The Sturmabteilung – The Original Paramilitary Wing of the Nazi Party

 The Sturmabteilung – The Original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party

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

The name Sturmabteilung, meaning Storm Detachment, was also nicknamed “Storm Troopers,” and “Brown Shirts,” and was an organization of men who were instrumental in the early Nazi party forming years in Germany pre-World War II.  Usually referred to as the SA, they had been used during World War I under the command of Captain Pfeiffer von Salmon to restore order at rallies and speeches when dissentions broke out. The first official use of the SA was during 1915 to 1918 when it applied to special assault troops and small squadrons used in World War I.

Early leaders of the SA were Emil Maurice in 1920, Hans Ulrich Klintzsch in 1921 and in 1922, a youth membership movement later called “Hitler’s Youth,” was begun for boys between the ages of 14 and 18.

From 1921 to 1933 the SA disrupted meetings that went against the German Worker’s party doctrines, and protected Adolf Hitler each time he put in a public appearance.

They were members who opposed the Treaty of Versailles after World War I that dictated military measures to Germany, and were all supporters of the German Workers Party, that was the forerunner of the Nazi party.

When Hitler became head of the Nazi party then called NSDAP, he wanted the SA to restore order when the regular police (Weimar) were ineffective.  Hitler played on this weakness to give him leverage and power to prove he was the one to restore leadership to Germany. The SA had little structure and was an unruly group of ruffians and thugs. They mainly intimidated Jews and protected Nazis.  He appointed Ernst Rohm to be the head of the SA, who took his role seriously.

He not only created a training center for recruits, but hired general staff and built the hierarchy of the SA as:

  • Hitler at the top
  • Rohm as Chief of Staff and second in command
  • Senior groups
  • Medium level groups
  • Low level groups
  • Regiments
  • Battalions
  • Storm Troops
  • Regular Troops
  • Band

Hitler told Rohm to take possession of the streets, which he felt was key to power.  There were 10,000 men in the SA in 1931 and 400,000 a year later in 1932.

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

German President Hindenburg refused to allow the SA on the streets during the 1932 elections, which Hitler abided by so as not to ruffle feathers.  However, Rohm’s view of the SA and their role in Germany differed from Hitler’s.  Rohm saw them a possible revolutionary force stressing socialism with him at the forefront.  Since Hitler wanted Nationalism, and his own ultimate power, when the SA membership reached 2 million in 1934, Rohm had sealed his own fate.

Hitler, using the German Army who was eager and ready to regain prominence, authorized the “Night of the Long Knives” purge, which was an internal cleansing of SA leaders and others who had either angered or displeased Hitler in some way.  At least 70 men were executed on charges of treason from the purge and the SA was now put under the command of the German Army.

The SA not only instigated street violence against Jews, Communists and Socialists, it also enforced boycotts against Jewish-owned business, such as this one in Berlin on 1 April 1933.

At this time, Hitler announced himself supreme Judge and commander of the SS to carry out his orders.  The SS was now under the command of Heinrich Himmler, and very powerful.  The SA went into a period of inactivity from 1934 to 1935 after the big purge.  All members 18 to 35 years of age were sent to the Army; those 35 to 45 were put in the reserves and all members 45 and older became members of local militias.

After the fall of Germany in 1945 and the end of World War II, the trial at Nuremberg reviewed the SA’s role in war crimes and atrocities that had been committed.  The Nuremberg Tribunal’s final verdict was that the SA had not been a criminal organization.  After the purge, when the SS took on the power, the SA had been weakened and sometimes unaware of what really was going on.

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