October, 1947- Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru receives a message from an ex Dy Comissioner in Dera Ismail Khan of the N.W.F.P in Pakistan. The message warns of a mission by Pakistan to send tribal raiders to Kashmir, and some had already moved in. However as the then Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, still had not signed the Instrument of Accession, Nehru was reluctant to take action. In the meantime, a large number of Afridi, Mahsud, Wazir tribes had begun to enter Kashmir.
Oct 22- Muzaffarbad was attacked and burnt by the raiders. Uri was captured in no quick time, and power station at Mahura was taken over. The whole city of Srinagar was plunged into darkness.
Sardar Patel’s trusted aide, V.P.Menon rushed to get signature of Hari Singh on the Instrument of Accession, and rushed back to Delhi to attend the meeting. A very young Sam Manekshaw, was attending that meeting, too and in his own words.
As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, ‘Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?’ He [Nehru] said, ‘Of course, I want Kashmir.’ Then he [Patel] said: ‘Please give your orders.’
Things began to move fast, first troops and equipment were sent to Srinagar. A very young major by the name of S.K.Sinha handled the logistics, and this was his first assignment in Kashmir. And this is what he had to say about the first batch of jawans.
It was indeed inspiring to see grim determination writ large on their faces. They were all determined to do their best, no matter what handicap they had to contend with. I had never before seen such enthusiasm and fervour for duty.
Sinha met an old friend of his Somnath Sharma, who was with 4 Kumaon, and his hand in a plaster. Sharma was given the task of protecting the airfield, and he felt it was not an “active duty” he wanted to be right in the front. Though Sinha tried impressing Sharma on the importance of the airfield, he felt it was not really worth enough for him.
In the next 48 hours, Major Somnath Sharma, would gain fame as the first winner of the Param Vir Chakra, his action in protecting the Srinagar airfield from Pakistani raiders would go down as one of the most famous last stands, and he would die a hero’s death on the battle field.
Major Somnath Sharma, born in the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh in 1923, came from a family with a military background. His father Major General Amarnath Sharma, was the first director general of Armed Medical Services post Independence. Growing up with his grandfather Pandit Daulat Ram, he would often listen to the Gita and Krishna’s teaching to Arjun influenced him a lot. His maternal uncle Capt. Krishna Dutt Vasudev, had earlier died in WWII, defending a bridge in Malaya from the Japanese, while enabling many soldiers to cross over. It was an event that influenced Somnath Sharma, and shaped his values too.
Graduating from the Royal IMA, Somnath Sharma, joined the 8/19 Hyderabad Infantry Regiment as a young lieutnant. He fought in WWII, under Col K.S.Timayya with the British Army. There is a very popular anecdote about him having carried his orderly Bahadur, who was badly wounded on his shoulders. He refused to abandon Bahadur, even when Timayya instructed him saying it was his own orderly he was carrying. Later during Partition, Somnath Sharma, played a role in quelling the communal disturbances with utmost honesty.
Battle of Badgam.
Nov 3, Badgam- The situation was deteriorating fast, the raiders were just a few miles away from Srinagar airport now. L.P. “Bogey” Sen, Brigadier in command of Srinagara, immediately sent Somnath Sharma, and his men to Badgam.
2:30 PM, Nov 3-700 strong tribal force, with 2 and 3 inch mortars launch an attack on the Indian forces, Sharma requested Sen to send in reinforcements for the outnumbered army. It was critical, the airport falls to the raiders, Srinagar too fell, and Kashmir would be a part of Pakistan.
The raiders were now attacking from the Western front too, while keeping the jawans occupied at Badgam. On all sides the Indian unit of 50 odd soldiers, was surrounded and outnumbered, by the raiders as well as a Lashkar unit. Realizing the importance of Sringar airport, Sharma urged his men to fight to the last, as he ran from post to post, even though his men fell. Sharma himself was hit by a mortar shell, and his last words were
The enemies is only 50 yards from us. We are hopelessly outnumbered. I will not withdraw one inch but fight to the last man last round.
By the time the reinforcements came in, the Kumaon unit was overrun, and Major Somnath Sharma, lay dead, fighting to the last. However he ensured that the raiders suffered heavy casualties, 200 of them were killed, and most important, it slowed down their pace. The last man stand by Somnath Sharma and his troops, gave time for the Indian Army to fly into Srinagar, and ensured it would not fall to Pakistan. His sacrifice was not in vain, he had saved Srinagar for India.
Major Somnath Sharma became the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, he fought with one arm bandaged, kept off the raiders at bay, and ensured Srinagar airport would not be lost to India. From the Param Vir Chakra citation.
Major Sharma’s company held on to list 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 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 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.
Major Somnath Sharma and the Battle of Badgam would be one of the most stirring examples of heroism, patriotism and courage under fire. A true salute to a great hero.
http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/03spec.htm- Claude Arpi’s article in Rediff.