Corporal Stanley K. Knutson
Anti-tank gun crewman
Anti-tank Company, 363rd Infantry Regiment, 91st Infantry Division
Stanley Kermit Knutson was born in 1914 in the extremely small rural farming town of Oklee, Minnesota only a few years after it was settled. Only two years prior to his birth, in 1912, did the town actually get a post office, and still today it numbers around 400 residents. While his early years were obviously very isolated and quiet, in his youth the family moved to yet another small ranching community in Carbon, Montana where they spent the span of the Great Depression before finally settling in the bustling metropolis of Minneapolis in 1935. It was here he met his wife and had his first child while working as a driver for a manufacturing plant while working part-time as a national guardsman. He left the guard, however, but reenlisted in August of 1943 as the war heated up to finally do his bit in the war against fascism.
Knutson spent his basic at Fort Snelling in Minnesota before getting assigned as a 57mm Anti-Tank gun crewman in the Anti-Tank Company of the 363rd Infantry Regiment being raised from the 91st Infantry Division, a west coast National Guard outfit. The division left for the European Theater in the spring of 1944 and spent some time training in Africa before the regiments were split up for individual combat training under divisions already in Italy. For Knutson and the 363rd, this was the 34th ID in July where they first fought German forces near Riparabella and Mount Vaso. The going was rough and the terrain was worse, foreshadowing the coming struggles of the mountain campaigns they would fight as a united division.
Only July 12th, 1944 the division entered combat for the first time as a complete unit in the fight for the Arno River. Supporting the 34th Division, Knutson and the 91st got a good taste of combat amongst the rocky mountain terrain lining the river. The Anti-Tank company of the 363rd especially earned its stripes while repelling 12 enemy tanks near Chianni which sought to push back the regiment on its very first day. The fight continued on for several more days as the men truly learned the meaning of the word “slogged” in the slow but sure advance to the objective. Finally, after 7 days, the river was captured and the high ground was under US control.
The 91st was successful throughout its first month in combat and spent the early fall training and reequipping for the mountain combat they would soon face on their own with the withdrawal of the 3rd, 36th, and 45th Divisions to Southern France. Crushing the Gothic Line, conquering the fortifications of Monticelli, and countless other unnamed hills, the “Powder River” division pushed onward. A particularly interesting anecdote about the AT Company comes about the period after the capture of the Futa Pass in early October. According to the 363rd unit history, the antitank company arguably had it worst when it came to mobilization and movement. Unlike other companies of the regiment who could suffer through heavy knapsacks, the antitank crews had to lug their weapons with them through the pouring rain and up the rocky slopes. As such, the company often received help from the other infantry units as German armor was still a serious threat and encountered often enough to warrant the protection. The passage describes how engineers began a climb by blasting and shoveling roads to get the weapons up a hill. Knutson and his fellow crewmen then had to tie the guns to whatever was available be it mules, oxen, bulldozers, jeeps trucks, or hand-drawn winches. In the horrendous terrain of northern Italy, the most effective and reliable transport tended to be the pack animals found amongst the Italian countryside. The history recalls bulldozers, trucks, and all other sorts of vehicles being abandoned in the roadside mud in favor of these old-fashioned beasts of burden.
The division went on to carry out many further successful campaigns in the Italian theater, breaking German resistance all to the Po River Valley in the oft-forgotten front of the late war period. Throughout the 11 months, Knutson fought with the company his role was fairly fluid. Never were all the AT men together on the line, rather, their platoons were split up and separated amongst the battalions of infantry in the regiment to reinforce strategic points of the line from German armor which continued to bolster Axis lines in Italy even up to the final days of the war. Considering he had joined up pretty early on initially, Knutson was given an early leave to head home and served a few months of occupation before returning to Minnesota. Back home he resettled away from the city to the rural life he had always known with his wife and kids, starting a small farm that kept him occupied until he passed away in 1971.