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...