The Sturmabteilung or SA (German for "Storm section", usually translated as stormtroopers), functioned as a paramilitary organization of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) which played a key role in the party's rise to power.
SA men were often called "brown shirts", (in German "Braunhemden") for the color of their uniforms, and to distinguish them from the Schutzstaffel (SS), who wore black and brown uniforms (compare the Italian blackshirts). Brown-colored shirts were chosen as the 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 SA ranks would be adopted by several other Party groups, chief among them the SS. They were very important to Hitler's rise to power until they were superseded by the SS after the Night of the Long Knives.
The term Sturmabteilung predates the founding of the NSDAP in 1919. It originally comes from the specialized assault troops used by the German Empire in 1918 in World War I utilizing Hutier infiltration tactics. Instead of a large mass assault, the Sturmabteilung was organized into small squads of a few soldiers each. First applied during the German Eighth Army's siege of Riga, then again at the Battle of Caporetto, their wider use in March 1918 allowed the Germans to push back British and French lines tens of kilometers.
In Munich in late 1920, Hitler created the Ordnertruppen, a strong group of former WW-I-soldiers and beer hall brawlers in order to protect gatherings of the party from disruptions from Social Democrats- and Communists riot groups. On November 4, 1921 the National Socialist party held a large public meeting in the Munich Hofbräuhaus. After Hitler had spoken for some time the meeting erupted into a melee in which a small company of Ordnertruppen distinguished itself by thrashing the opposition. After this the organisation came to be called the SA. Under their popular leader Ernst Röhm, the SA grew in importance within the Party's power structure, initially growing in size to thousands of members. In 1922, the Party created a youth section, the Jugendbund, for male youngster between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Its successor, the Hitler Youth, remained under SA command until May 1932.
From April 1924 until late February 1925 the SA was known as the Frontbann to avoid the temporary ban on the party. The SA fought radical leftists groups throughout the 1920s, typically in minor street-fights called Zusammenstösse ('clashes').
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:
- Emil Maurice (1920–1921)
- Hans Ulrich Klintzsche (1921–1923)
- Hermann Göring (1923)
- None (1923–1925)
- Franz Pfeffer von Salomon (1926–1930)
- Adolf Hitler (1930–1945)
In 1930, to centralize the loyalty of the SA, Adolf Hitler assumed command of the entire organization and remained Oberster SA-Führer for the remainder of the group's existence to 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: