According to L B Abbott in his comprehensive book" Special Effects - Wire, Tape and Rubber Band Style" (The ASC press 1984),
"Lord John Brabourne came to the studio (20thCENTURY FOX) to discuss the possibilities of doing the miniatures here (in Hollywood). I had several meetings with him and made a budget. Unfortunately, a few weeks later it was determined that the figure was in excess of the amount allowed to be spent outside England under the Eddie Plan."
The "Eddie Plan" Abbott was referring to was actually the Eadie Levy, a scheme started in 1950 and ending in 1985, where cinema tickets were taxed to provide a fund to support British Cinema. Non-British producers could also apply as long as at least 85% of the film was shot in Britain and there were no more than 3 foreign staff working on the film.
"Brabourne then requested that I be sent over to London to help lay out the project for shooting at Pinewood studios."
"I spent most of the time with the art directors" " the outcome was that Pinewood built a tank with a backing and the miniature ships were made of fiberglass and would float. Before I arrived, the art people had planned to build them British style- open bottomed and riding on railroad tracks."
"Returning to the studio, I made a report to Rogell (Sid Rogel, his boss at Fox), who had already received a request from Brabourne that I be assigned to the picture. Rogell said,"You know that's impossible; get someone else." Returning to my office I explained my predicament to a friend. he advised me that Republic Studio had been sold and suggested that Babe (Howard) Lydecker might be interested. Knowing this man to be an old-time expert, I had my secretary locate him. Babe appeared in the office the next morning, and after half-an-hour's talk, he elected to take the job."
The Lydecker brothers, Howard and Theodore, were famous for their miniature work on the classic Republic serials of the 40's and 50's as well as Republic's feature films.
The other miniatures credit on the film is Bill Warrington, who was responsible for many other really excellent examples of model ship action, including "Guns from Navarone" done the following year (1961), which has a particularly fine storm sequence. I will take a closer look at this film at some later date.
While the main shooting was done anamorphic, the miniatures were shot with standard spherical lenses. Anamorphic lenses have a much shallower depth of field, which if you have read my post Camera,Lighting and Lens you will know that this is not good for convincing miniatures. It meant that the top and bottom of the frame each 35mm frame, for all the miniature shots was effectively thrown away when it was finally converted to anamorphic, much the same as what is now known as "Super 35". This results in a lowering of the resolution, or an increase in the grain for he miniature shots over the rest of the live action, which in the case of this film really helped with the gritty almost documentary look to the miniature work.
There are some spectacular scenes of destruction, particularly when HMS Hood is destroyed and the bow of the fictitious "Solent" is blown off.
The miniature waves on the "sea" are also particularly well done. There is always a convincing underlying rolling swell with finer wavelet detail with the tops of the crests being whipped off by the blast from the SFX fans.
All the water explosion plumes appear to be a fine powder ( probably Gypsum) detonated just below the surface. It gives a very realistic scale effect as the particles hang in the air and dissipate without the tell tale "large" water drops. See a previous post for more on this subject.
Technically as well as subjectively Sink the Bismarck is one of the best examples of the art of "Model Ships in the Cinema" you are ever likely to see. The action is convincingly and excitingly staged, and combined with a tightly scripted, well acted and directed movie it is a virtually flawless example of British cinema... with a touch of American know-how.
You can find a clip of all the miniature action on you tube.