Pre-WW1 British Armor

Simms’ Draisine

United Kingdom (1901)
Draisine – 1 Built

Frederick Richard Simms (12/8/1863 to 22/4/1944) is best known in military terms for the rather silly looking ‘Quadricycle Motor Scout‘ of 1899 despite founding a very successful engineering firm in his name. He had been inspired, at the turn of the 19th century, by his knowledge, expertise, and experience in motor vehicles to seek out new business ventures and military contracts were a good source of income if one could be obtained.

Mr. Frederick Richard Simms, Photo: Autocar Magazine
He had been born in Germany in August 1863 and educated in Berlin where he met the famous German engineer Gottlieb Daimler. Soon after obtaining a patent from Daimler for his high-speed petrol engines he had moved to London where he founded Simms Motors to make use of this engine. By 1896, he had become a consulting engineer to the newly formed British Motor Syndicate (BMS) and, the following year (1897), a founding member of what is now known as the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain.
In 1899, he had tried his hand at a military venture combining a small petrol driven quadricycle (known as the ‘Motor Scout’) fitted with a small bulletproof shield and a .303 caliber Mark IV Maxim machine gun and despite proving as a concept that a small machine could be used to move a machine gun around with a high degree of mobility, he received no orders.

Simms armored draisine on rails showing the same type of machine gun and mount as used on his motor scout of 1899. Photo: Royal Automobile Club collection
The Second Anglo-Boer War was underway by the end of 1899. Fresh from trying his hand at the Motor Scout, Simms turned his eye to helping the British Army. They had entered that war ill prepared for the type of fighting they faced. Large swaths of territory and a highly mobile enemy were hard to pin down and restricting their movements was going to be key to winning the war. Eventually, to pacify the Boers, the British constructed long lines of defenses with blockhouses etc. and it is perhaps because of this that Simms unveiled (in his trademark bowler hat of course) his draisine design to assist in patrolling the railways.

Illustration of Simms’ Draisine by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

A very crowded Simms armored draisine on rails with no less than 6 men aboard. Photo: Royal Automobile Club Collection
There is little information available on his design which is known as a draisine. A draisine is simply a light auxiliary rail vehicle for moving equipment or people around and the purpose of this one was to move a crew and a machine gun. The diminutive vehicle consists of a rounded ‘bathtub’ shaped armored body which, if it is similar to his subsequent War Car, would be approximately 6mm thick bulletproof steel. Riding on four wheels on the railways and driven by a small 7hp water-cooled petrol engine connected to a three-speed Panhard gearbox the draisine was capable of a respectable 30mph (48 km/h). The machine was open topped and fitted with a single .303 caliber Mark IV Maxim machine gun of the same type (and same shield ) as that from his Motor Scout. Simms envisaged the machine as fulfilling the role of a scout, patrolling the railways and deterring raiders and although it only mounted this single machine gun for his publicity was also to mount a one-pounder pom-pom gun and a searchlight.
Despite managing to cram in 6 men for a photo opportunity at one point, there is clearly no room for a crew of 6 and the suggested compliment was four men.
It is not known what happened to the Simms draisine but he did not patent it and it does not appear to have received any production orders. The photos of him show the machine being tested on a section of line on the north shore of the River Medway and the device is rumored to have been sent to Nairobi. Despite his best intentions his machine was to have no effect on the Boer War or any other war for that matter. Simms was on failure number 2 in terms of military machines although his civilian business was successful. This was not the last military invention from Simms though, more was to follow.


Crew Est. 2 – 3
Propulsion 7hp petrol
Armament 1 x.303 calibre Mark IV Maxim machine gun, 1 x one-pounder pom-pom gun
Armor Est. 6mm steel.

Resources & Links

Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain
Autocar Magazine, 11th November 1916
War Cars, David Fletcher

8 replies on “Simms’ Draisine”

Were there any conflicts where draisines like this one were used in the fighting? The only one I can think of is the So-Ki from Japan.

It depends on what you mean by ‘in the fighting’, if you mean intended for use in frequent combat beyond self defence/rail security purposes, then not likely. A number of nations did make use of small railborne vehicles similar the So-Ki, although often requiring more invasive modification . For instance many of the western allies made use of ‘jeep trains’, jeeps modified to run on rails by swapping the standard rubber tyred wheels for steel rail wheels. The Germans also did the same with their armoured cars and also experimented with light reconnaissance tanks that could run on rails.
TE Moderator

Interesting. By “in the fighting” I just mean in a similar manner to the So-Ki, meaning it was an AFV that got out of the prototype phase and was capable of combat i.e. not solely a transport vehicle. Are there any names/examples of these “Jeep Trains” and German light rail tanks?

The Germans had a couple of things they referred to a ‘Schienenpanzer’, which were armoured vehicles converted to run on rails for rail protection duties. Its important to note however that unlike the So-Ki these vehicles weren’t intended to switch between rail and cross country travel, and switching between transport modes involved refitting the wheels or in the case of the tanks more extensive modifications. The conversions I know of used captured Panhard 178 armoured cars (called P204(f) by the Germans) and Panzer III tanks with the short 75mm guns
Photos here
I’m not sure about the light tanks but I believe either the Vk16.01 or Vk28.01 designs had some capacity to run on rails, however my speciality isn’t German vehicles so I can’t 100% confirm
As for the Jeep trains they were used quite extensively, here is one in Europe with the British
and this one in the Pacific with the Australians
TE Moderator

Add to this the Russian armored cars of the BA-I family, for which conversion kits were made for running on rails. Such conversions received the designation ZhD, e.g. BA-10MZhD. (Other armored cars were also converted for rail use.) Except for the Japanese, all such conversions for rail use were semi-permanent in that they could be rebuilt to their original configuration. The So-Ki was the only armed vehicle that had hi-rail capability (to use the modern term); it could switch modes rather easily. The Sumida armored cars could be switched from road to rail (and the reverse) by swapping out the rubber tires for metal flanged tires, but as with wheel-cum-track vehicles that required the swapping in and out of wheels, or the Christie system, this was fairly slow.

In North America, such vehicles are called simply “motor cars”, sometimes “speeders” and today “hi-rail vehicles”. This last incorporates numerous trucks (but also passenger cars) that use a simple hydraulic system to raise or lower a set of flanged wheels; such vehicles are used for inspection and maintenance. Some hi-rail vehicles are used to switch small yards, such as a jeep so fitted for such use at Pentiction, BC by Canadian National some 50+ years ago; similar vehicles are used today.

To answer the base question, the So-Ki was (and remains) unique. Except in Alsace, the Western Allies were not plagued with partisans, while the Russians and Germans deemed their armored trains and armored cars equipped to run on rails to be sufficient. I suggest that the existence of the So-Ki says something favorable about Chinese partisans.

While most of the aforementioned vehicles were conversions of armored cars or tanks there were plenty of armored railway vehicles with complete armored trains (a Russian specialty) on one end and small draisines on the other. The Czech firm Tatra build this cute thing: The Germans build draisines, which could be combined to build armored trains:

The Germans in WW2 experimented with a Pz III (mounting a 75mm L/24 turret) and I believe was called the PZ III SK1. It had a retractable undercarriage to turn it into a Draisine and then could be retracted upwards to allow the tank to leave the rails and proceed on its treads. They abandoned the project apparently because of difficulties such as re-aligning the draisine undercarriage’s wheels with the tracks when the tank transitioned back to the rails.

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