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The , abbreviated SA (German for "Storm detachment" or "Assault detachment" or "Assault section", usually translated as "stormtroops"), functioned as a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s.

SA men were often called "brownshirts" for the colour of their uniforms; this distinguished them from the Schutzstaffelmarker (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, having originally been ordered during the war for colonial troops posted to Germany's former African colonies.

The SA was also the first Nazi paramilitary group to develop pseudo-military titles for bestowal upon its members. The SA ranks would be adopted by several other Nazi Party groups, chief among them the SS. The SA was very important to Adolf Hitler's rise to power, but was largely irrelevant after he took control of Germany in 1933; it was effectively superseded by the SS after the Night of the Long Knives.


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 small squads 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 1916, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff ordered all German armies in the west to form a battalion of stormtroops. First applied during the German Eighth Army's siege of Rigamarker, then again at the Battle of Caporettomarker, their wider use in March 1918 allowed to push back Italianmarker lines tens of kilometers.

The DAP (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or German Workers' Party) was formed in Munichmarker in January 1919 and Hitler joined in September of that year. 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 Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers' Party) in April 1920.

The precursor to the SA had acted informally and on an ad hoc 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 Munchener Beobachter (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 at a 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 formed.

A permanent group of party members who would serve as the Saalschutz Abteilung (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, 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 Sportabteilung), 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 and Communists. 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 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 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 Ernst Röhm, 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 Hitler Youth, remained under SA command until May 1932.

From April 1924 until late February 1925 the SA was known as the Frontbann to try to circumvent Bavariamarker's ban on the Nazi Party and its organs (instituted after the abortive Beer Hall putschmarker of November 1923). The SA carried out numerous acts of violence against socialist groups throughout the 1920s, typically in minor street-fights called Zusammenstöße ('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 Schutzstaffelmarker (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 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. 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. While 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 to 100,000 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 law 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. At Hitler's behest, Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich faked a dossier that purported to show that Röhm had received payment from the Frenchmarker to carry out a coup against the Führer. Hitler personally led the SS raid on the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiesseemarker, 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 was Kristallnacht, when SS and SA units were activated to riot against Jews, destroying Jewish businesses and synagogues. Nevertheless the SA continued to remain active until the end of WWII, 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 Nurembergmarker declared that the SA had become nothing more than "unimportant Nazi hangers-on."


The leader of the SA was known as the Oberster SA-Führer, translated as Supreme SA-Leader. The following men held this position:

In September 1930, to quell 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 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 Stabschef-SA who was generally accepted as the Commander of the SA, acting in Hitler's name.The following personnel held the position of Stabschef-SA:


Vehicle command flag for the Stabschef SA, 1938-1945.
The SA was organized throughout Germanymarker into several large formations known as Gruppen. Within each Gruppe, there existed subordinate Brigaden and in turn existed regiment sized Standarten. SA-Standarten operated out of every major German city and were split into even smaller units, known as Sturmbanne and Stürme.

The command nexus for the entire SA operated out of Stuttgartmarker and was known as the Oberste SA-Führung. 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 began.

The SA also had several military training units, the largest of which was the SA-Marine which served as an auxiliary to the Kriegsmarine and performed search and rescue operations as well as harbor defense.

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 Feldherrnhalle in 1945.


  • "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.
  • The SA make an appearance in several films depicting the end of the Weimar Republicmarker:
    • scenes in the 1972 film Cabaret depict the savage beating of a nightclub bouncer by a group of SA men
    • 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 Knives.
    • 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 concentration camp.
  • American Brownshirts feature as one of a group of "villains" who oppose Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers.
  • 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'.

See also



  • Allen, William Sheridan, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1930-1935 (Quadrangle Books, 1965).
  • Bessel, Richard, Political Violence and The Rise of Nazism: The Storm Troopers in Eastern Germany, 1925-1934, (Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN 0300031718).
  • Campbell, Bruce, The SA Generals and The Rise of Nazism, (University Press of Kentucky, 1998, ISBN 0813120470)
  • Evans, Richard, The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group, 2004.
  • Evans, Richard, The Third Reich in Power. Penguin Group, 2005.
  • Fischer, Conan, Stormtroopers: A Social, Economic, and Ideological Analysis, 1929-35, (Allen & Unwin, 1983, ISBN 0049430289).
  • Fuller, James David, Collectors Guide to SA Insignia, (Matthäus Publishers, Postal Instant Press, 1985, ISBN 0931065046).
  • 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 1563115956).
  • Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris. W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.
  • Littlejohn, David, The Sturmabteilung: Hitler’s Stormtroopers 1921 – 1945. Osprey Publishing, London, 1990
  • 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 Pressmarker, 1980, ISBN 0-691-07620-0).


  1. Toland p. 220
  2. Before the end of 1919 Hitler had already been appointed as the head of propaganda for the party, with Drexler's backing. Toland p. 94.
  3. Toland p. 94-98
  4. See Manchester p. 342.
  5. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Simon & Shuster, 1960) p. 42; Toland p. 112
  6. Campbell p. 19-20.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 Bund Wiking.
  9. 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.

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