The first PVC winner was a Dogra !

Though not from Jammu, the heart land of the Dogra culture, the first Param Vir Chakra winner was, nonetheless, a Dogra. And what an illustrious family of Dogras he belonged to !
Major Somnath Sharma, PVC ( Param Vir Chakra ) hailed from a village called Dadh in district Kangra in the erstwhile Punjab of the undivided British India and present day Himachal Pradesh. His father Amar Nath Sharma was a doctor who served the Indian army as a Major General. He retired as the Director, Medical Services of the Indian army. His one brother was Lieutenant General Surinder Nath Sharma who served as the Engineer-in-chief, in the army. Another brother, Vishwa Nath Sharma rose to the rank of a General and became the Chief of the Army Staff.
Even one of his two sisters was an army officer ; Major Kamla Tiwari served the Indian Army as a medical doctor. Add to this illustrious family the name of his uncle Vasudeva who is known for his heroic deeds in the second world war. Captain K D Vasudeva, had died defending a bridge during the Malayan Campaign in World War II.
An alumnus of the renowned Sherwood college, Somnath Sharma was commissioned in the erstwhile British Indian army as a teenager, on 22 February 1942. In his short-lived career of barely five years, he had participated in Arakan campaign of World War II, besides the first Indo-Pak war of 1947.
Here is a recount. Merely two months and seven days after becoming an independent country, India faced her first attack from her neighbouring country. Pakistan attacked the then independent state of Jammu and Kashmir on 22 October 1947 by sending in military men in the garb of tribals. Until then, the Maharaja of the independent princely state was undecided whether to opt for India or go to Pakistan.
Pakistan did not wish to await an unfavourable decision by the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. So, it raided the Dogra state with a clear cut aim to annex it forcibly. Little did it realise then that such an attack will only hasten the process of decision making by the great Dogra ruler.
The bone of contention between India and Pakistan was the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan wanted to annex it by any and all means. It was the largest of the Indian princely states during the pre-independence era. It was an area of about 2.3 Lakh square kilometres. To give you a clear picture, it was roughly double the combined area of Demark, Luxemburg, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The state was important because of its strategic location. Jammu and Kashmir was surrounded on three sides by foreign states :; Tibet, Chinese Turkestan or Sinkiang , Afghanistan; and, now even Pakistan. Today, its importance has been put in prominent focus by recent international developments.
In October 1947, Somnath was serving as a Major in the 4th Batallion of Kumaon Regiment. On the morning of 23 October, one day after Pakistan sent in their attackers to seize Srinagar, the Batallion received the orders to plan their movement to the valley of Kashmir. As the Kumaonis were getting ready to move, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir joined the Indian Union by signing an instrument of accession, on 26 October 1947.
Now, defending Jammu and Kashmir was the responsibility of the government of India. It planned to move the strength of an infantry brigade to Srinagar. An infantry brigade may comprise of 3,000 to 5,000 military men. The airfield at Srinagar was not tested and activated. Yet, Air Commodore Mehar Singh, MVC, the legendary pilot of the IAF, landed the first Indian Air Force aircraft with Indian soldiers at Srinagar airfield the very next day, on 27 October.
This historic landing opened the floodgates of air operations and regular inflow of Indian troops to defend the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the Pakistani attackers. The entire infantry brigade was airlifted in five days’ record time. In real terms, it meant airlifting more than 3,000 soldiers along with their supporting elements, making repeated sorties in small old time transport aircraft, quite unlike the huge transport planes the IAF flies these days.
When Major Somnath Sharma was flown to Srinagar on 31 October, along with his unit members, he was nursing a fracture in his left hand. It was a result of an injury he suffered while playing hockey, which was his passion as a sport. With his left hand fractured and put in a plaster, he was advised to rest but he insisted on being with his batallion and move along to take part in active battlefield.
The third day of November was a Monday. At 0809 hours, Maj Somnath Sharma (4 Kumaon ) & Captain Ronnie Wood ( 1 Kumaon ) reported to the brigade headquarters. They received their instructions for that day’s patrol programme. This day, two Companies of 4 Kumaon and one Company of 1 Kumaon were tasked to patrol the target areas.
It was learnt that the attackers were infiltrating towards Srinagar from different routes and one of the columns was heading for Badgam, a village less than three kilometres from the airfield. An enemy force lodged there could easily threaten it.
The mission for the Kumaonis was : hold the valley of Kashmir, repel all attackers, and defend the newly independent state of India at all costs.
All seemed quiet and no activities of the advesaries were noticed by the patrolling parties. Accordingly, Maj Somnath reported that all was quiet and the villagers, as usual, were going about their routine daily chores.
Therefore, 1 Kumaon moved out at about 1300 hours. Maj Somnath was also ordered to start thinning out. Around 1400 hours, one Company of 4 Kumaon also moved back. Now, Maj Somnath was the only company commander left with his men, between the village and the airfield.
Pattan route to Srinagar was blocked by 1 Sikh. Therefore, unknown to Maj Somnath and his men, the attention of the enemy was diverted towards the location of Somnath who was still holding the fort. Before he could even think of following the instructions to “thin out”, around 1430 hours, the enemy started firing from the village of Badgam.
As it turned out later, about 700 enemy attackers were hiding in the village. They were, most likely, unaware that Somnath was still holding on with his men. So, just to clear their route march to the airfield, they started firing from the long range. Too bad for them, Maj Somnath returned the fire. Had the Company of Somnath too moved back at 1409 hours, route to airfield would have been unguarded. I would say, Providence had played it’s role.
Maj Somnath was hesitant to fire full fledged lest the innocent villagers be killed. Suddenly, a large force appeared in front. A full scale frontal attack was now underway on his location, with the Kumaonis hugely outnumbered by the enemy, in the ratio 1 : 10.
This epic battle is known as the Battle of Badgam in the military parlance. Raiders were bent upon seizing the airfield. Had they succeeded, the history of the Indian subcontinent would have been completely different. Their control of the airfield would have resulted in denial of access to the Indian Air Force, which was tirelessly augmenting military men and material to safeguard the now Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Maj Somnath reported to his superiors that he was engaging the enemy with all he had, but he was hugely outnumbered and enemy was gaining ground. That day, fate of the valley of Kashmir rested on the shoulders of the Kumaonis. And they rose to the occasion, ensuring that the airfield would not fall ; not during their vigil, in any case.
The attackers were raining deadly fire on the Kumaonis through automatic rifles and the mortars. Under this cover of fire, the enemies were trying to advance as much as they could. But, leader of the Kumaonis, Maj Somnath, was a gutsy officer and the men were themselves brave, fearless and tenacious. Somnath rallied his boys and they fought back like men possessed. They influcted serious casualties on the raiders. In the process, they too suffered casualties. Being in small numbers, they could ill afford these losses.
Maj Somnath transmitted to his headquarters : ” 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 the last man and last round”. And true to his words he and his men valiantly fought to the last man and last round. This turned out to be the last words of the brave Dogra.
By the time the epic Battle of Badgam was over, less than 100 Kumaonis had held back nearly 700 enemy raiders and soldiers, and saved the airfield of Srinagar. The Kumaonis loss was : 15 killed, including Maj Somnath Sharma and 26 wounded. One ammunition truck too was looted by enemy but they failed in their objective, losing many more than they killed. The enemy loss is estimated at about 200 lives.
That night could have played havoc on the Indians, if the enemy had started another attack ; military back up was still to arrive for the Kumaonis. But, the Gods were with the Indians. As it turned out, the leader of the enemy called Khurshid ( rank held, if any, not known ) was injured in the Kumaonis’ fire. Leaderless, the Pakistanis failed to mount an attack that night.
It is noteworthy, and speaks volumes for the inspiring military leadership of Maj Somnath that the soldiers continued to fight the enemy for six hours even after Major Sharma had been killed. This crucial fight by the Kumaonis provided ample time for the arrival of the reinforcements to strengthen the Indian defences. This also bought time for additional Indian troops to land at Srinagar airfield and block all routes of entry to Srinagar city.
Mortal remains of the braveheart were recovered after three days. ” He has set an example of courage and qualities seldom equalled in the history of the Indian Army”, partly reads his citation for the Param Vir Chakra.
Had he been alive, Major Somnath Sharma would have celebrated his 100th birthday on 31 January this year.