On November 3, 1947, just four months after India gained independence with great difficulty, Pakistan launched an attack on Srinagar with tribal militias. Their objective was to seize control of Srinagar Airbase. Around 700 enemies had invaded. Our 50 soldiers not only prevented them from advancing by six hours but also inflicted heavy casualties on around 200 infiltrators. During this fierce battle, 22 of our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. Major Somnath Sharma, the first Param Vir Chakra recipient of the country, is not only a source of inspiration for generations to come but also a symbol of unwavering courage and valor. This is the story of his remarkable bravery.
On the morning of October 23, 1947, soldiers and weapons were flown from Palam Airport in Delhi to Srinagar. Major Somnath Sharma also arrived in Srinagar on October 31. At that time, Major Sharma had a plaster cast on his right hand because he had fractured it while playing hockey. Doctors had advised him to rest, but the heart of a patriot knows no rest. When the enemy is at the doorstep, wounds and pain become insignificant. Major Sharma requested permission to go to the battlefield, and it was granted. He was assigned the command of his unit.
Senior military officers instructed Major Sharma that they needed to protect the Kashmir Valley from infiltrators. Their mission was to repel the enemy. Two days later, on November 2, 1947, news arrived that Pakistani invaders had reached from Srinagar Airfield to a location a few kilometers away in Badgam. Under the orders of Brigadier LP Bogie Sen, the commander of the 161 Infantry Brigade, Major Sharma and his company of 50 soldiers were dispatched to Badgam. On the morning of November 3, 1947, Major Sharma and his team arrived in Badgam. Immediately, he divided his company into several sections and took up positions to launch an attack.
In the village of Badgam, there were signs of enemy activity. Major Sharma, while maintaining his position, estimated that these movements were merely a distraction to divert attention. The real attack would likely come from the west. Major Sharma’s assessment proved correct. At 2:30 in the afternoon, 700 Kabaili tribesmen launched an assault. They rained powerful mortar shells on the position of his 50 soldiers. Major Sharma and his fellow soldiers were surrounded from three sides. His team members were being badly wounded by the mortar shells exploding above their heads, showering them with shrapnel, glass, and deadly spikes. Despite the adversity, they were giving a resolute response.
Each soldier was Taking on seven enemies single-handedly.
When Major Sharma counted, he realized that each of his soldiers was engaged in combat with seven enemies. Immediately, he requested Brigade Sen to send more reinforcements. Major Sharma knew the value of the Badgam post. He was determined not to abandon that position. If that post were to fall, it could possibly lead to Srinagar slipping from India’s control, and the Kashmir Valley might become separate. However, Major Sharma and his team did not allow that to happen.
In one hand a plaster, in the other a machine gun
Despite having a plaster cast on one hand, Major Sharma was tirelessly boosting the morale of the soldiers at each post. Periodically, he rained bullets on the enemy. His forward platoon had been wiped out, but the rest of the soldiers continued the fight, inspired by Major Sharma’s determination. During this time, Major Sharma began supplying magazines to all the light automatic machine gunners to ensure that the posts never ran out of ammunition. This way, Indian bullets would continue tearing through the bodies of the enemy soldiers.
During this time, Major Sharma sent a message to the headquarters. He conveyed that their numbers were very low, with the enemy positioned just 45-46 meters away. They were in the midst of a fierce firefight. But they would not retreat even an inch from their positions. They would continue to respond to the infiltrators until the last bullet and the last soldier. Shortly thereafter, Major Somnath Sharma was martyred in a mortar explosion. He fought until his last breath. His supreme sacrifice was not in vain.
They prevented the capture of Srinagar Airbase.
More than 20 soldiers from their position had already become martyrs, and Major Sharma was no longer among them. But the remaining soldiers displayed unwavering courage. Even after Major Sharma’s sacrifice, they held the enemy at bay for six hours, giving the next battalion enough time to arrive. As reinforcements, the first battalion of the Kumaon Regiment came in. Upon their arrival, they immediately took positions and delivered a resounding response to the enemy. Major Sharma, a junior commissioned officer, and 20 soldiers from the D Company of the 4th Kumaon Regiment had made the ultimate sacrifice. However, Srinagar and Kashmir were saved.