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The Sturmabteilung or SA/SA. (German for "Storm Detachment", 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National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) which played a key role in the party's rise to power, until they were superseded by the SS after the Night of the Long Knives.

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 (Schutztruppe) serving in Africa.


Young SA men after a street fight with communists
Member of the Motor-SA
German SA marching through the Brandenburg Gate on 30 January 1933

The term Sturmabteilung predates the founding of the NSDAP in 1919. It originally comes from the specialized assault troops (Sturmbataillone) used by the Imperial German Army 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 January 1920, Hitler created the Ordnertruppen (order troop) or Saalschutz-Abteilung (meeting hall protection detachment), a strong group of former WW-I- and Freikorps-soldiers (but also soldiers of the Bavarian Reichswehr) and beer hall brawlers in order to protect gatherings of the party from disruptions from Social Democrats- and Communists riot groups. On 12 November 1920, the Saalschutz (short: S.S.) was re-named Turn- und Sportabteilung der NSDAP with it's leader Emil Maurice.

On 4 November 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 (other sources claim the re-naming on 5 October 1921). 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.

From April 1924 until late February 1925 the outlawed SA was known as the Frontbann (de) to avoid the temporary ban on the party. The SA fought communist groups throughout the 1920s, typically in minor street-fights called Zusammenstösse (clashes).

Staffs were set up at the Gau level and presumably also at the Standarten level from the beginning; by February 1932 at the latest, every SA level down to the Sturmbannen had a staff consisting of the leader of the unit, his adjutant, the leaders of the assigned units of the Motor-SA as well as music or marching band (Musik-/Spielmannszüge), personnel for money management, medical care and several scribes. From the subgroups upwards, personnel for communications, aviation (Fliegerstürme), sports and legal affairs were added.


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.


In the second half of 1929, Franz Felix Pfeffer von Salomon founded the National Socialist Automobile Corps (NSAK) as an association of all National Socialist drivers inside and outside of the NSDAP. On 1 April 1930, the OSAF also ordered the formation of a Motor-SA, whereby a motor troop (Motortrupp) should be set up in every storm. Its purpose was to bring together the SA men who owned a motorcycle or a car and wanted to make themselves with their vehicle available to the SA unconditionally. This double structure of NSAK (or NSKK – NS Motor Corps – as it was called from 1931) and Motor-SA remained in place in the following years.

In terms of personnel, NSKK and Motor-SA were closely linked. The NSAK/NSKK was subordinate to Major (ret.) Adolf Hühnlein, who was also head of the SA's motor vehicle department and also head of the Motor-SA was. From September 1932, the group squadron leaders (Gruppenstaffelführer) of the Motor-SA were also national leaders (Landesführer) of the NSKK.

The task of the NSAK or NSKK was essentially to record the drivers and to expand the Motor-SA by recruiting personnel for new Motor-SA units. As a “motorized reserve” and “fighting instrument for the SA,” its young and active members in particular were supposed to join the Motor-SA, but they stayed at the same time members of the NSKK. On the other hand, the NSAK/NSKK was a corporate member of the National German Automobile Club (NDA) and provided its members discounts when taking out insurance as well as cheaper petrol at stations of Aral and Leuna.

The work of the Motor-SA consisted largely of transmitting orders and in the transport of speakers and material. The Motor-SA also organized trips, acted as a tow service during elections and as a mobile force for hall battles against attacking communists. In 1931, the so-called Reichsrelais was established by the Oberste SA-Führung (OSAF), in which orders and people were driven in driver squadrons from Munich to Breslau, Berlin, Hanover, Siegen and Vienna. The 640 km long route to Berlin (via Nuremberg, Hof, Zwickau and Leipzig) was completed in 15 hours by seven driver changes, which corresponded to an average speed of 50 km/h plus 15 minutes per driver change. Thus, the SA became independent of post, telephone and telegraph when transmitting commands.

On 26 October 1933, the NSKK was taken over as a division of the SA and separated again almost a year later and became an independent structure of the NSDAP and placed alongside the SA. On 23 August 1934, the Motor-SA was finally dissolved from the SA and affiliated to the NSKK.


SA-Stabschef command flag, earlier version left, 1938–1945 right.

Oberster SA-Führer

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

  • Emil Jules Wilhelm “Moritzl” Maurice (1920–1921); unofficially; officially leader of the Saalschutz-Abteilung, since November 1920 Organisator und Führer der “Turn- und Sportabteilung” der NSDAP and since autumn 1921 Organisator der SA (de)
  • Julius Johann “Hans” Ulrich Klintzsch (Ausbilder der Turn- und Sportabteilungen der NSDAP since 20 July 1921; Führer der Sturmabteilung from November 1921 to February 1923)
  • Hermann Wilhelm Göring (1 March to 9 November 1923)
  • None (1923–1925); SA officially abolished after the failure of the Munich Putsch; Ernst Röhm remained the link between Hitler and the dispersed SA (→ Frontbann).
    • Walter Hans Buch (13 November 1923 to January 1924) was shortly commisioned with the leadership of the illegal SA (“mit der Führung der illegalen SA beauftragt”); Kapitänleutnant a. D. Alfred Max Ludwig Hoffmann was named his deputy, therefore stellvertretender Kommandeur der SA from 16 November 1923 to 31 January 1924)
    • Wilhelm Pleickart Ludwig Adolf Arthur Freiherr Marschall von Bieberstein, Rittmeister a. D. (flew over 300 combat missions during the Great War), commisioned with the leadership of the illegal SA until May 1924
  • Ernst Julius Günther Röhm (March to 1 May 1925), Hauptmann a. D., Führer der SA
  • Franz Felix Pfeffer von Salomon (1 November 1926 to 29 August 1930), Hauptmann i. G. a. D., Oberster SA-Führer (Reichs-SA-Führer); his deputy was the very influential Walther Stennes
  • Otto Wilhelm Heinrich Wagener (29 August to 31 December 1930); Hauptmann a. D. (at last SA-Gruppenführer, since 1937, and Generalmajor z. V. of the Heer as well as Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross), Dr. phil. h. c., entrusted with conducting the daily business of the position of the Oberster SA-Führer (mit der Wahrung der Geschäfte beauftragt)
  • Adolf Hitler (1 January 1931 to 30 April 1945)

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 (Chef des Stabes or Stabschef) of the SA (officially Der Stabschef der SA.), who oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Gruppe (consisting of multiple brigades) and was therefore considered the actual leader of the SA:

  • Otto Wilhelm Heinrich Wagener (1888–1971) – 1. Oktober 1929 bis 31. Dezember 1930; title (de)
    • Wagener held the title of Stabschef der SA, with the rank created by Ernst Röhm. Initial insignia for the Stabschef consisted of an oak leaf patch worn on the collar of the stormtrooper uniform.
  • Ernst Julius Günther Röhm (1887–1934) – 5 January 1931 to 1 July 1934; rank from 1931 on (de)
  • Viktor Lutze (1890–1943) – 1 July 1934 to 2 May 1943 (de)
  • Max Paul Wilhelm Werner Jüttner (1888–1963) – 2 May to 8 August 1943; acting Stabschef (mit der Wahrnehmung der Geschäfte des Stabschefs der SA beauftragt)
    • November 1944 to May 1945 Mit Führungsaufgaben beim Aufbau des Volkssturms beauftragt (Charged with managerial responsibilities for the creation of the German People’s Army); April 1945 Führer of the Volkssturm-Kampfgruppe “Jüttner”, numbering approximately 160 men, in München. Arrested by American troops while commanding his Volkssturm unit in the Oberhaushammer Hütte south of Schliersee, then held successively in the camps of Bad Aibling, Neu-Ulm, Heilbronn, Ludwigsburg, Camp 74, Seckenheim and Kornwestheim (Camp 75). He lost 65 lbs while in U.S. custody. Appeared before the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg in 1946 as a defense witness on the subject of the SA.
  • Wilhelm Schepmann (1894–1970), Major z. V. – 16/18 August to 9 November 1943 acting Stabschef, 9 November 1943 to 8 May 1945 Der Stabschef der SA.

SA ranks (descending)

Hermann Göring as SA-Führer in November 1923 ready for the Munich Putsch; Picture: Heinrich Hoffmann
Rank insignia of the SA, here shoulder boards and collar patches (1944)

The SA ranks would be adopted by several other Party groups, chief among them the SS. At the start of the detachment's existence, the SA had four primary titles:

  • Oberster SA-Führer (Supreme SA-Leader)
  • SA-Oberführer (SA-Senior Leader)
  • SA-Führer (SA-Leader)
  • SA-Mann (SA-Trooper)

SA ranks by the close of the 1920s with Reichswehr and UK equivalent:

  • SA-Gruppenführer (SA-Group leader) – Generalleutnant – Lieutenant general
  • SA-Untergruppenführer (SA-Junior group leader) – Generalmajor – Major general
  • SA-Oberführer (SA-Senior leader) – no equivalent
  • SA-Standartenführer (SA-Standard leader) – Oberst – Colonel
  • SA-Sturmbannführer (SA-Storm unit leader) – Major – Major
  • SA-Sturmhauptführer (SA-Chief storm leader) – Hauptmann/Rittmeister – Captain
  • SA-Sturmführer (SA-Storm leader) – Leutnant – Lieutenant
  • SA-Truppführer (SA-Troop leader) – Feldwebel – Sergeant
  • SA-Scharführer (SA-Squad leader) – Unteroffizier/Unterfeldwebel – Corporal
  • SA-Mann (SA-Man/SA-Trooper) – Soldat – Private

Final ranks

Final SA ranks (1942 to 1945) with Wehrmacht and UK military equivalent;

General officer ranks:

  • Oberster Führer der SA – Reichsmarschallnone
  • Chef des Stabes der SA – Generalfeldmarschall– Field Marshal
  • noneGeneraloberst – General
  • SA-Obergruppenführer – General der Waffengattung – Lieutenant-general
  • SA-Gruppenführer – Generalleutnant – Major-general
  • SA-Brigadeführer – Generalmajor – Brigadier (rank introduced on 6 May 1933)

Staff officer (Stabsoffiziere) ranks:

  • SA-Oberführer – none – Colonel
  • SA-Standartenführer – Oberst – Colonel
  • SA-Obersturmbannführer – Oberstleutnant – Lieutenant colonel (rank introduced in May 1933)
  • SA-Sturmbannführer – Major – Major

Officer ranks:

  • SA-Hauptsturmführer – Hauptmann/Rittmeister – Captain
  • SA-Obersturmführer – Oberleutnant – Lieutenant (rank introduced in May 1933)
  • SA-Sturmführer – Leutnant – Second lieutenant

Non-Commissioned Officer ranks:

  • SA-Haupttruppführer – Stabsfeldwebel – Sergeant major
  • SA-Obertruppführer – Oberfeldwebel – Sergeant major
  • SA-Truppführer – Feldwebel – Staff sergeant
  • SA-Oberscharführer – Unterfeldwebel – Sergeant
  • SA-Scharführer – Unteroffizier – Corporal

Enlisted ranks:

  • none – Stabsgefreiter – Lance corporal
  • SA-Rottenführer – Obergefreiter – Lance corporal
  • SA-Obersturmmann – Gefreiter – Corporal
  • SA-Sturmmann – Oberschütze – Senior Private
  • SA-Mann – Soldat – Private
  • SA-Anwärter (candidate)

Further reading

  • Organisationsbuch der NSDAP by Reichsorganisationsleiter Robert Ley, published 1943 ("Herausgeber: Robert Ley"; "7 Auflage: 301-400 Tausend"). Publisher : Zentralverlag der NSDAP, Franz Eher Nachf., München. 856 pages.
  • Michael D. Miller & Andreas Schulz: Leaders of the Storm Troops Volume I – Oberster SA-Führer & SA-Stabschef and SA-Obergruppenführer (B – J), 2015

See also

External links