. Major Somnath now a seasoned fighter led a force of 90 soldiers against 500 Pakistani raiders. Major Somnath rallied from one position to another motivating and helping his soldiers to mount a fight. He took to filling the magazines of Light Machine guns using his own hands once he realised that the depleted strength was affecting the operation of Machine Guns. While moving to another position to motivate his men, a mortar shell just exploded adjacent to Major Somnath who was martyred on the spot. The company lost one officer and twenty other ranks in the operation of Badgam.
When Badgam was recaptured by our troops, over 300 dead tribesmen were discovered in the area. The gallant actions of Major Somnath Sharma and his company delayed the enemy by six hours and provided ample time for Indian troops to send in reinforcements. Major Somnath lead by example motivating and leading his troops to fight even when they were outnumbered 1 to 7. His last message to the Brigade in which he said ‘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’ is a testimony to his bravery which has seldom been equalled in the annals of our history.
Major Somnath Sharma is a true embodiment of values that we must thrive to instil in our future generations. His grit, tenacity and patience helped Indian troops to keep a dominant hold on the valley and prevented the enemy from achieving their nefarious designs.