Walter Franz Maria Stennes (12 April 1895 – 19 May 1983) was a leader of the Sturmabteilung (SA, stormtroopers, or "brownshirts") of the Nazi Party in Berlin and the surrounding area. In August 1930 he led the Stennes Revolt against Adolf Hitler, the leader of the party, and Hitler's appointed regional head of the party in the Berlin area, Joseph Goebbels. The dispute was over Hitler's policies and practices in the use of the SA, and the underlying purpose of the paramilitary organization. Hitler quelled the revolt peacefully, but after a second rebellion in March-April 1931, the SA was purged and Stennes was expelled from the party.
Stennes was born in 1895 to Fritz Stennes, a bailiff and German Army officer, and his wife Louise. He was educated at the cadet school – an official Army-run military academy – at Schloss Bensberg. In 1910 he transferred to the Royal Prussian Main Cadet School in Berlin-Lichterfelde. His classmates there included Hermann Göring and Gerhard Roßbach.
After Stennes graduated in the summer of 1913, he entered officers school. In August 1914 during World War I, he became a lieutenant with the 3rd Westphalian Infantry Regiment No. 16 in Belgium. Later that month, on August 23, he was wounded. In Flanders, he experienced the Christmas truce, where German and British front soldiers spontaneously fraternized, celebrating Christmas together. He was decorated several times during the war. In May 1915 he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class, and in June 1917 he earned the Knight's Cross of the House of Hohenzollern. In 1918 he received the Lippe War Merit Cross, the Hanseatic Cross and the Silver Wound Badge.
After leaving the army, Stennes held positions as a police captain and also as a leader of the Freikorps, the volunteer paramilitary units made up largely of ex-servicemen. He was also an arms racketeer.
In the Nazi Party
Stennes joined the Nazi Party in 1927. He took over the leadership of the Sturmabteilung (SA, stormtroopers, or "brownshirts") in the Berlin Gau (region), replacing Kurt Daluege, and was appointed regional commander-in-chief of the SA in eastern Germany on 30 September 1927. He was OSAF Stellvertreter Ost (Deputy Supreme SA Leader East), seven regional deputies.
Stennes led a revolt in August 1930 with members of the Berlin SA, voicing their objections to the policies and purposes of the SA, as defined by Hitler. The SA was dissatisfied with Hitler's post-Beer Hall Putsch policy of gaining power through legal means; the stormtroopers bridled under the slow pace inherent in that political strategy, and wanted a revolution, while Hitler intended to use them only for specific purposes as needed by the party. In addition, the stormtroopers complained about "bossism" and favoritism, and poor pay, as well as the SA's dependence on the party for funding. They claimed that those in the party lived in "luxury", while the SA men worked until exhaustion. In particular, Stennes severely criticized Hitler for spending so much on buying and renovating the Brown House in Munich to be Party Headquarters, while the SA was underpaid. Although the complaints of the SA in Berlin were the most prominent, similar feelings were beginning to arise in the SA across Germany.
On 27 August Stennes threatened Joseph Goebbels, the head of the party in Berlin: he wanted the three seats in the Reichstag, more money for the SA and more political power in the National Socialist movement. Hitler refused to take the complaints seriously, and would not see Stennes when he came to Munich for a confrontation. Franz Pfeffer von Salomon had resigned as leader of the SA by this time, and Hitler assured Goebbels he would send the SA Chief of Staff, Otto Wagener, to fix things in the SA.
Stennes decided that action was needed to make a statement. Accordingly, the Berlin SA refused to provide protection for Goebbels at his Sportpalast speech on 30 August 1930, and his men paraded instead in Wittenbergplatz, demonstrating against Goebbels. Goebbels turned to the SS – still technically part of the SA at that time – who provided the necessary security and protection at the meeting and who were then assigned to protect the Gau office in Berlin.
The SA then stormed the Gau office on the Hedemannstrasse, injuring the SS men and wrecking the premises. Goebbels, shaken by the incident, notified Hitler, who left the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth and flew immediately to Berlin, where Goebbels told him that a resolution of the problems with the SA was needed immediately to prevent the dissatisfaction in Berlin from spreading to the SA in the rest of Germany.
Hitler spoke with some SA men directly, and then had two meetings with Stennes on the night of 31 August. The next day, at a meeting of 2,000 or so stormtroopers, Hitler announced that he, himself, would replace Pfeffer as the Supreme Leader of the SA, a statement that was received with joy by the SA men. Hitler called for loyalty to him personally, and to the Führerprinzip, and the assembled men took a loyalty oath, as would all stormtroopers throughout Germany, and all men joining the organization subsequently. Stennes then read Hitler's declaration that significant improvements would be made in the financial condition of the SA, the money to come from party dues. The stormtroopers would also have free legal representation if they were arrested in the line of duty. With these concessions, the crisis was over.
In Spring 1931, Stennes continued to complain that the SA in Breslau was not able to turn out for inspection in February 1931 because they lacked footwear. He also believed that the strategy of legality was a failure, as shown by the party failure to win the 1930 Reichstag elections outright with a clear majority. He complained as well about Ernst Röhm's return to run the SA, objecting to the Chief of Staff's homosexuality.
Stennes rebelled again. The SA once again stormed the party offices in Berlin on the night of 31 March – 1 April and took control of the building. In addition, the SA took over the offices of Goebbels' newspaper, Der Angriff. Pro-Stennes versions appeared in the newspaper on 1 April and 2 April.
Hitler instructed Goebbels to take whatever means were necessary to put down the revolt. Goebbels and Göring purged the SA in Berlin, and Stennes was expelled from the party.
There is some evidence that Stennes may have been paid by the government of German chancellor Heinrich Brüning, with the intention of causing conflict within the Nazi movement.
After the Nazi takeover in 1933, Stennes went with his wife and daughter into exile. Göring had made him promise to leave the country immediately and not settle in Switzerland.
Stennes then emigrated to China and arrived with his wife in Shanghai on 19 November 1933 on board the steamboat Ranchi. Stennes served as a military advisor to Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang movement until 1949. His efforts were to reorganize the army and police forces of the Chinese nationalists on the model of the Prussian armed forces.
Return to Germany
Stennes returned to Germany in 1949. In 1951, he was a leading member of the right wing Deutsche Soziale Partei (German Social Party). Afterwards, Stennes retired to private life. He applied for recognition as a victim of National Socialist tyranny, which was rejected in 1957 by the Federal Court. He lived in Lüdenscheid, until his death in 1983.