Major Somnath Sharma – The Hero of Battle of Badgam

The day November 3rd 2021, marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Badgam. This battle was one of the most prominent defensive encounters which took place at Badgam in Kashmir valley, between troops of the Indian Army and Pakistani tribal raiders, on the 3rd of November 1947.

On this occasion, let’s take a look at the life of the legendary war hero, Major Somnath Sharma whose name has become synonymous with the Battle of Badgam. Major Sharma was martyred in action during the battle, while repulsing the infiltrators. He made history by becoming the first recipient of Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military decoration, for his exemplary leadership and gallantry.

Early life

Major Somnath Sharma was born on 31st January 1923 at Dadh, Kangra (present day Himachal Pradesh).He was a second generation army officer. His father Amar Nath Sharma was an Army Medical Corps Officer and several of siblings have also served in the military services. His uncle Captain K. D Vasudeva, who had died during the Malayan Campaign in World War II, was also a great influence throughout his career.

Somnath, fondly called as Somi, and his brother, called as Tindy in the army circles, were sent  to Hampton Court Convent Mussoorie at a young age, as their father was sent to England for a medical course. The brothers then went on to pursue their studies together in Sherwood College, Nainital. Somnath was enrolled in Prince of Wales Royal Military College in Dehradun after his schooling. After passing out from there, he joined the Indian Military Academy, in 1941 but the military training program had to be stopped in between due to the World War.

Major Somnath Sharma. Source: Honourpoint

“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.”

Param Vir Chakra Citation

Military Life

After a rigorous training of 9 months, in February 1942, he was assigned to the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment(which later came to be known as 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment), at the age of 19.

Arakan Campaign

Under the command of Col. K.S. Thimmayya, he saw action against the Japanese in Burma. Once during a deadly combat with Japan, when a saw a wounded Kumaoni soldier who was stranded on the field due to his injury, Somnath picked him up and carried him on his back through the Japanese shelling to a safe place. He was mentioned in dispatches for many such acts of bravery exhibited during the Arakan campaign.

Battle of Badgam

On the 22nd of October 1942 the Kashmir valley was invaded by Pakistan. In response to that, on 27th October 1942, a contingent of troops of the Indian army was airlifted to Srinagar. Around this time, Major Somnath Sharma had returned to India and was an adjutant in 4 Kumaon, where he had picked up his duty to ensure internal security of Punjab. That and his experience in working with the police and administration during the 1947 unrest, qualified him to be chosen as a commander of D company of the 4th Battalion of Kumaon Regiment. Somnath at this time, was recovering from an injury sustained previously on the hockey field and his left hand was still in plaster cast and hence initially, the commanding officer of 4th Battalion  Kumaon was hesitant in sending Somnath along with the troops, but ultimately had to give in to Somnath’s persistence.On 31st October, D Company of 4 Kumaon Regiment was flown to Srinagar.

On November 3rd 1942, a batch of 3 companies – A and D company of 4 Kumaon, led by Major.Sharma and 1 Para Kumaon commanded by Captain Ronald Wood –  was deployed to Badgam to search for the infiltrators and stem their advance towards Srinagar. 

Major Somnath’s company had taken position and dug trenches on a hill west of  the village and 1 Para Kumaon had positioned themselves  in the south east part of the village. According to the Major’s report, the village seemed calm and eerily quiet. Detecting no enemy movements, 1 Para Kumaon was instructed to take a round of the east and go back to the airbase in Srinagar. By around 2 p.m, A company was also removed from the field and D company was instructed to stay in position until 3 p.m. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, the Lashkar, under the leadership of a Pakistani major was planning an attack on the Indian soldiers patrolling the area and was accumulating in small units, to avoid suspicion.

Half an hour after the withdrawal of A company, a group of villagers who had gathered around a nala (water body), began to move around and disperse in different directions. Little did the Kumaonis know that these were the infiltrators disguised as civilians with their weapons hidden inside their loose cloaks.The company was hence shocked when firing commenced from the houses in the village. In order not to endanger the lives of innocent civilians, counter-fire was not ordered. While Major Sharma was reporting the changed situation in the village, a large group of around 700 odd raiders barged in and surrounded the company from three sides. The enemy opened heavy mortar fire on the company.

The company suffered heavy casualties from the attack and were vastly outnumbered by a ratio 7:1. Realising that the city of Srinagar and the airfield would be vulnerable if they failed to engage the raiders, Major Sharma held onto his position and urged his men to fight tenaciously. Even when he knew that his company wouldn’t be able to stop the enemy for long, he and men fought ferociously. It was a real challenge to keep up the spirits of his men alive in the given circumstances. This is when he displayed his exemplary leadership skills by rushing from one post to another boosting the team’s morale and motivating them to put up a brave defense. He laid out panels to guide the Indian aircrafts, which were coming for their aid, to the enemy targets. On realising that his company’s firing power had been adversely affected as a result of the heavy casualties suffered, he took up the task of filling the magazines and issuing them to his men operating on light machine guns. While he was at it, a mortar shell exploded on a pile of ammunition right next to him, leading to his death.

His exceptional courage set an example for his men, who continued to fight even after his death with all the vigour that they had. However, by the time reinforcements arrived, the company had suffered severe damage including the death of Major Somnath Sharma, one Junior Commissioned Officer and 20 other soldiers. Sharma’s company was successful in inflicting much heavier losses on the enemy. The raiders had lost over 200 men and their leader had been incapacitated, which resulted in their movement losing its momentum. The fierce resistance of Sharma’s company delayed the enemy for 6 crucial hours, thus giving the Indian Air Force enough time to get into position and thus preventing the infiltrators from gaining the airfield. 

For his exceptional valour, exemplary leadership and supreme sacrifice, Major Somnath Sharma was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously, on June 21st 1950.

On the 75th ‘Battle of Badgam Day’, November 3rd 2021, the Indian Army paid tribute to this brave son of India who laid down his life to defend his motherland.