Rear Admiral Clifton 'Ziggy' Sprague was an American carrier admiral most famous for his role in the battle of Samar, part of the wider battle of Leyte Gulf, where his group of six escort carriers managed to avoid destruction at the hands of the main Japanese battle fleet, preventing the Japanese from reaching the vulnerable invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf.
Sprague attended the Annapolis naval college, graduating in June 1917. In 1920 he moved into naval aviation, and by 1941 had risen to command the seaplane tender Tangier. This ship was credited with firing the first shots at the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sprague was next promoted to Chief of Staff on the Gulf Sea Frontier, where the US Navy was struggling to cope with a sudden influx of U-Boats. From there he moved to command the Seattle Naval Air Station. He was then given command of the new Essex class aircraft carrier USS Wasp, named after the carrier sunk in September 1942. The new Wasp was ready for service in November 1943, and took part in the carrier raid on Marcus and Wake Islands.
Sprague then joined Admiral Spruance's fleet for the assault on the Marinas Islands. He was part of Admiral Mitscher's Task Force 58 and in that role took part in the battle of the Philippine Sea (June 1944).
After that battle Sprague was promoted to rear admiral and given command of Escort Carrier Div 25. He led this force during the invasion of Ulithi (September 1944). Next came the post that Sprague is best known for, command of Taffy 3, a ground of six escort carriers that formed part of the 7th Fleet during the battle of Leyte Gulf. Confusingly Taffy 3 was part of a larger formation of escort carriers commanded by Admiral Tommy Sprague, who also directly commanded Taffy 1. On 25 October 1944 Ziggy Sprague's Taffy 3 was attacked by Admiral Kurita's powerful striking force (Battle of Samar). Kurita's fleet included the giant battleship Yamato, and if handled well should have crushed Sprague's force of escort carriers and destroyers. Instead Sprague was able to hold off the Japanese battleships, using his aircraft and destroyers to disrupt their formation while his carriers attempted to escape south towards the other twelve escort carriers. The Japanese sank one carrier (the Gambier Bay), but eventually broke off the fight. Sprague's bold use of his fleet had helped the Americans avoid an embarrassing and potentially costly defeat.
In February 1945 Sprague was given command of Carrier Division 2, the post he held for the rest of the war. In 1946 he commanded the Navy Air Group during the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll. He commanded Carrier Division 6 from 1948-49, the 17th Naval District during 1949 and the Alaskan Sea Frontier from 1949 until his retirement in 1951. He died in 1955.