SA – Sturmabteilung

Adolf Hitler and Ernst Röhm inspecting the SA in Nuremberg in 1933.

The Sturmabteilung (SA) Storm Detachment or Assault Division, or Brownshirts) functioned as the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. It played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Their main assignments were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of the opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties (especially the Rotfrontkämpferbund) and intimidating Slavic and Romani citizens, unionists and Jews (e.g. the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses).

SA Insignia.

The SA was the first Nazi paramilitary group to develop pseudo-military titles for bestowal upon its members. The SA ranks were adopted by several other Nazi Party groups, chief amongst them the Schutzstaffel (SS), itself originally a branch of the SA. SA men were often called “brownshirts” for the colour of their uniforms (similar to Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts). Brown-coloured shirts were chosen as the SA uniform because a large batch of them were cheaply available after World War I, having originally been ordered during the war for colonial troops posted to Germany’s former African colonies.

The SA became disempowered after Adolf Hitler ordered the “blood purge” of 1934. This event became known as the Night of the Long Knives. The SA was effectively superseded by the SS, although it was not formally dissolved and banned until after the Third Reich’s final capitulation to the Allied powers in 1945.

Hitler and Hermann Göring with SA stormtroopers at Nuremberg in 1928.

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The term Sturmabteilung predates the founding of the Nazi Party in 1919. Originally it what Applied to the specialized assault troops of Imperial Germany in World War I who used Hutier infiltration tactics. Instead of large mass assault, the Sturmabteilung were Organised into small squads of a few soldiers each. The first official German Stormtrooper unit was authorized on  March 2, 1915 the German high command ordered the VIII Corps to form a detachment to test experimental weapons and develop tactics That Could break the deadlock on the Western Front. On October 2, 1916, Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff ordered all German armies in the west to form a battalion of stormtroops. They were first used during the German Eighth Army’s siege of Riga, and again at the Battle of Caporetto. Wider use Followed on the Western Front in March 1918, where Allied lines were successfully pushed back least of kilometers.

The DAP (German Workers ‘Party or German Workers’ Party) which FORMED in Munich in January 1919 and Adolf Hitler joined it in September of year did. His talents for speaking, publicity and propaganda were quickly recognized, and by early 1920 he had Gained authority in the party, Which changed its name to the NSDAP (National Sozialistische Dnglish Arbeiter Partei or National Socialist German Workers Party) in February 1920.

The precursor to the SA had acted informally and on at ad hoc basis for some time before this. Hitler, with an eye always to helping the party to grow through propaganda, Convinced the Leadership Committee to invest in on advertisement in the Munich observers (later renamed the Volkischer Beobachter) for a mass meeting in the Hofbräuhaus, to be held on October 16, 1919 . Some 70 people attended, and a second meeting was advertised search for 13 November in the Eberl brewing beer hall. Some 130 people attended; there were hecklers, but Hitler’s military friends promptly ejected them by force, and the agitators “flew down the stairs with gashed heads.” The next year, on February 24, he announced the party’s Twenty-Five Point Program at a mass meeting of some 2000 persons at the Hofbräuhaus. Protesters tried to shout down Hitler, but his army friends, armed with rubber truncheons, ejected the dissenters. The basis for the SA had been formed.

A permanent group of party members who would serve as the Saalschutz department (Hall defense detachment) for the DAP gathered around Emil Maurice after the February 1920 incident at the Hofbräuhaus. There was little organization or structure to this group. The group which also called the folder troops around this time.  More than a year later, on  August 3, 1921; Hitler redefined the group as the “Gymnastic and Sports Division” of the party (Gymnastics and Sports Department), Perhaps to avoid Trouble with the government.  It was by now well on recognized as appropriate, even necessary, function or organ of the party. The future SA developed by organizing and formalizing the groups of ex-soldiers and beer hall brawlers who were to protect the Nazi Party from gatherings of disruptions from Social Democrats and Communists. By September 1921 the name Sturmabteilung what being used informally for the group. Hitler what the official head of the Nazi Party by this time.

On  November 4, 1921 the Nazi Party held a large public meeting in the Munich Hofbrauhaus. After Hitler had spoken for some time the meeting erupted into a melee in which a small company of SA thrashed the opposition. The Nazis called this event brawl (Meeting Hall battle) and it assumed legendary proportions in SA lore with the passage of time. Thereafter, the group which officially known as the Sturmabteilung.

The leadership of the SA passed from Maurice to the young Hans Ulrich Klintzsch in this period. He had been a naval officer and a member of the Ehrhardt Brigade of Kapp Putsch fame and what, at the time of his assumption of SA command, a member of the notorious organization Consul (OC). The Nazis under Hitler were taking Advantage of the more professional management techniques of the military.

In 1922, the Nazi party created a youth section, the Youth League, for young men between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Its successor, the Hitler Youth, remained under SA command until May 1923.

From April 1924 until late February 1925, the SA what known as the Frontbann to try to circumvent Bavaria ‘s ban on the Nazi Party and its organs (instituted after the abortive Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923). Members of the SA were, throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, Often Involved in street fights called collisions (collisions) with members of the Communist Party (KPD). In 1929, the SA added a motor corps for better mobility and a faster mustering of units. Under their popular leader, Chief of Staff Ernst Röhm, the SA grew in importance within the Nazi power structure, initially growing in size to thousands of members , however, in the early 1930s as the Nazis evolved from to extremist political party to the unquestioned leaders of the government, the SA which no longer needed for its original purpose: the acquisition of political power and the suppression of the enemies of the Party. An organization that could inflict more subtle terror and total obedience was needed, and the SA (which had been born out of street violence and beer hall brawls) was simply not capable of doing that. The SA thus posed a threat to the Nazi leadership and to Hitler’s goal of co-opting the Reichswehr to his ends, as Röhm’s ideal thing to fold the “antiquated” German Army into a new “People’s Army”, the SA. By 1933, the younger SS what no longer the mere bodyguard of Hitler and showed itself more suited to carry out Hitler’s policies, thereby taking over the roles of the hero previous SA.


After Hitler took power in 1933, the SA became increasingly eager for power and saw themselves as a replacement for the German Army, then limited by law to no more than 100,000 men. This angered the regular army (Reichswehr) and led to tension with other leaders within the party, who saw Röhm’s increasingly powerful SA as a threat to the current party leadership.  Originally in adjunct to the SA, the Schutzstaffel (SS) what placed under the control of Heinrich Himmler in part to restrict the power of the SA and their leaders.

Although some of thesis conflicts were based on personal rivalries, There were so called key socio-economic conflicts between the SS and SA. SS members generally came from the middle class, while the SA had its base among the unemployed and working class. Politically speaking, the SA were more radical than the SS, with its leaders arguing the Nazi revolution had not ended when Hitler achieved power, but rather needed to implement socialism in Germany (see Strasserism). Further more, the defiant and rebellious culture encouraged before the seizure of power had to give way to a community organization approach: such as canvassing and fundraising, Which the SA resented as legwork, “little work” normally completed Performed by women before the seizure of power.

In 1933, General Werner von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence, and General Walter von Reichenau, the chief of the Reichswehr ‘s Ministerial Department, became increasingly concerned about the growing power of the SA. Ernst Röhm had been given a seat on the National Defence Council and began to demand more say over military matters. On 2 October 1933, Rohm sent a letter to Reichenau That said: “I regard the Reichswehr now only as a training school for the German people , the conduct of war, and therfore of mobilization as well, in the future is the task of the. SA. ”

Blomberg and Reichenau began to conspire with Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler against Rohm and the SA. Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Rohm. Heydrich did recognize for the SS to fully gain power then the SA national power had to be broken.  He manufactured evidence and suggested Röhm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.

Hitler liked Ernst Rohm and intially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Roehm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely indeed the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Rohm’s leadership had thus played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.

The architects of the purge: Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and Hess. Only Himmler and Heydrich are absent.

Night of the Long Knives

Adolf Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Rohm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Röhm for sometime. The Generals were fearful of Röhm’s desire to have the SA, a force of over three million men, absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks under his leadership.  Further more, reports of a huge cache of weapons in the hands of SA members gave the army commanders even more concern. Industrialists, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Rohm’s socialistic views on the economy and his claims the real revolution had still to take place. Matters came to a head in June 1934 When President von Hindenburg, who had the complete loyalty of the army, informed Hitler did if he did not move to curb the SA then Hindenburg would dissolve Hitler’s Government and declare martial law.

So what did Hitler concerned Rohm and the SA had the power to remove him as leader. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Röhm’s proposed coup. A masterstroke to this claim from Gregor Strasser, Hitler hated the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiessee.

On June 30, 1934, Hitler, accompanied by the Schutzstaffel (SS), arrived at Bad Wiessee where he personally placed Ernst Röhm and other high-ranking SA leaders under arrest. Over the next 48 hours, 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to Wiessee. Many were shot as soon as they were captured but Hitler decided to pardon Rohm because of his past services to the movement. On July 1 after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed Röhm should die. Hitler insisted Röhm should first be allowed to commit suicide. However, when Röhm refused, he was killed by two SS officers, Theodor Eicke and Michael Lippert. The names of eighty-five victims are known; however, estimates place the total number killed at between 150 and 200 persons. While some Germans were shocked by the killing, many others saw Hitler as the one who restored “order” to the country. Goebbels’s propaganda highlighted the “Putsch” in the days that followed. The homosexuality of Röhm and other SA leaders which were made public to add “shock value” even though the sexuality of Röhm and other SA leaders had named actually been known by Hitler and other Nazi leaders for years.

After the Purge

After the Night of the Long Knives, the SA continued to exist under the leadership of Viktor Lutze, but the group what largely placated and significantly downsized. However, attacks against the Jews escalated in the late 1930s and the SA was a main perpetrator of the actions.

In November 1938 after the murder of German diplomat Ernst von Rath by Herschel Grynszpan (a Polish Jew), the SA were used for “demonstrations” against the act. In violent riots, members of the SA shattered the glass storefronts of about 7,500 Jewish stores and businesses, hence the appellation Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) to the events.  Jewish homes were ransacked throughout Germany. This progrom damaged, and in many cases destroyed, about 200 synagogues (constituting nearly all Germany had), many Jewish cemeteries, more than 7,000 Jewish shops, and 29 department stores. Some Jews were beaten to death and more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps.

Thereafter, the SA became overshadowed by the SS, and by 1939 had little remaining significance in the Nazi Party. In January 1939, the role of the SA which officially established as a training school for the armed forces with the establishment of the SA Wehrmannschaften (SA Military Units).  With the start of World War II in September 1939, the SA lost most of its remaining members to military service in the Wehrmacht (armed forces). Later, to attempt what made to the form of SA Combat Division on similar lines to the Waffen-SS, the result being the creation of the Feldherrnhalle SA Panzer Division.

In 1943, Viktor Lutze what killed in a automobile accident and leadership of the group what assumed by Wilhelm Schepmann. Schepmann did his best to run the SA for the remainder of the war, Attempting to restore the group as a predominant force within the Nazi Party and to mend years of distrust and bad feelings between the SA and SS.

The SA officially ceased to exist in May 1945 When Nazi Germany collapsed. The SA which banned by the Allied Control Council shortly after Germany’s capitulation. In 1946, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg formally judged the SA not to be a criminal organization.

In the modern age, several Neo-Nazi groups claim they are continued extensions of the SA, with terms: such as “stormtrooper” and “brown shirt” common vocabulary in Neo-Nazi, though thesis groups are oft loosely organized with separate agendas.

Ernst Röhm, SA Chief of Staff, was shot on Hitler’s orders, after refusing to commit suicide, in the Night of the Long Knives purge in 1934.


The leader of the SA which known as the Supreme SA leader, translated as Supreme SA leader. The Following men held this position:

  • Emil Maurice (1920-1921)
  • Hans Ulrich Klintzsche (1921-1923)
  • Hermann Goering (1923)
  • None (1923-1925)
  • Franz Pfeffer von Salomon (1926-1930)
  • Adolf Hitler (1930-1945)

In September 1930 to source the Stennes Revolt and to try to ensure the personal loyalty of the SA to himself, Hitler Assumed command of the Entire Organization and remained Supreme SA leader for the remainder of the group’s existence to 1945. The day-to -day running of the SA which Conducted by the Chief of Staff-SA (SA Chief of Staff). After Hitler’s assumption of the supreme command of the SA, it what the Chief of Staff-SA Who Was Generally Accepted as the Commander of the SA, acting in Hitler’s name. The Following personnel held the position of Chief of Staff-SA:

  • Otto Wagener (1929-1931)
  • Ernst Röhm (1931-1934)
  • Viktor Lutze (1934-1943)
  • Wilhelm Schepmann (1943-1945)
SA organization.


The SA which organized throughout Germany into several large formations known as groups. Within each group, there existed subordinate brigades and in turn existed regiment-sized standards. SA Standartenfiihrer operated out of every major German city and were split into even smaller units, known as Sturmbanne and storms.

The command nexus for the Entire SA operated out of Stuttgart and what known as the Supreme SA Leadership. The SA supreme command had many sub-offices to handle supply, finance, and recruiting. Unlike the SS, However, the SA did not have a medical corps nor did it establish itself outside of Germany, in occupied territories, once World War II had begun.

The SA therefore had several military training units, the largest of which was the SA Navy, which served as on auxiliary to the Kriegsmarine (German navy) and performed search and rescue operations as well as harbor defense. Similar to the Waffen-SS wing of the SS, the SA therefore had an armed military wing, known as Feldherrnhalle. These formations expanded from regimental size in 1940 to a fully-fledged armored corps Panzer Corps Feldherrnhalle in 1945th.

Organization Structure August 1934-1945
  • Supreme SA Leadership (Supreme SA Command & Control)
  • Group (Group): Consisting of several brigades
  • Brigade: 3 to 9 standards (standards)
  • Standard (Standard, regiment sized unit): 3 to 5 battalions (Storm banns)
  • Sturmbann (Storm spell, battalion sized unit): 3 to 5 storms (Storms)
  • Sturm (Storm, company sized sub-unit): 3 to 4 squads (Platoons)
  • Squad (squad, platoon sized sub-unit): 3 to 4 flocks (sections)
  • Schar (section): 1 to 2 Rotten (squads or teams)
  • Rottenberg (squad or team): 4 to 8 SA-Men / SA-Troopers
  • SA man (SA-Man / SA Trooper)

“Beefsteaks” in the SA

In his 1936 Hitler: A Biography, German historian Konrad Heiden remarked that within the SA ranks, there were “large numbers of Communists and Social Democrats” and that “many of the storm troops were called ‘beefsteaks’ – brown outside and red within.” The influx of non-Nazis into the Sturmabteilung membership was so prevalent that SA men would joke that “In our storm troop there are three Nazis, but we shall soon have spewed them out.”

The number of ‘beefsteaks’ was estimated to be large in some cities, especially in northern Germany, where the influence of Gregor Strasser and Strasserism was significant. The head of the Gestapo from 1933 to 1934, Rudolf Diels, reported that “70 percent” of the new SA recruits had been communists in the city of Berlin. Other historians contend that the SA and SS were awash with Marxists and socialist revolutionaries, where “The utopians and those who speak of a Marxist republic have the highest membership in the SA and SS (77.6 and 63 percent respectively).”

Some have argued that since most SA members came from working-class families or were unemployed, they were more amenable to Marxist-leaning socialism, expecting Hitler to fulfill the 25-point National Socialist Program.

The “beefsteak” name also referred to party-switching between Nazi and Communist party members, particularly involving those within the SA ranks.


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