The MP35 was originally conceived by Heinrich Vollmer in 1925. This early version is sometimes referred to as the VMP and was produced in 1928. It was offered in a variety of lengths and featured a wooden grip with a monopod attachment. The so-called VMP was produced in very small numbers, and so Vollmer sought to find a manufacturer for the weapon. In the early 1930s, Erma bought the patents for the gun and modifications to the design were made by Berthold Geipel.
In 1934 Erma produced the new VMP as the MP34. The only major difference was the addition of a perforated barrel jacket and the removal of the monopod feature. It was produced both with and without the wooden foregrip, and was offered with basic flip-up sights or adjustable tangent sights. The final model, the MP35, was introduced in 1935 and was a detail improvement of the MP34 with a new safety system. It achieved commercial success and saw sales in France, Mexico, Yugoslavia, and South America. The remainder of the production run were sold to the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.
The MP35 was never formally adopted by the Wehrmacht but it nevertheless saw extensive use by Germany and its allies during World War II. The primary German-issue submachine gun was the MP40, but the MP35 saw issue with German security forces such as the Gestapo and SS. It saw frontline combat use with the Waffen-SS, primarily on the Eastern Front. The MP35 was also issued to German client states, such as Vichy France and the Italian Social Republic. Production of the MP35 ended in 1938, when it was superseded by the MP38.
A silenced model of the MP35 was developed and issued to the Vichy French secret police, known as the Carlingue. A copy of the MP34 was produced in Spain at Coruña Arsenal, from about 1941 to 1945.
The MP35 was a blowback-operated submachine gun that utilized the Vollmer return spring patent. The return spring was encased in a steel tube and telescoped into the bolt upon its retraction. The MP35 featured a bolt locking safety switch protruding from the right side of the receiver, just in front of the cocking handle; this was not present on the MP34. The magazine housing was canted forward slightly and the weapon could feed from 20 or 32-round box magazines.
The weapon also featured a perforated barrel jacket and wooden stock. Most models were built with a foregrip, although this was not universal. The MP34 used a tangent rear right, but the MP35 replaced this with a fixed rear sight.