The French military had investigated the possibility of a Lebel carbine in the 1880s, but by the 1930s a different set of priorities was in place. In an effort to make some use of the vast stockpiles of obsolete Lebel rifles France had, a plan was put in place to shorten then into carbines for auxiliary troops like artillery crews and engineers. These men needed some sort of rifle or carbine, but they did not need the best and newest weapons. By giving them shortened Lebel carbines, it would free up more modern rifles like the M34 Berthiers in 7.5mm and the new MAS-36 rifles to go to the front line infantry who needed them most.
The R35 conversion was developed by the Tulle arsenal and adopted in January of 1936. The French government ordered 100,000 to be made, and deliveries began in April of 1937. Production would accelerate and continue right up to the spring of 1940, with a total of about 45,000 being actually delivered before the armistice with Germany. The conversions were all assembled at Tulle, but 4 other factories manufactured barrels for them: Chatellerault (MAC), St Etienne (MAS), Société Alsacienne de Constructions Mécaniques (SACM), and Manufacture d'Armes de Paris (MAP). These barrels were 450mm long (17.7 inches), and with the similarly shortened magazine tube, the R35 carbines held just 3 rounds. Production would not continue after the liberation of France in 1944.