The SA (Sturmabteilung or Storm Detachment) was better known as the Brownshirts or Storm Troopers. The SA got their nickname from the colour of the shirts they wore. From 1921 to 1933 the SA disrupted the meetings of Adolf Hitler’s political opponents as well as defended the halls where Hitler was making a speech in public. According to the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, the SA was made up of “ruffians" and “bullies". However, it played a very important role in the first years of theNazi Party.
In 1931, the leadership of the SA passed to Captain Ernst Rőhm. He wanted the organisation of the SA to mirror that of the German Army. Rőhm created a general staff along with a training college in Munich. He created a system of structure in the SA that went from the very top to the very bottom. At the top was the ‘Supreme Leader of the SA’ – Hitler. Rőhm was Chief of Staff. Below him were senior groups, groups, lower groups, regiments, battalions, Storm Troops, troops and then bands. Rőhm covered just about every aspect of structure within the SA.
Hitler ordered Rőhm to take “possession of the streets" as the streets held “the key to the power of the state".
In 1931, there were 100,000 men in the SA. In 1932 there were 400,000. President Hindenburg refused to allow SA men onto the streets during the 1932 Presidential election. This put Hitler in a difficult position as he needed the SA on the streets to create chaos (which, he would tell the German public, only he could control) but at the same time he wanted to portray himself as the man who adhered to the law. Hitler accepted Hindenburg’s order and the SA were kept off the streets for the election.
In his mind Rőhm had a very clear idea as to the purpose of the SA. Rőhm saw the SA as a revolutionary force that would be the spearhead of Nazism. Rőhm believed that there would be a revolution in Germany and that he would be at the front of it. Rőhm wanted to stress the socialistic side on National Socialism, which definitely flew in the face of what Hitler wanted, which was to portray the party in nationalistic terms. Matters came to a head when Rőhm suggested that the SA and the army could be combined with him at the head of this new force. Senior officers in the Reichswehr were horrified by the mere thought of this. Their traditions, philosophy and attitudes were totally at odds with what they believed the SA to be – street thugs who lacked discipline led by a man who lacked class. Hitler was also becoming more concerned about the power being acquired by his SA Chief of Staff, especially as the SA had grown to 2 million by 1934. Rőhm also made statements that almost certainly got back to Hitler:
Rőhm effectively signed his own death warrant. He had given Hitler what he had always wanted – the opportunity to make a deal with the Reichswehr. The German Army would swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler if he got rid of the threat posed by Rőhm and his other senior SA followers. The result was theNight of the Long Knives in June 1934.
From 1934 to 1935, the SA was in a form of limbo. In 1935, a reorganisation took place. Men aged between 18 and 35 were sent on active service with the German military. Those members of the SA aged between 35 and 45 were put in the reserves. Those aged 45 and above were assigned to the local militias. Hitler believed that the 35 to 45 years group could be used to maintain public order.
After World War Two the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg found that the SA was not a criminal organisation. Its judgement was: