Sturmabteilung (SA) (Classroom Activity)

Emil Maurice joined the Nazi Party in 1919 (member No. 19). He became a close friend of Adolf Hitler and in 1920 became head of his bodyguard at public meetings. This group eventually became known as the Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment). Hitler's stormtroopers were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against their rivals.

In 1922 Kurt Lüdecke joined the Nazi Party. Lüdecke considered the Sturmabteilung (SA) as "little better than gangs". He approached Hitler and suggested that he should form an elite, well-disciplined company of Storm Troopers. "Hitler listened to my plan and told me to go ahead and form a troop, if that was what I wanted."

Kurt Lüdecke also bought the uniforms and other equipment for the men. The SA wore grey jackets, brown shirts (khaki shirts originally intended for soldiers in Africa), swastika armbands, ski-caps, knee-breeches, thick woolen socks and combat boots. Except for a few small details, the appearance of Lüdecke's men was almost indistinguishable from regular Army troops. By the end of December 1922 about 100 men had enlisted in Lüdecke company, and over forty regular Army soldiers had pledged their loyalty in secret.

Accompanied by bands of musicians and carrying swastika flags, they would parade through the streets of Munich. At the end of the march Hitler would make one of his passionate speeches that encouraged his supporters to carry out acts of violence against Jews and his left-wing political opponents. The SA was assigned the task of winning the battle of the streets against the Communists. The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks.

Primary Sources

SA service develops comradeship, toughness, strength (1941)
(Source 1) Members of the SA marching through the streets (c. 1935)


(Source 2) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987)

SA (Sturmabteilung). The Brownshirts. They were mostly tough unemployed ex-soldiers who frequented Munich beer halls... Many were from the recently disbanded Freikorps. The style of uniform, the raised-arm salute and their swastika badge all came from Freikorps units. The brown shirts which they and all Party members wore from 1924 came at first from an army surplus consignment intended for the WW1 German East African troops. The SA bodyguards grew in number, acting under Röhm's orders rather than Hitler's. In March 1923, Röhm gave Hitler a special SA troop as HQ guard, identifiable by black ski-caps.

Ernst Roehm
(Source 3) SA parade In Hamburg (1929)


(Source 4) James Pool, Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979)

Lüdecke began recruiting, accepting only the toughest and most able-bodied men who had either served in the war or had some military training. Two former Army officers were appointed as platoon leaders. A number of young students began to join the troop.... Drills were held regularly. Every Wednesday night the entire company would assemble in a room Lüdecke had rented in a cafe on Schoenfeldstrasse, where he lectured his men on the political aims of the Nazi Party. Every new member took an oath of allegiance on the swastika flag and pledged loyalty to Hitler.

(Source 5) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998)

From its earliest days Hitler regarded the SA as a political and not as a military force. He considered his Brownshirts shock troops for a revolution that was never to be made. His problem was to maintain the spirit of the of the SA without allowing it to move into revolutionary action. Above all, he was determined to keep it from a conflict with the Army. Röhm, on the other hand, saw the SA not only as the backbone of the Nazi movement but as the nucleus of a revolutionary army.

Ernst Roehm
(Source 6) Propaganda Card, And yet you were victorious! (c. 1934)

(Source 7) Paul R. Maracin, The Night of the Long Knives (2004)

After the war a large arsenal was left by the German Army, and Röhm was one of several officers who conspired to divert and cache the arms. The German government had promised the Allies that the guns, ammunition, and vehicles would be dutifully destroyed, and according to the peace treaty, this should have been done. However, in some instances (with the connivance of some Allied officers attached to control commissions), these arms were stored for future use and would later he issued to members of the Freikorps and the SA. As an officer, Röhm had the reputation of a man who resolutely stood by his subordinates, while acting as a buffer between them and his superior officers. For all his dedication as a soldier, he was, paradoxically, a person who casually arranged for the murder of informants who tried to reveal the whereabouts of his hidden arsenals.

SA service develops comradeship, toughness, strength (1941)
(Source 8) Victor Lutze (c. 1935)

(Source 9) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962)

The use Hitler intended to make of the S.A. was shown in October 1922, when he took eight hundred of his storm-troppers to Coburg for a nationalist demonstration, defied the police ban on marching through the town and fought a pitched battle in the streets with the Socialists and Communists.

(Source 10) Rudolf Olden, Hitler the Pawn (1936)

SA: Armed political troops of the National Socialist Party, started August 1921. Made themselves much talked about during the rise of the Party by the violence and terror they exercised in the street and at political meetings.

David Low, The Salute with both hands now (3rd July, 1934)
(Source 11) SA Poster (1937)
Questions for Students

Question 1: Use the information from the introduction and the sources in the unit to describe the uniform of the SA.

Question 2: Describe the type of people who joined the SA.

Question 3: Explain the different tasks performed by the SA.

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.