World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

 Sturm Abteilung (SA)

From Spartacus Educational

 In 1921 Adolf Hitler formed his own private army called Sturm Abteilung (Storm Section). The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks. Captain Ernst Roehm of the Bavarian Army played an important role in recruiting these men, and became the SA's first leader.

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.

The SA wore grey jackets, brown shirts (khaki shirts originally intended for soldiers in Africa but purchased in bulk from the German Army by the Nazi Party), swastika armbands, ski-caps, knee-breeches, thick woolen socks and combat boots. 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.

When Ernst Roehm left Germany to work in Bolivia in 1925, Heinrich Himmler took over the leadership of the SA. However, in 1931 Hitler recalled Roehm to Germany and asked him to head the SA. In just over a year Roehm expanded it from 70,000 to 170,000 members. By 1934 the SA had grown to 4,500,000 men.

In 1933, General Werner von Blomberg, Hitler's minister of war, and Walther von Reichenau, chief liaison officer between the German Army and the Nazi Party, became increasingly concerned about the growing power of the SA. Ernst Roehm had been given a seat on the National Defence Council and began to demand more say over military matters. On 2nd October 1933, Roehm sent a letter to Reichenau that said: "I regard the Reichswehr now only as a training school for the German people. The conduct of war, and therefore of mobilization as well, in the future is the task of the SA.


 

Werner von Blomberg and Walther von Reichenau began to conspire with Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler against Roehm and the SA. Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Roehm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Roehm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.

Hitler liked Ernst Roehm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Roehm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Roehm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.

However, Adolf Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Roehm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Roehm for some time. Generals were afraid that the SA, a force of over 3 million men, would absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks and Roehm would become its overall leader.

 Industrialists, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Roehm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Roehm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals.

Adolf Hitler was also aware that Roehm and the SA had the power to remove him as leader. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Roehm's proposed coup. Their masterstroke was to claim that Gregor Strasser, whom Hitler hated, was part of the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Wiesse.

On 29th June, 1934. Hitler, accompanied by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS), arrived at Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Roehm. During the next 24 hours 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to Wiesse. Many were shot as soon as they were captured but Hitler decided to pardon Roehm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Roehm should die. At first Hitler insisted that Roehm should be allowed to commit suicide but, when he refused, he was killed by two SS men.

The purge of the SA was kept secret until it was announced by Hitler on 13th July. It was during this speech that Hitler gave the purge its name: Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). Hitler claimed that 61 had been executed while 13 had been shot resisting arrest and three had committed suicide. Others have argued that as many as 400 people were killed during the purge. In his speech Hitler explained why he had not relied on the courts to deal with the conspirators: "In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I become the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason."

Roehm was replaced by Victor Lutze as head of the SA. Lutze was a weak man and the SA gradually lost its power in Hitler's Germany. The Schutz Staffeinel (SS) under the leadership of Himmler grew rapidly during the next few years, replacing the SA as the dominant force in Germany.

 

At the end of World War One many German soldiers became members of the Freikorps ad hoc right-wing militia groups used to break up Communist meetings and prevent a Communist uprising.

In 1920 the newly formed German Workers' Party needed its own militia group to protect party members from hecklers and opponents. Some Freikorps members joined the party and took on this role. One such person was Ernst Röhm, a former Bavarian Army Captain. Originally called Ordnertruppe, they were re-formed as the Turn-und Sportabteilung (Sport and Gymnastic Division).

On 4th November 1921 the Nazi party held a large meeting. Large numbers of demonstrators against Hitler and the Nazi Party were prevented from disrupting the meeting by the Turn-und Sportabteilung. Following this event they became known as Sturm Abteilung (Stormtroopers) abbreviated to SA.

Hitler's Stormtroopers wore a uniform of khaki brown shirts with swastika armband on left arm, khaki brown trousers with, brown belt, brown combat boots and khaki brown peaked cap with red trim. They were often called by the nickname Brownshirts because of the brown shirts they wore.

Following the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923 and the subsequent imprisonment of Adolf Hitler, the SA were banned from April 1924 to February 1925. To combat the ban the SA changed its name to Frontbann. Ernst Röhm who had not been imprisoned but had been discharged from the army became leader of the Frontbann. When Hitler was released from prison Röhm, who disagreed with some of his policies handed over the leadership to Wolf Graf von Helldorf and three years later, in 1928, emigrated to Bolivia.

In November 1926 Franz Felix von Pfeffer von Salomon took over the leadership. Von Salomon wanted to increase power for the SA by securing seats in the Reichstag. Hitler refused to allow the SA to play any part in government and von Salomon resigned in August 1930.

In 1931 Hitler asked Röhm to return and lead the SA. Röhm agreed and upon his return he quickly increased the membership of the SA. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 Röhm began to make moves towards merging the SA with the German army. It was his intention to become the head of the military forces in Germany. In January 1934 Röhm sent a message to the Minister of Defence, Werner von Blomberg, demanding that the SA replace the Reichswehr. Blomberg, who was already concerned about the growing power of Röhm and the SA joined forces with Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goering and Reinhard Heydrich against Ernst Röhm. A dossier was compiled that offered evidence that Ernst Röhm was secretly plotting to over throw the Nazis and take power for himself and the SA.

Presented with the 'evidence', Hitler had no choice but to take action and on 30th June 1934 the Night of the Long Knives saw the murder of leading members of the SA. The action, which saw the deaths of leading SA members was legalised by Hitler on July 13th when he made a speech, which was approved by the cabinet, stating that the Night of the Long Knives was an act of self-defence against the state.

After the Night of the Long Knives, the SA continued in existence but with a much reduced membership as young men chose to join the regular army rather than the SA. The rise of the SS, Schutz Staffeinel, led by Heinrich Himmler saw the elimination of the SA's power.