The Stennes Revolt of 1931
The so-called Stennes Revolt took place in February 1931. Walter Stennes was the head of the SA in Berlin was thus a very senior officer within the Brownshirts. By 1930-31, the SA leadership was starting to develop the belief that it should have more than just a political role, which was primarily defending Nazi meetings and attacking political adversaries. SA leaders saw the future of the SA as holding a military or paramilitary role – Walter Stennes was one of the leaders who believed this to be the future of the SA. 1930 seems to have been a pivotal year for the SA. Senior leaders of the SA had a very specific idea as to the future purpose of the organisation. This idea was at odds with the beliefs Hitler had. But those in the SA also had another more basic gripe – that they were not being paid enough and 1930 saw this grievance come to the fore. Stennes was especially vocal in his belief that if his men provided such an important role for the Nazi Party hierarchy, they should be better recompensed. The SA also demanded that three of their men should represent the Nazi Party in the Reichstag – a general election was scheduled for 1932.
Hitler rejected the idea that the SA should have men in the Reichstag. He also rejected their belief that they were not paid enough. He refused to meet Stennes who had gone all the way from Berlin to Munich to see the party leader and express his personal grievances to him face-to-face.
In August 1930, Stennes repeated his demands directly to Joseph Goebbels, the Gauleiter of Berlin. He told Goebbels that unless the demands were agreed to 15,000 SA men in Berlin would leave the organisation.
On August 30th 1930, Goebbels was due to give a speech in public in Berlin. The SA traditionally provided security but on this occasion Stennes ordered his men not to protect Goebbels. Stennes ordered a Berlin SA rally at the same time as the future party Propaganda Minister was speaking in an obvious sign of defiance.
Goebbels ordered the SS to take over the security usually done by the SA. He also told the SS that they now would guard the Gau office on Berlin – thus making it clear that he had turned his back on the Berlin SA. The response of the Berlin SA was one of fury. They attacked the Berlin Gau office and wrecked it and beat up the SS guards who were there. Hitler was so taken aback by the occurrence that he left the Wagner festival in Bayreuth to fly to Berlin to restore some form of order.
On this occasion Hitler managed to defuse the problem. On the next day, August 31st, he met a number of SA men from Berlin. On September 1st Hitler met 2000 Berlin SA men and promised them more pay and also that he would take over as supreme commander of the SA. It was this latter move by Hitler that went down well. It was the recognition that the SA had craved for – the leader of the party was now their leader as well.
However, Hitler had no desire to actually run the SA and he called on Ernst Röhm to take over day-to-day running of the SA with the title Chief of Staff. Hitler remained supreme commander but it was a title only.
All appeared well within the SA ranks – but appearances were deceptive with regards to the Berlin SA. In February 1931 Stennes complained about lack of equipment for the SA. He was also highly critical of Röhm, who was known to be a homosexual. Stennes believed that Röhm and his behaviour brought the SA into disrepute.
On February 20th 1931 Adolf Hitler ordered the SA to stop its very public acts of violence and to recognise the superior authority of the Gauleiters over the leaders of the SA. In previous years the SA had been used by the Nazi Party to break-up rallies held by its political adversaries, mainly the Communist Party. Violence was common and to those outside of the Nazi Party it brought nothing but discredit to Weimar Germany. For a number of years the SA had acted as a self-governing body. Now Hitler ordered that the country’s Gauleiters had superiority over the SA. This did not go down well with the Berlin SA – Stennes was furious and believed that it was a betrayal of loyal SA men who had done a great dealt to get Hitler where he was in 1931.
On February 26th Röhm issued a letter in support of Hitler. Röhm also forbade SA leaders from speaking out in public.
By late 1931 the Nazi Party was no longer a fringe party in the Reichstag. While it was not the largest party in the Reichstag, its growth in popularity among the voters had resulted in far more Reichstag Deputies. It was also at this time that Hitler wanted to court support from Weimar Germany’s wealthy industrialists and landowners who would not have been impressed by the violence and chaos associated with the SA. This is why Hitler ordered the SA to stop its violence. However, members within the SA were not happy and Walther Stennes was one of these. Hitler wrote to SA leaders:
“I understand your distress and you rage, but you must not bear arms.”
While some may believe that Hitler had absolute control over the Nazi Party this was certainly not the case pre-January 1933. Some SA men in Berlin, led by Stennes, mutinied and refused to obey the order sent out by Hitler. Stennes had become disillusioned with Hitler’s leadership of the party and the order was to him yet another example of how Hitler’s leadership was letting down the Nazi Party. On March 31st 1931, Stennes and his followers once again occupied the Gau office in Berlin. They temporarily took over production of Goebbels ‘Der Angriff’ and produced newspapers that were pro-Stennes.
Hitler ordered Goebbels to use whatever methods he needed to restore law and order. Goebbels rallied loyal SA men and used the Berlin police to remove Stennes and his men from the Gau office.
The mutiny failed simply because so few SA men decided to support it. Stennes was expelled from the Nazi Party and joined with Otto Strasser in creating a new political party that became known as the ‘Black Front’. This party was based in Prague where they believed that they would be safer and those who belonged to it were émigrés from the Nazi Party.
Hitler wrote an article in ‘Volkischer Beobachter’ condemning Stennes as a “salon socialist” and claiming that he was rebelling against National Socialism.
In 1934 Stennes sued Hitler for libel after an article in ‘Der Angriff’ claimed that Stennes had been a police spy who had infiltrated himself into the Nazi Party. It was a court case that Stennes was hardly likely to win.
Walther Stennes later left Prague and went to China where he worked in security matters and became a commander in the personal bodyguard of Chiang Kai-shek.