Pasukan SA (nama ringkas bagi Sturm Abteilung) atau juga dikenali sebagai SS (dalam bahasa Inggeris "Storm Section") dan beberapa nama lain seperti stormtroopers atau brownshirts, telah ditubuhkan oleh Adolf Hitler pada 1921. Pada mulanya SA berperanan sebagai askar peribadi bagi beliau. Biasanya SA akan diarahkan untuk menganggu mesyuarat parti-parti pembangkang dengan cara keganasan serta melindungi Hitler dari sebarang serangan balas.
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Kaptan Ernst Roehm dari Tentera Bavaria memainkan tugas yang penting merekrut ahli-ahli yang baru dan merupakan pemimpin SA yang pertama.
Kebanyakan daripada mereka adalah bekas ahli Freikorps (sayap kanan tentera peribadi yang berkembang selepas Perang Dunia I) dan mereka berpengalaman luas dalam menundukkan saingan dengan cara keganasan.
Apabila Roehm meninggalkan Jerman untuk bekerja di Bolivia pada 1925, jawatannya telah diambil oleh Heinrich Himmler. Namun demikian, pada 1931 Hitler memanggil balik Roehm ke Jerman untuk mengetuai SA semula. Keputusan Hitler amatlah tepat kerana dalam jangkamasa setahun, Roehm berjaya menambahkan ahli SA dari 70,000 ke 170,000 orang. Pada 1934, keahlian SA telah mencapai angka 4,500,000 orang.
Pasukan SA memakai jaket kelabu, pakaian berwarna cokelat (baju khaki yang pada asalnya untuk tentera di Afrika tetapi dibeli secara pukal dari Tentera Jerman oleh Parti Nazi), jalur tangan swastika, topi "ski-caps", knee-breeches, stokin bulu tebal dan but perang 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.
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 that said: "I regard the Reichswehr now only as a training school for the German people. The conduct of war, and therefore of mobilization as well, in the future is the task of the SA.
Werner von Blomberg and Walther von Reichenau began to conspire with Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler against Roehm and the SA. Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Roehm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Roehm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.
Hitler liked Ernst Roehm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Roehm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Roehm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.
However, Adolf Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Roehm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Roehm for some time. Generals were afraid that the SA, a force of over 3 million men, would absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks and Roehm would become its overall leader.
Industrialists, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Roehm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Roehm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals.
Adolf Hitler was also aware that Roehm and the SA had the power to remove him as leader. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Roehm's proposed coup. Their masterstroke was to claim that Gregor Strasser, whom Hitler hated, was part of the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Wiesse.