The Night of the Long Knives was a purge in Nazi Germany to get rid of the SA’s leadership. Its codename was Operation Hummingbird and took place between June 30 and July 2, 1934. The Night of the Long knives was planned and carried out by Adolf Hitler and the SS leaders and consisted of a series of political executions. Most of those assassinated were members of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the paramilitary Brownshirts. Adolf Hitler launched Operation Hummingbird against the SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm, because he saw the independence of the SA and his leader Ernst Röhm as a direct threat to his power. Hitler also wanted to conciliate the German Army Generals, as they both feared and despised the SA and in particular feared Röhm’s ambition to absorb the army into the SA under his own leadership. Eighty five people died during the purge and more than a thousand political opponents were sent to prison.
The SA’s members had risen to two million men by the summer of 1934. Their leader was World War I veteran Ernst Röhm, who was follower of Hitler since the early days of the Nazi Party. Until then, the SA had been the Nazi’s an iron fist with which to disrupt other political parties meetings. The SA had also been used to enforce law after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933. The regular German Army Generals also considered the SA a threat to their authority. In June, 1934, the SA outnumbered the army and Röhm had openly talked about taking over the regular army, absorbing it into the SA. The army high ranking officers were not only distrusful of Ernst Röhm and his intentions, but they also despised him, for he led a life of total debauchery. Röhm was a promiscuous homosexual who spent a lot of time at alcoholic parties with young members of the SA.
German businessmen such as Albert Voegler, Gustav Krupp, Alfried Krupp, Fritz Thyssen and Emile Kirdorf, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Röhm’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 Röhm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals.
Röhm had also made enemies within the Nazi Party. Himmler, Goering and Goebbels convinced Hitler to act quickly, because the power he had gained was a threat to his position. Also by this time Heinrich Himmler and his deputy Reinhard Heydrich had already begun the restructuring of the SS from a bodyguard for Nazi leaders into an elite corps, loyal to both himself and Hitler. This loyalty of the SS men would prove useful to both when Hitler finally decided to move against Röhm and the SA.
On the night of June 29, 1934, Hitler, escorted by SS units, arrived at Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm. Within the next 24 hours 200 other senior SA officers were arrested and imprisoned at Stadelheim Prison in Munich. Many were shot as soon as they were captured but Hitler decided to pardon Röhm because of his past services to the movement. But later Hitler changed his mind and agreed that Röhm should die. At first Hitler insisted that Röhm should be allowed to commit suicide but, but when he refused, he was shot by two SS men, SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Eicke and SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Lippert.