Sprague next underwent flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station and was designated a naval aviator. Staff and flight assignments followed. During 1931 and 1932, he commanded Scouting Squadron 6. He then supervised a laboratory at the Philadelphia naval aircraft factory, was air officer aboard the carrier Saratoga in 1935 and 1936, and became superintendent of naval air training at Pensacola from 1937 to 1940. Sprague served as executive officer of the carrier Ranger in the Atlantic in 1940 and 1941. He next helped to commission the new escort carrier Charger and took command of her during Chesapeake Bay training operations for antisubmarine patrols.
Following a tour of duty as chief of staff to the commander of air units in the Atlantic Fleet in the first half of 1943, Sprague fitted out and commanded the carrier Intrepid through operations in the Marshall Islands and off Truk. He was promoted to rear admiral in June 1944 and assumed command of Carrier Division 22, which comprised 18 escort carriers and numerous destroyers and destroyer-escorts, for operations off Guam and the Philippine Islands.
On the morning of 25 October 1944, Sprague's division, designated Task Group TG 77.4 ("Taffy 1"), was divided into three groups spread across Leyte Gulf supporting the amphibious operation when a powerful Japanese surface force under Vice Admiral Kurita Takeo surprised the Americans. Sprague ordered all of his aircraft to attack the enemy while two of his groups made smoke and moved away from the foe. The other group (TG 77.4.3, "Taffy 3"), commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague (no relation), bore the brunt of the Japanese attack. The ferocity of the American counterattack convinced Kurita that his forces had encountered the bulk of the American fleet, not merely an escort carrier group. Kurita then called off the attack, sparing both Thomas Sprague's unit and the vulnerable transports supporting the invasion of Leyte.
Sprague next commanded Carrier Division 3 off Okinawa (April–June 1945) and Task Force 38.1 off Japan (July–August 1945). Following the war, Sprague was first deputy chief and then chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (1946–1949). He was promoted to vice admiral in August 1949, and he then commanded all air units in the Pacific Fleet until his retirement in April 1952. He returned briefly to duty in 1956 and 1957 to negotiate with the Philippine government about bases in the Philippines. Sprague died in Oakland, California, on 17 September 1972.
Edward F. Finch
Cutler, Thomas J. The Battle for Leyte Gulf, 23–26 October 1944. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.; Miller, Nathan. War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II. New York: Scribner, 1995.; Morison, Samuel E. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vols. 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, and 11. Boston: Little, Brown, 1947–1952.; Reynolds, Clark G. "Sprague, Thomas Lamison." In Famous American Admirals, 325–326. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002.