Major Somnath Sharma, (31 January 1923 – 3 November 1947), of the Indian Army, was the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), India’s highest military decoration.
Born : 31 January 1923, Dadh, Kangra, Punjab Province Present Day Himachal Pradesh
Died : 3 November 1947 (aged 24)
Years of service :1942–1947
Rank Major of the Indian Army.svg Major
Unit 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment
Battles/wars : World War II
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
Battle of Badgam †
Param-Vir-Chakra-ribbon.svg Param Vir Chakra
Sharma was commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment, in 1942.
He served in Burma during the Arakan Campaign of World War II, for which he was mentioned in despatches. Fighting in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-1948, Somnath Sharma was martyred on 3 November 1947 while repulsing Pakistani infiltrators near Srinagar Airport; for his gallantry and sacrifice in this battle of Badgam, he was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
Sharma was born on 31 January 1923, to a Dogra Brahmin family at Dadh, Kangra, Punjab (present day Himachal Pradesh). His father, Amar Nath Sharma, was a military officer.Several of his siblings served in the military.
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. During his childhood, Somnath was influenced by the teachings of Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, taught to him by his grandfather.
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). 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.
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.
Battle of Badgam
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
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. 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.
Param Vir Chakra
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.Coincidentally, Savitri Khanolkar, the mother-in-law of Sharma’s brother, was the designer of the Param Vir Chakra.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 skilfully 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 defence 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 equalled 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.’