The day 15th August 1947, marks the end of decades of struggle for freedom against British rule, the signing of the ‘Indian Independence Bill’, and the creation of two nations India and Pakistan. What followed was chaos, where during the Partition millions of people lost their lives and millions were displaced from their homes. While both the countries were still reeling from the aftermath, they were also tasked with incorporating princely and independent states as a part of their nation. One of those states was Jammu and Kashmir, once a princely state, which shares a border with both India and Pakistan and has been at the centre of territorial disputes between the two countries since independence, and the stalemate continues to this day.
The onset of Operation Gulmarg, an infiltration of the state of Kashmir by Pathan groups, led to the first all-out war; the Indo-Pakistani war of 1947-48 between the newly independent nations. The infiltration took place on 20-21st October 1947, the enemy consisted of over 5000 raiders, led by the local tribal Lashkars from the bordering regions of Pakistan. The day after the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, on 28th October 1947, Indian troops were flown to Srinagar.
An issue of the Indian Express on 28th October 1947 (Source: Twitter @adgpi)
One of the prominent battles during this war was the ‘Battle of Badgam’. Located in the southwest of Srinagar; Badgam was a small village less than an hour away from the Srinagar Airfield, therefore it was significant, as if the raiders got close enough they would gain access to not only the Airfield but the city. On 2nd November, the report came into the Brigade Headquarters that there was a concentration of many tribal raiders near Badgam.
Among the troops deployed during this war was the 4th Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment, led by Major Somnath Sharma, who played a significant role in this battle. On 3rd November, a batch of three companies was dispatched to keep an eye on the movement of the infiltrators approaching from the north, and two out of the three companies were of the 4th Kumaon. Major Sharma’s company was a part of this operation and they had established a firm base on a small hill near Badgam.
Since they did not find any enemies, two of the three companies returned to the Airfield. The second one returned at 1400 Hrs., while Major Sharma’s company was asked to hold their position till 1500 Hrs. and then return to the Airfield. They had been patrolling the village and nearby areas since dawn, but the raiders were dressed like the locals and were indistinguishable, dodging the patrolling troops and when they saw the other two companies leave, they started encircling the company to isolate them.
The company got attacked from one of the houses in Badgam but chose against firing their weapons for the fear of killing the civilians. They were surrounded and the infiltrators then removed weapons from their firans (Kashmiri cloaks) and launched the attack. There were over 500 raiders against Major Sharma’s less than 90 men company, he understood the gravity of the situation and knew that it was crucial that he hold his position and fight till the end, to avoid the imminent threat to both Srinagar and its Airfield. They were outnumbered by 7 to 1.
They fought courageously, and after reporting how dire the situation was, to the Brigade Commander, he promised to send troops of 1 Punjab for help, but Major Sharma knew that they would take time to get there. And while the first attack was dealt with, the subsequent attacks were incessant, and our troops suffered heavy casualties. However, against all odds, they were able to hold their ground long enough.
Major Somnath Sharma. Source: Honourpoint
A Tribute to Major Somnath Sharma
“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.”
- This was the last message sent by Major Somnath Sharma to the Brigade Headquarters moments before he was killed.
Major Sharma’s name has become synonymous with the Battle of Badgam. Born on 31st January 1923, he was a second-generation army officer, as his father, his two brothers and sister, also served in the Indian Army. At the age of ten, he enrolled at Prince of Wales Royal Military College, Dehra Dun and subsequently joined the Royal Military Academy. His military service began in 1942 when he was commissioned in the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later 4th Battalion Kumaon Regiment) of the British Indian Army.
Major Somnath Sharma, also fought in the Second World War, under Colonel K S Thimayya in Burma, and was deployed in Arakan. During the fight, a soldier was injured and Major Sharma carried the injured soldier to a safe place for treatment and was later awarded ‘Mention in Dispatch’ for this act of courage.
In 1947, when the soldiers were being deployed to defend Kashmir, Major Sharma was recovering from an injury where he fractured his left arm during a hockey match. He was advised to rest but insisted that he wanted to be with his company during combat and was later allowed to go. He still had the plaster cast when he was fighting in Badgam.
Even when the situation in Badgam was dire, he did not lose hope and fought till the end. During the fight he moved from one section to the other to motivate and encourage the men in his company to keep fighting, his encouragement kept the company going, and killed as many tribesmen as they could. And when due to the smaller number of men the functioning of the light machine guns was affected, he began filling the magazines himself. As he was engaged with this task an enemy mortar shell landed near him killing him on the spot. The company also lost Sepoy Dewan Singh, Subedar Prem Singh Mehta, 20 other ranks and 26 men were wounded during the battle. The company’s efforts and killing of over 200 raiders did slow their advances and secured enough time for the reinforcements to arrive.
Major Sharma was just 24 years old when he lost his life defending his country. For his exceptional leadership and bravery during this battle, he was the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, which is the highest award for gallantry given by Independent India. Even today, on 3rd November the army pays tribute and commemorates the bravery of Major Sharma, and his company who were killed in action, defending their country.
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