Thirty-six patients with penetrating wounds of the great vessels treated at Grady Memorial Hospital during a 7-year period were reviewed. In more than 50% of the cases, diagnosis of the injury was made at the time of emergency thoracotomy for massive bleeding. In the remaining patients the diagnosis was suspected: 1) when the pulse distal to the vascular injury was absent or weak; 2) when the patient had symptoms and signs of impaired central nervous system perfusion; 3) when the missile had traversed the mediastinum and there was roentgenographic evidence of widening of the mediastinal shadow; or, 4) when a new murmur appeared. In all suspected cases with great vessel injury, the diagnosis was confirmed arteriographically. Arteriography in such patients should be performed to define the type and site of vascular injury so that its repair can be properly planned. Twenty-nine patients recovered from their injury, 6 succumbed as a result of it and 1 required midforearm amputation following repair of a subclavian artery and vein injury. Most of these patients underwent autotransfusion which greatly contributed to their successful outcome. Local temporary shunt was used for protection of the spinal cord and/or brain when impairment of their perfusion was required for the repair of the vascular wounds.