November 4th, 1921. The Sturmabteilung – Nazi Party original paramilitary wing – is formed. Contrary to a very popular misconception, NSDAP was not the only political party in Weimar Germany that had a paramilitary wing (i.e. its own army). Both of its principal rivals (the centrists were all but eliminated after the Kapp Putsch) – the KPD and the SPD had paramilitary organizations in their structures.
Consequently, to win the political war (and it was quite a war indeed), the NSDAP had to fight and win the war “on the streets” – with the troops fielded by its political adversaries.
NSDAP was created years after SPD and KPD; consequently, initially the Sturmabteilung (SA) was primarily a defensive structure tasked with protecting NSDAP structures, meetings and other events from attacks by KPD (mostly) and SPD thugs (members of all paramilitary units of political parties were mostly of that variety).
Later the SA was (inevitably) used as an offensive weapon – for disrupting the meetings of opposing parties (mostly SPD and KPD), suppressing the paramilitary units of the opposing parties, especially the Rotfrontkämpferbund of the KPD, and intimidating leaders, officials and activists of KPD, SPD and other political parties – as well as those of trade unions associated with these parties.
Consequently, the Sturmabteilung made a critically important contribution to the success of the Nazis in seizing the absolute power in Germany in March of 1933. Subsequently the SA was used mostly for persecuting Jews and the Romani (also considered to be the “racial enemies”) of the Aryan race.
The SA were also called the “Brownshirts“, for the color of their uniform shirts,. The SA developed paramilitary ranks for its members, which were later adopted by several other Nazi Party groups, chief amongst them the Schutzstaffel (SS).
The latter was originally established as a component of the SA before becoming an independent – and a far more powerful – organization (thanks to its de-facto founder and Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler).
The term “Sturmabteilung” was born during the Great War and thus predates the founding of even the DAP (let alone NSDAP). Originally it was applied to the specialized (and highly efficient) German assault infantry that used infiltration tactics and was comprised of small squads of a few soldiers each which could operate independently of each other.
Thus, the original SA were essentially the German special forces (or special operation forces) of the Great War. On October 2nd, 1916, no other than Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff ordered all German armies in the west to form a battalion of stormtroopers.
The predecessor of the SA, initially referred to as he Saalschutzabteilung (meeting hall protection detachment) was formed as a permanent security detail on February 25th, 1920 – on the next day Adolf Hitler announced the change-of-name for the Party (from DAP to NSDAP) and made public the “25 Points” program (or manifesto) of the latter.
Political opponents of the Nazis (Communists, social-democrats, etc.) tried to disrupt (and even break up) the meeting of the NSDAP but Hitler’s former army companions, armed with rubber truncheons, ejected the troublemakers from the meeting hall.
More than a year later, on August 3, 1921, Hitler renamed the group as the “Gymnastic and Sports Division” of the party, to avoid trouble with the Republican government. However, internally the group was known as the Sturmabteilung (SA) and on November 4th, 1921 it became the official name of this unit.