The , abbreviated SA
for "Storm detachment" or "Assault
detachment" or "Assault section", usually translated as "stormtroops
"), functioned as a paramilitary organization
of the Nazi
. It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power
the 1920s and 1930s.
were often called "brownshirts" for the colour of their uniforms; this distinguished them from the Schutzstaffel (SS), who wore black and brown uniforms (similar to
Benito Mussolini's blackshirts).
Brown-coloured shirts were
chosen as the SA uniform because a large batch of them was cheaply
available after World War I
originally been ordered during the war for colonial troops
posted to Germany's former African
The SA was also the first Nazi paramilitary group to develop
pseudo-military titles for bestowal upon its members. The SA ranks
adopted by several other Nazi Party groups, chief among them the
SS. The SA was very important to Adolf
's rise to power, but was largely irrelevant after he
took control of Germany in 1933; it was effectively superseded by
the SS after the Night of the
The term Sturmabteilung
predates the founding of the Nazi
Party in 1919. It originally comes from the specialized assault
troops used by Germany in World War I
utilising Hutier infiltration tactics
. Instead of a
large mass assault, the Sturmabteilung
was organized into
of a few soldiers each. The first
official German stormtroop unit was authorized on 2 March 1915;
German high command ordered the VIII Corps to form a detachment for
the testing of experimental weapons and the development of
appropriate tactics that could break the deadlock on the Western Front
. On 2 October
ordered all German
armies in the west to form a battalion of stormtroops. First applied during
the German Eighth Army's siege of Riga, then again
at the Battle of
Caporetto, their wider use in March 1918 allowed to push back
Italian lines tens of kilometers.
(Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or German Workers' Party) was formed in
Munich in January 1919 and Hitler joined in September of
His talents for speaking, publicity and propaganda
were readily recognized and by early
1920 he had gained some authority in the party, which changed its
name to the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche
or National Socialist
German Workers' Party
) in April 1920.
The precursor to the SA had acted informally and on an ad
basis for some time before this. Hitler, with an eye
always to growing the party through propaganda, convinced the
leadership committee to invest in an advertisement in the
(later renamed the Volkischer Beobachter
) for a mass
meeting in the Hofbräuhaus
, to be
held on 16 October 1919. Some 70 people attended, and a second such
meeting was advertised for 13 November in the Eberlbrau 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 24
February, he announced the party's Twenty-Five Point program
mass meeting of some 2000 persons at the Hofbrauhaus. Protesters
tried to shout Hitler down, but his army friends, armed with rubber
truncheons, ejected the dissenters. The basis for the SA had been
A permanent group of party members who would serve as the
(hall defense detachment) for the DAP
gathered around Emil Maurice
February 1920 incident at the Hofbräuhaus. There was little
organization or structure to this group, however. The group was
also called the Ordnertruppen
around this time. More than
a year later, on 3 August 1921, Hitler redefined the group as the
"Gymnastic and Sports Division" of the party (Turn- und
), perhaps to avoid trouble with the government.
It was by now well recognized as an 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 gatherings of the Nazi Party from
disruptions from Social Democrats
. By September
1921 the name Sturmabteilung
was being used informally for
the group. Hitler, it should be noted, was the official head of the
Nazi Party by this time.
On 4 November 1921 the Nazi party held a large public meeting in
the Munich Hofbräuhaus. After Hitler had spoken for some time the
meeting erupted into a melee in which a small company of SA
distinguished itself by thrashing the opposition. The Nazis called
this event "Saalschlacht" (meeting hall battle) and it assumed
legendary proportions in SA lore with the passage of time.
Thereafter, the group was officially known as the
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 was, at the time of his
assumption of SA command, a member of the notorious Organisation Consul
(OC). The Nazis
under Hitler were taking advantage of the more professional
management techniques of the military.
Under their popular leader, Stabschef
, the SA grew in
importance within the Nazi power structure, initially growing in
size to thousands of members. In 1922, the Nazi Party created a
youth section, the Jugendbund
, for young
men between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Its successor, the
, remained under SA command
until May 1932.
1924 until late February 1925 the SA was 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).
The SA carried out
numerous acts of violence against socialist groups throughout the
1920s, typically in minor street-fights called
('collisions'). As the Nazis evolved from an
extremist political party to the unquestioned leaders of the
government, the SA was no longer needed for its original purpose:
the acquisition of political power. An organization that could
inflict more subtle terror and obedience was needed, and the SA
(which had been born out of street violence and beer hall brawls)
was simply not capable of doing so. The SA also posed a threat to
the Nazi leadership and to Hitler's goal of co-opting the Reichswehr
to his ends, as Röhm's ideal was to
incorporate the "antiquated" German army into a new "people's
army": the SA. The younger SS was more suited to this task and
began to take over the previously held roles of the SA.
Conflicts with other organizations
After Hitler took power in 1933, the SA became increasingly eager
for power and saw themselves as the replacement for the German
army. This angered the regular army (Reichswehr
), who already resented the Nazis.
It also led to tension with other leaders within the party, who saw
Röhm's increasingly powerful SA as a threat to their own personal
ambitions. Originally an adjunct to the SA, the Schutzstaffel (SS) was placed under the direct control of
Heinrich Himmler in part to
restrict the power of the SA and their leaders.
Although some of these conflicts were based on personal rivalries,
there were also key socioeconomic conflicts between the SS and SA.
SS members generally came from the middle
, while the SA had its base among the unemployed and
. 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. Despite its
sympathy for its own brand of socialism, the SA would often pick
street fights with Communists and Social Democrats.
Perhaps the greatest single factor leading to the downfall of the
SA was Röhm's decision to directly challenge the Reichswehr. After
Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, Röhm lobbied Hitler to appoint
him Minister of Defense, a position held by the conservative
Werner von Blomberg
Blomberg and others in the traditional military saw the SA as a
source of recruits for an enlarged army, Röhm wanted the SA to
become the new
German military (absorbing the Reichswehr)
with himself as leader. Limited by the Treaty of Versailles
soldiers, army leaders were concerned that they would be swallowed
up by the much-larger SA. In January 1934, Röhm presented Blomberg
with a memorandum demanding that SA should replace the army as the
nation's ground forces, and that the Reichswehr become a training
adjunct to the SA. President Paul von Hindenburg
would not stand for
this, and threatened to impose martial
if Hitler did not act against Röhm.
After this ultimatum, Hitler ordered the arrest and subsequent
execution of the leadership of the SA, which took place on June
30-July 2, 1934, on what is known as the Night of the Long Knives
Hitler's behest, Himmler and Reinhard
Heydrich faked a dossier that purported to show that Röhm had
received payment from the French to carry out
a coup against the Führer. Hitler personally led the SS raid on the
Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad
Wiessee, where Röhm and SA-Obergruppenführer Edmund Heines were garrisoned. Victor Lutze
became the new leader of the SA,
and the organization was soon marginalized in the Nazi power
structure in favor of the SS. On June 30, 1934 Hitler issued a
12-point directive to Lutze to clean up the SA and wrote that “SA
men should be leaders, not ludicrous apes”. Membership in the
organization dropped from 2.9 million in August 1934 to 1.2 million
in April 1938. It became little more than an old comrades'
association, appearing at the Nuremberg Rallies
and called out for
ceremonial duties and for lining the streets for parades.
Another factor contributing to the decline of the SA was the
reintroduction of conscription in 1935 and the build-up of the
German Army. Members of the Hitler Youth enrolled in the Wehrmacht
rather than "graduating" to the SA. Its
only significant action after the Night of the Long Knives
, when SS and SA units
were activated to riot against Jews
Jewish businesses and synagogues
Nevertheless the SA continued to remain active until the end of
, but virtually all of its
functions and powers were taken over by the SS. Its loss of status
within the Third Reich was such that
after the war the War Crimes Tribunal at
that the SA had become nothing more than "unimportant Nazi
The leader of the
was known as the Oberster SA-Führer
as Supreme SA-Leader. The following men held this position:
In September 1930, to quell the Stennes
and to try to ensure the personal loyalty of the SA to
himself, Hitler assumed command of the entire organization and
remained Oberster SA-Führer
for the remainder of the
group's existence to 1945. The day to day running of the SA was
conducted by the Stabschef-SA
(SA Chief of Staff). After
Hitler's assumption of the supreme command of the SA, it was the
who was generally accepted as the Commander
of the SA, acting in Hitler's name.The following personnel held the
position of Stabschef-SA
The SA was
organized throughout Germany into several
large formations known as Gruppen.
Vehicle command flag for the Stabschef
Gruppe, there existed subordinate Brigaden
and in turn
SA-Standarten operated out of every major German city and were
split into even smaller units, known as Sturmbanne
command nexus for the entire SA operated out of Stuttgart and was known as the Oberste
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
The SA also had several military training units, the largest of
which was the SA-Marine
which served as an auxiliary to
and performed search and rescue
operations as well as
Similar to the Waffen-SS
wing of the SS,
the SA also had an armed military wing, known as Feldherrnhalle
These formations expanded from regimental size in 1940 to a
fully-fledged armored corps Panzerkorps
- "Terror must be broken by terror"
- "All opposition must be stamped into the ground"
Film and media
- The SA were prominent in Nazi
propaganda newsreels of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
SA make an appearance in several films depicting the end of the
- scenes in the 1972 film Cabaret depict the savage beating of a
nightclub bouncer by a group of SA
- a member of the industrialist Essenbeck family is a member of
the SA in the 1969 Luchino Visconti
film The Damned, in
which one sequence luridly depicts the Night of the Long
- in the play and film Bent
by Martin Sherman, the hero has the
misfortune to spend the night with a storm trooper on the Night of
the Long Knives, and is caught up in the arrests and sent to a
- American Brownshirts feature as one of a group of "villains"
who oppose Jake and Elwood in The
- In the musical and film The Producers, Franz Liebkind, the neo-Nazi writer of Springtime for Hitler, sings in
the number "In Old Bavaria", "Oh, the mountains und the meadows und
the sky/ not to mention hordes of brownshirts passing by."
- P. G. Wodehouse
satirises the Brown Shirts in his Jeeves and Wooster books with
Roderick Spode, 8th Earl of Sidcup
and his 'Black Shorts'.
- Allen, William Sheridan, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The
Experience of a Single German Town 1930-1935 (Quadrangle
- Bessel, Richard, Political Violence and The Rise of Nazism:
The Storm Troopers in Eastern Germany, 1925-1934, (Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN
- Campbell, Bruce, The SA Generals and The Rise of
Press of Kentucky, 1998, ISBN 0813120470)
- Evans, Richard, The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin
- Evans, Richard, The Third Reich in Power. Penguin
- Fischer, Conan, Stormtroopers: A Social, Economic, and
Ideological Analysis, 1929-35, (Allen & Unwin, 1983, ISBN
- Fuller, James David, Collectors Guide to SA Insignia,
(Matthäus Publishers, Postal Instant Press, 1985, ISBN
- Halcomb, Jill, The SA: A Historical Perspective,
(Crown/Agincourt Publishers, 1985, ISBN 0934870136).
- Hatch, Nicolas H. (trans. and ed.), The Brown Battalions:
Hitler's SA in Words and Pictures (Turner, 2000, ISBN
- Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris. W. W. Norton
& Company, 1999.
- Littlejohn, David, The Sturmabteilung: Hitler’s
Stormtroopers 1921 – 1945. Osprey Publishing, London,
- Manchester, William Raymond, The Arms of Krupp, 1587-1968:
The Rise and Fall of the Industrial Dynasty That Armed Germany at
War, (Back Bay, 2003, ISBN 0316529400)
- Maracin, Paul, The Night of the Long Knives: 48 Hours that
Changed the History of the World. The Lyons Press, 2004.
- Merkl, Peter H., The Making of a
Stormtrooper, (Princeton University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-691-07620-0).
- Toland p. 220
- Before the end of 1919 Hitler had already been appointed as the
head of propaganda for the party, with Drexler's backing. Toland p.
- Toland p. 94-98
- See Manchester p. 342.
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third
Reich (Simon & Shuster, 1960) p. 42; Toland p.
- Campbell p. 19-20.
- At a special party congress held 29 July 1921, Hitler was
appointed chairman. He announced that the party would stay
headquartered in Munich and that those who did not like his tactics
or leadership should just leave; he would not entertain debate on
such matters. The vote was 543 for Hitler, and 1 against him.
Toland p. 111.
- The OC's most infamous action was probably the brazen daylight
assassination of foreign minister Walther Rathenau, in early 1922.
Klintzsch was also a member of the somewhat more reputable
- The NSDAP and its organs and instruments (including the
Volkischer Beobachter and the SA) were
banned in Bavaria (and other parts of Germany) following Hitler's
abortive attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic in the Beer Hall Putsch in
November 1923. The Bavarian ban was lifted in February 1925 after
Hitler pledged to adhere to legal and constitutional means in his
quest for political power. See Verbotzeit.