Major Som Nath Sharma, PVC (1923–1947) was the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, the highest Indian gallantry award. He was awarded the medal posthumously for his bravery in the Kashmir operations in November 1947. He died while evicting Pakistani infiltrators and raiders from Srinagar Airport during the Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 in Kashmir. He belonged to the 4th Kumaon Regiment.
Major Som Nath Sharma was born on 31 January 1923 in a Brahmin family at Dadh, Kangra Himachal Pradesh India. He came from a well-known military family, his father, Major General Amar Nath Sharma, was also a military officer (retired as Director, Medical Services (Army)) as were his brothers Lt. General Surindar Nath Sharma (retired as Engineer-in-chief) and General Vishwa Nath Sharma (retired as Chief of Army Staff, 1988–1990), and his sister Major Kamla Tewari (Medical Doctor). He did his schooling at Sherwood College, Nainital, before enrolling at the Prince of Wales Royal Military College in Dehra Dun and later joined the Royal Military Academy. He was commissioned into the 8th Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later 4th Battalion, Kumaon Regiment):148 of the Indian Army (then British Indian Army) on 22 February 1942. He also saw combat during the second World War in the Arakan Operations. Incidentally, he is the eldest brother of the son-in-law (Lt. Gen. Surindra Nath Sharma, P.V.S.M, A.V.S.M) of Savitri Khanolkar, who designed the medal.
Maj Somnath Sharma4 KUMANON (IC-521)
On 3 November 1947, Major Somnath Sharma’s company was ordered on a fighting patrol to Badgam in the Kashmir Valley . He reached his objective at first light on 3 November and took up a position south of Badgam at 1100hours. The enemy, estimated at about 500 attacked his company position from three sides; the company began to sustain heavy casualties.
Fully realizing the gravity of the situation and the direct threat that would result to both the aerodrome and Srinagar via Hum Hom, Major Somnath Sharma urged his company to fight the enemy tenaciously. With extreme bravery he kept rushing across the open ground to his sections exposing himself to heavy and accurate fire to urge them to hold on.
Keeping his nerve, he skillfully directed the fire of his sections into the ever-advancing enemy. He repeatedly exposed himself to the full fury of enemy fire and laid out cloth strips to guide our aircraft onto their targets in full view of the enemy.
Realising that casualties had affected the effectiveness of his light automatics, this officer whose left hand was in plaster, personally commenced filling magazines and issuing them to the light machine gunners. A mortar shell landed right in the middle of the ammunition resulting in an explosion that killed him.
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.’