On 22 October 1947, Pakistan launched the tribal invasion of Jammu & Kashmir. As the State became a part of the Union on October 26th, her protection became the responsibility of India. The first batch of Indian troops reached just in time on October 27th morning to stop the enemy on the outskirts of Srinagar. The D Company of 4 Kumaon, led by Major Somnath Sharma, was airlifted to Srinagar on October 31st. When his company was asked to move to Srinagar, Major Sharma’s arm was in plaster and he was advised rest till the plaster was removed. But he insisted on being with his company at this crucial hour. On November 3rd, D Coy led by Major Sharma had taken up position south of Bagdam. Around 1435 hours, a large force of the enemy, about 700 strong, appeared from a depression to the west of his position. It attacked with coy with small arms, mortars and heavy automatics. The accurate and devastating fire of the enemy inflicted heavy casualties on D Coy. Major Somnath Sharma understood the gravity of the situation and the imminent threat to both Srinagar town and the airfield was looming large before his eyes. He rushed across the open ground to his sections, exposing himself to enemy fire. He also laid out panels to guide IAF aircraft to their targets in the face of enemy fire. The company held on for six hours against heavy odds.
When heavy casualties adversely affected the firing power of the company, Major Sharma, with his right hand in plaster, took upon himself the task of filling the magazines and issuing them to men, operating light machine guns. While he was busy fighting the enemy, a mortar shell exploded on the ammunition near him. His last message to Brigade HQ, received 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 our last man and our last round.” His answer is now part of the Army lore. In the battle of Bagdam, Major Sharma, one JCO and 20 other ranks were killed. But their sacrifices did not go in vain. He and his men stemmed the tide of the enemy advance on Srinagar and the airfield for some very crucial hours. Major Sharma was awarded India’s first and highest war-time gallantry medal, Param Vir Chakra.
The Indian Air Force was established on 8 October 1932. During World War II, IAF personnel were awarded 22 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements. Between 1945 and 1950 it was called the Royal Indian Air Force. In 1947 war with Pakistan, the Royal Indian Air Force provided air support to Indian troops and helped in transport. After India became a republic in 1950, the prefix ‘Royal’ was dropped, and it began to be known as the Indian Air Force (IAF). The President of India is the ex-officio commander-in-chief of the IAF. The IAF’s English Electric Canberra played a major role in a United Nations operation in Congo in the early 1960s. In 1961, to drive out the Portuguese from Goa, and Daman and Diu, IAF played a major role. India’s unwillingness to use its air force against Chinese forces in the 1962 war is regarded by some military experts as one of the reasons why India suffered serious losses in the conflict.
In the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the IAF raided Pakistani bases, but also lost many aircraft, most of the losses taking place during battles over Kalaikunda and Pathankot. In the 1971 Bangladesh ‘War of Liberation’, on the western front, the IAF’s tasks included disruption of enemy communications, destroying fuel and ammunition reserves, and stopping mobilisation of Pakistani ground troops. On the Eastern front, the IAF’s main goal was to support Indian forces on the ground. The IAF received its first and only Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military decoration, during the 1971 war, posthumously awarded to Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon of the No. 18 Squadron.
In 1987, around 70,000 sorties were flown by the IAF to support the Indian Peace Keeping Force troops in Sri Lanka. On 3 November 1988, the IAF dropped Indian paratroopers in the Maldives after the Maldivian president sought Indian help to stop a mercenary invasion in his country. The Indian military operation was swift and successful. In the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Indian Air Force targeted Pakistani intruder positions using aircraft and helicopter gunships. IAF participated in the UN peace keeping mission at Sierra Leone, Africa in year 2000. The IAF also helps in providing relief during disasters such as floods.
Narration from Yogendra Singh Yadav who was awarded Param Vir Chakra – We were 25 soldiers of the 18 Granadiers unit of the Indian Army. After scaling the rocks for three nights, we were just 50 metres below Tiger Hill. Due to the heavy firing, 18 of our jawans and officers had to retreat. Now, we were just seven jawans near the Pakistani bunkers. After the firing stopped, we (seven of us) slowly began advancing to capture the Pakistani bunkers, just 10 metres away from us. At about 11:30 a.m. we opened fire at the bunker and gunned down four Pakistani soldiers. After we captured the Pakistani bunker, the Pakistan Army from the top of Tiger Hill sent 10 jawans to assess our strength. As they moved near, we gunned down eight of them. Two escaped. At 11:30 a.m. on the same day, Pakistani Army men attacked our bunker. The attack was fierce, though we could gun down 35 Pakistani soldiers, I lost all six of my comrades. I sustained gunshot injuries on my legs, arms, thigh and in other parts of my body. The Pakistanis were sure that I was dead.
I regained consciousness. I took out my grenade, pulled the pin and threw it at the enemy. After the explosion, his body was blown off in the air. By then, I picked up the Peeka Rifle of a Pakistani soldier lying nearby and I opened fire which left five Pakistani soldiers dead. I heard the order on their wireless to retreat from the Tiger Hill and further heard the instruction to attack the Indian MMG-base 500 metres below Tiger Hill. I dumped myself in the drain covering my head. Now within five minutes I was below 400 meters and I saw my boss, Lieutenant Balwan. I told him that the Pakistanis wanted to attack the MMG base and had vacated Tiger Hill. On this tip-off, the officials deployed ‘Charlie’ and ‘Delta’ companies at Tiger Hill and deployed ‘Bravo’ company to save the MMG base. After a few minutes, Pakistani forces attacked the MMG base. This battle resulted in all the Pakistani soldiers being killed, since we had prior information of their arrival. Meanwhile, the ‘Delta’ and ‘Charlie’ companies had captured Tiger Hill. The war of seven hours was over and this is how we won Tiger Hill!