What is a Stormtrooper?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Stormtroopers were specially trained German forces used in the First World War to break holes into enemy lines. The stormtroopers later served as the foundation for the Sturmabteilung, a Nazi paramilitary force also known as the SA. Stormtroopers were known for being extremely brutal, aggressive, and highly skilled, and many Germans idolized them, treating them as heroes and describing them as “a new kind of man.”

During World War I, German stormtroopers would to try force their way into the trenches of an opposing force after an artillery bombardment.
During World War I, German stormtroopers would to try force their way into the trenches of an opposing force after an artillery bombardment.

The development of stormtrooper forces began as early as 1915, when the Germans realized that they needed a customized force to deal with trench warfare, and they devised the concept of “shock troops,” troops which would move quickly to infiltrate and destabilize the enemy, paving the way for a wave of infantry to take over. The stormtroopers proved to be quite effective at their task.

Stormtroopers often worked in small groups.
Stormtroopers often worked in small groups.

Training as a stormtrooper would have been grueling and brutal. These men needed to survive in extreme environments, and in situations where they might be cut off from regular troops. Therefore, a stormtrooper needed to be rugged, enterprising, and quick to take advantage of windows of opportunity. In return for their extensive training and dangerous jobs, stormtroopers enjoyed popular adulation in Germany.

A stormtrooper attack had several stages. In the first stage, the German artillery would bombard the enemy, hoping to weaken and destabilize them. Then, a crew of stormtroopers would move in, working in small groups and moving quickly to try and force their way into the trench. Once the trench was breached, the stormtroopers could start assaulting the enemy in earnest, and a wave of infantry would follow to secure the trench.

Stormtrooper tactics were certainly effective and devastating, although in retrospect, slightly pointless. Armies struggled for control of trenches on a daily basis during the First World War, moving a few trenches up and a few trenches back and often finding the enemy's belongings as they essentially swapped houses. Men who trained as stormtroopers later became prominent figures in the SA.

Adolf Hitler was the driving force behind the SA, which he used to propel himself to power in the 1930s. With the support of his so-called “brown shirts,” a reference to their uniforms, Hitler and the Nazi party quickly took control of power in Germany. Once Hitler secured power, he executed many key members of the SA during the infamous “Night of Long Knives,” which took place in 1934. He essentially staged a coup, in an attempt to subvert the power of the SA before it became a challenge to his regime.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Seem to me the Germans coined the phrase "Stormtroopers" but had applied it first to the Canadian troops whose lightning and devastating attacks were a great success on the the battlefield against the Germans


I remember my parents using the term, but my children know the Stormtrooper only as one of the kinds of soldiers in "Star Wars" and my Mother thought that it is nice, that they got to skip the scarier meaning, that evoked fear and respect and valiant confrontation from all the goodguys in the war..thank you for the good history lesson.

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