Shortly after 0300, the USS Bennion (DD-662) made first visual contact with the Japanese battleships. It was 25 October 1944 and I was standing up through the hatch in the ship’s Mark 37 director, scanning the horizon with 7x50 binoculars. The rumble of heavy gunfire had become continuous, and the lower quadrant of the southern sky was now a pulsing glow from muzzle flashes. The PT boats had sprung their ambush on the Japanese column and triggered a fierce firefight. The Battle of Surigao Strait in Leyte Gulf was under way.
There was a tug on my trouser leg and the Sailor at the pointer’s station next to me motioned to my eyepiece. Looking through the magnification of the director’s optics, the scene to the south became clearer. The crosshairs of the lens were fixed at the base of the jumbo pagoda superstructure of a Japanese battleship. The flashes from her main turret salvos and the rapid fire of the secondary battery were lighting up the entire ship. From her clearly visible bow wave she was making at least 25 knots.