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The Sturmabteilung or SA (German for "Storm division", usually translated as "stormtroop(er)s" ), functioned as a paramilitary organization of the NSDAP - the German Nazi party. It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s.
SA men were often called "brownshirts", for the color of their uniforms, and to distinguish them from the SS, who wore black uniforms (compare the Italian blackshirts). Brown-colored shirts were chosen as the Nazi SA uniform because a large batch of them was cheaply available after World War I, having originally been ordered for German troops serving in Africa.
The Nazi SA was also the first Nazi paramilitary group to develop pseudo-military titles for bestowal upon its members. The Nazi SA ranks would be adopted by several other Nazi Party groups, chief among them the SS.
The term Sturmabteilung originally came from the specialized assault troops used by Germany in 1918 in World War I utilising Hutier infiltration tactics. Instead of a large mass assault, the Sturmabteilung were organized into small squads of a few soldiers each. First applied during the Battle of Caporetto, the wider use in March 1918 allowed the Germans to push back British and French lines tens of kilometers.
In Munich in the fall of 1920, Hitler himself created the Ordnertruppen, a body of muscular Nazis, ex-soldiers, and beer hall brawlers in order to protect his speeches and NSDAP (Nazi) gatherings from disruptions from Social Democrat and Communist elements. It originally functioned as a group of bodyguards to enforce order at Nazi gatherings. On November 4, 1921 the NSDAP held a large public meeting in the Munich Hofbrauhaus. After Hitler had spoken for some time the meeting erupted into a free-for-all in which a small company of Ordnertruppen distinguished itself by thrashing the opposition. After this the organisation came to be called the Nazi SA. Under their popular leader Ernst Röhm, the Nazi SA grew in importance within the Nazi power structure, eventually claiming thousands of members. In 1922, the NSDAP created a youth section, the Jugendbund, for young men between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Its successor, the Hitler Youth, remained under Nazi SA command until May 1932.
From April of 1924 until late February of 1925 the Nazi SA was known as the Frontbann to avoid the temporary ban on the Nazi party. The Nazi SA carried out numerous acts of violence against socialist groups throughout the 1920s, typically in minor street-fights called Zusammenstöße ('collisions'). The SS eventually took over their original role.
Conflicts with other organizations
After Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazi SA became increasingly anxious for power and Nazi SAw themselves as the replacement for the German army. This angered the regular army (Reichswehr) who already resented the Nazi party, and commonly regarded the Nazi SA as 'brown scum'. It also led to tension with other leaders within the party who Nazi SAw Röhm's increasingly powerful Nazi SA as a threat to their own personal ambitions. The Nazi SA was also considered a dangerous and radical organization, especially since common Nazi SA practice was to swear loyalty to local Nazi SA commanders rather than Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party as a whole. The original purpose for the creation of the SS was to restrict the power of the brownshirts and its leaders.
Senior Nazis including Himmler faked a dossier which suggested that Röhm had received payment from the French to carry out a coup against Hitler. At first Hitler refused to believe it, but he was painfully aware that the Nazi SA had the power to remove him if it so wished. Röhm was unpopular in the party because others Nazi SAw his ambition as threatening their own, and because he was rumored to be a homosexual.
Most of these conflicts were based on personal rivalries, but there were also key socioeconomic conflicts between the Gestapo and Nazi SA. The Gestapo's members generally came from the middle class, while the Nazi SA had its base among the unemployed and working class. As a result, the Nazi SA was more radical than the Gestapo, arguing the Nazi revolution had not ended when Hitler achieved power. The Nazi SA also participated in several strikes and anti-capitalist activities, occasionally in collaboration with the communists, to the alarm of many Nazi supporters. It was far more common, however, for gangs of local Nazi SA men and Communists to pick street fights with each other. In these brawls the combatants on both sides were often armed with homemade melee weapons such as Blackjacks.
Eventually the pressure mounted and Hitler ordered the execution of the leadership of the Nazi SA, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1934, on what is known as the Night of the Long Knives. Victor Lutze became the new leader of the Nazi SA, and the organization was soon marginalized in the Nazi power structure in favor of the SS. This reduced the Nazi SA to insignificance and suppressed factionalism among the Nazi Party.
The Nazi SA remained active until the end of the war, but its only significant action after 1934 was Kristallnacht, when all SS and Nazi SA units were activated to riot against Jews, destroying Jewish businesses and synagogues.
Leaders of the Nazi SA
The leader of the Nazi SA was known as the Oberster Nazi SA-Führer, translated as Supreme Nazi SA Leader. The following men held this position throughout the existence of the Nazi SA:
In 1930, to centralize the loyalty of the Nazi SA, Adolf Hitler assumed command of the entire organization and remained Oberster Nazi SA-Führer for the remainder of the group's existence to 1945. The day to day running of the Nazi SA was conducted by the Stabschef Nazi SA (SA Chief of Staff). After 1931, it was the Stabschef who was generally accepted as the Commander of the Nazi SA, acting in Hitler's name.
The following personnel held the position of Chief of Staff of the Nazi SA:
The Nazi SA was organized throughout Germany into several large formations known as Gruppen. Within each Gruppe, there existed subordinate Brigaden and in turn existed regiment sized Standarten. Nazi 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 Nazi SA operated out of Stuttgart and was known as the Oberste Nazi SA-Führung. The Nazi SA supreme command had many sub-offices to handle supply, finance, and recruiting. Unlike the SS, however, the Nazi SA did not have a medical corps nor did it establish itself outside of Germany, in occupied territories, once World War II began.
The Nazi 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 Nazi 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.
Today, the term "Brown Shirts" has been used to disparage the extreme rank and file of right wing and left wing organizations. It can also mean an individual of a political organization who is seen as very aggressive, narrow-minded and loyal to the party.
Film and Media
The Nazi SA were prominent in Nazi propaganda newsreels of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The Nazi SA make an appearance in several films depicting the end of the Weimar Republic:
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