Hitler addressing SA members in the late 1920s
Hitler addressing SA members in the late 1920s

The Sturmabteilung (SA, German for "Storm Division" and is usually translated as stormtroops or stormtroopers) functioned as a paramilitary organisation 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 known as brownshirts from the colour of their uniform and to distinguish them from the SS who were known as blackshirts.

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 term Sturmabteilung originally came from the specialized assault troops used by Germany in 1918 in World War I utilising Hutier tactics. Instead of a large mass assault, the Sturmabteilung were organized into small teams of a few soldiers each. First applied during the Battle of Cambrai, 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 disrupt his opponents. It originally functioned as a group of bodyguards to enforce order at Nazi gatherings. It was shortly changed to Sportabteilung, a cover name meaning "Sports section," and came to be known by the initials SA. In late 1921, the name was changed to the current name Sturmabteilung. Under their popular leader Ernst Röhm, the SA grew in importance within the Nazi power structure, eventually claiming thousands of members. The 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.

After Hitler took power in 1933, the SA became increasingly anxious for power and saw themselves as the replacement for the German army. This angered the regular army (Reichswehr) who were already quite annoyed at the Nazi party. 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. The SA was also considered a dangerous and radical organization, especially since common SA practice was to swear loyalty to local SA commanders rather than Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party as a whole.

In order to ally himself with moderate forces within the German Army and to strengthen his position within the Nazi Party, Hitler ordered the execution of the leadership of the 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 SA, and the organization was soon marginalized in the Nazi power structure. The SA lost all influence after 1936, when Nazi Germany began drafting its members into the armed forces.

Leaders of the SA

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

In 1930, to centralize the loyalty of the SA, Adolf Hitler personally assumed command of the entire organization and remained Oberster SA-Führer from the duration of the group's existence until 1945. The day to day running of the SA was conducted by the Stabschef SA (SA Chief of Staff). After 1931, it was the Stabschef who was generally accepted as the Commander of the SA, acting in Hitler's name.

The following personnel held the position of Chief of Staff of the SA:

SA Maxims

  • "Terror must be broken by terror" (1)
  • "All opposition must be stamped into the ground" (1)

Modern usage

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 narrow-minded and excessively loyal.

The term "Digital Brownshirts," a controversial phrase coined by former Vice-President Al Gore, is used by Gore to disparage the right-leaning weblogs that criticize a liberal agenda in the mainstream media.

See also


  • Why Hitler, The Genesis of the Nazi Reich, Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr., Praeger, Westport, CT, 1996. pg 139.

External links

fi:Sturmabteilung fr:Sturmabteilung ja:突撃隊 nl:Sturmabteilung pl:SA sl:SA sv:Sturmabteilung


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