REORGANISATION OF THE SA

Top: Paratrooper SA Regiment Feldherrnhalle 1940. This Fallschirmjäger wears the Luftwaffe paratrooper helmet, a jump smock (which could be camouflaged), standard combat trousers and jump boots. He carries the normal infantry combat equipment, and he is armed with an Erma MPi 40 submachine gun and a Walther P38 pistol in a leather holster. On the lower left arm he wears a cuff title reading Feldherrnhalle .

Above: Sleeve title of the SA Feldherrnhalle Regiment. The band was brown, and worn on the lower left arm. It carried the title Feldherrnhalle written in the somewhat difficult to read German Sütterlin script. This font, designed by Ludwig Sütterlin (1865–1917), was introduced in 1915 in Prussia, and gained importance in Germany from 1920 on. In 1935 it was officially adopted by the Nazi regime until it was dropped in 1941.

 

VGAD Guard.

Ernst Röhm’s name disappeared rapidly from standard reference books, as well as from the vocabulary and the consciousness of Nazi Germany. His name was removed from all SA swords and daggers of honour, and all portraits and photographs of him were disposed of. Because Ernst Röhm and his henchmen were filmed next to Hitler in the 1933 propaganda film Der Sieg des Glauben (‘The Victory of Faith’), the embarrassed Nazi Party and Führer ordered the destruction of all copies, leaving only one known to have survived in Britain. Hitler commissioned the production of another film as a replacement. The result was Triumph des Willens (‘Triumph of the Will’), directed by Leni Riefenstahl that chronicled the Nazi Party rally of autumn 1934 at Nuremberg, this time without the now hated, disgraced and dead SA leadership.

After the June 1934 purge, the Nazi authorities had no clear answer to the question of what the function of the SA was to be in their new state. The Brownshirts, who had believed in Hitler as the leader of a social revolution, were disinherited by Germany, despite having marched, fought, suffered, and in many cases died for so many years in the hope of becoming the cream of the new Nazi society. After the bloody purge the SA remained a social problem in Germany. Just as 1933 had been the year of SA expansion and zenith, so 1934 was the year of decline and fall. The Nazi administration could do nothing else but maintain the permanent members within its structure. Therefore the SA was never abolished. The organisation did not disappear, but it never recovered. Many SA men were dismissed and tried to get back into civil life. Many remained unemployed and several thousand were directed to emergency work camps. Many went into the SA Reserve. Some SA men were transferred to police units and to various Nazi organisations such as the Organisation Todt (OT, public works building company), the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF, the National Labour Front), or the Reicharbeitsdienst (RAD, National Labour Service). A very few were taken by the Army. The Kyffhauserbund veterans league was reformed independent of the SA and continued in its former role as an organisation for ex-servicemen. The SA Brigade Ehrhardt was purged and the remaining element, the few judged loyal enough, were detached to form part of Himmler’s SS. The SA did remain a Gliederung of the NSDAP, and although the title of Obergruppenführer was retained, the ten SA Obergruppen (districts) were abolished. The largest SA formation was now the Gruppe (division). As a reward for the role it had played in the June 1934 purge, the SS was made an independent corps, becoming a Gliederung of the NSDAP in its own right.

The Sondereinheiten (special military units) were disbanded. The MSA was hived off and all its vehicles and some of its members were incorporated into the NSKK, which was then raised to the status of an independent Nazi Party formation. The Flieger-SA was integrated into Hermann Göring’s newly-created DLV, which became the clandestine forerunner of the Luftwaffe . Later, in 1936, the Reiter-SA became the semimilitary Nationalsozialistische Reiter Korps (NSRK, Nazi Cavalry Corps) headed by its commander Litzmann. The SA-Marine was not disbanded. It served as an auxiliary to the Kriegsmarine and performed search-and-rescue operations as well as harbour defence.

The SA Starnbergersee school survived the purge but in February 1936, control passed from the SA to the Nazi Party although the principal remained an SA officer, SA-Obergruppenführer Julius Görlitz. The title of the establishment was now NS Deutsche Oberschule Starnbergersee (National-Socialist German High School Starnbergersee). In 1941 all connection with the SA was severed. Pupils were enrolled in the Hitler Jugend , and the staff in the NSDAP.

The permanent SA-Stabswachten (bodyguards) were disbanded in mid-1934, and some units were regrouped into a single ceremonial formation called the Wachstandarte (guard regiment). This was renamed in September 1936 Standarte Feldherrnhalle (after the building in Munich which housed a shrine to the fallen Nazis of the failed putsch of November 1923). The Standarte Feldherrnhalle became a small elite regiment of armed volunteers employed to guard SA senior officers, State and Nazi Party buildings and offices. To celebrate Göring’s birthday in 1936, Lutze appointed him Honorary Commander of this elite formation, which he accepted gratefully. By that time, Luftwaffe General Kurt Student was creating a paratrooper force, but found little response from the reluctant German Army. As a result Kurt Student was forced to scrounge troopers wherever he could to bring up his strength. In desperation he turned to Göring who, in a move for power, ordered that the SA Feldherrnhalle unit be incorporated into his air force. Lutze and the SA leadership were not pleased, but did not dare oppose his decision. Student was, of course, delighted, and in January 1937 the fittest members of the SA Feldherrnhalle regiment underwent training as parachutists. The unit became the embryo from which developed the Luftwaffe paratrooper force, and later a Luftwaffe infantry division.

The decision to establish an airborne division had not materialized out of thin air, of course. It originated against a backdrop of real events. Hitler had decided to solve the Sudeten problem with force. In occupying the Sudetenland, the Czech line of bunkers was to be taken out as quickly as possible. The new airborne division was to be employed to that end. For the attack, the Army’s parachute infantry battalion of Major Heidrich was also to be attached to the division.

Student received directives from Goring to have the division established and operational by 15 September. Since up to that point he had only had the two parachute battalions at his disposal, he also received an air-landed battalion (Major Sydow) and Infanterie-Regiment 16 (Oberst Kreysing). At the behest of Göring, SA-Regiment “Standarte Feldherrnhalle” was also added to the ad hoc division. The 7. Flieger-Division was also augmented with an aviation section, which consisted of reconnaissance assets, 8 transport groups (with Ju 52’s) and 12 DFS 230 gliders. Also attached to the division were a ground-support wing with three groups and a fighter wing, also with three groups.

On 1 September 1938, Generalmajor Student reported the division as being combat ready. A large-scale air-landed operation had just taken place at Jüterbog, in which the 12 gliders participated under the command of Leutnant Kiess.

The remaining part of the SA Feldherrnhalle Regiment was transferred to the German army to form a battalion within Infantry Regiment 271. This formation expanded to regimental size in 1940, and to a fully-fledged armoured corps, named Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle in 1945. A small detachment of SA Feldherrnhalle continued to serve under the SA as ceremonial unit until the end of the Second World War.

All this considerably reduced the size of the SA from supposedly 4.5 million to about 500,000. But here again, the exact number of SA men after the reconstruction is quite unclear. Despite the reductions, the number of SA formations continued to grow, but obviously the newly created units were far below regulation strength. Thirty-six new Standarten were created in 1935, a further twenty-five in 1936, thirty in 1937 and forty-two in 1938. Many new members joined up probably because job prospects or advancement often depended on evidence of Nazi affiliation.

The once feared and powerful SA organisation was completely deprived of political power. The men were relegated to a backseat role, assigned mundane tasks, and the corps turned into a veterans’ association. The days of the radical political bullies had ended with the death of Ernst Röhm and the purging of the radical elements. Never again would the SA be in a position to challenge the German Army, the supremacy of the SS or Hitler’s leadership. The SA, now chastened and disarmed, provided a physical manifestation of the power and authority of the Nazi state in public demonstrations such as the Nuremberg Party Day held in September each year. Until the end of the war in, the SA continued to exist as Nazi propagandists, as a sports organisation and as street fund collectors, but it had been deprived of any real strength.

The SA continued to be an active component of the Winterhilfswerk (WHW, Winter Help League). This was the official German winter relief organisation, the ‘socialist’ aspect of Hitler’s image, which struck a chord among many of the poorer Germans who were recipient of the charity campaign. The WHW, launched in the winter of 1933/34, was organised on an annual basis by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrte (NSV, National Socialist People’s Welfare Organisation). The NSV, headed by SS-Gruppenführer Erich Hilgenfeldt, was devoted to the welfare of party members and their families especially mothers and children. The WHW was supported by members of the SA and NSDAP, Hitler Jugend boys and girls, prominent artists, civil servants or sportsmen with the aim of collecting money, food, shoes, blankets, warm clothing and other items for the poorest Germans. With the help of voluntary contributions, the Nazis provided hot meals, warm clothes and comfort for the needy. The Jews were of course excluded from benefiting from the organisation. In the winter of 1935/36, the WHW organisation collected some 31 million Reichsmarks. In 1937 helping the WHW was made compulsory. Every worker had to pay a special winter tax (10 to 15 per cent of their salary) from October to March. During the Second World War, the Kriegwinterhilfswerk (KWHK, Wartime Winter Relief Organisation) continued the activities of the WHW, and collected for the front-line soldiers, for the widows, and for the civilian victims and homeless due to the Allied air raids. Failure to give generously could bring private threats of violence or public shame.

After the 1934 purge, the SA continued to engage in the dissemination of Nazi racist propaganda and violence at a domestic level including harassing opponents and smashing Jewish shop windows. Some SA units participated to the so-called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), the anti-Jewish riots of 9 November 1938 when synagogues were wrecked and destroyed by fire, Jewish-owned stores and business premises were damaged and pillaged, Jewish homes raided and looted, Jews arrested, severely maltreated, wounded and about thirty-six of them murdered.

The SA was also charged of the pre-military training units of the SA Reserve and the boys of the Hitler Jugend They also trained Nazi paramilitary militias, namely the DAF Werkscharen (Work squads of the German Labour Front) and the Organisation Todt Schützkommando (OT-SK, armed protection squads of the Organisation Todt). The DAF Werkscharen were formations intended to act as the political shock troops of the DAF, which had replaced the banned trade unions. It was a huge organisation that brought all aspect of labour in Germany under Nazi control. The DAF squads saw to it that discipline, command and instruction, and Nazi order were respected in all workshops, plants and factories.

The Organisation Todt (OT) was a conglomerate of public building companies developed by the Nazi regime. The OT was charged to carry out civilian public works (for instance highways), but also military projects (for instance concrete fortifications), and obviously the Organisation needed an armed police force for protection, and the OT-SK were created in 1942. The role of the OT-SK included guarding building sites against theft and sabotage, to be prepared for any surprise attack on building sites, escorting and protecting German workers, leaders, engineers and high-ranking OT officers, and the supervision and control of forced workers and slave-labourers on and off building sites.

For these various training purposes, a new branch of the SA, known as SA-Wehrmannschaften (defence teams), was created in January 1939. The SA Wehrmannschaften were composed of all able-bodied males other than those who were already members of the SS, NSKK or NSFK, and who had completed their two years’ military service. These units were also assigned as auxiliary military police and some of them, in 1942, were organised as anti-partisan forces in Yugoslavia. By that time, the SA-Werhmannschaften were also responsible for overseeing the allocation of men and support to the Heimatflak (Home anti-aircraft artillery), Stadwacht (Auxiliary Urban Police) and Landwacht (Auxiliary Rural Police).

SA units were among the first in the occupation of Austria in March 1938. The SA supplied many of the men and a large part of the equipment, which composed the Sudeten Freikorps of Konrad Henlein (the Czechoslovak pro-Nazi, pan-Germanic nationalist leader), although it appears that the corps was under the jurisdiction of SS during its operations in Czechoslovakia.

A very little known unit deriving from the SA was the Verstärkter Grenzaufsichtsdienst (VGAD, Reinforced Border Surveillance Service) created in 1939 at Danzig (today Gdansk in Poland) from the SA Brigade VI. As the title implies, the VGAD was intended as a paramilitary unit for patrolling the frontiers around the Free City of Danzig and as an extra defence against the Poles. Members of the VGAD usually wore standard German army uniform with a black collar displaying the SA collar patch and a sleeve title reading Grenzwacht (Border Guard). During the invasion of Poland in September 1939 members of the VGAD fought as part of the Sonderverband Danzig (Special Detachment Danzig), also named Brigade Eberhardt after its commanding officer Generalmajor Friedrich Eberhardt. This unit is principally remembered for capturing the central post office of Danzig after heavy fighting.

When war II broke out in September 1939, the strength of the SA was greatly depleted, as many of its younger and fitter members were drafted into the Wehrmacht . Unlike the SS, the SA did not establish itself in the occupied territories, once several European nations were defeated and occupied. From then on the SA was composed in majority of partially disabled men or those deemed unfit for regular military service, as well as older senior members of the Hitler Youth, and older men not serving in the army reserve. After the occupation of Poland, the SA Group Sudeten was used for escorting prisoners of war. Units of the SA were employed in the guarding of prisoners in Danzig, Posen, Silesia, and the Baltic States. Groups of the SA were involved in the ill-treatment of Jews in the ghettos of Vilna and Kaunas.

On 26 May 1943 SA commander-in-chief Obergruppenführer Viktor Lutze, always a minor figure in the Nazi hierarchy, was killed in a car crash while on a food-foraging expedition outside Berlin. Other source asserts that he was murdered in a partisan ambush. Whatever happened, he was replaced with the even more colourless and obedient SA-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Schepmann (1894–1970).

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