Let’s read major Somnath Sharma’s story
Param Vir Chakra is a small round medallion given to the bravest of Indian fighters. Only 21 soldiers, from Independence in 1947 till now have been deemed worthy of this honour. Major Somnath Sharma was its first recipient. Major Somnath’s action on the battlefield inspired the government to create an award like PVC. But his sacrifice also inspired every Indian soldier to do the same if the situation demands it.
About Somnath Sharma’s past
Somnath Sharma was born with military genes. Generations of his family had served the army in some capacity. His grandfather served in the British Indian Army. His father Amarnath Sharma was also a military officer. His brother also served in the army and went on to become a decorated general. His sister was a military doctor. Somnath grew up in Himachal in a military colony surrounded by soldiers and their families. He grew up listening to the stories of bravery and honour of these men and women. His family was also very religious and Sharma loved listening to stories of Arjuna of Mahabharata from his mother.
Somnath Sharma enrolled in one of India’s most prestigious colleges of that time, the Royal Military College at Nainital. After graduating he joined the military. But India was still under the rule of the British. And so was our military. At the young age of 19, he was sent to the battlefield of Burma. The year was 1942 and the second world war was on. The British were fighting the Germans back at home. Japan as an ally of Germany started attacking the British-occupied colonies in the East. The British Indian Army was facing the Japanese army in Burma, present-day Myanmar.
Somnath Sharma was commissioned into the 19th regiment of Hyderabad. Here he was serving under the leadership of Colonel K.S. Thimmayya. Thimmayya would later become independent India’s Chief of Army Staff. During their battle in Burma, Sharma experienced some great military insights. He saw the bravery Of K.D. Vasudeva, who served in his battalion as well. Vasudeva died on the battlefield but not before aiding more than hundreds of his injured comrades. Somnath also took part in the action and was recommended for gallantry by his seniors.
Five years later, India gained independence from British rule. A newly formed country of Pakistan attacked the Kashmir region claiming it to be theirs. Somnath’s action in Burma had earned him the rank of Major. He and his men from the Kumaon regiment were tasked to deal with these insurgencies. Somnath had recently fractured his arm while playing hockey, yet he insisted on leading his regiment. They were airdropped in Kashmir.
The Kumaon regiment along with three other regiments were patrolling the D chowk of Srinagar city. At three in the night, the Kumaon regiment was surrounded by three thousand Lashkar terrorists. Major Somnath’s men were severely outnumbered. But Somnath reminded his men to rely on their experience and training and fight fearlessly. And he led by example. He would run from post to post exposing himself to enemy gunfire.
Near the end of the battle, his regiment was short on ammunition. Major Somnath took the responsibility and distributed them tactically. He was also caring a light machine gun, with which he took down more than two dozen of enemy. His last message to the command centre was “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 our last man and our last round”. He remained true to his words.
The Lashkar overran the Kumaon regiment and their post. Major Somnath and his men were dead. But they held their post for long enough to give the Indian army an advantage. Three days later, the D chowk was reclaimed by India. Major’s body was recovered. He was found holding torn pages from the Gita.
In 1950, he became the first recipient of Param Vir Chakra. A medal for showcasing the ultimate act of bravery. His brother’s mother-in-law Savitri Khanolkar was the designer of the medal. Major Somnath Sharma’s action in the first war of Independent India set the tone for the country’s military. And the next seven decades have seen the same code of valour and determination.