The history of the Sturmabteilung, the Nazi’s first mobilized force

This blogpost was written by Mike Stuchbery

Trump told @DailyCaller that ‘Antifa’ can expect ‘big trouble’ if they continue mobilizing. Authoritarians love to direct their pet militias at their opposition. Seems about time to talk about the ‘Sturmabteilung’ – the Nazi’s first mobilized force.

The ‘Sturmabteilung’, or ‘Storm Detachment’, also known as the SA, had their origins in the veterans of the First World War who attended the meetings of the Nazi Party, then known as the DAP, in the early 1920s. It was found that they could be very useful ejecting hecklers.

Of course, this was a turbulent, violent time in Germany. The revolution that had resulted in the Kaiser’s abdication, and the establishment of the Weimar Republic, was followed by outbreaks of violence between left and right-wing groups across the nation. In fact, the Weimar government made use of right-wing ‘freikorps’ – bands of military veterans – to crush opposition in the years following the Armistice. Those in Berlin were responsible for the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the revolutionary leaders. Young men were drawn to the Nazi Party by both the harsh conditions placed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, and a longing for the camaraderie and action that many had seen on the Western Front. To them, it was often better than the mess they found themselves in.

By 1921, the SA had been established as a core of men who would attend Nazi meetings and deal with communists and other protesters attempting to disrupt their meetings. They were given uniforms, a command structure and responsibilities over a geographical area.
The SA needs to be distinguished from the SS, or ‘Schutzstaffel’ (Protection Squad) that were formed around the same time. Their role was to act as the elite bodyguards and crack troops of the Nazi Party in any future regime. The SA would take part in the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, marching alongside Hitler. The organization was banned during his imprisonment, but went underground (while a legal alternative called the ‘Frontbann’ was set up) and spent the time organizing itself.

In 1931, Ernst Roehm, one of Hitler’s biggest supporters & a former Freikorps leader was given control of the SA, with numbers rising to around 400,000 in 1932 (from 2,000 back in 1923). He was responsible for the continued military-style organization of the SA.

Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, the purpose of the SA was to take control of the streets. Bands of SA were sent, in cities such as Berlin, to disrupt communist meetings, start streetfights, act as security for Nazi events and be seen as a bulwark against Bolshevism. The SA would also attack films and other cultural works that they saw as ‘ungerman’. When ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ premiered in German cinemas, cinemas were stormed by groups of SA, disrupting the screenings and beating those who objected.

The Nazis got one of their first martyrs out the SA. Horst Wessel, a young SA section leader in Berlin, was shot by communists in retaliation for his agitation. The ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’ became one of the anthems of the Third Reich and his face was plastered everywhere. Bans of SA would have been a regular site for Germans as the thirties dawned. From a beginning as thugs and brawlers, they took on a professional appearance for many. Numbers continued to grow and the SA was fast becoming a formidable force within Germany, and this is where Roehm and the SA overstepped.

After the Nazis rise in 1933, he talked about the SA absorbing the Reichswehr – the armed forces. This appalled the army, who still saw the SA as untrained thugs, and alarmed Hitler – this was *his* regime, and his alone. On the 30th of July, 1934, Hitler had SS arrest a number of high-ranking SA, including Roehm. Many were executed, Roehm was gunned down by Theodor Eicke, who would go on to be the commandant of Dachau and inspector of concentration camps. This was the ‘Night of Long Knives’.

This wasn’t the end of the SA though, although it did shrink majorly as other Reich organizations absorbed members, in addition to men leaving for other jobs. It was a major participant in the events of 1938’s ‘Kristallnacht’ and they murdered many during the chaos. SA members would also be the first administrators of concentration camps, until their violent, untrained methods alarmed the SS. Still, many were horribly tortured and maimed in their custody, prior to the SS takeover of the concentration camp system.

The SA were abolished with the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945, but in the years since 1921, they had played a central role in the rise of the Nazi Party. It was their violence and brutality that had paved the way for electoral gains – disrupting opposition at every turn. Of course, when the SA got too cocky and powerful, they went the way of all those who do the dirty work of authoritarians: their leaders were murdered and the organisation essentially thrown under the bus. Fascists, it must be said, always eat their own.

Of course, Trump isn’t Hitler, this isn’t the Weimar Republic. However, you can be assured that if he were to incite allied movements to action – Proud Boys, etc – or mobilize police or army to attack ‘Antifa’, he wouldn’t take any responsibility for what he would unleash. That’s one of the central deceits of fascism – that the regime stands for everyone of the right kind of thought. It doesn’t. Boots on the ground are simply that – objects, tools, means to an end. The regime abrogates responsibility again and again. It’s a death cult.

If you would like to learn more about the Sturmabteilung, this @alphahistory page is an excellent resource: If you would like to learn about how you can oppose wannabe SA, well, I encourage anti-fascist folks to share their favourite resources. There’s a hundred different ways to oppose fascists, all valid.

The important thing, however, is this: Trump’s a wannabe-dictator. He’s proved that. He’s hopelessly incompetent, but that too can be incredibly dangerous. Be alert, and alarmed and for goodness’ sake, come together.


Nürnberg, Horst Wessel mit SA-Sturm