Admiral Thomas Lamison Sprague, 1894-1972

Admiral Thomas Sprague (1894-1972) was an American carrier admiral who had overall command of the escort carriers engaged in the battle of Leyte Gulf, although his namesake Clifton 'Ziggy' Sprague played the more famous role in the battle. Tommy Sprague was two years older than his unrelated namesake, but both men graduated from Annapolis in 1917. Sprague became a naval aviator in 1921.

In June 1940 he became XO of the carrier CVL Ranger. In 1941 he was in charge of fitting out the seaplane tender Pocomole, and then became her commanding officer, operating on anti-submarine warfare duties from Argentia in Newfoundland.

On 3 March 1942 he was given command of the new escort carrier USS Charger, a post he held until December 1942. The first six months of 1943 were spent in staff roles, first as chief of staff to ComFltAir at Quonset Point, Rhode Island and then as chief of staff to ComNavAirLant, based at Norfolk, Virginia.

He returned to see on 16 August 1943, as the commander of the carrier USS Intrepid. He commanded this carrier during the invasion of the Marshall Islands, serving under Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery. On 17 February 1944, while taking part in an anti-shipping raid around Truk, the Intrepid was hit by a torpedo launched by a radar equipped Mitsubishi B5M 'Kate'. The Intrepid suffered heavy damage, but Sprague was able to get her back to San Francisco for repairs (a process so fraught with problems that the carrier became known as the 'Evil I'.

Once back in California Sprague was promoted to rear admiral and given the post of ComFltAir at Alameda, California, a post he held from May-July 1944. He was then given command of Escort Carrier Division 22. He commanded this force during the invasion of the Mariana Islands in August 1944. He was also present at the landings at Morotai on New Guinea (16 September 1944) and on Leyte (20 October 1944).

During the Battle of Leyte Gulf Tommy Sprague commanded the eighteen escort carriers of the 7th Fleet. He also personally commanded the six carriers of Taffy 1. Taffy 2 was commanded by Rear Admiral Felix B. Stump and Taffy 3 by 'Ziggy' Sprague. 'Ziggy' Sprague's carriers were attacked by Admiral Kurita's heavy battleships (Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944). While 'Ziggy' deserves much of the credit for saving his task group from destruction, Tommy Sprague also played a major part in the American victory, directing his other two task groups towards Taffy 3. Under constant pressure from American aircraft and believing that he had won a major victory Kurita withdrew from the fight, missing the chance to inflict a major defeat on the Americans.

At the start of 1945 Tommy Sprague was given command of Carrier Division 3 (Ziggy Sprague got Carrier Division 2). He commanded Carrier Division 3 during the battle of Okinawa, before being given command of Task Group 38.1 in the Fast Carrier Task Force during the heavy raids on Japan that came towards the end of the war.

Late in 1945 Sprague became deputy chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, then headed the department from 1947-49. In August 1949 he was promoted to vice admiral and in October 1949 became ComNavAirPac. He retired for the first time as a full admiral in 1952 but was recalled to active duty in 1956 and played a part in negotiations over naval and air bases with the Philippine government.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 May 2012), Admiral Thomas Lamison Sprague, 1894-1972 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_sprague_thomas.html

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